Curated by Lukas Foerster

Like most other countries, Germany was rapidly won over by sound cinema. To meet the demands of a growing and changing market, producers looked out for new talent, and often found it in Berlin’s world-famous cabaret and revue theatre scene. Among the most successful genres emerging in the early 1930s were comedies, musicals and, combining both, the specific Ge man genre of Tonfilmlustspiel. Rooted in the operetta tradition of the 19th century, but adapted to contemporary aesthetics and mores, these films introduced popular comedians and singers to the movie audience, while celebrating the urbane, sophistica ed, hedonistic modernity of Weimar culture. For a few precious years, just before the Nazi takeover, a decidedly lighthearted, sensual, frivolous and uninhibited spirit swept through German cinemas.
The musical comedies of the late Weimar Republic are swarming with false countesses, tramps and drifters. Policemen and other figures of authority, on the other hand, are mocked constantly, while social, sexual and gender identities are in a constant state of flux.
Even more than other genres of German cinema of the Weimar Republic, the Tonfilmlustspiel is inextricably linked to the work of Jewish directors, screenwriters, producers, composers and actors originating from all over Germany as well as, quite often, Austria, who had found the blossoming cultural metropolis Berlin to be a welcoming place during the 1920s. Almost none of them were able to continue working in Germany after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, culminating in his chancellorship starting on 30 January, 1933. Directly afterwards, the exclusion of Jewish German citizens from all important positions in daily life started, as well as the antisemitic pogroms. UFA, the most important production company at the time, cancelled the contracts of the majority of their Jewish staff a mere two months after the Nazi takeover.
The fate of the Jewish film workers mirrors the fate of German Jewry in general. Some managed to escape, others, tragically, did not make it out of Europe in time and were killed in the concentration camps, including Otto Wallburg, one of the most iconic character actors of his generation, and a mainstay in the musical comedy genre.
Today, the Tonfilmlustspiel is almost a glimpse into an alternative pathway of history; a window into a lost world, never to be fully regained by German postwar cinema. Except for a few UFA productions that have become evergreen favourites such as Die Drei von der Tankstelle or Der Kongress tanzt, the Tonfilmlustspiel tradition is all but forgotten today, with only a handful of films available on Dvd or streaming. To indicate the scope of this omission, this programme collects eight long and two short films produced between 1930 and 1932. There is a special focus on the work of smaller production companies such as Terra-Filmkunst and Super-Film.

Lukas Foerster