Portland State University. Department of History
Term of Graduation
Date of Publication
Master of Arts (M.A.) in History
1 online resource (vii, 133 pages)
The First World War altered the view of masculinity held by many in Germany and shredded what many regarded as unchangeable fixtures of German life. For German men, much of the interwar period meant dealing with the losses from the war, reconfiguring what it meant to be a man. This reconfiguration of gender took place in a context of change in Germany. Many women entered the workforce to replace the lost men. The economic downturn and reliance on funding from the United States motivated many within Germany to examine gender roles and to reassemble masculinity to meet changing circumstances.
This project explores this reassembly of gender and masculinity through the lens of film. As a starting point, I examine the historiography of gender crisis within interwar German film. For several decades now, many film historians have analyzed gender in these films and concur about their portrayal of a crisis of masculinity, specifically that men saw themselves as failures. My re-reading of these films suggests that while it is true that many films from this period convey a crisis of gender, a number of filmmakers pushed through crisis to reconfigure and reassemble a coherent vision of masculinity.
This reassembly involved a shift in the class orientation of gender identity. In the group of films I examine, an upper-class orientation of masculinity gives way to a hardened and heroic masculinity projected on to a working-class male protagonist. Furthermore, this hardened and heroic masculinity was projected through characters and stories that functioned outside the left-right political spectrum. Of course, this new expression of idealized masculinity later becomes attached to the Nazis, but this thesis roots its origins in diffuse cultural and political orientations. I suggest that a potentially wide German audience might have encountered and become familiar with, even accepting of, a reassembled masculinity via film. The filmmakers in this study were not Nazis and this study suggests that the historiography of German interwar film too narrowly attributes the vision of masculinity under National Socialism as a "fix" for postwar and Weimar social problems.
This project, then, explores the narrative and character manifestations of masculinity in German society via film. The filmmakers were not Nazis, and the films were not propaganda pieces in service to the party. My selection of films is comprised of entertainment pieces representing a variety of agendas among filmmakers of the time. As such, this study finds a common theme of reassembled masculinity, moving from a traditional (or "in crisis") mode of gender to a new hypermasculine mode, notably defined by sexual aggression and violence. The variety and variability discovered in my study has been missing in the historiography of Weimar. Through the lens of film, this thesis recovers a broader and less ideologically driven set of explorations of gender in interwar Germany.
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Metcalf, Brandon, "Interwar Weimar Film and Masculinity: Challenging the Presumed Crisis of Interwar German Gender Discourse from Selected Films from 1925-1931" (2022). Dissertations and Theses. Paper 5997.