Frankfurt is mainly known for two districts, the financial and the red light, but did you know the city also had a Museumsofer? On the two sides of the Main river, there’s a bundle of museums. One of them is the newly reopened film museum. On 14 August the doors opened for the public for the first time in a lot of months and the Avenue went to investigate what was behind them.
Enter the lobby and you’re already treated to a handful of teasers, like a page from the Casablanca script and a Golden Globe. The lobby is also there and allows you to enjoy a coffee while you’re watching some movie clips projected against the centre wall.
Up the stairs the exhibition begins at the very beginning, the lenses, zoetropes and cameras obscuras (surely “camerae obscurae”, ed.) pull you back to a time when images couldn’t move. True, they still don’t: we’re watching stills projected at such a speed our eyes are fooled, but this was a time when even thay couldn’t be achieved. The good news is you are allowed to play with a couple of the exhibits and the reporter for one definitely enjoyed that opportunity.
As you walk around the first floor and literally walk towards the invention of cinema the journey ends with a collection of the earliest films. Starting with the earliest works by the Lumière brothers and the arrival of Kaiser Wilhelm II in a town (which allegedly made him the first film star), it doesn’t take too long before you end up with film getting a more fictional feel. A lesser known Méliès (but one that shows his roots as a magician) and Booth are among the likely suspects. The “?” accident – yes, that is the actual title – is also present and remains an eclectic remix of cinema’s earliest hits: a chase scene, the car running over someone (hello Booth) and trip through the stars (hi Méliès) are featured, as are several other bits of trickery.
Most of the films shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise if you own a dvd with early classics (like my Kino collection) but it’s always nice to see them on a bigger screen. And the 1896 film of Frankfurt will probably be shown nowhere else.
Next to the early classics is a door and it seems like it’s the only option to proceed… one thing my trip to Frankfurt told me is that some of the museums are occasionally unclear for visitors without a guide. The German Film Museum is relatively straightforward: it isn’t too big and you’re walking past the different exhibits in a semicircle. The museum continues on the second floor.
Over there you’ll find a floor dedicated to the post-silent era. When the doors open you immediately see four screens in a semicircle. Feel free to sit down and enjoy the montage of movie clips: sometimes it’s one film being shown
randomly on the four screens (like Jungle Book), but most of the time there’s a theme that seems to connect the various movies. These themes vary from historical characters (like Queen Elizabeth or Hitler) to more abstract subjects (“shadows” places the original Scarface next to that heart-stealing moment from Nosferatu). The films feature anything from classics like Das Kabinett des Dr Caligari to Twilight 2: New Moon (hey, any chance to hear Lykke Li is welcomed here).
Note that this projection uses up a third of the room and you’ll understand that the Deutsches Film Museum isn’t the biggest museum in the world. It overcomes this by going for a more modern approach. The second floor may have a couple of traditional exhibits (like Darth Vader’s helmet from the second Star Wars film – yes, I still refuse to redub it the fifth one and feel free to get a life – or Murnau’s screenplay of Sunrise, complete with director’s notes), but next to these goodies the movie has small displays. Next to costume designs you’ll find a director or a costume designer talking about the look of a certain film. Most of those interviews take a couple of minutes and are subtitled in English.
Other displays opt for an interactive approach, something the museum seems to like. The museum also hosts a booth where you can watch yourself on screen and alter the mood of your image by changing the background: feeling like being in a horror scene or do you feel in a romantic mood? Click around and watches how a couple of lights massively influence a scene.
Speaking of scenes, another display allows you recut a German movie. You get to choose which of the four different points of views you prefer and this allows you to remix the film. Adjacent to this, another display shows you four scenes (going from the first Harry Potter to Citizen Kane) and you have to guess how many cuts the director made. Guessed incorrectly? Then you can watch the scene again, this time with clues.
One of the funnier displays can be found at the back of the room, next to the green screens: you see a couple of movies with a similar theme (like romance or road trips) and can alter the soundtrack for each movie. Speaking of which, Kirsten Dunst‘s kissing of an upside-down Spider Man did improve when I added the Collateral soundtrack.
Enough tomfoolery? Then there’s always room for the temporary exhibition. For the relaunch, the Deutsches Filmmuseum opted for Jim Rakete: Stand der Dinge, a retrospective of a German photographer’s collection of celebrity portraits. If you’re not German, you might as well think Jim Rakete made a series of portraits of unknown members of the public, though you may recognize some of them: Wim Wenders, Moritz Bleibtrau or possibly even people like Alexandra Maria Lara from the Ian Curtis biopic Control. Photographer Rakete doesn’t just go for a normal portrait: he likes the celebrity to hold an object, often related to the film. To promote Lola Rennt, director Tom Tykwer was placed next to a clock. (“All you need to make a movie is a girl and a clock” – Tom Tykwer) Some of those objects, like Tykwer’s clock, are also displayed in a room. Given that the temporary exhibition costs more than the permanent pieces, non-Germans may want to think twice about watching this current exhibition. Unless, of course, you want to tell your grandchildren you went to Frankfurt and saw the actual white ribbon from Das Weisse Band.
If you look at all the displays and movie montages, it won’t be hard to spend more than two hours at this museum. This, of course, is nothing like Frankfurt’s Museum of Modern Art MMK, which celebrated its twentieth birthday by renting another building as well a room on the other side of the street (so a dance adaptation of a Thomas Beckett text could be displayed). Who’d anticipated you could spend five hours in a museum? People should be warned!
You won’t spend five hours at the Deutsches Filmmuseum, but if you’re into movies, you’ll spend a lovely two hours here. One negative afterthought was that the digital revolution seemed to be somewhat overlooked. Then again, you are able to digitally play with movies, so subconsciously, it’s there.
(all images copyright of Deutsches Filmmuseum except photograph of Anna Maria Mühe by Jim Rakete, copyright: Jim Rakete – all images were used for a better visual representation of the museum, no commercial infringement intended)