Jump to content

Walter Ruttmann

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Walter Ruttmann
Walter Ruttman at recording Berlin-Movie, 1928
Born(1887-12-28)28 December 1887
Died15 July 1941(1941-07-15) (aged 53)
Berlin, Germany
OccupationFilm director
Years active1921–1941
Notable workBerlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt

Walter Ruttmann (28 December 1887 – 15 July 1941)[1] was a German cinematographer and film director, an important German abstract experimental film maker, along with Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling and Oskar Fischinger. He is best known for directing the semi-documentary 'city symphony' silent film, with orchestral score by Edmund Meisel, in 1927, Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis. His audio montage Wochenende (Weekend) (1930) is considered a major contribution in the development of audio plays.


Ruttmann was born in Frankfurt am Main, the son of a wealthy mercantilist.[2] He graduated high school in 1905 and began architectural studies in Zürich in 1907. In 1909 Ruttmann began painting in Munich, where he befriended Paul Klee and Lyonel Feininger, and he would later paint in Marburg.[citation needed]

Ruttmann was conscripted into the army in 1913, first serving in Darmstadt, and shortly after the outbreak of World War I he was sent to the Eastern Front, where he served as an artillery lieutenant and a gas defense officer. After spending 1917 in a hospital for post traumatic stress disorder, he began making films.[2] Ruttmann had the financial means to work independently of the major German studios of the time.[2] He founded Ruttmann-Film S.R.O. in Munich and patented an animation table, in June 1920.

His first productions were the first fully animated German cartoons and abstract animated films.[2] Lichtspiel: Opus I, produced between 1919 and 1921, premiered on 27 April 1921 at the Berlin Marmorhaus, and released for German theatrical distribution in 1922, is the "oldest fully abstract motion picture known to survive, using only animated geometric forms, arranged and shown without reference to any representational imagery".[2]

Lichtspiel Opus I (1921)
Lichtspiel Opus II (1922)

Opus I and Opus II, were experiments with new forms of film expression, and the influence of these early abstract films can be seen in some of the early work of Oskar Fischinger. Ruttmann and his colleagues of the avant garde movement enriched the language of film as a medium with new formal techniques.[3]

In 1926 he worked with Julius Pinschewer on Der Aufsteig, an experimental film advertising the GeSoLei trade fair in Düsseldorf.[citation needed]

In 1926, Ruttmann licensed a Wax Slicing machine from Oskar Fischinger to create special effects for The Adventures of Prince Achmed, an animated fairy tale film, for Lotte Reiniger, making the moving backgrounds and magic scenes.[4][5]

Ruttmann was a prominent exponent of both avant-garde art and music. His early abstractions played at the 1929 Baden-Baden Festival to international acclaim despite their being almost eight years old. Together with Erwin Piscator, he worked on the film Melody of the World (1929), though he is best remembered for Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Großstadt (Berlin: Symphony of a Metropolis, 1927).

Weekend (Wochenende), commissioned in 1928 by Berlin Radio Hour, and presented on 13 June 1930, is a pioneering work of musique concrète, a montage of sound clips, recorded using film optical sound track from the Tri-Ergon process.[6][7][8] Ruttmann recorded the streets sounds of Berlin with a camera, but without images, this was before magnetic tape. Hans Richter called it “a symphony of sound, speech-fragments, and silence woven into a poem.”[9]

A pacifist, he traveled to Moscow in 1928 and 1929. During the Nazi period he was replaced by Leni Riefenstahl as director of the documentary which eventually became Triumph of the Will (1935), supposedly because Ruttmann's editing style was considered too "Marxist" and Soviet influenced. He died in Berlin 15 July 1941 due to an embolism after leg amputation.[1]

Culture and Media[edit]

Segments from Ruttmann's experimental films Lichtspiel: Opus II (1923) and Lichtspiel: Opus IV (1925) are used in the credits of the German neo-noir television series Babylon Berlin.[10] Soundtracks to sped-up versions of Lichtspiel: Opus I[11] and Opus IV[12] have been proposed in 2023.

Select filmography[edit]

Lichtspiel Opus III (1924)
Lichtspiel Opus IV (1925)

Further reading[edit]

  • Cowan, Michael. Walter Ruttmann and the Cinema of Multiplicity: Avant-garde-Advertising-Modernity. Amsterdam, NL: Amsterdam University Press, 2014. ISBN 9789089645852
  • Dombrug, Adrianus van. Walter Ruttmann in het beginsel. Purmerend, NL: J. Muusses, 1956.
  • Goergen, Jeanpaul. Walter Ruttmann: Eine Dokumentation. Berlin: Freunde der deutschen Kinemathek, 1989. ISBN 9783927876002
  • Rogers, Holly and Jeremy Barham The Music and Sound of Experimental Film. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017. ISBN 9780190469900
  • Quaresima, Leonard, editor. Walter Ruttmann: Cinema, pittura, ars acustica. Calliano (Trento), Italy: Manfrini, 1994. ISBN 9788870245035


  1. ^ a b Ruttmann.
  2. ^ a b c d e Betancourt, Michael. "Walther Ruttmann's Lichtspiel Films". Cinegraphic. Retrieved 20 August 2021. from: An Excerpt from 'The History of Motion Graphics'
  3. ^ a b "Opus 2 (1921/1922)". filmportal.de. Deutsches Filminstitut.
  4. ^ Reiniger, Lotte (1970). Shadow Theatres, Shadow Films. London: BT Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-2286-3.
  5. ^ "Lotte Reiniger's Introduction to The Adventures of Prince Achmed" (PDF). Milestone Films. 2001. pp. 9–11. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 November 2009. Retrieved 25 September 2013.
  6. ^ "Weekend - Walter Ruttmann". sfSound. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  7. ^ Born, Erik (30 January 2015). "Walter Ruttmann, Wochenende (1930)". Erik Born. Retrieved 20 August 2021. Assistant Professor,... in the Department of German Studies at Cornell University
  8. ^ "Media Art Net | Ruttmann, Walter: Weekend". 23 October 2021.
  9. ^ Remes, Justin (5 April 2020). "Ten Masterpieces of Experimental Cinema". Columbia University Press Blog. Columbia University Press. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  10. ^ Vallen, Mark (2018-04-03). "The Truth About Babylon Berlin". Art For A Change. Retrieved 2020-03-22.
  11. ^ "Lichtspiel Opus 1.74". Youtube. Retrieved 17 February 2023.
  12. ^ "Opus'stinatus IV". Youtube. 21 February 2023. Retrieved 21 February 2023.
  13. ^ Ruttmann, Walter. "LICHTSPIEL: OPUS I, 11'43, Colour, Drawing, 1921". Punto y Raya Festival. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  14. ^ "Lichtspiel Opus I". Centre Pompidou. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  15. ^ Moser, Jeffrey (1 January 1921). "Lichtspiel Opus I (1921)". Fixation Database of Film and Animation. West Virginia University. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  16. ^ a b c d e "Berlin, die Sinfonie der Großstadt & Melodie der Welt Edition Filmmuseum 39". Edition Filmmuseum Shop. Munich Film Archive, German Federal Archives, Goethe-Institut. Retrieved 20 August 2021. Lichtspiel Opus 1 1920, 11'; Opus 2 1922, 3'; Opus 3 1924, 3'; Opus 4 1925, 4'; Berlin, die Sinfonie der Großstadt 1927, 65'; Melodie der Welt 1929, 48' (EDITION FILMMUSEUM is a joint project of film archives and cultural institutions in the german-speaking part of Europe. Its ambition is to publish film works of artistic, cultural and historical value in DVD editions that both utilise the possibilities of digital media and meet the quality demands of the archival profession.)
  17. ^ "Lichtspiel Opus 1". Close-Up Film Centre. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  18. ^ Moser, Jeffrey (1 January 1921). "Lichtspiel Opus II (1921)". Fixation Database of Film and Animation. West Virginia University. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  19. ^ "Opus 2". Close-Up Film Centre. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  20. ^ a b Heinz Steike in Film als Film 1910 bis Heute, Kölnischer Kunstverein, 1977
  21. ^ Moser, Jeffrey (1 January 1924). "Lichtspiel Opus III (1924)". Fixation Database of Film and Animation. West Virginia University. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  22. ^ "Opus 3". Close-Up Film Centre. Retrieved 20 August 2021.
  23. ^ "Opus 4". Close-Up Film Centre. Retrieved 20 August 2021.

External links[edit]