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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.
World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.
The Golden Twenties was a vibrant period in the history of Berlin, Germany, Europe and the world in general. After the Greater Berlin Act the city became the third largest municipality in the world and experienced its heyday as a major world city. It was known for its leadership roles in science, the humanities, music, film, higher education, government, diplomacy, industries and military affairs.
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.
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 Student of Prague is a 1913 German silent horror film. It is loosely based on "William Wilson", a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the poem The December Night by Alfred de Musset, and Faust. The film was remade in 1926, under the same title The Student of Prague. Other remakes were produced in 1935 and 2004. The film stars Paul Wegener in his film debut. It is generally deemed to be the first independent film in history.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a 1920 German silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, it tells the story of an insane hypnotist who uses a somnambulist to commit murders. The film features a dark and striking visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets.
From Morn to Midnight is a 1920 German silent expressionist film directed by Karlheinz Martin based on the play From Morning to Midnight by Georg Kaiser. It is one of the most radical films of the German Expressionist movement.
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.
Europe is a continent located entirely in the Northern Hemisphere and mostly in the Eastern Hemisphere. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Asia to the east, and the Mediterranean Sea to the south. It comprises the westernmost part of Eurasia.
Insanity, madness, and craziness are terms that describe a spectrum of individual and group behaviors that are characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity can be manifest as violations of societal norms, including a person or persons becoming a danger to themselves or to other people. Conceptually, mental insanity also is associated with the biological phenomenon of contagion as in the case of copycat suicides. In contemporary usage, the term insanity is an informal, un-scientific term denoting "mental instability"; thus, the term insanity defense is the legal definition of mental instability. In medicine, the general term psychosis is used to include the presence either of delusions or of hallucinations or both in a patient; and psychiatric illness is "psychopathology", not mental insanity.
Betrayal is the breaking or violation of a presumptive contract, trust, or confidence that produces moral and psychological conflict within a relationship amongst individuals, between organizations or between individuals and organizations. Often betrayal is the act of supporting a rival group, or it is a complete break from previously decided upon or presumed norms by one party from the others. Someone who betrays others is commonly called a traitor or betrayer. Betrayal is also a commonly used literary element, also used in other fiction like films and TV series, and is often associated with or used as a plot twist.
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.
National Socialism, more commonly known as Nazism, is the ideology and practices associated with the Nazi Party—officially the National Socialist German Workers' Party —in Nazi Germany, and of other far-right groups with similar aims.
Hollywood is a neighborhood in the central region of Los Angeles, California, notable as the home of the U.S. film industry, including several of its historic studios. Its name has come to be a shorthand reference for the industry and the people associated with it.
Fritz Hippler was a German filmmaker who ran the film department in the Propaganda Ministry of Nazi Germany, under Joseph Goebbels. He is best known as the director of the propaganda film Der Ewige Jude .
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.[ citation needed ] Similarly, Dr. Caligari was the inspiration for the grotesque, bird-like appearance of the Penguin in Burton's 1992 film Batman Returns.[ 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 make-up and darkened eyes, Brandon Lee's character is a close relative to both Cesare, and 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 , describing the musical as a "silent film with music".[ citation needed ]
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.
The film industry in Germany can be traced back to the late 19th century. German cinema made major technical and artistic contributions to early film, broadcasting and television technology. Babelsberg became a household synonym for the early 20th century film industry in Europe, similar to Hollywood later.
The Last Laugh is a 1924 German silent film directed by German director F. W. Murnau from a screenplay written by Carl Mayer. The film stars Emil Jannings and Maly Delschaft. In German, the title means, "The last man."
Metropolis is a 1927 German expressionist science-fiction drama film directed by Fritz Lang. Written by Thea von Harbou in collaboration with Lang, it stars Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge and Brigitte Helm. Erich Pommer produced it in the Babelsberg Studios for Universum Film A.G. (UFA). The silent film is regarded as a pioneering science-fiction movie, being among the first feature-length movies of that genre. Filming took place over 17 months in 1925–26 at a cost of more than five million Reichsmarks.
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau was a German film director. He was greatly influenced by Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Shakespeare and Ibsen plays he had seen at the age of 12, and became a friend of director Max Reinhardt. During World War I he served as a company commander at the eastern front and was in the German air force, surviving several crashes without any severe injuries.
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, or simply Nosferatu, is a 1922 German Expressionist horror film, directed by F. W. Murnau, starring Max Schreck as the vampire Count Orlok. The film, shot in 1921 and released in 1922, was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897) as The Stoker Estate held the books copyright & refused permission. Various names and other details were changed from the novel: for instance, "vampire" became "Nosferatu" and "Count Dracula" became "Count Orlok".
UFA GmbH is a German film and television production company that unites all production activities of Bertelsmann in Germany. Its history comes from Universum Film AG that was a major German film company headquartered in Babelsberg, producing and distributing motion pictures from 1917 through to the end of the Nazi era. The name UFA was revived for an otherwise new film and television outfit.
Expressionist architecture is an architectural movement in Europe during the first decades of the 20th century in parallel with the expressionist visual and performing arts that especially developed and dominated in Germany. Brick Expressionism is a special variant of this movement in western and northern Germany and in The Netherlands. Expressionist architecture is one of the three dominant styles of Modern architecture.
Friedrich Rudolf Klein-Rogge was a German film actor. Klein-Rogge is known for playing sinister figures in films in the 1920s and 1930s as well as being a main-stay in director Fritz Lang's Weimar-era films. He is probably best known in popular culture, particularly to English-speaking audiences, for playing the archetypal mad scientist role of C. A. Rotwang in Lang's Metropolis and as the criminal genius Doctor Mabuse.
Erich Pommer was a German-born film producer and executive. Pommer was perhaps the most powerful person in the German and European Film Industries in the 1920s and early 1930s.
Lotte H. Eisner was a German-French writer, film critic, archivist and curator. Eisner worked initially as a film critic in Berlin, then in Paris where in 1936 she met Henri Langlois with whom she founded the Cinémathèque Française.
The Club Foot Orchestra is a multi-faceted musical ensemble whose live performances of modern scores for silent film sparked a revival in the genre that continues today. Their innovative style creates a musical atmosphere that brings silent film into the modern era, synthesizing sounds of Eastern European music, Impressionism, and Jazz Fusion. The New Yorker said "This is music that bubbles up from the intersection of aesthetics and the id," They have performed at Lincoln Center, Symphony Space, The Smithsonian, World Financial Center, SF Jazz, and their home at the Castro Theater in San Francisco, among many other venues in the US, Mexico, and Canada.
Fritz Arno Wagner is considered one of the most acclaimed German cinematographers from the 1920s to the 1950s. He played a key role in the Expressionist film movement during the Weimar period and is perhaps best known for excelling "in the portrayal of horror" according to noted film critic Lotte H. Eisner.
The Travelling Artist is an art house production inspired by German expressionism co-directed by Jez Blackmore and Richard Hulse from a screenplay by Jenni Grant.
The Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation is based in Wiesbaden and chartered to preserve and curate a collection of the works of Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau as well as a collection of other German films totaling to about 6,000 produced between 1890 and 1960. The foundation is owned by the Federal Republic of Germany. The "private non-profit foundation" was founded in 1966 out of fear that classic German cinema's original stock, and the rights to these films, would be sold off internationally. The stock was originally owned by Bertelsmann. The foundation maintains about 80% of Germany's forbidden Nazi-era films and acts as a gate keeper for public access to these films via archives and curated public screenings.
Rudolf Meinert (1882–1945) was an Austrian screenwriter, film producer and director.
The Ufa-Palast am Zoo, located near Berlin Zoological Garden in the New West area of Charlottenburg, was a major Berlin cinema owned by Universum Film AG, or Ufa. Opened in 1919 and enlarged in 1925, it was the largest cinema in Germany until 1929 and was one of the main locations of film premières in the country. The building was destroyed in November 1943 during the Bombing of Berlin in World War II and replaced in 1957 by the Zoo Palast.
Erich Karl Heinrich Kettelhut was a German production designer, art director and set decorator. Kettelhut is considered as one of the most important artists in the history of early German cinema, mainly for his set direction for Die Nibelungen (1924) and his design and visual effects for Metropolis (1927). His early career was defined by a working relationship with fellow designers Otto Hunte and Karl Vollbrecht, the trio working on many of Fritz Lang's early German films. Despite being best known for his iconic visuals on several of the most important films of German Expressionist cinema, he is also noted for a career spanning into the 1960s and his work on more light-hearted films and musicals.
The Weissensee Studios were film production studios located in the Berlin suburb of Weissensee during the silent era.
Decla Film was a German film production and distribution company of the silent era. Formed in 1911 as the German subsidiary of the French company Eclair, it was taken into German ownership in 1915 during the First World War. Under the leadership of Erich Pommer, Decla emerged as one of the leading German film companies of the early Weimar era. Assuming control of Meinert-Film, it appointed Rudolf Meinert to oversee production. At the small Weissensee Studios it produced the expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Stark, symbolic cinematography and intensely stylized performances