Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Jan-Christopher Horak And His Publications On Film Exile

Film-historian, film scholar and exile-research pioneer Jan-Christopher Horak

Jan-Christopher Horak has emerged as a leading figure in exile research. A committed, indefatigable, scholar, Horak’s contribution to exile research is manifold. To begin with, he was the first scholar to shed a light on the exiled film-artists, which, until then, had been neglected by exile researchers who were concerned primarily with the literary and academic emigration. Horak’s interest in the exiled film-artists was sparked while doing his MA on Ernst Lubitsch and the Founding of UFA at Boston University, from which he graduated in 1975. While his MA on Lubitsch kindled Horak’s interest in other Germans settling in Hollywood, it must not be overlooked that Horak himself is half-German (his mother is from Cologne) and that he was educated in the US as well as in Germany. Horak’s father, Czech by birth, is a concentration camp survivor who fled to West Germany after the putsch in Czechoslovakia in 1948. Hence I suggest, that Horak’s interest in exile research is a consequence of his background and upbringing. Furthermore, it is important to bear in mind that Horak’s preoccupation with exile research came at a crucial moment in German history, as a political shift to the left made itself felt in the country’s political and cultural landscape, subsequently provoking the scholarly examination of Germany’s Nazi past.

Following the completion of his MA, Horak received a grant from the American Film Institute, enabling him to conduct a series of oral histories by interviewing a number of émigrés, among whom were Douglas Sirk, Paul Andor, Johanna Kortner and Carl Esmond (formerly Willi Eichberger). Horak’s approach was entirely biographical at the time, as nothing had been done in the field of scholarly research among the exiled film-artists who fled Nazi-Germany for Hollywood. As such, his oral histories were a groundbreaking, pioneering effort which subsequently inspired fellow scholars to embark on a similar effort, for example, John Spalek, who would also conduct oral histories, although focussing on a different set of émigrés such as Miklos Rosza, Dolly Haas, the widow of Walter Reisch, etc. Horak’s oral histories were the basis for his article The Palm Trees Were Gently Swaying …(Image 23.1., 1980), which “is regarded as the first written publication on film emigration” (Horak XiX: 1984). His article, starting with a quote from Max Reinhard referring to the ‘wandering Jew’ and the age-old persecution of the Jews does not bear down on any particular aspect of emigration, but rather sets out to establish the parameters of exile in respects to the German-Jewish film-artists. Hence, Palm Trees … is an introduction, a general overview, of emigration, looking at the exigencies and consequences of exile such as the problem of language which, as a consequence, meant the loss of a readership for writers and it made it difficult for actors to find work because of their accents. Horak also touches on the visa regulations in various countries of exile as well as the journey of exile which in most cases did not lead directly to Hollywood but usually either via Vienna or Paris until political developments, such as the Anschluss or the outbreak of WWII, forced the émigrés to move on. Also briefly discussed are the restrictions technicians faced due to Hollywood’s union regulations, which, for instance, affected the cinematographers Eugen Schuefftan and Curt Courant, making it difficult for them to find work. Another issue he raises is the relative ease with which musicians such as Erich Wolfgang Korngold, Franz Waxman, Bronislau Kaper, Friedrich Hollaender, to name but a few, established themselves in Hollywood. As mentioned earlier, Palm Trees … was Horak’s first foray into the field of the exiled film-artists, and therefore his intention was not to zoom in on a particular aspect of exile as he would do later. Nor does he look at the influence the émigrés may have had on the film-industries of their respective host-country. As Horak himself elucidates, “To measure the influence of the Middle European émigrés on Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s would be a much larger task than the one set forth here” (Horak 1980: 32). Since exile research was still in its infancy, with the material available extremely limited outside Horak’s own oral histories, it is not surprising that Palm Trees … should have its inadequacies; for example, Horak mentions Feuchtwanger and Werfel alongside Polgar, Mehring, Doeblin and Heinrich Mann, as having received a writer’s contract from the big studios, whereas we now know that the former two rejected these contracts outright as they were sufficiently independent financially to do without. These inadequacies notwithstanding, given that The Palm Trees … is a pioneering study it does cover a lot of ground, constituting Horak’s initial contribution to exile research as it marks the beginning of the scholarly examination of the exiled film-artists.

Fluchtpunkt Hollywood (Muenster: MAKS, 1984), published as an appendix to his doctoral thesis, can be regarded as an expansion of The Palm Trees Were Gently Swaying. However, with four years between them, Fluchtpunkt is vaster in scope, more comprehensive and detailed. It is worth mentioning in this context, that the first scholarly publications on film exile were beginning to appear, namely Maria Hilchenbach’s doctoral thesis Kino im Exil (Munich: K.G. Saur 1981) and Exil: Sechs Schauspieler aus Deutschland (Berlin: Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek, 1983). In other words, the field had been opened, with reliable data and facts on exile becoming more widely accessible as the number of primary literature increased. In Fluchtpunkt …, Horak looks at particular aspects of exile more closely, for example, emigration to Austria, Hungary, France and the UK, as these were the countries were most of the émigrés first sought refuge, making it clear that it were the political developments (e.g. yielding to Nazism by Austria and Hungary; invasion of France and the UK by Nazi-Germany) that forced the émigrés to move on to the US. He also takes into account the film-industries of both Germany and the US, looking at how they were linked and interacted prior to 1933, concluding that because they had close ties (e.g. Universal had offices in Berlin; Paramount part-financed German films; a number of notable German actors and directors were already well established in Hollywood; etc.) the subsequent immigration and integration was facilitated as, for instance, Hollywood already had a substantial German community by the time the majority of the émigrés arrived. Other aspects discussed in Fluchtpunkt omitted from Palm Trees … are, for instance, the various “waves of emigration” (e.g. the “first big wave” arrived following the Anschluss, the second after the outbreak of WWII), anti-Semitism and anti-German sentiments the émigrés faced in the US, the founding of the Hollywood-Anti-Nazi-League, etc. Certain topics receive more attention than others, such as the collaboration in both Europe and the US between Henry Koster, Joe Pasternak and Felix Jackson and the anti-Nazi films. While Fluchtpunkt … does not claim to examine the lives and contribution of the émigrés in detail, it constitutes an invaluable point of reference for any researcher, giving a clear and all-inclusive outline of exile in Hollywood and its consequences. Horak concludes by briefly looking at the topic of remigration which took place in only a small number of cases as, so he says, “In the world of the Heimat - and Heinz-Ruehmann films and the Conny-Froboess-Schlager, there was no room for people who had left Germany” (Horak 1984/ 2 : 37).

Horak’s second important contribution to exile research concerns the influence of the émigrés on the film-industry of their host countries. Following his MA on Ernst Lubitsch and the Founding of UFA, Horak went on to do a PhD at the University of Muenster, where he studied under Professor Winfried B. Lerg. His doctoral thesis, Anti-Nazi-Filme der deutschsprachigen Emigration ( Muenster: MAKS, 1984) is, as the title suggests, an examination of how the émigrés influenced and virtually created the genre of anti-Nazi films. To quote Horak, “once the biographical and filmographical facts are established, research can now move on to the next stage” (Horak 1984 1: XV). Hence, Anti-Nazi-Filme is a continuation of Horak’s preoccupation with exile, constituting the first scholarly attempt to assess the mark the émigrés left on the film industry of a host country, in this case the United States. As Horak points out in the introduction, his study “combines two areas of research which thus far have always been looked at separately - if at all - research on the German speaking emigration in Hollywood and research on American war propaganda” (Horak 1984 1: Xvii). He starts out on the premise that the contribution of the émigrés to the film industry of the United States made itself more felt in the anti-Nazi films than in any other genre, maintaining that “the influence of the emigrant film-artists in Hollywood should not be underestimated, since as Europeans, they were in the position to fill certain gaps in Hollywood’s film industry” (Horak 1984 1: XV). According to Horak, “of around 180 films, made between 1939 and 1945, which can be classified as anti-Nazi films, the émigrés contributed to sixty of them” (Horak 1984 1: 80). Horak surmises that even though the émigrés had a tendency to complain about the lack of realism in the anti-Nazi films, their input is nevertheless discernible. Not only did they manage to include in the narrative news from Nazi-occupied territory, gleaned from the exile press (e.g. Aufbau), but in some cases they even had their own experience to draw on, as in the case of Mortal Storm (USA 1940), which owes its accurate depiction of Nazi barbarity to the experiences of émigré screenwriters George Froeschel and Paul Hans Rameau, who had suffered at the hand of the Nazis. Anti-Nazi-Filme was a watershed in film history and exile research insofar as never before had the influence and contribution of the émigrés on the film industry of a host country been taken into account, much less the input of émigré-producers, something Horak also considers crucial in exile research as “they [the producers], more than anyone else, were in the position to find work for their fellow-émigrés” (Horak 1984 : XV). It is evident that Anti-Nazi-Filme was also meant to inspire and initiate other researchers to follow up on the ground Horak had broken, as happened, for instance, in the case of Helmut G. Asper.

Horak further investigated the émigrés’ influence on the film industry of the United States in his article Three Smart Guys (Film Criticsim, Vol. XI, nr.2, 1999), which was written in collaboration with Helmut G. Asper. Moving away from anti-Nazi films, the title of the article refers to the first of a string of films by émigré-director Henry Koster, starring Deanna Durbin, Three Smart Girls (USA 1936), a musical comedy which echoes Koster’s previous European films, and which, due to its commercial success, proved very influential. Like all its sequels, Three Smart Girls was produced by fellow-émigré Joe Pasternak, with whom Koster had already collaborated in Europe. The financial success of their film gave Koster and Pasternak enough clout to send for their partner, the screenwriter Felix Jackson, who was still in need of a visa. When Horak and Asper worked on their article, Horak was employed by Universal Studios as head of the archive department, granting him unrestricted access to the studio’s archives and records, which allows us to conclude that Three Smart Guys is based on archival facts and documents. Horak and Asper convincingly demonstrate how “three refuges from Adolf Hitler’s Germany [Henry Koster, Joe Pasternak, Felix Jackson] adapted themselves to the working methods of the studio system, while at the same time bringing to bear on their European heritage. In doing so, they not only influenced briefly the formation of a major American film genre, the musical comedy, through the discovery and nurturing of a young star [Deanna Durbin], but in the process also literally saved a major studio, Universal, from certain bankruptcy” (Asper & Horak 1999, 2: 135). Horak and Asper draw interesting parallels between the light, musical comedies Koster, Pasternak and Jackson had made in Europe and their subsequent Deanna Durbin pictures, illustrating how the latter were a continuation of the former, while replacing the stars of their European outputs - Franziska Gaal and Dolly Haas - with their American equivalent, Deanna Durbin. The article also exemplifies how the concept of Koster, Pasternak and Jackson, since it had proven so profitable, was emulated by studios such as MGM, thus underlining the impact the émigrés - and these three in particular - had on the US film industry.

With his chapter on Exilfilm in Geschichte des deutschen Films (Eds. Jacobsen, Kaes, Prinzler. Stuttgart, Weimar: Metzler, 1993), Horak’s contribution to exile research is twofold: to begin with, he introduces a first definition of exile film and furthermore, he redefines our present comprehension of national cinema. While essentially based on his previous publications, Fluchtpunkt … and Anti-Nazi-Filme … it is evident that with Exilfilm Horak’s preoccupations have shifted, his focus veering away from the émigrés themselves to questions concerning our understanding of exile. The first important point he raises is the definition of exile film as opposed to film exile. A question of definition that has received scant attention from film historians, film exile and exile film are two different entities, the former, according to Horak, denoting the actual duration of exile of the exiled film artist, while the latter specifically defines a film “that was made outside Germany after 1933, produced, directed, and written by German emigrants” (Horak, in Jacobsen, Kaes, Prinzler 1993 : 101). Demarcating exile film facilitates the identification of possible contributions and influences of the émigrés on the film industries of their respective host countries - be it France, the Netherlands, or the United States - by establishing the participation of the émigrés by film and examining those films for their genre specifics and for characteristics carried over from Weimar cinema. Horak maintains that “exile film is not a genre, since neither plot nor style have any particular characteristics; but because exile film is determined by the political and economic conditions under which it is produced, it constitutes a cinema of genres” (Horak in Jacobsen, Kaes, Prinzler 1993 : 106). A second, arguably more groundbreaking, point he raises in this chapter, is his claim that “exile film must be embedded in film history as a chapter that runs parallel to that of the Third Reich, as the film culture of ‘the other’, non-fascist, Germany” (Horak in Jacobsen, Kaes, Prinzler 102 : 1993), for, as Horak explains, “for a lot of German film-makers of the 1960s, the real German film history was not defined by the fathers, tainted by the Third Reich, but by émigrés like Fritz Lang and Lotte Eisner” (Horak in Jacobsen, Kaes, Prinzler 1993 : 102). Horak underlines this valid and important point by giving several examples, among which are genres in which the émigrés had already excelled during the Weimar period and which they imported abroad, for instance the Kostuemfilm (e.g. Mayerling, France 1935), or its subgenre, the biography film or biopic, which highlights this point in particular as several biopics, made by émigrés in Hollywood, were copied by Nazi Germany, albeit with an ideological bias for “… the US versions were based on scientific facts with the hero showing signs of human weaknesses, [while] the Third Reich counterparts appeal to irrationality, infallibility of genius” (examples: The Story of Louis Pasteur, USA 1935 vs. Robert Koch, Germany 1939; Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet, USA 1940 vs. Paracelsus, Germany 1943; etc. Horak in Jacobsen, Kaes, Prinzler 1993 : 109). In addition to that, a number of Hollywood films were based on German plays by émigré authors, e.g. Carl Zuckmayer’s Der Hauptmann von Koepenick which was released in the US as I Was A Criminal (USA 1945), involving a host of émigré-contributors, in this case Alfred Basserman (male lead), Richard Oswald (directing), Albrecht Joseph (screenplay), among others, proving Horak’s point that exile film and Third Reich film can not be separated and, in fact, are more closely linked than one is led to believe. Not only were the films, made in Hollywood by émigré-film-artists, copied by Nazi Germany, but the émigrés also imported the traditions of Weimar cinema into their host-countries whereby they influenced their respective film industries, resulting in an increasingly unsettled and fluctuating definition of national cinema as the boundaries between what is ’German’ and what is ’American’ (or ‘Dutch’, etc.) become almost indistinguishable. To quote Horak, “for the exiled film-artists, exile film, like exile literature and exile journalism, was a continuation of the democratic traditions of German culture, such as they were prior to Hitler’s rise to power” (Horak in Jacobsen, Kaes, Prinzler 1993 : 102). Exilfilm is a case in point of exile research being an ongoing process as increasing knowledge on exile requires new examination and as a continuous debate and analysis is bound to alter our understanding of exile and may subsequently lead to a shift in our reading of exile film.

With Sirk’s Early Exile Films: Boefje And Hitler’s Madmen (Film Criticism, Vol. XXIII, nr. 2-3, Winter - Spring 1999) Horak continues to assess the mark left by the émigrés on the film industries of their host countries, in this case the Netherlands and the United States. In this essay, Horak adjusts his previous definition of exile film, as stated in Exilfilm, slightly by adding that “In some cases, films can be considered to be the product of exile even if only the participating director and author, or producer and director, or producer and writer, were in exile. Other émigrés often worked behind the scenes in technical positions such as cameramen and designers” (Horak 1999 : 124). What is noteworthy about this statement is, firstly, that it ties in with what I put forward in the previous paragraph: exile research being an ongoing process, which, for all we know, may never be completed, thus apt to alter our views on exile and exile film by way of a continuous debate and examination. It is worth mentioning in this context, how this ongoing examination of exile film may also lead to a shift in how we read and interpret the narrative of a particular film. While in his erstwhile analysis of Boefje in Anti-Nazi Filme …, Horak focussed on the real-life events the film is based on (the massacre of Lidice by the Nazis), he is now preoccupied with the religious iconography in the film, concluding that “by appealing to the religious values of their American audience, they [émigré-producer Seymour Nebenzal and director Douglas Sirk) hope to create sympathy for the peoples of Europe” (Horak 1999 : 132). Although Horak does not specify what caused him to focus on Boefje’s religious iconography when reassessing the film, I suggest that multiple viewings, in addition to a more coherent understanding of Sirk’s life and work, invariably lead to a shift in interpreting his films. Secondly, the above statement is interesting insofar, as it points towards a further contribution Horak made to exile research as by shifting his focus - expanding the field of vision beyond directors, actors and screenwriters to technicians - he looks at people whose input and contribution to film in general, and exile film in particular, tends to be overlooked.

This shift of focus was already evident in Horak’s profile on the photographer and cinematographer Helmar Lerski, Avodah (Filmexil, nr. 11, Nov. 1998). In Avodah - Hebrew for work - Horak draws our attention to a contributor to German expressionist cinema whose input and involvement in films like Waxworks (Germany 1925), Die Perruecke (Germany 1924) and Der heilige Berg (Germany 1925) has also been ignored as film historians traditionally tend to focus the films‘, arguably more illustrious, directors. However, in Avodah Horak makes it strikingly clear that it is often those whose name and involvement in a film usually go unnoticed that contribute to a film’s lasting influence. Says Horak, “Sadly, Lerski’s cinematography in Waxworks received less attention than the expressionistic sets … for instance, had it not been for Lerski, the Jack-the-Ripper sequence could not have been filmed” (Horak 1998 : 10).

Seen in the context of his previous publications, Horak’s obituary for writer/ director/ screenwriter Curt Siodmak, In geistiger Freiheit (Film-dienst, Vol. LIII, nr. 20, Sept. 2000) is a continuance of his preoccupation with those émigrés who have been disregarded by exile research. The name Siodmak is usually associated with Curt’s more well-known brother, Robert. Horak writes of a lifelong rivalry between the two brothers, which went back to the time when they were still in Germany. Although there is no mention of the cause for this rivalry, nor does he offer any explanation why Robert’s name has burned itself into our memory far more distinctly than that of his brother’s, fact remains that Curt has thus far received scant attention from exile researchers, and that “although it is Curt’s creation, The Wolf Man (USA 1941), which seeped into America’s collective subconscious as a mythos” (Horak 16 : 2000). The obituary is full of unconcealed and unashamed praise - atonement, perhaps, for the fact that Horak himself only came to admire Curt Siodmak belatedly for when he started his oral histories programme back in 1975, he “did not venture to Three Rivers [Curt Siodmak’s home in California], not just because the $ 750 bursary was rather parsimonious, but also because I had not yet learned to appreciate Curt Siodmak” (Horak 16 : 2000). Horak talks about Curt Siodmak’s difficult relationship with Germany, which remained ambiguous throughout his life, something which was true for many of the émigrés. This, no doubt, also applies to Horak himself: German-born, to a German mother and a Czech father - a concentration camp survivor - Horak was raised and educated in Germany and the US, and to this day continues to work in both countries. Although Horak is not an émigré as such, his family background certainly resembles that of many an émigré. As a result, Horak’s empathy for the émigrés should not be underestimated. When Horak refers to Siodmak as a man with “two souls in his chest” (Horak 17 : 2000) one cannot help feeling that he is also referring to himself.

Taking into account Horak’s dual citizenship, his family history, and his education in both the US and Germany, it comes as no surprise that he should have made exile research his chief preoccupation, emerging as one of the leading figures therein. A pioneering scholar, to whom every subsequent exile researcher is indebted inasmuch as Horak paved the way by embarking on groundbreaking examination of the exiled film-artists at a time when no academic studies were available on this topic. As a great deal of émigrés were still alive when he embarked on exile research, he was able to rely on first-hand accounts. This, as we have seen, is Horak’s initial contribution to the field of exile research. Furthermore, by shifting his focus from the émigrés themselves to their creative output, he opened our eyes to their influence and the mark they left on the film industries of their respective host countries. It is important to mention in this context that Horak was the first to clearly define exile film, thus narrowing the field from a plethora of films to which a number of émigrés contributed by various degrees, to those in which the input of the émigrés is distinctly discernible. In addition to that, he draws our attention to the concept of national cinema, concluding that in the light of the substantial émigré contribution, its boundaries and its definition are blurred and thus open for debate. Lastly, by looking at the contribution of cinematographers to (exile-) film, Horak opened the field of vision beyond directors, screenwriters and actors to technicians.
In spite of Horak’s important contributions to exile research - or, possibly, because of them - there is still ample room for further exploration. For instance, organisations that evolved as a result of exile have thus far received scant attention from exile researchers, yet their role was pivotal and often crucial to the survival of the émigrés. Therefore, Horak’s contribution to exile research must be seen as an incentive, an inspiration, to follow his lead and continue further examining the field in which he pioneered.

Horak, Jan-Christopher. The Palm Trees Were Gently Swaying. In: Image 23.1, 1980.
Horak, Jan-Christopher. Anti-Nazi Filme der deutschsprachigen Emigration von Hollywood 1939 - 1945. Muenster: MAKS, 1984.
Horak, Jan-Christopher. Fluchtpunkt Hollywood. Muenster: MAKS, 1984.
Horak, Jan-Christopher. Exilfilm. In: Geschichte des deutschen Films. Eds. Jacobsen, Kaes, Prinzler. Stuttgart, Weimar: Metzler, 1993.
Horak, Jan-Christopher. Avodah. In: Filmexil, nr. 11, Nov. 1998.
Horak, Jan-Christopher. Sirk’s Early Exile-Films: Boefje and Hitler’s Madman. In: Film Criticism, Vol. XXIII, nr 2-3, Winter-Spring 1999.
Horak, Jan-Christopher, Asper, Helmut G. Three Smart Guys: How a Few Penniless German Émigrés Saved Universal Studios. In: Film History, Vol. XI, nr. 2 (1999, 2).
Horak, Jan-Christopher. In geistiger Freiheit. In: Film-dienst, Vol. LIII, nr. 20 (Sept. 2000).

Borzage, Frank, Mortal Storm, USA 1940
Dieterle, William, Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullett, USA 1940
Dieterle, William, The Story of Louis Pasteur, USA 1935
Franck, Arnold, Der heilige Berg, Germany 1925
Koster, Henry, Three Smart Girls, USA 1936
Leni, Paul, Waxworks, Germany 1924
Lerski, Helmar, Avodah, Palestine 1935
Litvak, Anatole, Mayerling, France 1935
Murnau, Friedrich-Wilhelm, Nosferatu, Germany 1922
Oswald, Richard, I Was A Criminal, USA 1945
Pabst, G.W., Paracelsus, Germany 1943
Sirk, Douglas, Hitler’s Madman, USA 1943
Sirk, Douglas, Boefje, Netherlands 1939
Steinhoff, Hans, Robert Koch, Germany 1939
Viertel, Berthold, Die Perruecke, Germany 1925
Waggner, George, The Wolf Man, USA 1941