Deutsches Filmmuseum Frankfurt

February 18, 2013


With the Berlinale just behind us, and the Oscar’s coming up at the weekend, I thought I would dedicate this week on Museum Diary to all things film. I’ve previously written about the Museo Nazionale del Cinema in Turin, Italy, which I absolutely adored and spent over four hours in. Well, last summer on a trip to Frankfurt, here in Germany, I discovered another film museum I immediately fell in love with – the Deutsches Filmmuseum. I was actually planning to visit a couple of museums that day, but I should have learned from my visit to the Turin museum, as I spent just over four hours at the Frankfurt one too. The museum underwent a full refurbishment not so long ago, and it’s permanent exhibition is a must see for cinema fans. Split both spacialy and thematically across two floors, Part 1 focuses on “Film Vision”, with the historical development of visual media from early optical illusions to the first moving images in cinema screenings, whilst Part 2 focuses on “Film Narrative” and how it is achieved.


“Film Vision” is divided into six sub sections, to give the full story of the early development of visual media in the 18th and 19th centuries, right through to the discovery of moving images and the invention of cinema, including both technical aspects as well as socio-cultural aspects. “Curiosity” includes mirrors as the simplest medium of creating and distorting optical images, e.g. kaleidoscopes (invented by a Scot in 1817!) and anarmorphoses (which are optical images that are viewed via cylindrical or pyramid mirrors), as well as peep show boxes and panoramas. Many of the exhibits are displayed so that you can still view them, i.e. with the peep holes and view finders pointing towards the front of the display cases, and there are also hands on kaleidoscopes, anarmorphoses and polyorama panoptiques (peep show boxes with images that change from day to night) to try out.



“Movement” includes early, pre-film forms of moving images, such as flip books, kinora and mutoskops (mechanical flip books), thaumatropes (you may have made these at school, they’re those discs with an image each side that you need to spin very fast), zoetropes and praxinoscopes (like a zoetrope but with extra mirrors). And here’s where I fell in love with this museum. Obviously the historical objects are very fragile and need to be kept behind glass. But in a museum about moving images, you really really want to try everything out for yourself – and you can! For every single one of these early optical wonders, the museum has had a working model made of each type that you can flip, spin, squint through, move.


The exhibition continues in pretty much the same interactive way (you can begin to see why I spent hours here). “Exposure” introduces the invention of photography, with some early film roll cameras on display (just about the only exhibit that doesn’t have a hands on counterpart), followed by stereo photography (which does have a hands on activity) and a camera obscure you can walk in to. “Projection” shows the museum’s absolutely beautiful collection of magic lanterns and slides, with a short film explaining their history and how they work, and a working model magic lantern you an try out for yourself. And “Moving Pictures” completes the story, introducing you to some key figures of cinema history, from Emile Reynaud who achieved the first animated film in 1892 through to the Lumière Brothers who first projected moving images for larger audiences. There’s a working replica of Thomas Edison’s kinetoscope and Ottomar Anschütz’s electrical tachyscope (make sure you bring some 10 cent pieces for these), as well as a working model of the Lumière’s cinematographe, which shows you what goes on inside.



Last but not least there’s the section on cinema itself which is, as you might expect, a miniature cinema showing a medley of short films to exemplify the classics and the diversity of early cinema. Some of these I was already familiar with, such as the Skladanovsky Brothers’ Boxing Kangaroo from 1895 which I’d seen in Turin, but it always amazing to see again; others were completely new to me, such as Georges Méliès’ L’homme à la tête en caoutchouc (The man with the rubber head) from 1901 or film footage of Kaiser Wilhelm from 1897. There are 20 films in total, from between 1895 and 1911, from Germany, France and the UK, with a total running time of about 40 minutes. I watched about a third of them, then I had to move on.

One floor up, “Film Narrative” has the four sections acting, sound, image and editing, which are set around a central area where visitors can watch film clips which exemplify the different subject areas. “Acting” covers costume & makeup; facial expression, gesture & body language; and stars. Iconic objects on display include an alien costume from “Alien”, a Darth Vader mask, and a collections of heads with different expressions for the character of Jack Skellington from “A Nightmare Before Christmas”. Audio stations let you listen to interviews with a costume designer, make up artist, actor and animator.


Iconic objects in “Sound” include the film score from “Metropolis” and the famous “Tin Drum” from the movie with the same name. There are more interviews to listen to, about film music and audio effects, as well as audio samples e.g. “Born to be Wild” from the movie “Easy Rider”, or the sequence from the “Tin Drum” where Oskar transforms a Nazi march into a waltz through his drumming. But it’s the hands-on interactives that steal the show. At a mixing console you can control the levels of dialogue, sound effects and film music in different scenes from “The Matrix” – e.g. reduced the sound effects only, a martial arts scene becomes nothing but a series of thumps and thuds. And in the Music Box interactive you can find out how the expression of a film scene can change dramatically by mixing and matching iconic film clips, e.g. from Spiderman, Psycho or Chariots of Fire, with different styles of music.


“Image” looks at light and colour; the gaze of the camera; and production design and special effects. Exhibits include sketches, storyboards, concept designs and film cameras, and again it’s got some great interactives to play around with – from the green screen where you can choose to put yourself in scene being attacked by a giant spider or teetering on the edge of a skyscraper, to the lighting studie which lets you take a seat and try out different lighting effects. The final section on “Editing” is fairly small, with a couple of exhibits and more interviews to listen too, and once again the interactives don’t disappoint. In Point of View you can experiment with the unedited footage from “Alles auf Zucker”, choosing different camera angles for different effects. Join the Shots challenges you to arrange individual scenes from Harry Potter and Indiana Jones to recreate the original sequences, and in Count the Cuts you have to count how many cuts there are in a scene from “Magnolia”, which was really really hard!


It was difficult to drag myself away from this wonderful museum. There was just enough time left for a quick walk around the special exhibition on Film Noir – covering all the defining elements of the genure, the exhibition included ample audio and video samples to peruse against the backdrop settings of a private eye bureau and a 1940s lounge – before buying some souvenirs for my blog readers and #MuseumBaby in the museum shop and legging it back to the train station!

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