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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: April 2017

1 - Richard Oswald and the Social Hygiene Film: Promoting Public Health or Promiscuity?


There are plenty of reasons to remember Richard Oswald in the context of Weimar film history. Born Richard W. Ornstein to a middle-class Viennese Jewish family in 1880, Oswald initially embarked upon a career in the theater. After fourteen years of acting, writing, and directing for the stage in Vienna, southern Germany, and Düsseldorf, he took up residence in Berlin in 1913 and began working as a director and screenwriter for Jules Greenbaum's film production company Vitascope. His first film script for Vitascope, a screen adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes detective drama Der Hund von Baskerville (The Hound of Baskerville, 1914), was immensely successful. Oswald spent the next twenty years of his life in Berlin and became one of the most popular and prolific filmmakers of his time. Between the years 1918 and 1933 he directed seventy feature films, most of which he also produced and wrote or co-wrote (Kasten/Loacker, 9, 12, 547–59; Bock, “Biographie”; Berger).

Employing strategies and business models that are traditionally associated with Hollywood cinema, Oswald measured the quality of his films by their popularity, and hence by their financial success (Belach/Jacobsen, 68). He recognized star power when he saw it, and in addition to working with already established film actresses such as Asta Nielsen, he is credited with kick-starting the film careers of controversial performance artists such as Anita Berber and the stage actors Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauß, and Reinhold Schünzel, all of whom became icons of Weimar Cinema. A savvy businessman, Oswald founded his own film production company, Richard-Oswald-Film GmbH (Ltd.) in 1916, which by 1921 he transformed into an Aktiengesellschaft, a public corporation with shareholders. The breadth of Oswald's body of cinematic work is staggering, including detective films, social melodramas, adaptations of crime, fantasy, and romance literature, epic historical dramas, and, after the transition to sound film, musical comedies and operettas. Film scholars in Germany who have recently rediscovered Oswald argue that his works offer us unrivaled insight into popular Weimar film and the tastes and whims of that era's mainstream audience (Kasten/Loacker, 12; Goergen, Introductory Essay, 3).

Despite the sheer number of films and range of genres attributed to Oswald, he is best remembered for one specific genre: the Aufklärungsfilm (social hygiene film).

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The Many Faces of Weimar Cinema
  • Online ISBN: 9781571137128
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