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Melissa Olson, Washington University St. Louis, Germanic Languages and Literatures

Poster Art and Cinema of the Weimar Republic

My research investigates film advertising and poster designs produced in Germany during the Weimar Republic as significant cultural artifacts that reveal complex intersections between consumerism and aesthetics, popular entertainment and fine art. The intent of my dissertation is two-fold. On the one hand, I reconsider the intellectual debates surrounding the artistic legitimacy of film as argued in the so-called Kinodebatte of the early 20th century, an unsettling of the perceived boundaries between high and low art that remains significant to theorizations and explications of the cinema today. On the other hand, my examination of the film poster aims to complicate the theoretical understanding of the ontology of the film medium itself by scrutinizing the relationship between still and moving images, the graphic and the photographic, and between image and text. In pursuing these parallel inquiries, I indicate that the historical practice of viewing a film was not bound within the confines of a single medium, nor contained solely within the film itself. Instead, I suggest that during the Weimar period other media, like film posters, extended the film-viewing experience spatially and temporally by confronting the viewer through a multitude of marketing avenues displayed in cinematic exhibition spaces, in illustrated periodicals, on the street, and elsewhere. Based on close visual analysis of poster artifacts, and drawing on the work of the period’s contemporary cultural critics, such as Siegfried Kracauer and Walter Benjamin, who discuss advertising as a barometer for measuring social concerns, my project asks what film posters demonstrate about Weimar culture, how poster art might shape spectator expectations upon viewing a film, and, finally, how films themselves may incorporate posters or poster-art aesthetics to suggest relationships with the contemporary urban environment.