Ufa Through the Years - Part 1: 1891-1918
Cinematic History in Germany, France, and the USA
Thomas Alva Edison unveils his “Kinetograph” camera and Kinetoscope motion picture viewer (not a projector) in the US Edison fails to see the advantages of a projection system until much later. His specifications for 35mm celluloid film stock from George Eastman (Kodak) set a standard that endures today.
Max Skladanowsky (1863-1939) of Berlin makes one of the first motion pictures using the new Kodak film and his Bioscop invention.
1 November 1895
Max Skladanowsky (Wikipedia) projects the world’s first movie shown to the public on a screen at the Wintergarten amusement hall in Berlin, almost two months before the Lumière brothers’ first public showing in Paris. The Bioscop film’s eight features, including scenes of a garden restaurant in Berlin, run a total of about 15 minutes. The event is enthusiastically reported in a Berlin newspaper dated 5 Nov. 1895.
28 December 1895
In Paris the Lumière brothers give the first public showing of a short film entitled Leaving the Lumière Factory using their own Cinématographe invention. Although Skladanowsky had beat them in the first public showing of a motion picture, the French Cinématographe would prove technologically superior to the German Bioscop, which soon fades into obscurity. The Lumières also are said to have held private showings of their cinematic device several months prior to the public showing.
Oskar Messter (1866-1943) invents the so-called Maltese Cross shutter device still used in film projectors today. He also makes some of the first movies in Germany. Messter – as inventor, exhibitor, distributor, producer – was to become one of Germany’s most significant film pioneers, and a founder of Ufa.
Late in the year, Oskar Messter opens an indoor film studio on Berlin’s Friedrichstraße and hires some of Germany’s very first film directors. He is one of the first film producers to realize the advantages of an indoor studio, making filmmakers less dependent on the variable German weather.
|Diane Kruger and Alex Fehling (standing) in Inglourious Basterds (2009), filmed at Studio Babelsberg in Germany. PHOTO: Studio Babelsberg AG|
Oskar Messter takes over Berlin’s first cinema at 21 Unter den Linden, but permanent film theaters would not become a trend until after 1900.
Deutsche Mutoskop- und Biograph GmbH (German Mutoscope and Biograph, Inc.) film production company founded in Berlin.
31 October 1900
Oskar Messter founds Projection GmbH (Projection Co., Inc.), known after 1902 as Messters Projection GmbH. By May 1905 there were 16 permanent cinema houses in Berlin. By 1907 the number would climb to 139.
29 August 1903
Oskar Messter shows the first of his Biophon Tonbilder (sound pictures) in Berlin’s Apollo Theater. His system using a synchronized gramophone is similar to that of Gaumont in France, but Messter’s sound pictures are a passing German fad and sound films won’t appear again until 1927.
The son of Austrian immigrants, Marcus Loew opens penny arcades (peep shows) in New York and Cincinnati. Loew would later found the Loew’s theater chain and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).
1904 Deutsche Mutoskop- und Biograph GmbH builds new studios in the Berlin suburb of Lankwitz. The nine-minute-long German film Der Raubmord am Spandauer Schifffahrtskanal bei Berlin (Robbery and Murder on the Spanau Ship Canal Near Berlin) is modeled on the American Western, The Great Train Robbery (1903) which has a running time of 10 minutes.
Kinomatographen- und Film-Fabriken GmbH (Kinomatograph and Film Factory, Inc.) founded by Alfred Duskes. He would be one of Messter’s biggest competitors.
With help from German banks, the Danish film studio Nordisk-Films is founded. It moves rapidly into the Central European and German market – with the help of its talented director Urban Gad, and later of its international star Asta Nielsen.
Paul Davidson founds the Allgemeine Kinematographen Gesellschaft Union-Theater für lebende und Tonbilder GmbH (U.T., General Kinematograph Co. Union Theater for Living and Sound Pictures, Inc.) The first U.T. theater opens in Frankfurt am Main on 21 February. In the US, German immigrant Carl Laemmle opens his first nickelodeon in Chicago four days later. (Laemmle will found IMP in 1909 and Universal Pictures in 1912.)
The Biograph, Edison, and Vitagraph film studios in New York City, currently the center of US film production, are all running at full speed.
Jules Greenbaum founds the Deutsche Vitascope Gesellschaft film production company after breaking away from Deutsche Bioscop-GmbH, which he had founded earlier.
Projektions AG Union (Pagu) is the new name for Davidson’s former U.T. In the US, Louis B. Mayer opens his first cinema in Boston in April.
Deutsche Bioscop begins construction of a new glass studio in Babelsberg, planning to move from their old studio in Berlin.
|Danish actress Asta Nielsen made most of her films in Germany. PHOTO: Wikimedia.org|
Production begins on the first film to be made in Deutsche Bioscop’s new Babelsberg glass studios southwest of Berlin: Der Totentanz (&ldquoThe Death Dance”) with the Danish film star, Asta Nielsen (1883-1972). In 1921 Deutsche Bioscop will become part of Ufa, and Babelsberg will be Ufa’s main studio complex in Germany.
Richard III, one of the first feature films ever made in the US, is released. (According to the American Film Institute, the recently discovered "Richard III" is the oldest surviving American feature film, the second ever to be produced in the US, and the world’s first Shakespeare film.)
28 February 1912
Literaria Film GmbH is Alfred Duskes’ new film company. Literaria builds a new glass studio in the Tempelhof section of Berlin in the spring of 1913. The brick studios built there (south of the former Tempelhof airport) in the 1930s now belong to Berliner Union-Film.
Oskar Messter expands his film empire by founding Messter Film GmbH, devoted exclusively to motion picture production. Hollywood and Santa Monica in California are becoming the new centers of American film production.
1 August 1914
World War I begins. In October the “Messter-Woche” weekly newsreel begins. Charlie Chaplin makes his first picture for Keystone (directed by Mack Sennet’s Austrian director Henry Lehrman) in Hollywood in January.
D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation is released in the US. The controversial Civil War epic was made on a budget of just over $100,000.
Decla-Film-Gesellschaft (Decla Film Co.) founded by Erich Pommer, later an important producer and head of Ufa. He went to Hollywood in 1934.
The Deutsche Lichtspiel-Gesellschaft e.V. (DLG, German Motion Picture Company) is founded by Alfred Hugenberg. He will later bail out a bankrupt Ufa in 1927.
The German High Command establishes the Bild- und Film-Amt (BUFA, Picture and Film Office) to better influence German public opinion during the war.
17 December 1917 Universum Film AG [Aktiengesellschaft, stock company] (Ufa, Universal Film, Inc.) is officially registered in Berlin and capitalized at 25 million marks. Among others, Pommer’s Decla and Davidson’s Pagu become part of Ufa.
Ufa takes over the former Literaria studio complex in Tempelhof – with its two glass studios – on Oberlandstraße in Berlin.
11 November 1918
German representatives sign an armistice agreement with the Allies in a railway carriage in the Compiègne Forest (France), ending the First World War. Most historians regard the agreement’s harsh terms and the later Treaty of Versailles as a key factor leading to the Second World War only 20 years later. The Nazis would later use Ufa in their propaganda efforts of the early 1930s.
NEXT > Ufa Chronology - Part 2 (1919-Pres.)
MORE > German-Hollywood Connections