An Inverted Reflection: Representations of Finance and Speculation in Weimar Cinema

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Lyons, Owen




This dissertation examines the frequent, yet overlooked, occurrence of depictions of financial activity and speculation in the cinema of the Weimar Republic. The few existing treatments of economic themes in Weimar Cinema have focused on the signature crisis events of the period: the hyperinflation of 1921-23 and the onset of the Weltwirtschaftskrise in 1929. I reveal a broader engagement with financial themes and speculative activity, evidenced in canonical as well as little known films of the time. This project contributes to the historical understanding of the everyday fabric of Weimar culture, and argues that the importance of the emergence of a post-WWI German homo-economicus is central to our understanding of this period. The Weimar Republic, and the city of Berlin itself, function as a locus classicus in discourses on European modernity, and the scholarship on the key sites of modernity is well established. Within this discourse however, surprisingly little attention has been paid to spaces of finance such as the Börse (stock exchange). This project aims to evaluate how these spaces were represented to a rapidly expanding, film-going demographic that appeared after WWI: the bank clerks, tellers, insurance workers and brokers, amongst the “white collar workers” identified by Siegfried Kracauer. I argue that popular filmic depictions of financial activity gave form to the otherwise invisible forces of financial exchange. I draw on the work of German speaking economists of the late 19th century, who were the first to articulate the contours of an image of the “world economy.” I claim that the activity of the market was itself a labour of representation that, in the words of Friedrich Engels, reproduced an image of the world as “an inverted reflection.” For non-specialist viewers of these films, fictional accounts of financial activity provided an image of the interconnected global economy, and distilled its complexity into key tropes and stereotypes that also appeared in the Weimar illustrated press. Thus, this project aims to establish the importance of fictional representations to the creation of the worldview of the modern market through the discussion of key films from the period.


European History
Economics - History




Carleton University

Thesis Degree Name: 

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Thesis Degree Discipline: 

Cultural Mediations

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Theses and Dissertations

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