‘Das Leben […] So ist es und nicht anders’: Constructions of Normality in Menschen am Sonntag

Matthias Uecker (University of Nottingham)

A dominant feature of Weimar culture in the second half of the 1920s and the early 1930s was a concern for topical realism and functionality. But while this was presented under the label ‘Sachlichkeit’, much of the output of Neue Sachlichkeit is characterised by a rhetoric of dramatisation and extremes. The 1930 film Menschen am Sonntag by Robert Siodmak, Billy Wilder, Robert Seeler and Kurt Siodmak is among the relatively few examples of a contemporary aesthetics of moderation or normalization, focusing not on instances of crisis, but instead contructing a sense of normality.

The paper will reconstruct the film’s narrative and aesthetic strategies in its pursuit of normality. It will relate the portrayal of the fim’s protagonists – a group of young white-collar workers – to contemporary concerns about the emerging consumer culture of ‘Angestellte’ as well as debates about gender and sexuality in order to highlight the originality of its position within the discursive field of 1930.

The paper will also explore to what extent the film’s strategy and its effects have contributed to its status on the fringes of academic debate about Weimar cinema. Despite the prominence of the production team, Menschen am Sonntag has attracted hardly any serious academic attention, and it will be argued that this neglect reflects the problems arising from the film’s attempt to sidestep or subvert the contemporary obsession with crisis without attempting to produce popular entertainment.

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