Below the Surface: Siegfried Kracauer’s unmade exile film

Below the Surface: Siegfried Kracauer’s unmade exile film (Dr Leila Mukhida, University of Cambridge)

Centring on holdings in the German Literature Archive in Marbach, Below the Surface complements Eisner’s study of Lotte Eisner with an investigation of print archive materials that recall a cinematic history of German-Jewish exile. The research corpus is the screenplay and surrounding correspondence from an unmade experimental film developed by German-Jewish Frankfurt School thinkers in exile. 

From the early 1940s, Theodor W.Adorno, Max Horkheimer, and Siegfried Kracauer, all three of whom had fled German fascism for destinations in the US, focused their efforts on analysing the root causes of prejudice. The trio turned their attention in different ways to the unconscious mind, drawing on psychoanalytical methods to uncover latent anti-Semitic tendencies among different audience groups, and developing social-scientific tools for testing susceptibility to fascism and anti-semitism. One such tool was an experimental film, Below the Surface, developed by the three writers as a barometer to test audience tendencies to prejudice.

The film was intended for screening to focus groups in order to measure their responses to different characters, and thus to reveal anti-Semitic prejudices hidden ‘below the surface’ of knowing minds. Several script versions were written, and the final draft was single-authored by Siegfried Kracauer, the most film-literate member of the group. Yet the film was abandoned, apparently for financial reasons, and ‘all that is left behind is a confusing paper trail of archive documents’. (Gilloch 2015). Leila Mukhida aims to reconstruct the history of the project and to explore the feasibility of a short film based on the script.