Call for Proposals: Refocus: The Films of Paul Leni

deadline for submissions: 
October 1, 2017
full name / name of organization: 
Erica Tortolani and Marty Norden, University of Massachusetts Amherst
contact email: 

Described by Siegfried Kracauer as one of the outstanding film directors of the post-World War I era, Paul Leni (1885-1929) is a significant yet overlooked figure in the German and US cinemas of the silent period. A frequent collaborator with stage director Max Reinhardt, Leni worked as an art designer for some of the most prominent German directors of the time before coming into his own as a director. Creating both avant-garde and commercial films in Germany, Leni quickly became known for his captivatingly macabre productions. Critics and audiences alike praised these films, which were marked by elaborate set designs, innovative use of light and shadow, and adept storytelling abilities. His best-known film, Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (or Waxworks, 1924), catapulted him into the international spotlight, and in 1927 he signed an agreement with Universal’s Carl Laemmle to come to the US to create a string of mystery and horror films. The resulting productions, including The Cat and the Canary (1927) and The Man Who Laughs (1928), garnered Leni an even greater following amongst international audiences and cemented his status as a cinematic visionary until his untimely death in 1929.

We seek proposals on Leni’s filmic work for an edited collection that will be a part of Edinburgh University Press’ ReFocus series, supervised by series editors Robert Singer and Gary Rhodes. Proposals may be on any aspect of Leni’s cinematic pursuits. Proposed essays should be theoretically, critically, or historically grounded and draw upon primary source materials when appropriate. Approaches and topics include, but are not limited to:

  • Leni’s early career and collaborations with contemporaries such as Max Reinhardt, Ernst Lubitsch, and Fritz Lang
  • Close studies of any of his German or American films, including his Rebus series of short films 
  • Leni’s stylistic and thematic contributions to Expressionist cinema 
  • Leni and the Kammerspielfilm 
  • His set designs, cinematography, and/or lighting designs 
  • Audience and/or critical reception of his films 
  • His relationship with Carl Laemmle and Universal Studios 
  • His early attempts at sound cinema 
  • Leni’s source material, such as screenplays, novels/short stories, and stage plays 
  • Studies of Leni’s writings on the creative process 
  • Leni’s films in comparison with those of his contemporaries
  • The relationship between Leni’s films and the tidal wave of 1930s US horror films 
  • Leni’s influence on other international films, both past and modern

Suggestions outside of the above areas are encouraged. If you have any questions regarding the appropriateness of your topic, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Proposals should be approximately 250-500 words and be accompanied by a 50-100 word author biography. All submissions must be in English and included as Microsoft Word or PDF attachments. We will consider proposals to include previously published essays with the understanding that the authors will secure all copyright clearances and pay any necessary republishing fees if the essays are accepted.

The deadline for abstract submissions is October 1, 2017. Please send your proposals and any inquiries to both co-editors, Erica Tortolani ( and Marty Norden ( Accepted contributors will be notified by October 15, 2017. Initial drafts of chapters will be due April 15, 2018.