German Expressionism

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German Expressionism refers to a number of related creative movements which emerged in Germany before the First World War and reached a peak in Berlin, during the 1920s. Developments in Germany were part of a larger Expressionist movement in north and central European art.


[edit] Developments in many media

Expressionism as a movement spanned across many media to include theater, architecture, music, painting and sculpture. Expressionist architecture, in particular, serves as an iconic way to bring the inner emotions of the individual into the public sphere, and therefore is most closely tied to the concepts of German Expressionist cinema.[original research?]

The German Expressionist movement in painting started from about 1905 with Die Brücke (The Bridge) group in Dresden and moving later to Berlin, and Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) in Munich from around 1911.

Drama too was part of the Expressionist movement in Germany, with playwrights like Georg Kaiser and Ernst Toller coming under the influence of Frank Wedekind in expanding the range of what could be depicted on stage.

This article deals with German Expressionist film making which is probably the best known part of the movement. During the period of recovery following World War I, the German film industry was booming, but because of the hard economic times filmmakers found it difficult to create movies that could compare with the lush, extravagant features coming from Hollywood. The filmmakers of the German Universum Film AG studio developed their own style by using symbolism and mise en scène to add mood and deeper meaning to a movie.

[edit] 1920s-1930s

The first Expressionist films, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), The Golem (1920), Destiny (1921), Nosferatu (1922), Phantom (1922), Schatten (1923), and The Last Laugh (1924), were highly symbolic and stylized.

Various European cultures of the 1920s had 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 sets, 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 (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.

Still from the 1920 film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The extreme non-realism of Expressionism was short-lived, and it faded 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, and shadow to enhance the mood of a film. This dark, moody school of filmmaking was brought to America when the Nazis gained power and a number of German filmmakers emigrated to Hollywood. They found American 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 the medium of film as a whole.[citation needed]

Two genres that were especially influenced by Expressionism were the 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 emigrees 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, and Michael Curtiz introduced the Expressionist style to crime dramas of the 1940s, influencing a further line of film makers and taking Expressionism through the years.

[edit] Interpretation of German Expressionism

The first two seminal works on the era are Eisner, Lotte (1969). The Haunted Screen. Berkeley: University of California Press.  Lotte Eisner's The Haunted Screen and Sigfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler.[citation needed] . 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, Lubistch, Lang (her obvious favorite), Riefesnstahl, Harbou, and Murnau. More recent German Expressionist scholars examine historical elements of German Expressionism, such as inflation/economics, UFA, Erich Pommer, Nordisk, and Hollywood.[citation needed]

[edit] Influence and legacy

German silent cinema was arguably far ahead of cinema in Hollywood[1]. As well as the direct influence of film makers who moved from Germany to Hollywood developments in style and technique which were developed through Expressionism in Germany impressed contemporary film makers from elsewhere and were incorperated into there work and so into the body of international cinema from the 1930's onward.

A good example of this process can be found in the career of Alfred Hitchcock. In 1924 Hitchcock was sent by his film company to work as an assistant director and art director at the UFA Babelsberg Studios in Berlin on the film The Blackguard[2]. An immediate effect of the working environment there can be seen in his expressionistic set designs for The Blackguard.

The influence can be seen to continued thoughout his career. In his third film as director The Lodger he introduced Expressionistic sets, techniques of lighting and trick camera work[3] to the British public against the wishes of his studio[4]. In his later films this influence continued through his continued visual experimentation for example in the shower scene from Psycho the approach Norman Bates' blurred image seen through a shower curtain is reminiscent of the approach of Nosferatu shown through his shadow. The development of these themes and techniques were not coincidental. Hitchcock said "I have acquired a strong German influence by working at the UFA studios Berlin"[5]. Hitchcock's film making has in it's turn influenced many other film makers and so has been one of the vehicle which have propelled German Expressionist techniques into the present day.

In addition to the indirect historic legacy of Expressioinsm many contempory film makers look back to this period of film making, for example

Dark City is influenced by German Expressionism's stark contrast, rigid movements, and fantastic elements.[6][7]

Werner Herzog's 1979 film Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht was a tribute to F.W. Murnau's 1929 film. The film uses Expressionist techniques of highly symbolic acting and symbolic events to tell its story.[8] Notably it links the vampire myth with the black death through the use of black rats.

Stylistic elements taken from German Expressionism are common today in films that do not need reference to real places such as science fiction films (especially Ridley Scott's 1982 film Blade Runner and the many films influence by it).[citation needed] And in the fantasy films of Tim Burton.

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. One may even notice the link between the evil character of Max Shreck portrayed by Christopher Walken, and Nosferatu's star, Max Schreck.[citation needed]

Burton's influences are most obvious through his fairy tale suburban landscape in Edward Scissorhands. The appearance of the titular Edward Scissorhands none too accidentally reflects the look of Caligari's somnambulist servant. Burton casts unease in his candy-colored suburb, where the tension is visually unmasked through Edward and his Gothic castle perched above the houses. Burton subverts the Caligari nightmare with his own narrative branding, casting the garish somnambulist as the hero, and the villagers as the villains.[citation needed]

The familiar look of Caligari's main character can also be seen in the movie The Crow. With the tight, black outfit, white makeup, and darkened eyes, Brandon Lee's character is obviously a close relative to Burton's film Edward Scissorhands.[citation needed]

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. He himself described the musical on stage as a "silent film with music."[citation needed]

[edit] Cinema and architecture

Many critics see a direct tie between cinema and architecture of the time, in the sense 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.[citation needed]

Strong elements of monumentalism and modernism crop up throughout the canon of German expressionism. Especially in Metropolis, as evidenced by the enormity of power plant and glimpses of the massive yet pristine 'upper' city.

[edit] References

  1. ^ >"Paul Merton Looks at Alfred Hitchcock", BBC Television 2009, Broadcast- 28th Feb 2009
  2. ^ "Paul Merton Looks at Alfred Hitchcock", BBC Television 2009, Broadcast- 28th Feb 2009 and Wikipedia Alfred Hitchcock page
  3. ^ such as the images of a man walking across a glass floor shot from below so as to reprsent someone pacing upstairs
  4. ^ "Paul Merton Looks at Alfred Hitchcock", BBC Television 2009, Broadcast- 28th Feb 2009
  5. ^ "I have acquired a strong German influence by working at the UFA studios Berlin" Hitchcock speaking on "Paul Merton Looks at Alfred Hitchcock", BBC Television 2009, Broadcast- 28th Feb 2009
  6. ^ Don Kornits (1999-06-02). "Alex Proyas - Director, Dark City". eFilmCritic. Retrieved on 2007-07-06. 
  7. ^ Rob Blackwelder (1998-02-13). "VISIONS OF 'STRANGERS' DANCE IN HIS HEAD". SPLICEDwire. Retrieved on 2007-07-06. 
  8. ^ See Rotten Tomatoes article,

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

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