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Transcript of German Expressionism
1920 - 1927.
In this class...
Understand the legacy of German Expressionism;
German Expressionist Cinema emerged in Weimar Germany; a period between the two World Wars, when a fledging democracy was struggling to take hold.
Painters, sculptors, architects, theatre practitioners were drawn to cinema – bridging gap between elitist art, and popular entertainment.
In 1914, the Great War began in Europe, cutting Germany off from its usual supply of international cinema.
UFA remained the largest European film production studio until World War II.
The Aesthetics of German Expressionism
The films of this movement were united by:
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari
(R. Wiener, 1920)
Caligari & the movement
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is considered the first true Expressionist film.
It featured elements that have become synonymous with German Expressionism:
Anti-heroic (if not downright evil) characters at the centre of a story...
which often involves madness, paranoia, obsession and...
is told in whole or in part from a subjective point of view.
A primarily urban setting (there are exceptions, particularly in the case of Murnau), providing ample opportunity to explore...
the criminal underworld...
and the complex architectural and compositional possibilities offered, for example, by stairways and their railings, mirrors and reflecting windows, structures jutting every bit as vertically as they do horizontally so that...
the director can play with stripes, angles and geometric forms sliced from the stark contrasts between light and shadow.
Nosferatu (F.W. Murnau, 1922)
This is the earliest version of Dracula, and certainly the first vampire film.
Established one of the two vampire archetypes.
Unlike most other films in the movement, Murnau moved production out of the studio and on to location.
The oblique, expressionist angles aren’t as prevalent in Nosferatu as they are in other German Expressionist films, but it’s use of chiaroscuro has earned it a place as a classic of this period.
Often cited as being the most influential of the early horror films.
Creates a strong oneiric effect on the audience.
The Themes of German Expressionism
Why did this specific period in Germany give rise to films that were visually and thematically dark?
Metropolis (F. Lang, 1927)
The first feature length Sci-Fi film, and the last Expressionist film.
Metropolis produced in more economically stable times. Hollywood recognised the power of UFA and tried to make deals with them.
Metropolis was inspired by Lang’s trip to NY and the scale was conceived as a way of rivalling the US output.
Was the most expensive film made at that time. The production forced UFA to sell out to Alfred Hugenberg; a Nazi sympathiser.
As a result, UFA’s main output from 1933 was propaganda films.
Lang’s original cut premiered in Berlin in 1927, and ran for 153 minutes.
Metropolis and the zeitgeist
Examines conflict between workers and owners – a theme that reflected the zeitgeist.
Set in 2000, the narrative is set in a dystopian future.
Uses modernism and Art Deco as inspiration for the art direction.
The film is dominated by technology, some invented visualisations of the future, some from the 1920s.
The ultimate and most iconic expression of the technology in the film is the female robot, or Machinenmensch Hel – ultimately a comment on how mechanisation can replace the need for humans in industry; a concern of the Western society experiencing the Industrial Revolution in late 18th, early 19th century.
The Making of Metropolis
310 shooting days and 60 nights.
Original budget 1.5 Million marks, actually cost 6 million.
Used a variety of camera types and techniques
Three special effect processes:
Stop motion animation
Multiple exposure (in camera)
Metropolis score is original, and was composed during filming. This was very unusual at the time.
Although Lang was favoured by Hitler, he and many of his fellow filmmakers fled to Hollywood once WWII started.
Identify the social and political context of German Expressionist Cinema;
Recognise and discuss the importance of the visual style and thematic concerns of the movement;
Know the key filmmakers and films of this movement;
An artistic movement; Expressionism, was well established before WWI, but German Cinema was not.
Art Historian Norbert Lynton outlined this existing movement’s focus:
“All human action is expressive; a gesture is an intentionally expressive action. All art is expressive - of its author and of the situation in which he works - but some art is intended to move us through visual gestures that transmit, and perhaps give release to, emotions and emotionally charged messages. Such art is expressionist.”
In response, the German film studio Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft (UFA) was founded in 1917.
However, Sweden and Denmark simply didn’t produce enough films.
The only films imported into Germany during the war years were from Denmark and Sweden.
German filmmakers were therefore unaware of the innovation of technique D.W. Griffith had achieved in
Birth of a Nation
Inflation Driven Cinema - Devaluation of deutschmark meant that German films could be sold cheaply, and the German market was unattractive for foreign imports. 500-600 films were being produced yearly in this period.
Expressionism, with the help of nation-wide abolition of censorship in 1919 and the intellectuals’ adoption of cinema, was hailed as a new way of expressing a new world.
After the German defeat in 1918, UFA went on to become a sizable competitor with Hollywood.
Shadows and silhouettes - an important feature of expressionism.
atmospheric lighting and harsh contrasts between dark and light, known as chiaroscuro;
strange asymmetrical camera angles and set design;
highly stylized visuals;
The films were often classified as Oneiric; meaning dreamlike.
The themes that run through these films are primarily:
The films produced in Germany during those years reflected a broken nation and a people horrified by the everyday.
A high rate of violence, rape and murder, depression (PTSD), veterans ghoulishly mangled in the war, the loss of innocence and complete rejection of the past were the things the German people dealt in Weimar Germany.
It was also a way to represent and bring across the reality few could imagine -
More than any other national movement in the history of film, German Expressionism was an answer to the grim reality of daily life.
fear of violence and disease.
a distrust of authority,
The legacy of German Expressionism is still very much with us; the generic visual conventions of the horror film, the work of Tim Burton and films like Blade Runner (1982).
German expertise did not only influence and shape Hollywood post 1930, German Cinema also was a training ground for directors such as Hitchcock.
Aesthetically and thematically, the influence of German Expressionism can be seen in the rise of the Horror genre (particularly films made by Universal) and in the creation of Film Noir.
These artistic refugees significantly shaped the US output, becoming involved with all levels of film production.
An Artistic Movement
You should simply and clearly communicate what was interesting and significant about the films made in Germany in this period. You need to demonstrate that you understand the way the social, cultural and economic context influenced the creation of the films, and you should also indicate that you understand how these films have influenced filmmakers who came after.
You have 300 – 500 words to do this.