In-and-Out of the Historical Imaginary with Eisner and Herzog

I have essentially set myself two tasks in this paper. Firstly, to look at Thomas Elsaesser’s (2000) notion of the ‘historical imaginary’, particularly drawing on those aspects of it which correspond with the psychoanalytical concepts of both ‘deferred action’ and ‘the imaginary’. In drawing on such concepts I hope to make clear the complicated time structure which is inherent in the notion of the ‘historical imaginary’. Moreover, I wish to highlight Elsaesser’s point that by understanding the mechanisms of this structure one can open up other potential histories buried by this ‘imaginary’. The second task I have set myself is to situate the ‘historical imaginary’ in respect of the work of the late German film historian Lotte H. Eisner (1896-1983) and in terms of the German filmmaker Werner Herzog (b. 1942 – ). My pursuit here, in respect of Herzog, involves looking at comments he has made about Eisner and the history of German cinema, particularly in terms of his 1979 version of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (Germany 1922). To be sure, such comments reflect Herzog’s fondness for myth-making about his life and filmmaking practice, and for making sweeping, polemical statements about cinema. For example, in his published diary Walking on Ice, as well as in various interviews he has conducted over the years [1] , he has recounted the tale of travelling from Munich to Paris on foot during winter with a copy of his film Every Man for Himself and God Against All (Germany 1972) in his rucksack. He has always maintained that the point of undertaking such a harsh hike was to see Eisner, who was chronically ill at the time, in her Paris apartment. Herzog earnestly says that he knew that only by travelling on foot could he keep Eisner alive, perceived by him as a patron saint of German cinema. While such comments can be taken as flourishes of rhetorical posturing they still serve as valid evidence for the consistent position Herzog has maintained regarding his Germanic past and, taken as expressive statements in themselves, tell us something about the self-image he has desired to create for himself.

What I will argue is that, on the one hand, Herzog’s comments explicitly fit the notion of the ‘historical imaginary’ and, as Elsaesser (1992) has elsewhere argued, shows how Herzog views German history through the prism of German film history. On the other hand, Herzog’s comments also serve as a good example of how, by understanding the very mechanisms which structure the ‘historical imaginary’, we can undo the effects that such mechanisms have on the way the history of cinema is perceived. This allows other potential histories to emerge out of this ‘imaginary’. I suggest, at the end of the paper, that within Herzog’s comments there is also potentially buried another history constituted by less exotic features than the aforementioned fictionalized history, and which gives the future the opportunity to be released from its fixed past in a psycho-spiritual trajectory.

Elsaesser’s notion of the ‘historical imaginary’ features most prominently in his 2000 book: Weimar Cinema and After: Germany’s Historical Imaginary. In this book, Elsaesser looks at a range of German films made in the so-called Expressionist period of Weimar filmmaking, beginning in 1919 with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari(Germany) and going through the 1920s. He also briefly looks at filmmaking during the Nazi period of the 1930s as well as the relationship that has long been seen to exist between American film noir of the 1930s and 40s and German Expressionist films. Elsaesser’s notion of the ‘historical imaginary’ is woven throughout his account of these various German films from the 1920s and 30s and their directors, writers and stars, the industry of German filmmaking (in its technological and economic formations, and including in terms of its relationship with Hollywood), and the wider cultural interface between cinema and cosmopolitan Berlin of the 1920s.

In his book, Elsaesser begins by addressing two seminal texts which have shaped, and continue to shape, understandings of German cinema history – Lotte H Eisner’s: The Haunted Screen – German Expressionism and the Cinema of Max Reinhardt (originally published in 1952) and Siegfried Kracauer’s: From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (originally published in 1947). Elsaesser states that these books have been at the forefront of encouraging:

a potent analogy between film culture and political history, where experience (of key films) so uncannily matches expectations (of what German cinema should ‘reflect’) that the convergence of image with its object has for nearly fifty years seemed all but self-evident. (p. 3)

If we look at Eisner’s book, for example, we find that it argues that there are continuities between 19th century German Romantic literature and painting and 20th century German Expressionist Cinema. It further argues that these continuities reveal deeper ontological issues concerning what it means to be distinctly ‘German’ or at least distinctly ‘German’ during this period. Through an historical and largely stylistic analysis of such films as The Cabinet of Dr. CaligariFaust (Germany 1926) and Nosferatu, Eisner feels that she can understand the unconscious drives of the German people during this time of modernization, including what led them to embrace German Fascism in the 1930s and early 1940s. Not surprisingly, dualism and contradiction and a fascination for the macabre and diabolical are paramount features that she, retrospectively in the post-war environment, discovers in these films.

As many critics have pointed out (in addition to Elsaesser there is also, for example, Dietrich Scheunemann from the book: Expressionist Film: New Perspectives [2003]) this reflects a period style approach to art. In such an approach it is assumed that distinct sensibilities, in this case German, are evident in products of national culture like literature, painting, and cinema. That Eisner refers to the German art historian Wilhelm Worringer is significant here. Worringer claims that the art of various epochs or periods of history are driven in each case by a different a prior Will to Form. What primarily determine aesthetic expressions for Worringer are the mental dispositions and impulses of different peoples, who he paradigmatically divides along topographical and racial lines – Northern and Central European as opposed to Southern and Mediterranean, for instance.[2] Eisner’s period style approach has its basis in such a speculative and hypothetical historiography. This is not to say, however, that her analysis is without any credibility. Her eye for certain techniques, i.e. chiaroscuro lighting, and for narrative forms, i.e. doppelganger character constructions, and her demonstration of how such aspects do have a German lineage, is cogent. As both Elsaesser and Scheunemann have conceded, her work is historically important for opening up the space for looking at how other arts such as literature and theatre shaped cinema in its early years.

However, such notions of national cinema and period style approaches to art are limited insofar as they leave out other key aspects or trends or films which are occurring in a given country and/or time period. To briefly focus on some examples for now, in relation to Eisner both Elsaesser and Scheunemann have talked about the fact that her work focuses on a select number of films as those they were representative of films being made in the German film industry at the time. The reality is that there were also costume dramas, comedies, sex films, and other genres in production. In fact, Elsaesser has pointed out that in terms of domestic consumption it is not the case that the so-called Expressionist films that Eisner focuses on were more popular than these other kinds of films. This is a point also made by Heide Fehrenbach (1995) in her Cinema in Democratizing Germany: Reconstructing National Identity after Hitler. Moreover, both Elsaesser and Fehrenbach have suggested that Expressionist cinema was as much a label created in respect of the international film market, in which the German film industry was competing with Hollywood and seeking to sell a German art product for export abroad. Elsaesser notes that this also tied in with the need for Germany in the post-World War 1 environment to re-brand itself as a culturally sophisticated nation after the associations of militarism it had accrued during the war.

Even if we confine ourselves to only looking at questions of style we find that Expressionism is not an entirely appropriate label for the different types of films that comprise 1920s Weimar cinema. As Elsaesser summarises it, we find everything from Orientalism, Bauhaus, Egyptian and African art, and Ornamentalism in these films and such diversity comes from a range of sources – the stage, children’s books, advertisements, and catalogues. Elsaesser says that given such diversity Eisner’s focus on a will to style in the Expressionist films rooted in German Romanticism is a focus that can be redirected in another direction. Style in these films can be seen as symptomatic of the effects of modernization where cinema was becoming a “vehicle…of the emergent life style technologies and leisure industries, such as fashion, décor and display” (p. 5-6).  In this context of fashion and display we should not forget the disguised Dr. Mabuse’s comment in Lang’s first film featuring that character: “Expressionism – It’s only a game”, which is evidence for Elsaesser of the sense of self-conscious play in many Weimar films.[3]

It is important to note that Eisner did, later in her life through a series of essays, try to rectify the impression that The Haunted Screen was intended to promote a vision of Weimar cinema as exclusively Expressionistic.[4] Nonetheless, this impression has remained strong, keeping alive in the public imagination the sense that a limited number of so-called avant-garde films were representative of the German film industry and the collective mentality of the German people at the time.

The continuous spell that such books have cast over these films and their reception particularly interests Elsaesser. He believes that as a result of the kind of retrospective, historical reading of Weimar cinema that they employ a particular perspective has been constructed. In this perspective the causes and effects of specific historical events become entangled. This is for Elsaesser one characteristic of the ‘historical imaginary’ that he sees as corresponding with Freud’s notion of Nachträglichkeit. Elsaesser translates this term as deferred action (a common translation of the term)[5] and he puts it in the context of the mathematical model of the Möbius Strip.[6]

Elsaesser asserts that since the implication of Eisner’s and Kracauer’s different arguments is that “the German nation is haunted by its cinema screen, and the films are haunted by German history” (p. 3-4) then it is also the case that their books are haunted by the disaster of German fascism, by a history that comes after the Weimar films in question. Therefore, suggests Elsaesser, the spirit of the times in Germany that Kracauer and Eisner see as expressed in these films is a spirit also reflective of a later historical event. This is indicative of the notion of deferred action where an event, in this case German fascism, finds a cause that it can then claim to be the consequence of. Such deferred action contains a dual sense of anticipation and retrospection. A single event becomes both cause and effect (see note IV), acting structurally like a Möbius strip where distinctions between oppositions become impossible to trace (see note V). More broadly, says Elsaesser, in Kracauer and Eisner’s analysis the Weimar films are retrospectively both the cause and effect of a particular historical narrative about the German nation. In Eisner’s case 1920s German cinema is both reflective of earlier occurrences (German Romanticism) while foreshadowing future occurrences (German Fascism). This again invokes a dual sense of time which structures the concept of deferred action.

However for Elsaesser, it is also by understanding how the ‘historical imaginary’ functions in this way that we can potentially undo its telescopic magnification of historical time. For it is precisely by re-evoking the past while simultaneously acting on it that we open up the possibility of looking at the Weimar films outside the fit of the ‘historical imaginary’. This allows the past to melt into the present and, thereby, gives the past new possibilities. It is by (re)working through the seemingly entangled cause and effect relations that are produced through the ‘historical imaginary’ that we can also look at different possible explanations for why certain stylistic techniques or characters developments occurred in Weimar cinema. Such different explanations might include, for example, what was offered earlier as a critique of Eisner’s period style approach.

This sense of opening up other future possibilities for the past rather than having the past fix the future ties into another key aspect to the ‘historical imaginary’, which involves precisely the nature of its imaginary function. For Elsaesser this imaginary function corresponds to Lacan’s notion of the Imaginary. In this sense, the ‘historical imaginary’ is an identity formed, in one part, through an historical symbolic; the economic goals and technological limits of the film industry, for example. It is an identity also formed in another part by the cinema itself which becomes ‘the mirroring field of representations’ (p. 440). These representations are ultimately structured by the historical symbolic but render it invisible through processes of the spectators misrecognition in the field of the ‘other’ on screen. This ‘other’ in respect of Weimar cinema refers to images on screen of characters – like Dr. Caligari, Dr. Mabuse and Nosferatu – as well as of sets and props such as the distorted spaces and oblique houses in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligiari or the lighting in films such as Nosferatu with its particular use of shadow. In the spectators identification with such images they misrecognise them as primarily expressing characteristics of German mentality when such images are also produced within the symbolic field of economic, technological and cultural production. Critically, this field is not solely determined by spiritual or mental drives of the German nation. The spectator has a fictionalized identification based on misrecognition of the ‘other’, which they identify with as existing within a closed-system of historical, psychological meaning. This ‘other’, however, is also constituted by transnational factors and multiple aspects of cultural production. Such misrecognition still constitutes a reality for the spectator but it is a reality built around eschewing various factors which are crucial for producing what is seen on screen.

The ‘historical imaginary’ (particularly in this Lacanian sense of the Imaginary) closes down the links and connections that exist between cinematic texts and the industries and nations within which those texts are produced and/or circulated. These links and connections tend to show other forces and pressures at work in the construction of filmic texts. For example, as we saw earlier with the critiques of the kind of period style approach of Eisner’s analysis, there are arguably factors concerning industry production, i.e. international trade and marketing, and cultural formation, i.e. cinema’s relationship to developments and trends in the wider contemporary, cultural environment, which all also need to be taken into account when considering the construction of Weimar cinema. Such accounts are sometimes more mundane than exotic but are nonetheless important for fracturing the desire for unity and closure that often underpins the master narratives which enclose, in our example, Weimar cinema into a psycho-symptomatic discourse.

Such scholarly concerns for the question of cinema and history might seem a world away from the stated aims of Herzog (2002). A self-confessed anti-intellectual who has been quoted as saying things such as: “I have never set out to imbue my films with literary or philosophical references. Film…it is not the art of scholars but of illiterates” (p. 70), and who professes that there is an ecstatic poetry in his films which involves emotion, instinct and intuition, and not anything rationally cerebral or systematically reasoned. Herzog here is typical of artists who construct a persona which exudes the necessities of sensibility and irrationality.

Yet when he has talked about his film version of Nosferatu the language is generally reminiscent of the arguments put forward by Eisner and Kracauer in their different ways. For example, at the time of the film’s production Herzog was quoted as saying (in Andrews 33):

Murnau’s Nosferatu…prophesied the rise of Nazism by showing the invasion of Germany by Dracula and his plague-bearing rats. And it gave legitimacy to German cinema that was lost in the Hitler era…We are trying in our films to build a thin bridge back to that time, to legitimise our own cinema and culture. We are not remaking Nosferatu, but bringing it to new life and new character for a new age.[7]

The first line of this quote suggests that there is a transparent relationship between cinematic images and historical events – Dracula and his rats foreshadow the coming of Hitler. This probably at first sounds like it has a Kracauer ring about it more than anything, at least in terms of the more sociological based, phenomenological approach he adopted in From Caligari to Hitler which is the only aspect of his work being considered here. However, it also resonates with Eisner’s contentions that the Dracula figure is evident of a motif of dualism that is in many German films and which mirrors the split psychology of the German mind. The key thing for me here though is that such a quote reflects the reasoning underpinning both Kracauer and Eisner’s respective books. It presumes that a self-evident transparent connection exists between cinematic images and historical events. Such images become both cause and effect of a single historical narrative in which the troubled German ‘soul’ can be read symptomatically on the nation’s screens. Such presumptions reflect Elsaesser’s notion of the ‘historical imaginary’ as already indicated.

In terms of the second part of the quote beginning with: ‘And it gave legitimacy to German cinema that was lost in the Hitler era…’ we find that this presumption of a transparent relationship between cinematic images and historical events is given an additional aspect. This aspect is that such a relationship is a source of legitimacy for the past and present existence of German cinema. I will now demonstrate, by looking briefly at the relationship between Herzog and Eisner, that in one sense this additional perspective is also symptomatic of the ‘historical imaginary’.

After it was published Eisner’s The Haunted Screen had a tremendous influence on the subsequent analysis of Weimar cinema and German identity for both German and international audiences, and it was an influence to which Herzog himself greatly contributed. For Herzog, Eisner was, and still is, a personal mentor who in his eyes not only gave him, but also the New German Cinema (NGC) movement of which he was a part, her blessing that his films were ‘authentic’ German cinema. For Herzog (2002), Eisner was

…the missing link, our (NGC) collective conscience, a fugitive from Nazism, and for many years the single living person in the world who knew everyone in cinema… She alone had the authority, insight and the personality to declare us legitimate and it was vitally important when she insisted that what my generation was doing in Germany was as legitimate as the film culture that Murnau, Lang and the other Weimar filmmakers had created…… (p. 153)

Evident in Herzog’s comments here is not only the proposition that Eisner was a source of legitimation but that this legitimating was tied into her bridging the NGC with Weimar Cinema, implying that the in-between period of German film was not a legitimate period. This is explicitly put in the following Herzog (2002) quote:

With a few exceptions…there had been no ‘legitimate’ German culture since 30 January 1933, the day Hitler came to power…A gap of thirty years opened up. As a filmmaker you clearly cannot work without having some coherence with your own culture. Continuity is vital. So it was our ‘grandfathers’ – Lang, Murnau, Pabst and others – who become our points of reference. (p. 152)

This sense of finding historical continuity through identification with certain paternal figures of German cinema is applicable to what Herzog (2002) has had to say about his version’ of Nosferatu specifically:

What I really sought to do was connect my Nosferatu with our true German cultural heritage, the silent films of the Weimar era and Murnau’s work in particular…In many ways, for me, this film was the final chapter of the vital process of ‘re-legitimization’ of German culture that had been going on for some years.(p. 151)

Elsaesser (1992) in a chapter entitled New German Cinema’s Historical Imaginary from a book of collected essays called Framing the Past: The Historiography of German Cinema and Television has argued that German filmmakers such as Herzog have attempted “to fashion continuity out of discontinuity” (p. 288), a fashioning that involves rewriting German history through German film history. Such rewriting entails bridging the historical discontinuities, the gaps seen to exist between, for example, Weimar Germany and post-war Germany, with filmmaking continuities. In Herzog’s case this bridging has been achieved through conceiving of his films as legitimate and authentic expressions of German culture in the spirit of the Weimar filmmakers such as Lang, Murnau and Pabst. Herzog’s national cinema identification, says Elsaesser, has remained ‘largely the projection into the past of an absence felt in the present’ (p. 287), a projection based on identification with the self-same other. Put another way, Herzog has through retrospection imagined a dialogue with ‘the other within the self’ (p. 287) rather than a ‘radical other’ (p. 287), as with the identifications of Fassbinder and Wenders with American filmmakers.[8]

An ‘historical imaginary’ is at work here to the degree that such an identification involves selecting what are seen as only those good or positive aspects of German film history, seen here as giving expression to German history itself, while rejecting those aspects considered bad or negative. Such a constructed national identity conforms particularly with that part of the ‘historical imaginary’ that Elsaesser sees as corresponding with Lacan’s notion of the Imaginary. The self misrecognises itself in its projections into the past in order to give a coherent continuity to an historical, national identity. Thus Herzog arguably indicates symptoms of the ‘historical imaginary’ at both the level of deferred action, in which the cinematic image is seen as mimetically corresponding to national sensibility (as we saw earlier), and at the level of the Imaginary in which the self constructs a spiritual bridge to the past. This is a bridge that elides the various fields of the social symbolic, fields that in the case of cinema are evident in the economic and technological aspects of production, for example.

As I said in the Introduction to this speech I am keen to show that by understanding the very mechanisms which structure the ‘historical imaginary’ we can work through the effects that these mechanisms have on the perception of the cinematic past. This will allow other potential histories to emerge out of the ‘historical imaginary’. I would like to finish by touching on one other possible history that is buried in Herzog’s comments about German film history. To this end, it is worth noting that what we have been getting with these quotes of Herzog’s that I have been referring to are morphological varieties of the word ‘legitimate’as well as consistent links between German cinema and German culture and history. I think it is worth exploring to what extent such links are not only about an exotic or spiritually ambient connection between the Weimar past and the NGC present but are also about issues entailed in the German kino debate.

This debate involves the relationship between cinema and other mediums and other industries of culture, a relationship which entails a range of dimensions. For example, cinema’s competition with, and yet also incorporation of, the rival arts and at least in respect of the NGC the dimension of cultural policy insofar as such policy was aimed at securing the role of high-culture to promote national history and culture.[9] In the case of the NGC it was, as a loose, collective movement, partly subsidised by the West German government which saw in cinema a means to develop a cultural product that could put the Federal Republic of Germany back on the global Western map. Cinema in this national political climate was construed, as John E Davidson (1999) has put it, as firstly ‘a site of cultural resistance… in which serious aesthetic and political opposition to dominant policy could be expressed and processed’ (p. 3), dominant policy including here polices of the West German government itself. Although by having the opposition to such policies ‘processed’ the point Davidson is making is that such opposition was also contained insofar as, from the perspective of policy makers, the task was really simply to encourage artistic, self-expression so as to create a rich, aesthetic product that could be taken seriously.[10]  Secondly, and related to this first point as Davidson goes onto to say, cinema in this political context was also seen as a vehicle for finding international success and recognition for Germany through the export of such a serious and critical aesthetic product and the auteur filmmakers at this product’s helm. This aspect of the German kino-debate shows cinema’s relationship to culture and how such a relationship involves the industry of national government and its policies and practices. It raises issues regarding the relationship between cinema and national identity. In this relationship, at least ideally from the perspective of one investor here the government, individual self-expression becomes the means through which questions concerning German culture and history can be articulated.

This is not to suggest that filmmakers such as Herzog were simply interpellated into the dominant political discourse of the Federal Republic.[11]  He and many other filmmakers, in their different ways, were aware of the contradictions of the government investing culturally and economically in individual self-expression in the name of national culture. Such investment contradictorily placed models of institutional production alongside Romantic and middle-class ideals concerning individual, artistic expression.[12]  Rather what is being suggested here is that Herzog’s consistent use of the term ‘legitimate’, and the consistent links he makes between German cinema, culture and history, reveal the possibility of other forces and pressures at work on his films and the work of other NGC filmmakers as well. Such forces and pressures open up an historical understanding of cinematic images which points towards their relationship to national politics and commercial interests. In other words, there is a political climate out of which Herzog’s filmmaking practice was conceived and developed, and which also informs the question of cinema as a legitimate culture in Germany. Such a climate suggests that potentially buried in Herzog’s comments is also a German film history that does not conform to the two kinds of historical imaginary mentioned earlier, a film history that might yet open up another future possibility for the past.[13]


Andrews, Nigel. “Dracula in Delft”. American Film. 4:1 (1978): 33.
Davidson, John E. Deterritorializing the New German Cinema. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999.
Eisner, Lotte H. The Haunted Screen: German Expressionism and the Cinema of Max Reinhardt. 1952. Trans. Roger Greaves. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973.
Elsaesser, Thomas. Weimar Cinema and After: Germany’s Historical Imaginary. London: Routledge, 2000.
Elsaesser, Thomas. “The New German Cinema’s Historical Imaginary”. Framing the Past: The Historiography of German Cinema and Television. Ed. Bruce A. Murray & Christopher J. Wickham. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press. 1992.
Faimberg, Haydée. “Après-coup”. International Journal of Psychoanalysis. 86:1 (2005) pp. 1-6
Fehrenbach, Heide. Cinema in Democratizing Germany: Reconstructing National Identity after Hitler. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995.
Herzog, Werner. Herzog on Herzog. Ed. Paul Cronin. London: Faber and Faber, 2002.
Scheunemann, Dietrich. Expressionist Film: New Perspectives. New York: Camden House, 2003.
Schwarz, Gideon E. “The Dark Side of the Möbius Strip”. The American Mathematical Monthly. 97:10 (1990): 890.
Verhaeghe, Paul. “Causation and Destitution of a Pre-ontological Non-entity: On the Lacanian Subject”. Key Concepts of Lacanian Psychoanalysis. Ed. Danny Nobus. London: Rebus Press, 1998.


[1] See for example his conversation with Paul Cronin in Herzog on Herzog (2002: 281)
[2]  See Worringer’s two major works Empathy and Abstraction: A Contribution to the Psychology of Style (originally published in 1908) and Form in Gothic (originally published in 1912)
[3] Elsaesser suggest that there is a certain ‘knowingness’ (14) in operation in many of the Weimar films, expressed, for example, in the ‘serious sense of self-parody’ (p. 14) that many of them display.
[4] See for example her article in Paris, Berlin, 1900-1933. Munich: Prestel, 1979.
[5] Haydée Faimberg, from a 2005 article in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, says that while the translation of Nachträglichkeit as ‘deferred action’ is sometimes the correct translation of the word because this translation carries with it a sense of linear time between two moments it fails to acknowledge the retroactive function of ‘deferred action’. To get at the sense of this retroaction Faimberg quotes from one of Freud’s letters: ‘our psychical mechanism has come into being by a process of stratification: the material present in the form of memory traces is being subjected from time to time to a re-arrangement in accordance with fresh circumstances – to a re-transcription’. The key thing here for Faimberg is that ‘memory traces’ are subject to new meanings in respect of ‘fresh circumstances’. However, I would argue that the way Elsaesser is using the concept of deferred action here actually signifies these kinds of temporal complexities that psychoanalysis itself ideally adheres too.
[6] The Möbius Strip was originally invented by the German mathematician August Ferdinand Möbius who described it as “a paper rectangle that is sufficiently long and narrow is bent and twisted so that its two shorter edges can be glued together in the required manner” (quoted in Gideon E Schwarz’s (1990) article The Dark Side of the Möbius Strip). This physical object has a number of peculiar qualities, one of which is that its surface only has one side since its outside is a continuation of its inside. In psychoanalysis this object has been referred to by Jacques Lacan who, in his later writings, saw it, as Paul Verhaeghe (1998) explains, as illustrative of a psychoanalytical typology (or structure) “whose basic characteristic is the absence of differences between outside and inside” (174). In such a psychic typology inside and outside do not exist as separate realms but are rather continuous with one another but in such a way that the points at which one is inside as opposed to outside remain indeterminate. It is in this sense of a non-duality of opposites that Elsaesser refers to the Möbius Strip here.
[7] Herzog has now backed away from this sentiment to some extent as indicated in the Audio Commentary for the Umbrella World Cinema DVD 2005 release of his Nosferatu. He says in this commentary that we have to take such assertions with caution which is, of course, not exactly a rejection of such assertions.
[8] It should be noted that filmmakers such as Wenders and Fassbinder also identified with figures from Germany’s cinematic past in ways similar to Herzog. For instance, Wenders dedicated his film Kings of the Road to Eisner and included within it a number of references to Fritz Lang. Wenders has described Lang as a missed father-figure with whose films he felt an affinity. See Wim Wenders: On Film – Essays and Conversations (2001).
[9] For an overview of these issues see Thomas Elsaesser’s (1989) New German Cinema: A History and John E Davidson’s (1999) Deterritorializing the New German Cinema.
[10] As Elsaesser (1989) says, insofar as the West German government was concerned, in order to re-vitalise German cinema films could not, on the one hand, look simply like tools for state propaganda. On the other hand, there were limits, at least implicitly presumed by policy makers and the filmmakers themselves whose works were being partly funded by the government, to what, or how certain, political criticisms could be expressed.
[11] Davidson (1999) reminds us that there was not a conspiracy between filmmakers and policy makers in the development of the NGC toward certain forms of national and political identity, rather there were historical and social paradigms constructed in an international context within which such policy makers and filmmakers had to work
[12] For a fuller discussion of this contradiction, and the way different filmmakers symbolically, or through allegory, referred to such contradictions, see Elsaesser (1989).
[13] It should be mentioned that Herzog (2002) has said at one point that what really drove him in re-making Nosferatu was not the desire to imitate the styles or narrative forms of 1920s Weimar cinema but rather to share in ‘a similar attitude to Murnau and his contemporaries: cinema as legitimate culture’ (p. 152). Such a statement could become part of the evidence that would support the notion that another history, one concerned with the cultural position of cinema, is also present in Herzog’s identification with German cinema history as I have touched on here.

Created on: Sunday, 29 March 2009