Max Nivelli

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Max Nivelli
Max Lewin-Nivelli in 1925.jpg
Max Nivelli in 1925
Menachem Mendel Lewin

(1878-01-01)January 1, 1878
DiedFebruary 27, 1926(1926-02-27) (aged 48)
OccupationFilm producer
Years active1918-1926

Max Nivelli (January 1, 1878 - February 27, 1926) was a film producer in Berlin during the Weimar Republic era. He was among the first to examine the issues of anti-Semitism and prejudice in his films. Nivelli died at an early age (48) and worked in the film industry for less than 10 years, yet he produced 19 films, most of them full-length feature films. As most films of that era, his films were silent, black-and-white and shot on celluloid. Only his last film - "Unity, Justice and Freedom", has so far been found, restored and digitized.

Early life[edit]

Max Nivelli was born as Menachem (Mendel) Lewin in Kuźnica,[1] a town on the eastern border of Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. His parents, Shmuel and Tsippa Lewin, were candy manufacturers.[1] As a young man he emigrated to Berlin and between the years 1903-1911 he became the owner and partner in several companies which produced fruit preserves, candy and chocolates.[2]

In 1904 he married Helene Kaufmann from Rozdzień,[1] today a suburb of Katowice, Poland. They had two daughters - Dorothea and Regina.[3]

In 1912 Mendel Lewin assumed the name Max Nivelli ("Nivelli" being almost an anagram of the name "Lewin").[4] He studied opera singing at the renowned Stern Conservatory in Berlin,[5] appeared in many opera productions throughout Europe [6] and also taught solo-singing (in German and Russian) in a music school in Berlin.[7]

Film production[edit]

In 1918 Nivelli established his first film production company - "Nivelli-Film Fabrikation", with partner Erwin Kampf.[8] That same year the company produced four full-length feature films. Nivelli himself wrote the script for his first film Pathways of Life (German: Lebensbahnen) and even played and sang the part of the opera singer.[9]

The following year he ended that partnership and formed "Nivo-Film & Co.", a new production company.[10] He then teamed up with Austrian director Joseph Delmont to produce the films The Outcasts also known as The Ritual Murder (German: Die Geächteten / Der Ritualmord) and Humanity Unleashed (German: Die entfesselte Menschheit). These films were of social and political nature and became the most successful and well known films of his career.

Nivelli tended to work with the same director on more than one project. Apart from his work with Delmont, he also had a productive collaboration with Carl Boese with whom he made four films, among them was Nocturne of Love (German: Nocturno der Liebe) which was based on the life of the Polish composer Frédéric Chopin. Nivelli also produced two films under the direction of Arthur Ullman and went on to produce the "Albani Series" - three romantic films in a row, under the direction of Guido Schamberg Parisch and starring the Italian actress Marcella Albani.[11]

Later years[edit]

During the years of the economic crisis and hyperinflation in Germany (1921-1924), Nivelli lost most of his fortune. He turned to other occupations related to the film industry, which included the import, export, distribution and rental of films, with partner Arthur Gregor.[12] He also managed the cinema house "Lichtspiel Palmenhaus Kino" in Berlin[13] and served on the board of directors of "Paw Film", a Polish production and distribution company located in Warsaw.[14] Towards the end of that period, in 1924, Nivelli gradually resumed his role as film producer by making four short documentaries, depicting primarily state memorial ceremonies and celebrations.[15][16]

In June 1925, he established a new production company - "Nivelli Film Max Nivelli & Co.", with partner Dr. Sander Kaisermann.[17][18] He immediately embarked on his next project, which was another social awareness film, titled Unity, Justice and Freedom (German: Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit). This was his third project with the director Joseph Delmont and was based on his earlier film Humanity Unleashed, using previously shot scenes. Just days before the filming ended,[19] Max Nivelli died suddenly of a heart attack.[20][21]

In the professional press he was described as brilliant, creative and dynamic and as a popular personality among the filmmakers in Berlin.[22][23]

Prominent Films[edit]

The Outcasts (Die Geächteten), also known as- The Ritual Murder (Der Ritualmord)[edit]

This 1919 film was made with the intention of educating the public on the dangers of anti-Semitism in general and blood libel in particular and was marketed as an "enlightenment film" (Aufklärungsfilm). Following the end of World War I, Jewish immigration into Western Europe increased and a surge in anti-Semitism and xenophobia was felt all over Germany. The term "Jewish question" (die Judenfrage) became a popular topic in German society and the issue of intimate relations between Germans and Jews, which until then was considered a taboo, was also raised.[24]

The film portrays a violent attack against Jews ("Pogrom") in a village in the Russian Empire, when rumors of a ritual murder spread following the disappearance of a little girl. According to the rumors, the murder was committed by the leader of the Jewish community. A Russian student, who is in love with the leader's daughter, prevents the mob from stoning him to death. When the girl is finally found safe and sound, the conspiracy to incriminate the Jews with a blood libel is exposed, but it comes too late for the leader's daughter, who is fatally wounded in one of the attacks. Her father and the student unite in their vow to fight against the prejudice which led to this tragedy.[25]

The film's premiere was a glittering event attended by film critics from all major newspapers, as well as celebrities from the literary and artistic scene in Berlin.[26] The screening was received with loud applause.[27] Newspaper reviews described the film as "a masterpiece",[28] "one of the best films to be produced so far"[29] and as "a film where the hero is not a specific person but a whole nation".[30] Max Nivelli was portrayed as the driving force of this project, by which "he succeeded in spreading his vision for enlightenment and the need to fight prejudice",[31] and in that "he can be considered as one of the monumental film producers of his time".[32] Within 6 weeks of the premiere, which at the time was considered a record, the film was sold worldwide and orders were already pouring in for his next planned project with Delmont - the film "Humanity Unleashed".[33]

Humanity Unleashed (Die entfesselte Menschheit)[edit]

The film is an adaptation of a novel by the same name, written by Max Glass and published in 1919. In his novel, Glass described a dark world consumed by disease and war. The film makers decided to take the story to a more contemporary context and produced what was to become the first fictional account of the events of January 1919 in Berlin, the so-called “Spartacist Uprising”. This film is also considered one of the anti-Bolshevik films of that era.[34]

In the film, a group of workers starts a violent rebellion in an attempt to destroy the existing order, actions which almost lead to civil war. The film reflected the growing fear among the German public of political radicalization. This fear was not unfounded – while the film was still in production, there was another coup attempt (“Kapp Putsch”), this time by nationalist and monarchist factions. Reports in the press about the filming drew the attention of the government, sparking its concern about the effect the film might have on Germany's image abroad. The Foreign Office summoned Max Nivelli and asked him to allow their representative to view the film before its release. In June 1920 the film was approved by the censor but due to the sensitivity of the issue, "Nivo-Film" decided to wait.[34]

The premiere was held six months later and was attended by public figures and members of the government. Most film critics declared the film a success. The film was described as “an important historic document”,[35] “one of the best films in recent years”,[36] “captivating and realistic”.[37] Some even praised the courage demonstrated by the makers of the film, who dared to examine such a sensitive issue while memories of recent events were still fresh in the public's mind.[38] On the other hand, newspapers which represented socialist views, claimed that the workers were negatively portrayed and that the film's goal was to disseminate fear among the public.[39] From an artistic viewpoint, it was considered a groundbreaking film – 17,000 people were involved in its production [40] and it was said that “clear thematic direction, strong construction and emotional imagery give this film character and pace”.[41]


Year Title (Ger.) Title (Eng.) Director Category
1918 Lebensbahnen – Ein Sängerleben Pathways of Life - Life of a Singer Ernst Sachs Feature
1918 Der Glückssucher The Luck Seeker Arthur Ullmann Feature
1918 Die Gestohlene Seele The Stolen Soul Carl Boese Feature
1918 Der Fluch des Nuri The Curse of Nuri Carl Boese Feature
1918 Das Alte Bild The Old Image Arthur Ullmann Feature
1919 Die Geächteten

Alternate Name: Der Ritualmord

The Outcasts

The Ritual Murder

Joseph Delmont Feature
1919 Nocturno der Liebe

Alternate Name: Chopin

Nocturne of Love


Carl Boese Feature
1919 Die Tochter des Bajazzo

Alternate Name: Das alte Lied

The Clown's Daughter /

The Old Song

Arthur Ullmann Feature
1920 Die entfesselte Menschheit Humanity Unleashed Joseph Delmont Feature
1922 Dolores Dolores Carl Boese Feature
1922 Frauenschicksal Women's Fate Guido Schamberg Feature
1923 Das Spiel der Liebe The Game of Love Guido Schamberg Feature
1923 Liebe und Ehe Love and Marriage Unknown Feature
1923 Im Rausche der Leidenschaft In the Heat of Passion Guido Schamberg Feature
1924 Die Samland-Bäder

(Die ostpreußische Bernsteinküste)

The Samland Baths

(The East-Prussian Amber coast)

Unknown Short Documentary
1924 Die Tannenbergfeier in Königsberg The Tannenberg Ceremony in Königsberg Unknown Short Documentary
1924 Die Verfassungsfeier in Berlin The Constitution Ceremony in Berlin Unknown Short Documentary
1924 Die Ehrengedenkfeier für die Toten Helden Memorial Ceremony for the Dead Heroes Unknown Short Documentary
1926 Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit Unity, Justice and Freedom Joseph Delmont Feature


  1. ^ a b c Berlin State Archive - "Landesarchive Berlin" - Rep. 805, Nr. 517 - Marriage Certificate of Mendel Lewin & Helena Kaufmann
  2. ^ Berlin Address Book - "Berliner Adreßbuch", 1904-1911
  3. ^ General Register Office, England - Marriage Certificate of Regina Lewin & Friedrich Wolfgang Schwarz, District of St. Martin, County of London - Volume 1a, page nr. 982
  4. ^ Berlin Address Book - "Berliner Adreßbuch 1915", Part I, p. 1828
  5. ^ Stern'sches Konservatorium der Musik, Berlin; student listings 1909-1910, 1910-1911
  6. ^ German Stage Yearbook - "Deutsches Bühnen Jahrbuch", 1914 (Vol.25, p.851); 1915 (Vol.26, p.732); 1916 (Vol.27, p.754); 1917 (Vol.28, p.753); 1918 (Vol.29, p.759)
  7. ^ Dr. Richard Stern, "Das Ochs-Eichelberg-Konservatorium - Was muss der Musikstudierende von Berlin wissen", Berlin, 1913–1914.
  8. ^ Berlin Address Book - "Berliner Adreßbuch 1919", Part I, p. 1983
  9. ^ “Film” - Nr. 19, 1918
  10. ^ Wid's Year Book 1921, p.370-371
  11. ^ "Reichsfilmblatt" - Nr. 20, 1923.
  12. ^ "Lichtbild Bühne" (LBB) film magazine, nr. 16, April 21, 1923
  13. ^ "Filmtheater Berlin". Berlin - Charlottenburg, Kurfürstendamm 193-194.
  14. ^ Industry and Commerce Directory of Poland - "Przewodnik Przemysłu i Handlu Polskiego". 1926.
  15. ^ German Federal Film Archive - "Bundesarchiv-Filmachiv", Berlin - censorship card B.8810.
  16. ^ DIF - Deutsches Filminstitut, Frankfurt am Main, censorship decisions 11-08-1924 and 4-09-1924
  17. ^ Kinematograph Year Book - Annual Index. Kinematograph Publications Ltd. 1927.
  18. ^ Berlin Chamber of Commerce and Industry - "Industrie und Handelskammer Zu Berlin" – Certificate: I-Nr. St. 17510/25 – Company nr. 69145.
  19. ^ "Der Film". March 14, 1926.
  20. ^ "Film Kurier". March 2, 1926.
  21. ^ "The Bridgeport Telegram from Bridgeport". March 2, 1926.
  22. ^ "Der Montag". March 1, 1926.
  23. ^ "The Film - No. 10". March 7, 1926.
  24. ^ Walk, Cynthia (2010). The Many Faces of Weimar Cinema (Edited by Christian Rogowski) - "Romeo with Sidelocks: Jewish-Gentile Romance...and Other Early Weimar Assimilation Films". Rochester New York: Camden House. pp. 84–101. ISBN 978-1-57113-532-2.
  25. ^ Film program "Ritualmordet", from the Norwegian National Library – Nasjonalbiblioteket.
  26. ^ "Kinematograph - Issue Nr. 665". 1919.
  27. ^ "B-Z am Mittag". 1919.
  28. ^ "Berliner Börsenzeitung, Nationalzeitung". 1919.
  29. ^ ""Neue Berliner 12-Uhr Zeitung"; "Der Film"; "Erste Internationale Filmzeitung"". 1919.
  30. ^ "Berliner Mittagszeitung". 1919.
  31. ^ "Neue Berliner 12-Uhr Zeitung". 1919.
  32. ^ "Filmkunst". 1919.
  33. ^ "Kinematograph: Nr 679/80". 1919.
  34. ^ a b Stiasny, Philipp (2010). The Many Faces of Weimar Cinema (Edited by Christian Rogowski) - "Humanity Unleashed: Anti-Bolshevism as Popular Culture in Early Weimar Cinema". Rochester, New York: Camden House. pp. 48–66. ISBN 978-1-57113-532-2.
  35. ^ "Börsen Zeitung". November 21, 1920.
  36. ^ "Acht-Uhr Abendblattl". November 20, 1920.
  37. ^ "Acht-Uhr Abendblattl". November 21, 1920.
  38. ^ "Vossische Zeitung". November 23, 1920.
  39. ^ "Vorwärts - Morgenausgabe". November 21, 1920.
  40. ^ "Der Tag, Abend-Ausgabe". November 20, 1920.
  41. ^ "B-Z Am Mittag". November 22, 1920.

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