PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


'People on Sunday': A Haunting Snapshot of the Weimar Era

This beautiful docudrama gives us a glimpse of Germany's dark past and announces the future of some of its brightest film stars.

People on Sunday

Director: Robert Siodmark
Cast: Wolfgang von Waltershausen,Erwin Splettstöße,Christl Ehlers,Brigitte Borchert
Release date: 2011-06-28

It may be tough to imagine, but in less than a quarter of a century -- at the beginning of the 20th to be exact -- the world faced two of the most violent wars in recorded history. The entire planet became a battlefield and more than 70 million people lost their lives in both wars combined. Germany often found itself at the center of conflict and during the interwar period (which lasted roughly 20 years) from it emerged one of the most significant symbols of this era: the Weimar Republic.

During these years, Germany not only went through a political shift (from an imperial government to one ruled by the parliament), it also underwent a period of cultural blossoming which gave us things like the Bauhaus school of design, Metropolis, and Marlene Dietrich. Out of Weimar also came figures with names like Billy Wilder, Robert Siodmark, Fred Zinneman, Edgar G. Ulmer and Eugen Schüfftan, all of whom would make careers in Hollywood after escaping from Nazi Germany.

If the individual names aren’t enough to impress you, consider that once all of them worked together on a little movie called People on Sunday. Advertised as a “film experiment” and “a film without actors”, this movie can be seen as a predecessor of reality entertainment, an exquisite docudrama and over all: a spooky time capsule that showed us a period of peace the film industry hasn’t really preoccupied itself with.

People on Sunday is essentially a chronicle that follows two couples during a weekend trip to the recreational zone of Nikolassee, outside Berlin. These people are wine dealer Wolfgang (Wolfgang von Waltershausen), his friend Erwin (Erwin Splettstößer), model Christl (Christl Ehlers) and her friend Brigitte (Brigitte Borchert) a record salesgirl.

Wolfgang meets Christl, asks her to come with him to a picnic the next day and she brings Brigitte. Erwin on the other hand, has a girlfriend at home (Annie Schreyer) but after a lovers’ quarrel she ends up staying home, leaving him and Wolfgang to have a bachelors’ weekend.

The film follows their mini-trip from Berlin to the country and back again, time during which the filmmakers indulge in capturing the reactions from their amateur performances while mixing them with footage from other vacationers’ adventures. “These five people never appeared in front of a camera before” reads a title card that appears when the film begins, however in an informative documentary included among the DVD extras, we learn that after shooting the film, most of them tried to make it in the movies. Trivia like this makes the film even more fascinating because these people’s need to squeeze their 15 minutes of fame predates American media’s current need to make a star out of everyone and heck, it even predates Andy Warhol’s concept of “15 minutes of fame”.

As if watching “real life” people, putting up a show where they play versions of themselves, wasn’t strange enough, the documentary also helps us learn that at one point, People on Sunday was meant to be a sci-fi film! Curt Siodmark, its writer, and director Robert’s brother, reveals that his original story was about the city, as an entity, visiting the country and then showing its return. After wondering about how to represent this, and most likely after realizing that a project of this scope would require more than their tiny production team could deliver, they decided to rely on good old fashioned metonymy to deliver what we ultimately see.

However. you can still feel the way in which the filmmakers tried to remind us of the unnatural routine that becomes living in a city. When the movie begins we are bombarded with Eisenstenian cuts that seem almost mechanical and as the action moves to the country, the film tries to go for a more pastoral feel, giving us longer tracking shots, pans and even a marvelous tilt that deftly makes a sex scene seem less inadequate and almost heavenly.

The film is a beauty to behold and most of it is owed to cinematographer Schüfftan, the man responsible for conveying the special effects in Metropolis (which in return inspired every single sci-fi movie that came after it). Schüfftan is able to capture the luminosity of the countryside in all its glory but through framing and composition reminds us that we are basically watching an invasion.

He seems to take special interest in juxtaposing foreign elements that divide the screen and remind us that we are watching a disruption of “normal” continuity. A row slashes across the peacefulness of a lake, human figures interrupt the flow of moving grass... all of these elements are specifically highlighted and serve as reminders that soon these elements would be gone.

As simple and ethereal as the movie can feel, its influences on further films is more than evident, especially when thinking about the individual work the people involved in it created afterwards. “No one foresees their international future success” reminds us the behind-the-scenes documentary, but looking back we can identify key aspects we might remember from Zinneman’s From Here to Eternity for example.

People on Sunday is remarkable not only because of its own formal achievement but because of what it symbolizes as a snapshot of Weimar. If you thought Bob Fosse was onto something when he shot the disturbing “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” in Cabaret, this little film’s innocent intentions and the eventual realization of the hell that followed it is deeply haunting.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.