Historians suggest that the Kammerspielfilm movement in Weimar Germany developed because on the relative poverty in Germany after the First World War - because they could not compete with Hollywood spectaculars, German film-makers chose instead to produce low-budget, atmospheric, 'expressionist' films. 


This may be true, but it is also true that German films in the 1920s reflected the expressionist ideas of German intellectuals.  They also reflected the dark mood and sexually-liberated morals of German culture of the period.  Kammerspiel literally means 'Room-play' - an intimate theatre put on for a small audience - and German films avoided the epic films with huge sets and thousands of extras in favour of close, surreal, dramas which appealed to the feelings.


Key films of the period included:



Le Cabinet du Dr. Caligari directed by Robert Wiene

A horror film involving murder, the supernatural and an asylum for the insane, with a number of 'twists', and which ends up revealing that all the characters are in fact inmates of an asylum.


Berlin, Symphonie d’une grande ville directed by Walther Ruttmann

This silent movie portrays a day in the life of Berlin in 1927, shown through a series of striking expressionist images.  Film critics enthuse about how it has rhythm, and is a 'visual symphony' which portrays the 'feel' of Berlin as well as its everyday scenes.

Pandora’s Box directed by G.W. Pabst

This disturbing film tells the story of a prostitute, Lulu (played by the 'it; girl Louise Brooks) who seduces a rich man into marrying her, only to kill him and then descend herself into slavery and despair, before becoming a victim of Jack the Ripper.  This film contains scenes that even today we would find 'daring'.



The Nazis argued that these films showed that German culture had become decadent and immoral, and they banned them.  Kammerspiel films certainly portrayed the world as grotesque, dark and frightening.


Yet Kammerspielfilm has had a HUGE effect on cinema.  It has influenced film genres such as film noir (also produced in a time of austerity during and just after the Second World War), and modern horror films. 














The modern director Tim Burton is highly influenced by German Kammerspielfilm and his surreal film Edward Scissorhands is very reminiscent of Dr Caligari.







Good lecture notes


Youtube - see clips from:

•  Le Cabinet du Dr Caligari,

•  Berlin, Symphonie


•  Pandora's Box