Cover image for Kafka goes to the movies
Kafka goes to the movies
Zischler, Hanns, 1947-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Kafka geht ins Kino. English
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
143 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
"A Winterhouse book."
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PT2621.A26 Z99 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
PT2621.A26 Z99 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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"Went to the movies. Wept. Matchless entertainment." So wrote Franz Kafka in one of his diaries, giving us but one hint of his little-known passion for the cinema. Until now, Kafka aficionados have been left to speculate about which films moved Kafka so powerfully and how those films might have influenced his writing. With Kafka Goes to the Movies , German actor and film director Hanns Zischler draws on years of detective work to provide the first account of Kafka's moviegoing life.

Since many of Kafka's visits to the cinema occurred during bachelor trips with Max Brod, Zischler's research took him not only to Kafka's native Prague but to film archives in Munich, Milan, and Paris. Matching Kafka's cinematic references to reviews and stills from daily papers, Zischler hunted down rare films in collections all across Europe. A labor of love, then, by a true man of the cinema, Kafka Goes to the Movies brims with discoveries about the pioneering years of European film. With a wealth of illustrations, including reproductions of movie posters and other rare materials, Zischler opens a fascinating window onto movies that have been long forgotten or assumed lost.

But the real highlights of the book are those about Kafka himself. Long considered one of the most enigmatic figures in literature, the Kafka that emerges in this work is strikingly human. Kafka Goes to the Movies offers an absorbing look at a witty, passionate, and indulgently curious writer, one who discovered and used the cinema as a place of enjoyment and escape, as a medium for the ambivalent encounter with modern life, and as a filter for the changing world around him.

Author Notes

Hanns Zischler has directed TV movies and live theater and has appeared himself in films by Claude Chabrol, Jean-Luc Godard, and Wim Wenders. He is a cofounder of Merve and Alpheus Publishers and is the author of Tagesreisen and You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover .

Susan H. Gillespie is director of the Institute for International Liberal Education at Bard College and the translator of works by Theodor Adorno, Friedrich Hölderlin, and Helga Königsdorf, among others.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

A more accurate title for this book might have been, "What Kafka Would Have Seen Had He Gone to the Movies," for as director and actor Zischler himself admits, Kafka tended to avoid the cinema. As Kafka put it, "I myself seldom go to the cinematograph theater," noting that his need for distraction "drinks its fill from the [movie] posters." Indeed, Kafka "provides no information" about any films that affected his work, leaving "not a single hint that he drew on certain images or scenes for his writing." While Zischler is so bold as to assert this as evidence that Kafka was desperately trying to keep cinematic images out of his work, readers may prefer a simpler theory: that the movies just weren't that essential to Kafka. Apparently, Kafka was more interested in Yiddish theater, preferring to have his sister go to the movies and fill him in later on the plots. Still, when it's Kafka, even his lack of interest in cinema might have made an intriguing book. Regrettably, this poor translation fails in that endeavor, as some sections seem muddled (e.g., "One could say it is a strangely unmoved, an empty weeping that overcomes him. Nothing experienced intrudes between him and the screen"). While the illustrative material is eye-catching and some of Zischler's items are enticing-e.g., the 1920 Zionist film that may have made Kafka move to Berlin, the impact of a particular white slavery movie in 1911-the book is largely unsatisfying. Photos. (Dec. 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

The slenderness of this volume belies the substantial breadth of information packed within. While Kafka has always been the focus of scholarly interest, details about the influence of cinema on his work have not always been specific. Here, TV and theater director Zischler (You Can't Judge a Book by Its Cover) has gone to great pains to study Kafka's comments about the early European cinema, contained in letters, diaries, and other documents, and to match them carefully with information from newspapers, programs, and other archival material. He proves that, indeed, Kafka was not only influenced artistically by the emerging art form but was also an ardent fan of it. Zischler was passionate about his research, locating many rare items and also material thought to be lost. A wealth of information about early European cinema is provided, and the reader develops a friendly acquaintance with Kafka through details of his trips with Max Brod, correspondence with fiance Felice Bauer, musings about people and life, and effusive responses to the movies on a number of levels. Illustrated with film stills (e.g., The White Slave Girl; The Heartbreaker), posters, photos, and clippings, this brings an altogether fresh perspective to the life of Kafka, always an absorbing subject, and offers a fine look at a fascinating era of cinematic history. Of particular interest to scholars and to humanities and film collections.-Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Until now, one of the curious--Kafkaesque, one might say--aspects of the prodigious amount of secondary criticism on Kafka was the almost total disregard of Kafka's passionate interest in cinema, as if his absorbing and creative imagination were curiously unaffected by--resistant to--the films he saw. A well-known German cinematographer, theater director, and film actor, Zischler paints a colorful portrait of Kafka the moviegoer by cross-referencing the few comments Kafka made about film with a wealth of background data gleaned from a wide range of sources, from film and newspaper archives to early cinema venues that Kafka frequented. Zischler gathers evidence about many of the films Kafka saw, which he then interweaves in a reading of selected diary entries and Kafka's letters to his fiance, Felice Bauer, who (Zischler suggests) became a kind of cinematic screen on which Kafka projected transfigured film images in order to come to terms with his ambivalence about marriage and its (negative) impact on his vocation, writing. Though Zischler's analysis engages little of Kafka's fiction, this is a work for literary scholars, who will find here a trove of information and insights. Gillespie's translation is suggestive, quirky, readable, and accurate. ^BSumming Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals. E. Williams Texas A&M University

Table of Contents

The Audience
The Explainer
Les Correspondences Douloureuses, or the Pavement Pounder
The Kaiser Panorama
That White Slave Girl Again
Paris in Dotted Lines, or the Theft of the Mona Lisa
Torn Away, or Luuml;tzow's Wild Chase
The Arbitrary Example, or
The Other
An Invisible Sight, or
The Heartbreaker
The Movie Queen
The Light...the Screen...Slaves of Gold
Au Revoir and Deja VuBoundless Entertainment
Afternoon, Palestine Film
Brief Filmography