Tyler Schroeder, Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago
“Science as Fantasy: Conflicted Appeals in Maya the Bee and her Adventures (1925)”
Wolfram Junghans’ feature film Die Biene Maja und ihre Abenteuer (1925), filmed over three years using live insects and animals for “actors,” is adapted from a popular children’s novel. The film pairs the painstaking technological work of miniature-scale cinematography with the biological effort required to make insects “perform” before the camera. The writings of its filmmakers suggest the sublimation of the scientific and technological look, which here tries to reinvent itself as a means by which to create whimsy and fantasy. While skeptical critics dismiss the film as fulfilling neither the mandates of science nor of entertainment, I consider the film’s conceptualization, as well as its execution, to reflect the possibilities for rupture embedded within the didactic discourse of silent scientific and hygienic films. Sabine Flach recently wrote that the Weimar social-hygiene film transformed its audience into a medium—imprinting itself upon it by modifying its health and practices in an enduring fashion. My project examines the phenomenon of audience-creation as Kultur filmmakers negotiate and anticipate audience reactions. I do so by examining both the written discourse surrounding hygienic and didactic films and the aesthetics and rhetoric of these films themselves. In particular, I wish to examine the film’s mobilization of anthropomorphism as a problematic bridge between the scientific and the popular, and the demands of resemblance, legibility, and synthesis that are placed upon both insect bodies and specular subjectivities.
By pairing a generic reading of this film in the context of Kulturfilm with an aesthetic and historical evaluation of its cinematographic pracices, I attempt to find a new reading of this historical grouping of films as a whole. By examining the tensions between science and narrative in a film where the narrative is contingent upon optical and biological manipulation, I begin to derive a lineage that unites the fancy of Die Biene Maja with the didacticism of the period’s social-hygiene films, and intimate the possibility of a more vibrant poetics of science, hygiene, and medicine.
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