Noah Isenberg is the author, most recently, of We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Life, Legend, and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Movie(2017) and the editor of Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films of the Era (2008). He also directs the Screen Studies program at the New School. (April 2018)
What makes Babylon Berlin so engrossing is that it captures with such flair, efficiency, and seeming authenticity the queasy allure of the Weimar period. That era marked by decadence, underlying threat of violence, and palpable sense of gathering doom, has never fallen out of fashion with writers and artists, but Babylon Berlin brings a fresh perspective to images and material that might otherwise seem shopworn, and its frenetic rhythms are particularly apt for a moment when we appear to be dancing our own convulsive tango on the edge of a fiery volcano.
Beneath the layers of frothy dialogue about Weimar Berlin, Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel contains a core of intense sociological and even philosophical reflections. Baum brought her readers into a complex, multi-perspectival world—in this case a luxurious, pulsating, yet vaguely tragic first-class hotel—in which they can eavesdrop on the conversations, and on the lives, of her characters.