“Where All Castes Mingle:” The Silent Horror Movie and Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”

Amanda Denman

“Where All Castes Mingle” is the inter-title of a scene in the 1925 film adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera that refers to the masked ball held at the Opera House in Paris every year where anyone and everyone can mingle with indiscretion. However, it is also an apt description of the movie palaces of the 1920s, where audiences of all walks of life would come together to experience the newest film in an unprecedented display of mass entertainment.

The motion picture industry began roughly at the turn of the twentieth century. The first moving pictures were developed in 1896, and, within a few years, there were nickelodeons popping up all over major cities like New York, Boston and Pittsburgh. Most of these early films consisted of shorts, one-reel’s worth of entertainment that you would watch via peephole. By 1908, there were over 4,000 nickelodeons with around two million customers per day. As the medium grew and developed, filmmakers such as D.W. Griffith began exploring the possibilities of feature-length films, reaching ascendancy in his 1915 (racist) masterpiece, The Birth of a Nation. By 1916, the number of movie theaters in the country grew to 21,000. It would double by the end of the 1920s. In 1922, 40% of Americans were attending the movies weekly, with tens of thousands of movie houses opening up throughout the decade, ranging from the small neighborhood theater to the 500 seat movie palaces built by moguls such as Marcus Loew, the Balaban brothers, and Grahmin [sic] (Moguls). Indeed, by 1928, an estimated “65 million tickets per week” were sold (Cooper 3). The movies had become America’s pastime and the demand for new features would lead to the production of over 800 features per year throughout the 1920’s. By the end of the decade, over 110 million Americans were buying tickets on a regular basis. In just under thirty years, the motion picture industry had grown to be the fifth largest in the country (Moguls). In his book Love Rules: Silent Hollywood and the Rise of the Managerial Class, Mark Garrett Cooper states:

By 1930, six fully integrated studios and two smaller firms constituted an oligopoly in the film industry. The rapid rise of the Hollywood studios was neither the triumph of cinematic technology per se nor the inevitable result of capitalism. Rather, it was a    process whereby diverse viewers came to appreciate a certain kind of movie as capable of representing the nation to itself, while filmmakers and financiers developed institutions capable of mass producing that kind of movie for a profit. (3)

Innovation and growth was needed to appeal to the masses with those “certain kind[s] of movie[s]” and to retain and attract new customers. Specific genres of films started to be produced, catering to particular audience tastes. These included westerns, comedies such as those by Mack Sennett, Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, romantic melodramas, and epics. But there was also a series of films made, both here and abroad, that did not fit into any of these categories exactly; they included suspenseful plots, moody lighting, innovative make-up and special effects, eerie music, and moments that would make audiences jump out of their seats. The 1920s saw the advent of the horror movie.

I will examine the impact of this genre through a Marxian lens, exploring the ways that silent horror films allowed the audience to critique certain social and political situations by providing visual metaphors for the horrors and uncertainties of a time of great change in the United States. Through an examination of Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” I will argue that the silent horror films of the 1920s came closest to date to fulfilling the potentialities of film as an instrument of critique for mass audiences that Benjamin puts forth.

Walter Benjamin, a German scholar and essayist, escaped the growing fascism of the interwar years by fleeing to Paris. From there, under the growing influence of Marxism, he would produce much of the work that he is known for today, including  “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In it Benjamin extols the positive possibilities of mechanically reproduced art, such as photography and film, as having the potential to move art out of the limited sphere of the museums and into the arena of the masses where it could lead to political critique and change. As scholar Richard Kazis explains, “Mechanical reproduction makes possible the involvement of the masses in culture and politics; it makes possible mass culture and mass politics.” This involvement is made possible for Benjamin by the removal of the artwork’s aura, or authenticity: “The authenticity of a thing is the essence of all that is transmissible from its beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced” (Benjamin). When a work of art is mechanically reproduced, this aura that gives a work of art either its “cult value” or “exhibition value” is eliminated. Kazis explains:

The affect of this withering of the aura is significant. “Instead of being based on ritual,”   Benjamin notes that the function of art “begins to be based on another practice—politics.” What this means is that art for art’s sake, the theologizing of art, is rejected for artistic production that serves a purpose, which stands in direct relation to the political struggles of the time. Art and media begin to merge.

Benjamin goes on to state:

By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence.  And in permitting the reproduction to meet the beholder or listener in his own particular situation, it reactivates the object produced. These two processes lead to a tremendous  shattering of tradition which is the obverse of the contemporary crisis and renewal of mankind. (3)

For Benjamin, the most “powerful agent” of these processes is the film. Prior to film, the only option for this sort of performance would be a live stage performance where the audience’s presence would lead to a unique performance every night. The actor could subtly respond to the differences in the reactions of the audience; each performance had its own aura. Because the performers and the audience were both there, in person, there was no distance between the artwork and the audience. But with film, the performance is not presented to the audience; it is presented to the camera. Furthermore, it is rarely a traditionally performed linear sequence, from beginning to end, but rather is made up of a series of shots that have been edited together to create the best storytelling effect. This practice forces a certain amount of distancing on the audience, a distance that Benjamin feels is necessary in order for the audience to move from participant to critic. “The actor/audience distinction, the art/ communications media distinction, and the artist/public distinction—all are broken down…the most radical contribution of film is “the promotion of a revolutionary criticism of traditional concepts of art” (Kazis). Benjamin gives the analogy comparing a surgeon to a magician to explain the difference between the cameraman and the painter. The magician “maintains the natural distance between the patient and himself; though he reduces it very slightly by the laying on of hands, he greatly increases it by virtue of his authority.” But “the surgeon does exactly the reverse” as he “cuts into the patient’s body” he lessens the distance yet penetrates the patient. This is an analogous relationship to the painter and the cameraman: “The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web.” “The representation of reality by the film is incomparably more significant than that of the painter, since it offers, precisely because of the thoroughgoing permeation of reality with mechanical equipment, as aspect of reality which is free of all equipment” (10). The mechanical reproducibility of the art allows the work to reach the masses where “everyone” can become “an expert: enjoyment and criticism are intimately fused” (Kazis). This capacity for criticism can lead to the politicization of art, which in turn can allow the proletariat to get out from under capitalism.

Although Benjamin’s essay makes it clear that “film was not being used in a revolutionary way under capitalism and that the potential inherent in the medium might never be fully realized,” I want to argue that it comes closest with the horror genre in the 1920’s. These films are inherently critical of the milieus in which they were produced; and they utilized technological innovations in exciting, and even shocking, ways. The capacity for a horror film to produce a visceral reaction in the audience leads to a more memorable viewing experience, that in turn produces a willingness to discuss the film long after the film is over. Although horror films are generally associated with such endeavors  of the fifties such as The Blob, the classic of the sixties, Psycho, or the slasher films of the eighties and nineties, these are all inheritors of a genre that began in the silent film era and, in many ways, was much scarier. Contrary to popular belief, many silent films were not shown in black and white, but were either tinted to reflect mood or action or were even painted in an early form of colorization. The use of color in horror films was often artfully employed to enhance the creepiness of the sets and lighting. Music was often specifically composed to set the mood for the audience and climaxes of terror were often matched with a crescendo. The lack of spoken dialogue led audiences to pay much closer attention to the visuals and to get lost in the pictures on the screen, without the distraction of having to follow the words of a script.  While not the most popular genre of the era, the horror movie still made a great impact on its early audiences by playing on their fears, challenging the status quo, and stretching the limits of the believability of early special effects and their ability to evoke emotion.

One of the most memorable horror films of the silent era was not an American production, although it was released here a year later to critical and commercial success. It is the 1920 German Expressionist film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Directed by Robert Wiene, this film is an early example of “the astonishing impact of the Weimar Republic’s film industry on world cinema. For a decade at least, German movies were a serious economic and artistic threat to the now familiar hegemony of Hollywood” (Roberts 175). The plot is somewhat implausible and convoluted: two friends, Francis and Alan, go to the village fair and see a sideshow that consists of a somnambulist, Cesare, who is controlled and presented by Dr. Caligari. While the fair is in town, there occurs a series of mysterious murders. The audience discovers that it is Caligari, through his control of Cesare, who is behind the murders when Caligari orders Cesare to murder Francis’ fiancée, Jane. Overcome by Jane’s beauty, Cesare kidnaps her instead and takes her to the woods, where he collapses and Jane is rescued. Following a trail to a mental institution, Francis discovers that Dr. Caligari is behind the murders via hypnotism and has him locked up. At the climax of the film, it is revealed that everything that has happened up to this point is the fevered imaginings of Francis, who is the real mental patient, as are all the other characters, except the doctor. Caligari is actually a benevolent psychologist, who, now that he knows the nature of Francis’ mania, can begin to find a cure.

The film’s story contains two major contributions to the history of visual storytelling: the flashback and the twist ending. The movie opens with Francis exchanging stories with an old man (another patient at the asylum). The action of the movie is  a portrayal of the events that Francis recalls. The action that takes place during the flashback is thought to be the actual story. However, it is the revelation of Francis’ madness that in the end provides for a twist ending for moviegoers. The use of the flashback creates a safe distancing for the audience from the fearsome events that are unfolding. The twist ending then undoes this comfort by contributing to the feeling of uncanniness and surprise that one feels that culminates in that last unexpected jolt.

The mise en scène of the film is the source of its visual impact. The sets of Caligari are German Expressionist, an art movement in which the artist “depicts not a flat shallow and superficial reality but instead combines vivid images and expressive objects with passionate emotions . . .through the use of both literal and abstract emphasis of color, texture, obscured subject matter, primitivism, distortion, deconstruction of form, unnatural depth, obstruction, modified reality and surrounding imagery” (German). This is carried out on the screen by using large painted flats for the sets that the actors simply stand in front of. There are few objects and little furniture, and depth is obtained through chiaroscuro, lighting and shadows. The backdrops are of rooms that are angular in shape with slits cut into the fabric for doors. When the scenes shift to the mental institution, the ground takes on a painted circular pattern. The tint of the film is a reddish gray. The actors wear dark, heavy makeup, particularly Cesare whose eyes take on the heaviness of his condition through an excess of black eyeliner. Finally, and perhaps most notably in terms of technological innovation, each scene opens and closes with an iris scope, or a fade in and fade out through a circular lens that expands and contracts at the beginning and end of each scene. All of these aspects contribute to the sense of the uncanny that the film produces. These effects are meant to visually represent the disjointed madness of Francis’ mental state. This is the world of a madman.

Many of the German Expressionist films produced in the 1920’s recaptured the style and innovations of this early film. This genre was an attempt to come to terms with postwar Germany and the feelings of anxiety and fragmentation that it produced. Director Wiene has often been maligned in the past for tampering with the original script in order to produce the twist ending with the realization of rampant madness. Yet critic Ian Roberts sees Wiene’s choices as a direct reflection of the political state of Germany at the time:

Wiene’s realisation of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari was rather a reactionary tale of authority reasserting itself, and thereby re-establishing order out of chaos – the threat of anarchy being a particularly resonant theme in Germany and German film at this time. In the twelve months leading up to the film’s première, much had happened to convince ordinary Germans that a monumental struggle between left and right was taking place. The Soviet-inspired ‘Räterepubliken’, unchecked ‘Freikorps’ aggression, the founding of the Weimar assembly and the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, all served to ensure that the audiences which flocked to see the film were thoroughly sensitised to its language of authority and thinly veiled references to revolution and   counter- revolution. (177-178)

This film then attempts to fulfill the potentials that Benjamin saw as inherent in the new medium. By exploring new visual techniques, drawing attention to the technology with the use of the iris scope, and telling an allegory of madness in a world gone mad, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari opened up an opportunity for viewers to use the film as a metaphor for the current political conditions of the time. That the film was also popular outside of Germany speaks to the prevalence of feelings of anxiety and uncertainty that the ending of The Great War produced on the nations involved. Although we are unlikely to determine whether Benjamin saw this film, it is certainly in line with his own future exile to know that “for the Weimar cinema-goer, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari served as a terrifying vision of reaction and counter-revolution. Like Franzis, the nation had once believed itself rid of those who had caused so much suffering. But then, instead, the wheel turned again and the country found itself ruled by the same Caligariesque figures as before” (186).

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari proved that the horror film could both attract audiences and point the way toward innovative new storytelling techniques on film. Yet the genre really found its footing in the American cinema of the 1920s, largely due to the popularity and strange talents of one man: Lon Chaney. Chaney’s popularity did not follow the trajectory established by the 1920s Hollywood publicity machine: few people could recognize him outside of his films and his off-screen persona was largely a mystery. Film historian and analyst Gayle Studlar describes Chaney’s transformative abilities as encompassing more than just the usual box office appeal of a familiar face: “There is irony…in the fact that, in spite of his famed use of makeup and disguise, Chaney was not a star whose face became the exclusive centerpiece of performance. Following freak show tradition, his expressive body was as important as his face in creating roles that came to be characterized as his “experiments in self-torture” (Studlar 205). Despite, or perhaps because of, these “experiments,” Chaney’s popularity was the direct result of his ability to transform himself into grotesque, deformed and yet somehow sympathetic characters, who would shock audiences until his death from cancer in 1930.

One of the characters that Chaney is most remembered for is Erik in the 1925 The Phantom of the Opera. Based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, this film takes place at the Paris Opera House and tells the story of the ingénue, Christine (Mary Philbin), who is in love with Raoul (Norman Kerry), but who has been seduced by a mysterious stranger’s voice who has coached her into being a magnificent singer.  Meanwhile, the entire Opera House is seemingly under the murderous curse of “the Phantom,” a shadowy figure who occupies his own box and who is demanding of Christine’s promotion to prima donna. When his demands are unmet, tragedy strikes. It is revealed that the masked Erik is indeed both “master” and “Phantom.” Erik terrorizes the Opera House until he is eventually murdered by an angry mob

The technical innovations that this film makes use of were groundbreaking for their time. Although many silent films were tinted, this was one of the first to make use of Technicolor for visual effect: during the scene of the Masked Ball, Erik appears as Red Death and his bright crimson costume and ghastly mask are terrifyingly present against the blue-grey background. This use of color, besides infusing the scenes with additional atmosphere, would have added a dimension of surprise to the aesthetic experience of viewing the film, since such vivid hues were never before utilized on the big screen. While Technicolor would become commonplace in later decades, these early filmgoers would have been taken aback by the striking blues and reds.

The sets are intricately constructed to convey the majesty and opulence of the Opera House and the dark, grisly depths of the Paris cellars complete with trap doors, a black lake, and torture chambers. This attention to detail allows the viewer to more fully immerse themselves in the atmosphere of the film and lends credibility to otherwise far-fetched plot devices. The aforementioned scene with Red Death has Erik perched atop a magnificent statue that is made to look like it is high above the rooftops, where he overhears Christine’s betrayal. Finally, the make-up that Chaney wears shocks viewers to this day. When Christine unmasks Erik from behind, we see a cadaverous face with no nose, deep lines, and a gaping mouth.

The revelation of this face is also indicative of new innovations and camera angles in storytelling. As Gaylyn Studlar explains in This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age:

One might expect that a conventional Hollywood inscription of this action would reveal Christine’s reaction to her unmasking of him and then, in a reverse shot, the visage that has precipitated her horror (or vice versa). Instead, the film treats Erik’s unmasking as a moment of exhibitionist spectacle for the audience that preempts Christine’s reaction. Christine tiptoes undetected up to Erik as he plays the pipe organ. The camera reverses to show his face and body as she moves behind him and snatches off the mask. The camera stays put to fully exhibit Erik’s cadaverous face to the audience first before he turns to  confront Christine with his self-proclaimed “cursed ugliness.” (223)

We are led to believe this “cursed ugliness” is the result of deformity at birth. But his rejection by others has led to his life of underworld crime; born during the Boulevard Massacre, we find out that Erik spent some years imprisoned in the torture chambers beneath the Opera House during “the Second Revolution.” Erik’s repulsiveness is directly tied to the revolutionary events of nineteenth-century France. The distancing that Benjamin states the film creates for the audience is increased by the distance in time and place of the movie’s events. It is from the comfortable vantage point of the relatively calm 1920s in the United States that this tale of horror unfolds on screens during the upheaval of France during the previous century. Distance is further created by the use of the scenes at the Opera itself: in a move that will be repeated and discussed later on in another of Chaney’s films, the audience is watching an audience watch. We get the in-house vantage of the scenes of the operas as they are performed onstage, but we are also made aware of the falsity of the performances by continuously cutting to scenes of the opera’s audience applauding or, in the case of the falling chandelier, screaming in terror. We are further removed from the events through this calling of attention to the meta-performance before us.

This distancing allows for a critical approach to the film itself. One of the major themes of this movie is the attraction of mass entertainment. The opera functions as both a site of culture being consumed by the bourgeoisie and as a commodity that can itself be bought and sold, as in the beginning of the film when the Opera’s owners sell it without revealing the reason: the Phantom’s curse. Entertainment as commodity is on display for an audience in theaters. Also, the film makes overt reference to class issues: during the Masked Ball, the inter-title specifies that the Ball is a place where “all castes mingle” unlike the opera performances themselves, which are attended only by the wealthy. This mingling of classes occurs again at the end of the film when the angry mob, comprised of producers and consumers of entertainment (the cast and audience of the Opera), goes after and destroys Erik in bloodthirsty revenge. While the vengeance sought throughout the film by Erik seems to be the individual result of his own peculiar circumstances, and the result of madness, the angry mob’s vengeance is more difficult to define. It begins with Joseph’s brother wanting to kill he who killed, but, as the chase mounts, the mob grows larger and larger, encompassing everyone in its path. Erik is offered no escape or recourse to the judicial system. Instead, he is literally torn apart and drowned. In a time of great social unrest and strikes, a Europe that had just witnessed the violent Russian revolution and feared other countries, and in the wake of the technological mass murder of the First World War, this kind of mob mentality was a dangerous display of the violent capabilities once the masses get together and decide that they have had enough (in this case, enough interruption of their mass entertainment at the Opera). The Phantom of the Opera broke box office records with its innovative and horrific styling, but its message would also have resonated with audiences of the time in critical and political ways.

Another film of Chaney’s that makes use of the horror genre is 1927’s The Unknown. One of ten gruesome collaborations with director and former circus spiel-man Tod Browning, this disturbing film attracted audiences specifically by calling attention to its affinity with another turn of the century mass audience attraction, the freak show: “Chaney’s roles offered a revelation of the ‘exposed obscenity of the self’—as Other—as masculinity allowed to be failed and freakish. The masculine self exposed in Chaney’s films was in the freak show mold of the Other constructed in contradictory terms: stigmatized and yet aggrandized, grotesque and yet still romantically capable of suffering for love” (Studlar 210).

The Unknown takes place at the circus and the main characters are freak show attractions. Chaney plays a criminal with two thumbs on one hand who, in order to escape the notice of the law, pretends to be “Alonzo the Armless,” a knife-thrower in Zanzi’s Gypsy Circus. Alonzo is in love with Zanzi’s daughter, Nanon (played by Joan Crawford), and is aided and abetted by his loyal servant, a midget named Cojo. Nanon is fond of Alonzo because of his armlessness, since she has an unexplained morbid fear of being touched or held by men. Because of this fear, she initially rejects the advances of Malabar the Mighty, the circus strong man played by Norman Kerry. The revelation that Alonzo actually has arms is made to the audience through a shot of Cojo slowly unlacing a corset to reveal Chaney’s true (lack of) deformity. When Alonzo tells Cojo he intends to marry Nanon, Cojo points out the impossibility since she will find out about his arms. Cut to Alonzo in a white operating theater, blackmailing a doctor to perform real amputation. While Alonzo is away getting his arms removed, Nanon gets closer to Malabar, overcomes her fear and they get engaged. When Alonzo returns, he seeks vengeance by sabotaging Malabar’s new act, which consists of him being strapped to two horses running on treadmills. If the treadmill suddenly stops, poetic justice will be served as Malabar’s arms will be torn from their sockets. However, at the crucial moment, Nanon rushes in to save her man, and Alonzo rushes in to save her. He is crushed by the horse’s hooves and Malabar and Nanon are left to be together.

There are many elements of this film that allow room for a politically informed reading. The xenophobic fears of American society are immediately set at ease by the film’s first inter-title, which establishes that, although this is a true story, it took place in Madrid with a bunch of gypsies. The Other is safely distanced in a far off land and the strange doings of the characters are indicative of the backward ways of a backward people. These are not Americans.

That these foreigners are also circus freaks only adds to the audience’s reassurance. Chaney scholar Gayle Studlar explains:  “In the 1920s the freak show was in its heyday. An entertainment tradition of longstanding popularity in both rural and urban America, it was assumed to appeal to a broad spectrum of people seeking cheap amusement” (199) yet “in spite of its role as a cultural phenomenon for over half a century, the freak show’s heyday would soon be over. In the 1920s jurisdictions and municipalities began to restrict the freak show as disgusting and grotesque, as inappropriate and even pornographic” (Studlar 200). These freakish displays of grotesque human beings as commodities was on the way out as medical science and eugenics sought scientific explanations for the freaks’ physical difference and ways to prevent it from reoccurring.

Secondly, as with the previously discussed film, the viewer has his/her attention called to the performative aspects of the film’s plot. Alonzo is constantly performing: when he pretends to have no arms, when he hides his guilt, when he pretends to be happy for Nanon and Malabar to hide his vengeance and of course during the circus scenes themselves. Again, there are scenes of an audience: first watching the circus performances, and later watching Malabar’s new act. In fact, class makes a telling entrance in this second sequence when the only audience member singled out to the camera is an obviously wealthy woman who ogles Malabar’s shirtless body through a pair of binoculars with evident sexual satisfaction. This upper class viewer’s obviously voyeuristic enjoyment is set in juxtaposition to the democratically mingled audience in the theater who are horrified by what they know is about to take place. However, the feelings of superiority that an audience may experience while watching such a perverse display of viewing enjoyment is absolutely false. It is the enjoyment of voyeuristically enjoying the deformed display of Chaney that would make his films such successful commodities, something that movie owners were aware of as this trade magazine’s advice to exhibitors of The Unknown shows:

Play up as Chaney’s weirdest character study to date. Exploitation Angles: Use plenty of stills of [featured player] Joan Crawford. Drawing Power: Star will pack the house. Not for the children. Theme: Melodrama of circus—with freak avoiding arrest by posing as Armless Wonder. He plots diabolical vengeance but is frustrated. (Studlar 208)

Finally, that Chaney again enacts deformity at all in post-war America speaks to the feelings of guilt and anxiety that the wounded and maimed soldiers of World War I evoked in the American public. This aspect of the film is discussed at large in an essay by Karen Randell entitled “Masking the Horror of Trauma: the Hysterical Body of Lon Chaney,” in which she argues:

Deformity here becomes a site of entertainment rather than a site of anxiety. In this way, the films of Lon Chaney act as an interpolation (an insert that both alerts one to, and distracts one from, the traumatic event) between the spectator and the trauma. The films are doubly coded as trauma narratives: first, by the way in which the war as an event is   absent; and second, by the way the deformed and disfigured male body is referring to the maimed veterans who are not actually represented. (218)

Chaney’s character then becomes “a point of reference for the continuing presence of the veterans of the war and that which ‘cannot be named’ – the horrific physical and psychological damage. It is this which is displaced onto a cinematic embodiment of the traumatic effects of World War I.” Returning to the subject of distance, “for the US audience at the time this becomes a double displacement, for Chaney’s films also relocate them firmly within a European landscape. The damaged male body” is “placed back in Europe where it came from.” Although this movie “is not concerned with the trauma of the war but rather with the trauma of the effects of war,” the moviegoers “witness…the reality of injury, both psychological and physical, that exists as a result of World War I…It is this which is displaced onto a cinematic embodiment of the traumatic effects of” the war (221).

Because of their groundbreaking cinematic techniques, innovative use of camera angles, scary deployment of make-up and prosthetics, and the inherent separation created by horror or fantasy plots, the horror movies of the silent film era come closest to exploiting the potentialities that Benjamin saw film as having in creating an audience’s ability to critique and politicize works of art. As critic Gary Leonard points out, “what is enjoyable in the genre of the horror film is the way the concretization of a source for the feeling of anxiety allows us to move from dread to mere fear and therefore from panic to a plan of action where we ‘discover’ the source and eliminate it” (12). This is exactly what Caligari and the films of Lon Chaney allowed audiences to do: identify the source of their fears and anxieties and contain it within the walls of the movie palace, until true political action could occur. With the advent of talking pictures in 1927, and the prevalence of first the radio and then the television in American homes as sources of mass entertainment, the 1920s cinema was perhaps the last time that such artistically visual and metaphorical representations of the anxieties produced by modern life in a postwar world could be disseminated on such a large scale to such a diverse group of people at the same time. While we have never fully realized the medium’s potential as Benjamin saw it, and probably never will, we still have the horror movies of the 1920s to connect us to a time, place and experience that allowed thousands of moviegoers to share the visceral and critical impact of those films here discussed.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans.Harry Zohn. New York: Schocken, 1969. MIT. Web. 8 December    2011.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Dir. Robert Wiene. Decla-Bioscop, 1920. Film.

Cooper, Mark Garrett. “Introduction.” Love Rules: Silent Hollywood and the Rise of the Managerial Class. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2003. Print.

Ahern, Jude. “German Expressionist.” German Expressionism. n.d. Web. 15 December, 2011.

Kazis, Richard. “Benjamin’s Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Jump Cut. Number 15 (1977). 23-25. Jump Cut. 2004. Web. 12 December 2011.

Leonard, Gary. “Monsters and Mortgages: The Horror Movie as Prime Economic Indicator.” Film Int. 8:1 (2010). 11-17. Ebsco. Web. 14 December 2011.

Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood. TCM, 2010. Film.

Randell, Karen. “Masking the Horror of Trauma: The Hysterical Body of Lon Chaney.” Screen. 44:2 (Summer 2003). 216-221. Ebsco. Web. 14 December 2011.

Roberts, Ian. “Caligari Revisited: Circles, Cycles, and Counter-Revolution in Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari.” German Life and Letters. 57:2 (April 2004). 175-187. Ebsco. Web. 14 December 2011.

The Phantom of the Opera. Dir. Rupert Julian. Universal Pictures, 1925. Film.

Studlar, Gaylyn. This Mad Masquerade: Stardom and Masculinity in the Jazz Age. New York: Columbia U.P., 1996. Print.

The Unknown. Dir. Tod Browning. MGM, 1927. Film. Youtube. Web. 13 December 2011.