German Expressionism

1 January 2017

German films back onto cinema screens in Europe and America because of their artistic value. Expressionism is a manner of painting, drawing, sculpting in which forms derived from nature are distorted or exaggerated and colors are intensified for emotive or expressive purposes. In 1914, the Great War began in Europe. Germany was cut off from its supply of international cinema. ” The only films imported into Germany during the war years were from Denmark and Sweden”(German Expressionism: The World of Light and Shadow).

In 1917, the German film studio Universum Film-Aktiengesellschaft (UFA) was founded because the supplies of films from Sweden and Denmark were not enough, as they were not producing as many films. After the Germans defeat in 1918 Germany sunk into great depression because of the economic crisis which lead to the hyperinflation. German expressionism films became more recognized, as there was more demand for films because people wanted to get their minds off depression and also because of the nation-wide abolition of censorship, Germany’s young artists were ready to accept it as a new means of communicating with the masses.

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Filmmakers, through the medium of films portrayed their feelings towards the war. One of the main reasons why German expressionism was so unique is also because of Germanys financial debts and filmmakers had to make film with what ever they could find (props, actors, makeup). ”The new freedom of expression manifested itself most immediately in a series of well-mounted, independently produced pornographic films and in 1920 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by Robert Wiene, one of the most important and influential Expressionist films, was released”. (Hudson, Davis)

German expressionism Emphasizes on design or mise-en-scene, uncanny atmosphere, and composition which transforms reality as we know it through photography which uses unexpected camera angles with very little camera movement, this aims to abstract from realistic details and contingencies and also bring out the “essence” of an object, situation, or state of being. The lighting is also a very important part of German expressionism as the lighting in films like Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) emphasizes on the stark contrasts of light and shadow for various effects that creates the eerie mood that develops throughout the film.

The totally artificial, stylized sets where “paintings come to life” is portrayed in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, stripped of all realistic details that become symbolic diagrams of emotional states of Germans in 1920’s – This arouses, dreams alienation, extreme emotional states, mystery, disharmony, destabilization expressing a subjective viewpoint. More than any other national movement in the history of film, German Expressionism was an answer to the dingy reality of daily life. It expressed what people were feeling at the time during the World War I; which was confusion, distress, anger etc.

These films being an alternative for filmmakers to show the people what they were feeling, films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari were overtly theatrical and anti-naturalist. The acting styles of the actors were very vague and different from what people would usually see in films. Actors moved in jerky, slow, sinuous patterns with heavy make-up on, again portraying the confusion and anger. The German expressionism films had integration of all elements of mise-en-scene (“This is a principle used in the creation and study of film.

It helps interpret meaning from what happens in one single shot, rather than the relationship between two shot”- “Science. ” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation) to create an overall composition. Like in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), all the buildings in this underground city are colorless and all look the same, even the workers look lifeless. In contrast to this lifeless situation of the lower class working people, the upper class settle in high places where there is life and beauty. The upper class people live in luxury not knowing the misery of the lower class people. The scene where the workers are synchronized.

There is a comparison between a higher and lower power therefore Lang has used a lot of over the shoulder and low angle shots. This is visually expressed through mise-en-scene. Everything from the costumes, the structure of the doorway, the lighting, all help create the feeling of oppression and the dehumanization of a man. The posture of the actors and the jerky movements of the actors as they walk, almost as if it is to great an effort, all contributes back to feeling of confusion as the story unfolds. One great example of German Expressionist mise-en-scene in Metropolis is in the scene showing the two clocks.

Lang has thought this scene through as he spaces the two clocks perfectly as if to visually portray the two social classes that exist in different areas. The bottom clock counts off the time in ten-hours for the workers, implying that its readers have only basic number skills. The upper clock uses a 24-hour system. The higher-class people: businessmen, lawyers, managers tend to use this clock; it relies on a more sophisticated mathematical concept. The numbers are literally bigger as well as the clock is placed higher in a position of privilege. This depicts the social crisis of capitalism during the 1920’s in Germany.

The placement of these two clocks symbolizes the inner workings of metropolis in miniature: an ideal place for the few people on top and a dystopia for the many on the bottom. German silent cinema was arguably far ahead of cinema in Hollywood. “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 filmmakers from elsewhere and were incorporated into their work and so into the body of international cinema from the 1930s onward “ (Kolar).

The influence can also be seen throughout the rest of Alfred Hitchcock and Tm Burton’s career. German expressionism also had an influence on contemporary films through which we can say that German Expressionist Films did push German films back onto cinema screens in Europe and America because of their artistic value. The stunning artistry of German Expressionist cinema didn’t escape the eyes of Hollywood studios.

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