This essay investigates the little-known early film work of the German photomontagist John Heartfield (born Helmut Herzfeld in 1891). A firm opponent of World War I and an early member of Berlin's rambunctious Dada movement, Heartfield nonetheless agreed to produce propaganda films for the German High Command. However, he shunned live-action film sequences of the war, which were subject to heavy censorship, and instead drew on American-style cinematic animation to convey a subversive message about the war's violence and horror. Although he later became famous for his photomontages, here he avoided the photographic basis of film because it lent itself all too easily to prowar propaganda. His work with George Grosz, by contrast, attempted to reinsert somatic terror into representations of the war and thereby to counter the visually sedative aspect of contemporary German war photography. Berlin Dada, of which Heartfield was an early member, achieved similar effects in its live performances, staged at precisely the same time these films were produced. The essay concludes by noting the parallel between Heartfield's animation and Walter Benjamin's later reflections on the subversive dimension of Disney's early shorts. Benjamin knew that the Dadaists appealed not just to the visual but to all somatic dimensions of perception—the aural, the visual, and the tactile.
A “Political Struwwelpeter”? John Heartfield's Early Film Animation and the Crisis of Photographic Representation
Andrés Mario Zervigón; A “Political Struwwelpeter”? John Heartfield's Early Film Animation and the Crisis of Photographic Representation. New German Critique 1 August 2009; 36 (2 (107)): 5–51. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0094033X-2009-001
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