The history of cinema began in Austria in March 1896, with the presentation in Vienna of the Cinématographe by the Lumière brothers; but a production of subject films only developed from 1908. In 1910, the two main production houses began the activity: the Erste Österreichische Kinofilms-Industrie (since 1912 Wiener Kunstfilm), founded by the photographer Anton Kolm, by his wife Louise Veltée Kolm and Jakob Fleck; and the Sascha-Film by the Bohemian Count Sascha Kolowrat (Alexander Krakovský z Kolovrat). The first specialized in adaptations of literary works, the apex of which was Der Unbekannte (1912) by L. Kolm, from the play by O. Bendiener; of the second we remember Hubert Marischka’s Der Millionenonkel (1913), an ante litteram film-operetta, which marked the apex of pre-war cinema. Numerous were the Austrian writers who s’ they were interested in cinema, including Austria Schnitzler and H. von Hofmannsthal (who also wrote subjects for films), but their collaborations with production companies were scarce; an exception was Felix Dörmann, who between 1912 and 1914 was involved in production and directing. Altogether, from 1908 to 1914, about a hundred films were made, an important production in central Europe, but marginal when compared with France or Italy, and lacking in originality.
With the First World War, Austrian cinema experienced the beginning of a period of development that culminated in the first half of the 1920s. During the conflict, new studios were built and companies multiplied, while production increased until reaching 100 titles in 1918. A new trend emerged (later defined pre-expressionist), which united the social drama and the supernatural; the director Fritz Freisler distinguished himself there, with films such as Der Brief einer Toten (1917) or Das andere Ich (1918). Furthermore, ties with Germany were strengthened: in 1915 Sascha-Film formed an alliance with the German producer Oskar Messter, which in the aftermath of the war would lead to the entry of UFA into the company. After the war, Vienna became the center of cinematographic Central Europe for a short but significant period; The Hungarians Mihály Kertész (Michael Curtiz), Paul Czinner and Alexander Korda, and the German Robert Wiene worked there, among others. The main lines were two: the great productions of historical-biblical subjects, with which Sascha-Film and Vita-Film (which succeeded the Wiener Kunstfilm) aimed at a considerable presence on the international market (among the largest, Sodom und Gomorrha of Kertész and Samson und Delilah by Korda, both from 1922); and the dramas permeated with magic and horror, in tune with German Expressionism (of which Czinner’s Inferno of 1920 is an example), often inspired by works of Romanticism, from W. Scott to ETA Hoffmann (from whose stories Max Neufeld drew, in 1923, Hoffmanns Erzählungen). The boom proved decidedly ephemeral, and production collapsed in 1925 to below ten films a year; Vita-Film failed, and Sascha-Film, after Kolowrat’s death (1927), moved part of the business to Berlin, where many directors, actors and technicians also emigrated.
According to usprivateschoolsfinder, a protectionist policy later allowed the industry to recover: in the second half of the 1920s production thus stood at around twenty films a year. In this period, works of a realistic imprint predominated, which aimed to describe the social problems of the time, in parallel with the German current of the Neue Sachlichkeit ; the best known title is Café Elektric by Gustav Ucicky, from 1927. Starting from 1929, the advent of sound exposed the weakness of Austrian cinema: the increase in production costs and the economic crisis pushed it to the brink of bankruptcy many companies, and production dropped to sixteen films in 1930 and eight in 1931. The German Tobis bought a stake in Sascha-Film (which changed its name to Tobis-Sascha Film) in 1931, thus gaining de facto control of a large part of the Austrian production. At the same time, the weight of the German market grew, providing Austrian companies with about 2/3 of the revenues, compared to 10-15% obtained at home, while German cinema quickly conquered hegemony in Austria, taking Hollywood dominance away. he had enjoyed in the 1920s.
After 1933, however, Austrian cinema benefited from the political situation in Germany, where the advent of National Socialism forced numerous directors, actors and technicians to an exile of which Vienna was often the first stop. The range of genres that had characterized the previous decade narrowed down to comedy and musical films that were the driving force behind the relaunch of production, which had grown from ten films in 1932 to twenty-seven in 1935. In these years, Musikfilm became the emblem of Austrian cinema, leveraging the popularity abroad of the waltz and the wiener operette; within it various genres flourished, the most important of which were biographies of musicians and operetta films. The trend of the wiener Film (the Viennese film) instead characterized the comedy; it tended towards melancholy melodrama, and the Vienna it showed was not a real city, but a place of the spirit, the symbol of felix Austria. Overall, the production of the period rarely attracted attention, while its debts with the theater, from acting to directing, are evident. An exception was represented by Willi Forst, who distinguished himself, from Maskerade (1934; Mascherata) to Operette (1940; A tempo di valzer), for the elegance of the staging and the mastery of the language; but also significant was the contribution of the German Werner Hochbaum, disliked by the Nazi regime, who worked from 1934 to 1936 in Vienna, inserting himself in an original way, with Vorstadtvarieté (1934), in the genre of the wiener Film.
With the annexation of the Austria at the Third Reich in 1938, a process was completed which in the space of twenty years (from the 10s to the introduction of sound) had led Austrian cinema from collaboration with German to dependence on it and, finally, to submission. A subservience that in fact preceded the annexation, since the intertwining of economic interests allowed the Nazi regime, starting from 1933, to force the alignment of Austrian production to its own ideology, also taking advantage of the acquiescence of a part of the industry. In 1938 the sector was nationalized, and Wien-Film was born from Tobis-Sascha Film, in which all the activity was concentrated. About fifty films were made from 1939 to 1945, mostly entertainment, in the sign of continuity with the Thirties. Although the propaganda production was in the minority (historiography limits it to a handful of titles, including Ucicky’s Heimkehr, from 1941), most of the films were in various ways permeated by the ideology of the regime. At the same time, the setting in the Austria Habsburg part of the production appears ambivalent: singing the myth of the Habsburgs, these films certainly responded to a desire to escape reality, but at the same time preserved the memory and celebrated the identity of a nation that at that time the Third Reich had canceled from the map of Europe.
From the end of the Second World War to 1955 (when sovereignty was returned to the country), the Austria it was divided into zones of occupation between the Allies and the Soviet Union. The seizure of Third Reich property also affected Wien-Film, and the occupiers exercised tight control over film business. Indifferent to the course of history, the production remained in line with the past: contents, language, actors, technicians and directors remained largely those of the pre-war period. THERE. showing the films of this period is a locus amoenus, in which conflicts, if any, are recomposed with a song, as in Forst’s Wiener Mädel (1944-1949; Viennese Girls), which continues the tradition of Operettenfilm; when the difficulties of the present transpire, as in Der Hofrat Geiger (1947;
Traditional streams continued, such as the biographies of musicians, among which Heroica (1949) by Walter Kolm-Veltée and Mozart (1955) by Karl Hartl stand out. There were numerous films on the Austria Habsburg, which culminated in a very successful trilogy about Elizabeth, wife of Emperor Franz Joseph, with Romy Schneider, directed by Ernst Marischka: Sissi (1955; Princess Sissi), Sissi, die junge Kaiserin (1956; Sissi, the young empress) and Sissi, Schicksalsjahre einer Kaiserin (1957; Fate of an empress); it evoked the past greatness of the country, transforming history into a love story at the same time. Other genres characteristic of the period were: Bergfilm (the mountain film), from Harald Reinl’s Nacht am Mont Blanc (1951) to Hans Quest’s Zwölf Mädchen und ein Mann (1959); and the Heimatfilm, which celebrated the beauty of nature, untouched by history, as in Alfons Stummer’s Echo der Berge (1954; The Hunter of the Silver Forest). These genres performed different functions: on the one hand they satisfied a much felt need for identity after the trauma of the war, on the other hand they also constituted a successful export item in Germany, and indirectly promoted tourism, which in the 1950s became a an important voice in the country’s economy.
In the sixties and seventies Austrian cinema, which remained foreign to the experience of nouvelles vagues as it had been after the war to that of Neorealism, continued wearily with the formulas of the past, unable to renew itself, consuming itself in the production of coarse comedies. and remakes of pre-war classics. Only a limited avant-garde production testified to the existence of a cultural research (anticipated by Wolfgang Kudrnofsky and Kurt Steinwendner with Der Rabe, 1951), which established itself with the experimental films of Kurt Kren and Peter Kubelka (founder in 1964 of the Österreichisches Filmmuseum in Vienna).
Faced with the spread of television and the change in society and the use of free time, even the Austria he knew the crisis of the cinema: the number of spectators dropped from 122 million in 1958 (the height of the post-war period) to 17 million in 1976, stabilizing afterwards for a decade; production, which from 1947 to 1966 had fluctuated between twenty and thirty films a year, in the following fifteen years did not exceed four or five.After almost extinction, Austrian cinema was reborn at the beginning of the 1980s. In 1981, a law supporting the sector was approved, which also provided for the participation of public television (Österreichischer Rundfunk); The Öster-reichisches Filminstitut was created in the 1990s to coordinate state funding. As a result, production has resumed significantly, settling from 1982 to around twelve films a year. It was also made possible the affirmation of an independent cinema, new in style and content, which has revisited traditional trends and tackled issues that had remained unexplored for a long time.
The change was heralded by the films directed by Niki List, which manipulate certain genres (noir, musical) in an author’s perspective, such as Malaria (1982) or Müllers Büro (1986). The revision of Heimatfilm, and of the Heimat concept, was undertaken with Wolfgang Murnberger’s Himmel oder Hölle (1990) and Christian Berger’s Mautplatz (1994). We have also critically questioned the history of the country, often deliberately distancing oneself from tradition; there were in particular numerous films that investigated the period of National Socialism and the war, stigmatizing connivance with the Third Reich, about which he had long been silent: this happened with documentaries (Die papierene Brücke, 1986, by Ruth Beckermann; Postadresse: 2640 Schlöglmühl, 1990, and Schuld und Gedächtnis, 1992,
The attention to the reality of the country was also marked in the works of Ulrich Seidl, from Der Ball (1982) to Good news (1990), to Hundstage (2001; Canicola), in which the social investigation is colored with a grotesque hue. However, this renewal was not matched by an adequate increase in the influx of the public: the number of spectators from 1986 on the contrary started to decrease again, reaching a minimum in 1992 with 9 million, but then went up again. The gaze that cinema has cast in recent years on Austria it is now melancholy, now sarcastic, now tragic; speaks of a country that struggles to find a precise identity and confronts it with the vacuum that pervades it. Clear testimony of this are the films of Michael Haneke, which, without offering solutions, but letting the tragedy impregnate and saturate the screen, document the horror and violence that are hidden in the folds of everyday life, making at the same time the to. a metaphor of the West. It is precisely with Haneke that the new Austrian cinema has also established itself internationally: his works are proof that the Austria it is again present on the European map of cinema.