New Publications

Michael Cowan, Film Societies in Germany and Austria 1910-1933: Tracing the Social Life of Cinema

This study traces the evolution of early film societies in Germany and Austria, from the emergence of mass movie theaters in the 1910s to the turbulent years of the late Weimar Republic. Examining a diverse array of groups, it approaches film societies as formations designed to assimilate and influence a new medium: a project emerging from the world of amateur science before taking new directions into industry, art and politics. Through an interdisciplinary approach—in dialogue with social history, print history and media archaeology—it also transforms our theoretical understanding of what a film society was and how it operated. Far from representing a mere collection of pre-formed cinephiles, film societies were, according to the book’s central argument, productive social formations, which taught people how to nurture their passion for the movies, how to engage with cinema, and how to interact with each other. Ultimately, the study argues that examining film societies can help to reveal the diffuse agency by which generative ideas of cinema take shape.

The Open Source version of this book is available here.

Selected Reviews

“Michael Cowan’s deeply researched study contends that film clubs, though often overlooked, were pivotal in articulating ideals of spectatorship, notions of cinema’s identity as a medium, and utopian beliefs in film’s transformative power, thereby challenging us to rethink core assumptions of media studies and rewrite film history.”
—Rielle Navitski, University of Georgia

“Richly detailed, meticulously researched, and convincingly argued, Michael Cowan’s strikingly original study provides an invaluable account of the precursors, aims, activities, and social functions of film societies that operated apart from the theatrical film business in early twentieth-century Germany and Austria. In so doing, Cowan reframes how we should think about the historical import of such groups, whose practices and presumptions testified in vastly different ways to the significant possibilities and manifold utility of cinema.”
—Gregory A. Waller, Editor of Film History