German Expressionism consisted of a number of related creative movements in Germany before the First World War that reached a peak in Berlin during the 1920s. These developments in Germany were part of a larger Expressionist movement in north and central European culture in fields such as architecture, dance, painting, sculpture, as well as cinema. This article deals primarily with developments in German Expressionist cinema before and immediately after World War I.
Among the first Expressionist films, The Student of Prague (1913), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), From Morn to Midnight (1920), The Golem: How He Came into the World (1920), Destiny (1921), Nosferatu (1922), Phantom (1922), Schatten (1923), and The Last Laugh (1924) were highly symbolic and stylized.
The German Expressionist movement was initially confined to Germany due to the isolation the country experienced during World War I. In 1916, the government had banned foreign films. The demand from theaters to generate films led to an increase in domestic film production from 24 films in 1914 to 130 films in 1918. With inflation also on the rise, Germans were attending films more freely because they knew that their money's value was constantly diminishing.
Besides the films' popularity within Germany, by 1922 the international audience had begun to appreciate German cinema, in part due to a decreasing anti-German sentiment following the end of World War I. By the time the 1916 ban on imports was lifted, Germany had become a part of the international film industry.
Various European cultures of the 1920s embraced an ethic of change and a willingness to look to the future by experimenting with bold, new ideas and artistic styles. The first Expressionist films made up for a lack of lavish budgets by using set designs with wildly non-realistic, geometrically absurd angles, along with designs painted on walls and floors to represent lights, shadows, and objects. The plots and stories of the Expressionist films often dealt with madness, insanity, betrayal and other "intellectual" topics triggered by the experiences of World War I (as opposed to standard action-adventure and romantic films). Later films often categorized as part of the brief history of German Expressionism include Metropolis (1927) and M (1931), both directed by Fritz Lang. This trend was a direct reaction against realism. Its practitioners used extreme distortions in expression to show an inner emotional reality rather than what was on the surface.
The extreme anti-realism of Expressionism was short-lived, fading away after only a few years. However, the themes of Expressionism were integrated into later films of the 1920s and 1930s, resulting in an artistic control over the placement of scenery, light, etc. to enhance the mood of a film. This dark, moody school of film making was brought to the United States when the Nazis gained power and a number of German filmmakers emigrated to Hollywood. These German directors found U.S. movie studios willing to embrace them, and several German directors and cameramen flourished there, producing a repertoire of Hollywood films that had a profound effect on film as a whole. Nazi film theorist Fritz Hippler, though, was a supporter of expressionism. Two further films produced in Nazi Germany using the expressionist style were “Das Stahltier” (The Animal of Steel) in 1935 by Willy Zielke and “Michelangelo. Das Leben eines Titanen” (Michelangelo. The Life of a Titan) in 1940 by Curt Oertel.
Two genres that were especially influenced by Expressionism are horror film and film noir. Carl Laemmle and Universal Studios had made a name for themselves by producing such famous horror films of the silent era as Lon Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera. German filmmakers such as Karl Freund (the cinematographer for Dracula in 1931) set the style and mood of the Universal monster movies of the 1930s with their dark and artistically designed sets, providing a model for later generations of horror films. Directors such as Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Carol Reed and Michael Curtiz introduced the Expressionist style to crime dramas of the 1940s, expanding Expressionism's influence on modern filmmaking.
The German silent cinema was arguably far ahead of Hollywood during the same period. The cinema outside Germany benefited both from the emigration of German film makers and from German expressionist developments in style and technique that were apparent on the screen. The new look and techniques impressed other contemporary film makers, artists and cinematographers, and they began to incorporate the new style into their work.
In 1924, Alfred Hitchcock was sent by Gainsborough Pictures to work as an assistant director and art director at the UFA Babelsberg Studios in Berlin on the film The Blackguard. The immediate effect of the working environment in Germany can be seen in his expressionistic set designs for that film. Hitchcock later said, "I...acquired a strong German influence by working at the UFA studios [in] Berlin".
German Expressionism would continue to influence Hitchcock throughout his career. In his third film, The Lodger, Hitchcock introduced expressionist set designs, lighting techniques, and trick camera work to the British public against the wishes of his studio. His visual experimentation included the use of an image of a man walking across a glass floor shot from below, a concept representing someone pacing upstairs. This influence continued through the highly successful movie Psycho in 1960, wherein Norman Bates' blurred image, seen through a shower curtain, is reminiscent of Nosferatu shown through his shadow. Hitchcock's film-making in turn influenced many other film makers, and so has been one of the vehicles that propelled the continued use of German expressionist techniques, albeit less frequently.
Werner Herzog's 1979 film Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht was a tribute to F. W. Murnau's 1922 film. The film uses expressionist techniques of highly symbolic acting and symbolic events to tell its story. The 1998 film Dark City used stark contrast, rigid movements, and fantastic elements.
Stylistic elements taken from German Expressionism are common today in films that need not reference contemporary realism, such as science fiction films (for example, Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner, which was itself influenced by Metropolis). Woody Allen's 1991 film Shadows and Fog is an homage to German Expressionist filmmakers Fritz Lang, Georg Wilhelm Pabst and F. W. Murnau.
Ambitious adaptations of the style are depicted throughout the contemporary filmography of director Tim Burton. His 1992 film Batman Returns is often cited as a modern attempt to capture the essence of German expressionism. The angular building designs and severe-looking city squares of Gotham City evoke the loom and menace present in Lang's Metropolis. Burton's expressionistic influences are most apparent in the fairy-tale suburban landscape of Edward Scissorhands. The appearance of the titular Edward Scissorhands (not accidentally) reflects Caligari's somnambulist servant. Burton casts unease in his candy-colored suburb, and the tension is visually unmasked through Edward and his Gothic castle, a last holdout from the past at the end of a suburban street. Burton subverts the Caligari nightmare with an inspired narrative, casting Edward, the outsider, as the hero, and the villagers as the villains. Similarly, Dr. Caligari was the inspiration for the grotesque, bird-like appearance of the Penguin in Burton's 1992 film Batman Returns. The familiar look of Caligari's main character can also be seen in the movie The Crow. With the tight, black outfit, white make-up and darkened eyes, Brandon Lee's character is a close relative to both Cesare, and to Burton's film Edward Scissorhands. Burton was also reportedly influenced by silent films and German Expressionism for his film adaptation of the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, describing the musical as a "silent film with music".
Many critics see a direct tie between cinema and architecture of the time, stating that the sets and scene artwork of Expressionist films often reveal buildings of sharp angles, great heights, and crowded environments, such as the frequently shown Tower of Babel in Fritz Lang's Metropolis.
Strong elements of monumentalism and modernism appear throughout the canon of German Expressionism. An excellent example of this is Metropolis, as evidenced by the enormous power plant and glimpses of the massive yet pristine "upper" city.
German Expressionist painters rejected the naturalistic depiction of objective reality, often portraying distorted figures, buildings, and landscapes in a disorienting manner that disregarded the conventions of perspective and proportion. This approach, combined with jagged, stylized shapes and harsh, unnatural colors, were used to convey subjective emotions.
A number of artists and craftsmen working in the Berlin theater brought the Expressionist visual style to the design of stage sets. This, in turn, had an eventual influence on films dealing with fantasy and horror.
The prime example is Robert Wiene's dream-like film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) which is universally recognized as an early classic of Expressionist cinema. Hermann Warm, the film's art director, worked with painters and stage designers Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig to create fantastic, nightmarish sets with twisted structures and landscapes with sharp-pointed forms and oblique, curving lines. Some of these designs were constructions, others were painted directly onto canvases.
German Expressionist films produced in the Weimar Republic immediately following the First World War not only encapsulate the sociopolitical contexts in which they were created, but also rework the intrinsically modern problems of self-reflexivity, spectacle and identity.
Following the esteemed critiques of Siegfried Kracauer and Lotte Eisner, these films are now viewed as a kind of collective consciousness, so inherently tied are they to their social milieu. Briefly mentioned by J. P. Telotte in his analysis of German film, “German Expressionism: A Cinematic/ Cultural Problem”, expressionism focuses on the “power of spectacles” and offers audiences “a kind of metonymic image of their own situation”.
This film movement paralleled Expressionist painting and theater in rejecting realism. The creators in the Weimar Period sought to convey inner, subjective experience through external, objective means. Their films were characterized by highly stylized sets and acting; they used a new visual style which embodied high contrast and simple editing. The films were shot in studios where they could employ deliberately exaggerated and dramatic lighting and camera angles to emphasize some particular affect – fear, horror, pain. Aspects of Expressionist techniques were later adapted by such directors as Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles and were incorporated into many American gangster and horror films.
Some of the major filmmakers of this time were F. W. Murnau, Erich Pommer, and Fritz Lang. The movement ended after the currency stabilized, making it cheaper to buy movies abroad. The UFA financially collapsed and German studios began to deal with Italian studios which led to their influence in style of horror and films noir. The American influence on the film industry would also lead some film makers to continue their career in the US. The UFA's last film was Der blaue Engel (1930), considered a masterpiece of German Expressionism.
Two works about the era are Lotte Eisner's The Haunted Screen and Sigfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler. Kracauer examines German cinema from the Silent/Golden Era and eventually concludes that German films made prior to Hitler's takeover and the rise of the Third Reich all hint at the inevitability of Nazi Germany. For Eisner, German Expressionist cinema is a visual manifestation of Romantic ideals. She closely examines staging, cinematography, acting, scenarios, and other cinematic elements in films by Pabst, Lubitsch, Lang (her obvious favorite), Riefenstahl, Harbou, and Murnau. More recent German Expressionist scholars examine historical elements of German Expressionism, such as inflation/economics, UFA, Erich Pommer, Nordisk, and Hollywood.
Stark, symbolic cinematography and intensely stylized performances
Christian Rohlfs (November 22, 1849 – January 8, 1938) was a German painter, one of the important representatives of German expressionism.Cinema of Europe
Cinema of Europe refers to the film industries and films produced in the continent of Europe.
Europeans were the pioneers of the motion picture industry, with several innovative engineers and artists making an impact especially at the end of the 19th century. Louis Le Prince became famous for his 1888 Roundhay Garden Scene, the first known celluloid film recorded. The Skladanowsky brothers from Berlin used their "Bioscop" to amaze the Wintergarten theatre audience with the first film show ever, from November 1 through 31, 1895. The Lumière Brothers established the Cinematograph; which initiated the silent film era, a period where European cinema was a major commercial success. It remained so until the art-hostile environment of World War II. These notable discoveries provide a glimpse of the power of early European cinema and its long-lasting influence on cinema today.
Notable European early film movements include German Expressionism (1920s), Soviet Montage (1920s), French Impressionist Cinema (1920s), and Italian neorealism (1940s); it was a period now seen in retrospect as "The Other Hollywood". War has triggered the birth of Art and in this case, the birth of cinema. German Expressionism evoked people's emotions through strange, nightmare-like visions and settings, heavily stylized and extremely visible to the eye. Soviet Montage shared similarities too and created famous film edits known as the Kino-eye effect, Kuleshov effect and intellectual montage. French Impressionist Cinema has crafted the essence of cinematography, as France was a film pioneering country that showcased the birth of cinema using the medium invented by the Lumière Brothers. Italian Neorealism designed the vivid reality through a human lens by creating low budget films outside directly on the streets of Italy. All film movements were heavily influenced by the war but that played as a catalyst to drive the cinema industry to its most potential in Europe.
The notable movements throughout early European cinema featured stylistic conventions, prominent directors and historical films that have influenced modern cinema until today. Below you will find a list of directors, films, film awards, film festivals and actors that were stars born from these film movements.Der Neue Club
Der Neue Club was an Expressionist club founded in the Hackesche Höfe courtyards, Berlin by Kurt Hiller and Jakob van Hoddis.Else Hertzer
Else Hertzer (1884–1978) was a 20th-century German artist representing the German Expressionism Movement. Her later works became more abstract.Expressionism
Expressionism is a modernist movement, initially in poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Its typical trait is to present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas. Expressionist artists have sought to express the meaning of emotional experience rather than physical reality.Expressionism developed as an avant-garde style before the First World War. It remained popular during the Weimar Republic, particularly in Berlin. The style extended to a wide range of the arts, including expressionist architecture, painting, literature, theatre, dance, film and music.The term is sometimes suggestive of angst. In a historical sense, much older painters such as Matthias Grünewald and El Greco are sometimes termed expressionist, though the term is applied mainly to 20th-century works. The Expressionist emphasis on individual and subjective perspective has been characterized as a reaction to positivism and other artistic styles such as Naturalism and Impressionism.Fear (1954 film)
Fear (Italian: La Paura) is a 1954 drama film directed by Roberto Rossellini and starring his wife Ingrid Bergman. It has also been released as Angst in the English-speaking world. It is loosely based on the Stefan Zweig novel Fear. It was filmed in Munich and was shot simultaneously in German and English. Rossellini created it because he wanted to explore the reconstruction of Germany from both a material and moral standpoint ten years after making his previous German film Germany Year Zero. The film is noirish with aspects reminiscent of Hitchcock and German Expressionism.Franz Marc
Franz Marc (February 8, 1880 – March 4, 1916) was a German painter and printmaker, one of the key figures of German Expressionism. He was a founding member of Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), a journal whose name later became synonymous with the circle of artists collaborating in it.Gothic film
The Gothic film is a film that is based on Gothic fiction or contains Gothic elements. Since various definite film genres—including science fiction, film noir, thriller, and comedy—have used Gothic elements, the Gothic film is challenging to define clearly as a genre. Gothic elements have also infused the horror film genre, contributing supernatural and nightmarish elements. To create a Gothic atmosphere, filmmakers have sought to create new camera tricks that challenge audiences' perceptions. Gothic films also reflected contemporary issues. A New Companion to The Gothic's Heidi Kaye said "strong visuals, a focus on sexuality and an emphasis on audience response" characterize Gothic films like they did the literary works. The Encyclopedia of the Gothic said the foundation of Gothic film was the combination of Gothic literature, stage melodrama, and German expressionism.In The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, Misha Kavka says Gothic film is not an established genre, rather contributing Gothic images, plots, characters, and styles to films. These elements are often found in "the broader category of horror". Kavka quotes William Patrick Day's definition of the Gothic, "[it] tantalizes us with fear, both as its subject and its effect; its does so, however, not primarily through characters or plots or even language, but through spectacle". Cinema suits the Gothic definition in creating images that establish the spectacle.Italian futurism in cinema
Italian futurism was a movement in film history from 1916 to 1919. It influenced Russian Futurist cinema and German Expressionism.List of German films of 1919–1932
This is a list of the most notable films produced in Germany of the Weimar Republic era from 1919 until 1932, in year order. This period, between the end of World War I and the advent of the Nazi regime, is considered an early renaissance in world cinema, with many influential and important films being made. The style of many of these films is called German Expressionism.
For an alphabetical list of articles on Weimar German films see Category:Films of the Weimar Republic.Los tallos amargos
Los tallos amargos (The Bitter Stems) is a 1956 Argentine film noir directed by Fernando Ayala. The screenplay, written by Sergio Leonardo, was based on a novel by journalist Adolfo Jasca.
The film stars Carlos Cores as a journalist with an inferiority complex who partners with a Hungarian immigrant, played by Vassili Lambrinos, in a fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme that leads to crime and tragedy. Aída Luz, Julia Sandoval, and Pablo Moret also play major characters.
The film's cinematographer, Ricardo Younis, studied under Gregg Toland, who shot Citizen Kane. American Cinematographer magazine named Los tallos amargos one of the “50 Best Photographed Films of All-Time”. Of note is a surreal dream sequence that merges noir photography with elements of German expressionism. The film was scored by Astor Piazzolla.
Los tallos amargos won Silver Condor awards for Best Picture and Best Director in 1957 but was considered lost until it turned up in a private collection in 2014. A 35mm version was subsequently restored by the UCLA Film & Television Archive, with funding provided by the Film Noir Foundation and Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Charitable Trust, and premiered in February 2016 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. When the film played at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood later that year, the presenter noted that while the 35mm negative was rediscovered, the soundtrack remained lost, so the restoration used the track from the director's 16mm print.Low-key lighting
Low-key lighting is a style of lighting for photography, film or television. It is a necessary element in creating a chiaroscuro effect. Traditional photographic lighting, three-point lighting uses a key light, a fill light and a back light for illumination. Low-key lighting often uses only a key light, optionally controlled with a fill light or a simple reflector.
Low key light accentuates the contours of the subject by throwing areas into shade while a fill light or reflector may illuminate the shadow areas to control contrast. The relative strength of key-to-fill, known as the lighting ratio, can be measured using a light meter. Low key lighting has a higher lighting ratio, e.g., 8:1, than high-key lighting, which can approach 1:1.
The term "low key" is also used in cinematography and photography to refer to any scene with a high lighting ratio, especially if there is a predominance of shadowy areas. It tends to heighten the sense of alienation felt by the viewer, hence is commonly used in film noir and horror genres. It is typically used in dark dramas/ thrillers. Low-key lighting is also associated with German Expressionism and later film noir.Peter Selz
Peter Selz (born March 27, 1919 in Munich) is an art historian of German Expressionism.Prelude to a Million Years
Prelude to a Million Years: A Book of Wood Engravings is a 1933 wordless novel consisting of thirty wood engravings by American artist Lynd Ward (1905–1985). It was the fourth of Ward's six wordless novels, a genre Ward discovered while studying wood engraving in Europe, and delved into under the influence of the works of Frans Masereel and Otto Nückel. The symbol-rich story tells of a sculptor who, in his quest for ideal beauty, neglects the reality of the struggles of his neighbors in the depths of the Great Depression. The engravings are done in a softer Art Deco style in contrast to the German Expressionism-influenced artwork of Ward's earlier works.Robert Krasker
Robert Krasker, B.S.C., A.S.C. (21 August 1913 – 16 August 1981) was an Australian cinematographer who worked on more than fifty films in his career.Krasker was born in Alexandria, Egypt but his birth was registered in Perth, Western Australia. He travelled to England in 1937 via photographic studios in Paris and Dresden, and found work at Alexander Korda's London Films, where he became a senior camera operator. His first film as a director of photography was The Gentle Sex (1943), directed by Leslie Howard.
Krasker's work was strongly influenced by film noir and German Expressionism. He received an Academy Award for his work on The Third Man (1949), directed by Carol Reed, having previously worked with Reed on Odd Man Out (1947). He also worked on Brief Encounter for David Lean and Another Man's Poison for Irving Rapper.
Lean sacked him from Great Expectations shown in December 1946, because both he and producer Ronald Neame were unhappy with his handling of the marsh scenes. However he is credited with the opening scene of that film. His later films included the epics Alexander the Great, El Cid, and The Fall of the Roman Empire.
He returned to Australia in the 1950s as well as reviewing movies.His legacy during his lifetime was relatively unknown in Australia, and when some of his photographs were sold after his death, it was in London.
His death in 1981, was noted by Australian film directors of the time.Krasker was the first Australian cinematographer to win an Oscar; the second would not win until 1990.Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination
Schatten – Eine nächtliche Halluzination ("Shadows - a Nocturnal Hallucination", also known in English as Warning Shadows) is a 1923 German silent film directed by Arthur Robison. It is considered part of German Expressionism.The Dybbuk (film)
The Dybbuk (Yiddish: דער דיבוק, Der Dibuk; Polish: Dybuk) is a 1937 Yiddish-language Polish fantasy drama directed by Michał Waszyński. It is based on the play The Dybbuk by S. Ansky.
The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds (Yiddish: דער דיבוק, אָדער צווישן צוויי וועלטן; Der Dibuk, oder Tsvishn Tsvey Veltn) is a 1914 play by S. Ansky, relating the story of a young bride possessed by a dybbuk – a malicious possessing spirit, believed to be the dislocated soul of a dead person – on the eve of her wedding. The Dybbuk is considered a seminal play in the history of Jewish theatre, and played an important role in the development of Yiddish theatre and theatre in Israel. The play was based on years of research by Ansky, who traveled between Jewish shtetls in Russia and Ukraine, documenting folk beliefs and stories of the Hassidic Jews.
The film, with some changes in the plot structure, starred Lili Liliana as Leah, Leon Liebgold as Hannan (Channon, in the English-language subtitles), and Abraham Morewski as Rabbi Azrael ben Hodos. The film adds an additional act before those in the original play: it shows the close friendship of Sender and Nisn as young men. Besides the language of the film itself, the picture is noted among film historians for the striking scene of Leah's wedding, which is shot in the style of German Expressionism. The film is generally considered one of the finest in the Yiddish language. The Dybbuk was filmed on location in Kazimierz Dolny, Poland, and in Feniks Film Studio in Warsaw.Theodor Sparkuhl
Theodor Sparkuhl (October 7, 1894, Hannover, Germany – June 13, 1946, Los Angeles, California) was a German-born cinematographer with over 100 movies to his credit.
Sparkuhl began his career as a projectionist in 1911. He was trained as a newsreel cameraman at the German subsidiary of the French film production company Gaumont in 1912. During World War I he chronicled battles in the Middle East and in Russia. In 1916 he became a lighting director of entertainment films, remaining in German films until 1928 (including many pictures under the direction of Ernst Lubitsch until Lubitsch's emigration to Hollywood in 1922).
From 1928 to 1930 Sparkuhl worked for British International Pictures in London. He relocated to France in 1930 where he worked with Jean Renoir and Marc Allégret. In December 1931 he and his family finally emigrated to Hollywood. He soon signed a contract with Paramount Pictures and worked for them until 1945.
Sparkuhl's most famous films include Renoir's La Chienne (1931), the classic adventure film Beau Geste (1939) and the seminal film noir The Glass Key (1942). The distinctive low-key photography in the latter film and his two other early film noirs Among the Living (1941) and Street of Chance (1942) is a remarkable change from the traditional flat lighting of the typical Hollywood crime films of the 1930s (like the 1935 film version of The Glass Key). Film historians consider Sparkuhl's work in these three films to be a significant contribution to the development of the archetypical noir style and an indication of its debt to German Expressionism and French Poetic realism.
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