WAGNER, Fritz Arno






Cinematographer. Nationality: German. Born: Schmiedefeld am Rennsteig, 5 December 1891 (other sources give 1889 and 1894). Education: Studied commercial subjects at the University of Leipzig; attended Academy of Fine Arts, Paris. Career: 1911—clerk for Pathé, Paris; newsreel cameraman during the 1910s; 1919—joined Decla-Bioscop, Berlin: first film as cinematographer, Der Galeerensträfling ; after World War II, worked at DEFA, Babelsburg. Died: In automobile accident, 18 August 1958.


Films as Cinematographer:

1919

Der Galeerensträfling (co)

1920

Arme Violetta ( The Red Peacock ) (Stein); Die Geshchlossene Kette (Stein); Das Martyrium (Stein); Das Skelett des Herrn Markutius (Janson)

1921

Der müde Tod ( Between Two Worlds ) (Lang) (co); Schloss Vogelöd ( The Haunted Castle ) (Murnau) (co); Nachtbesuch in der Northernbank (Grune); Pariserinnen (Lasko); Das Spiel mit dem Feuer (Wiene and Kroll)

1922

Der brennende Acker ( Burning Soil ) (Murnau) (co); Nosferatu ( Nosferatu the Vampire ) (Murnau) (co); Schatten ( Warning Shadows ) (Robison); Bardame (Guter); Der Graf von Essex (Felner); Das hohe Lied der Liebe (Schall); Lebenshunger (Guter); Der Ruf des Schicksals (Guter)

1923

Der Grossindustrielle (Kaufman); Die Magyarenfürstin (Funck); Zwischen Abends und Morgens (Robison)

1924

Der Sprung ins Leben (Guter)

1925

Zur Chronik von Grieshuus ( At the Grey House ) (von Gerlach) (co); Das Fräul ein vom Amt (Schwarz); Pietro der Korsar ( Peter the Pirate ) (Robison)

1926

Die drei Kuckucksuhren (Mendes); Liebeshandel (Speyer); Vater werden ist nicht schwer . . . (Schönfelder)

1927

Am Rande der Welt (Grune); Eine DuBarry von Heute ( A Modern DuBarry ) (Z. Korda); Der Liebe der Jeanne Ney ( The Love of Jeanne Ney ) (Pabst) (co)

1928

Das letzte Fort (Bernhardt); Marquis d'Eon, der Spion der Pompadour (Grune); Waterloo (Grune); Spione ( Spies ) (Lang)

1929

Napoleon à Sainte-Hélène (Pick); Wenn du einmal dein Herz verschenkst (Guter)

1930

Brand in der Oper (Froelich); Dolly macht Karriere (Litvak); Die Jagd nach dem Glück ( Running after Luck ) (Gliese and Koch); Skandal um Eva ( Scandalous Eva ) (Pabst); Westfront 1918 ( Comrades of 1918 ) (Pabst) (co)

1931

M ( Mörder unter uns ) (Lang); Ronny (Schünzel); Kameradschaft ( Comradeship ) (Pabst) (co); Die Dreigroschenoper ( The Threepenny Opera ; The Beggar's Opera ) (Pabst)

1932

Es wird schon wieder besser (Gerron); Das Lied einer Nacht (Litvak); Das schöne Abenteuer (Schünzel)

1933

Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse ( The Testament of Dr. Mabuse ) (Lang) (co); Flüchtlinge (Ucicky); Die Nacht der grossen Liebe (von Bolvary); Das Schloss im Süden (von Bolvary); Spione am Werk (Lamprecht)

1934

Liebe, Tod, und Teufel (Hilpert and Steinbicker); Ein Mann will nach deutschland (Wegener); Prinzessin Turandot (Lamprecht); Spiel mit dem Feuer (Robert)

1935

Amphitryon (Schünzel); Schwarze Rosen (Martin)

1936

Savoy-Hotel 217 (Ucicky); Unter heissem Himmel (Ucicky)

1937

Der Mann, der Sherlock Holmes war (Hartl); Tango notturno (Kirchhoff); Der zerbrochene Krug (Ucicky)

1938

Das Mädchen mit dem guten Ruf (Schweikart); Schatten über St. Pauli (Kirchhoff)

1939

Ein hoffnungloser Fall (Engel); Der Vierte kommt nicht (Kimmlich); Robert Koch, der Bekämpfer des Todes (Steinhoff)

1940

Aus erster Ehe (Verhoeven); Feinde (Tourjansky); Friedrich Schiller (Maisch); Der Fuchs von Glenarvon (Kimmich)

1941

Ohm Krüger (Steinhoff); Was geschah in dieser Nacht (Lingen)

1942

Die Entlassung (Liebeneiner); Der Fall Rainer (Verhoeven)

1943

Altes Herz wird wieder Jung (Engel); Ein glücklicher Mensch (Verhoeven); Herr Sanders lebt gefährlich (Stemmle); Lache Bajazzo (Hainisch); Ich werde dich auf Händen tragen (Hoffmann)

1945

Das kleine Hofkonzert (Verhoeven); Meine Herren Söhne (Stemmle)

1949

Die Brücke ( The Bridge ) (Pohl); Mädchen hinter gittern (Braun)

1950

Frauenarzt Dr. Prätorius (Goetz and Gillmann)

1952

1 April 2000 (Liebeneiner)

1954

Heideschulmeister Uwe Karsten (Deppe)

1955

Hotel Adlon (von Baky)

1956

Hochzeit auf Immenhof (von Collande)

1957

Ferien auf Immenhof (Leitner)

1958

Das Czardas-König (Philipp)

Publications

By WAGNER: articles—

Film Art (London), Summer 1934.

"I Believe in the Sound Film," in Film Art (London), vol. 3, no. 8, 1936.

On WAGNER: articles—

Kosmorama (Copenhagen), no. 39, 1958.

Focus on Film (London), no. 13, 1973.

Filme (Berlin), May-June 1981.


* * *


Fritz Arno Wagner is responsible for photographing some of the most iconographic images in German cinema from 1919 to 1933: Max Schreck's Nosferatu looming over a ship's hold, talons extended; Peter Lorre's child murderer in M , cowering in a storeroom; Rudolf Forster's Mackie Messer in Die Dreigroschenoper , surrounded by prostitutes and observed by a fin-de-siècle statue of a negress. Except for Karl Freund, no other cameraman of the period achieved Wagner's level of versatility and technical expertise. His collaborations with G.W. Pabst, Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau are a virtual catalog of the expressive potential of the cinematographer's art, from Expressionist Stimmung to documentary realism. Stimmung is the operative word Lotte Eisner coined to describe the mood or atmosphere evoked by many films of the German silent era—brooding and introspective in tone, illuminated by pools or shafts of light, the total effect reflecting the characters' states of mind. Wagner's most extreme contribution to this genre was Robison's Warning Shadows , in which a conjuror releases the repressed unconscious desires of the protagonists, who act out their fantasies in silhouette, shadow, or double exposure.

Ironically, the most obtrusive of Wagner's photographic contributions to Murnau's celebrated Nosferatu are what have made portions of the film date badly: undercranking the camera provides an absurd effect when Nosferatu is loading his coffins, and the use of negative film in the woods seems more perplexing than eerie or spectral. Undeniably more effective are the moments in which Wagner evokes Nosferatu's presence through naturalistic means, as in the sweepingly atmospheric natural vistas during the monster's voyage to Bremen by raft and ship. There is no denying the quasi-Expressionist treatment of the film's early sequences (the visit to Nosferatu's castle, with its alternating light and dark arches) and its climax (the vampire's shadow advancing up the wall of the stairwell). Yet it is surprising how little noted it is that Nosferatu is as much a film of daytime and nature (and its perversion) as it is of darkness.

Despite his reputation as a cinematographer of Stimmung , it could be argued that the naturalistic or documentary aspect of Wagner's work is more interesting when viewed today. In Pabst's The Love of Jeanne Ney , Wagner photographed Paris as if the camera was discovering it for the first time, tracking through the city, reveling in the details of train stations and busy streets. Yet, in the same film, Pabst could call on Wagner to diffuse the image with the facility of a portrait photographer when the hero and heroine enter a church. Lang's M permitted Wagner a synthesis of styles: on one hand, an objective study of police procedure, the camera sniffing out clues along with the protagonists; on the other hand, a shadowy emanation of the murderer's state of mind as he is progressively cornered like a rat, in one shot circumscribed in both the camera frame and a garden trellis.

Pabst's "Social Trilogy"— Westfront 1918 , Kameradschaft , and Die Dreigroschenoper —represent the pinnacles of Wagner's art. His major achievement in these films is the expressive use of camera movement, so often difficult to facilitate during the early sound period. Wagner was lucky to work with collaborators who were equal to the formidable technical challenges Pabst posed in each film. The set designer Ernö Metzner worked closely with Wagner in devising apparatus to mask the movement of the camera in Pabst's astonishing evocation of a mining disaster, Kameradschaft . The horror of fire and collapsing shafts in the claustrophobic confines of the mine were recreated with painstaking verisimilitude. Wagner's camera seems to be everywhere, tracking in front of a fleeing worker or receding from a trio searching for survivors, the retreat gradually revealing more and more of Metzner's artfully designed chaos. Similarly, Wagner's camera evokes the horror of war in Westfront 1918 , tracking alongside soldiers as they make their way from crater to crater. Ironically, Pabst's controversial adaptation of Die Dreigroschenoper marked a return for Wagner to the techniques of Stimmung , André Andrejew's stylized studio sets photographed in a manner recalling the gloomy visions of the 1920s. Camera movement seems less organic to this film, Pabst here more concerned with character than spectacle.

Wagner continued to work in Germany, producing competent, craftsmanlike work throughout the Second World War and up to his death in an automobile accident in 1958, but with the export or suppression of talent after 1933, opportunities became infrequent for the kind of visual experimentation that made his early work so innovative.

—Lee Tsiantis

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