When Siegfried Kracauer and his wife Lili in 1941 ﬁnally could escape the Nazi regime and left tor New York ﬂeeing Marseilles via Portugal the history of film criticism should have a fresh start …or have its initial start, depending on your point of view.
Sharing the fate of many of today’s intellectuals and jack-of-all-trades concerning issues and developments in popular culture, Kracauer at a very early stage of his life decided that he could add important comments to the state of media development.
Even though this did not pay off and his life has often been on the insecure side if weremember that for long periods he could only barely survive, sometimes living on scholarships; still he kept on observing and writing.
While first working freelance for the rather prestigious Frankfurter Zeitung the architect and author in 1930 became chief literary editor of the paper until 1933, when like many others he had to leave the country. By that time, the scholar from Frankfurt am Main already was in close contact with Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, some of the geniuses of modem sociology and philosophy.
The collected American writings of Kracauer assembled in this edition – covering the years between 1941 and 1958 – are (more or less) the continuation his work started in Europe where he already had a reputation not only as literary critic and avid interpreter of cultural changes but also as a ﬁlm critic, back then a unique and rather new ﬁeld of research.
The emphasis is on the shorter works, and some additional unpublished material is included: three articles for the Neue Züricher Zeitung in 1941, some scripts from the Kracauer Archiv (including a rare review of Rossellini’s Paisan) and a piece entitled “Talk with Teddie” (e.g. Theodor Adorno) that reconstructs a vivid conversation in Switzerland.
Most interesting are the 15 pieces under the header “A cultural critic in New York” with topics as Jean Vigo, Preston Sturges, Jewish Culture and Psychiatry.
The “Film Review” section naturally includes the famous text on Dumbo and the excellent musings on The Connection. His signiﬁcant contribution to a history of film in Germany, neo-realism, visual culture and ﬁlm noir (long before there was the name) and his achievements as a cultural critic familiar with many different cultures are most remarkable even today. Others, however, now are simply outdated. Nevertheless, this edition is quite informative since – as the title suggests – it centers on his writings in American exile and thus can be valued as at ruly trans-cultural approach to ﬁlm aesthetics, the development of the humanties and sociology. Furthermore, his US writings also deﬁne a new state of expressive dimension since he started publishing in English only six months alter his arrival in the United States, consequently coining many expressions essential for ﬁlm and media criticism.
The three editors of this book – Johannes von Moltke, Kristy Rawson and Martin Jay (afterword) – have added some ﬁfty pages of introduction to this bulk of Kracauer’s output that smoothly guides through the many facets of this important character.
J. von Molke et als. (eds). Siegfried Kracauer’s American Writings. Essays on Film and Popular Culture. (Weimar and Now: German Cultural Criticism). University of California Press, 2012, 260 p.
Review by Dr. A. Ebert © 2013