German Expressionism is a part of modernist movement initially started with poetry and painting in Germany. It was the movement where people sought to express what felt or saw during the First World War. German expressionism mainly spread around Germany and Northern European states. The Expressionist movement today is considered as one of the artistic movement.
Start of German Expressionism in Films
It is said that in the history of films, German expressionism filmed the reality of daily life. The films and the art of the expressionist period represented the gruesome truth that the people of Germany dealt with. The period of expressionism is also called Weimar period in the film history that captured the emotions and sufferings of the broken nation and its people.
As an extension of Avant-Garde movement, German expressionism started with the influence in art and painting where the “expression” was used as a style to narrate their society.
Style of German Expressionism
Germany as a nation crumbled in the World War, the economy and the livelihood of the people came to great suffering. The films from other countries where banned in 1916 and this led to German Expressionism. The films made were surreal, distorted with heavy shadows to make the story look gloomy and depressing. The movement expressed the depression in the people’s minds caused by the war.
Dominant characteristics of Expressionism
- Expressionism used mise-en-scene and heavy atmosphere
- Long shadow effects
- Artificial sets with realistic details
- The details in the sets bring forth the emotional, that stirs audience mind
- Camera set in unexpected angles gives audience a different perception
- Aims in evoking mystery, hallucinations and extreme emotional stress
- Slow pace than other regular movies
End of German Expressionism
German expressionism came to an end in 1923 with political barriers and forced ban, it was named that expressionism was degenerated art for film making in Germany. However the German expressionists moved to Hollywood where expressionism continued with the influence of Hollywood glamour and culture. It is considered that the main reason for the fade away of Expressionism was the gradual disinterest in the topic.
Renowned Directors and Movies from Expressionism Era
The first film that came as an experiment of expressionism was Paul Wegener’s “Student of Prague” a silent thriller, the plot revolves around a poor student rescues a beautiful countess and soon becomes obsessed with her. A sorcerer makes a deal with the young man to give him fabulous wealth and anything he wants, if he will sign his name to a contract (i.e. make a Deal with the Devil). The student hurriedly signs the contract, but doesn’t know what he’s in for.
Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is also considered as one of the landmark movie in the German Expressionism which was considered as the prime example of expressionism films.
Ernst Lubitsch’s “Die Bergkatze”, Fritz Lang’s “Dr. Mabuse the Gambler”, Fritz Lang’s “Destiny”, Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” are some of the critically acclaimed films of the German Expressionist era.
German Expressionism – The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari
Directed by Robert Wiene as established from a movie script by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, this German expressionist horror motion picture was released on February 26, 1920 in Germany and dubbed, as a powerful cinematic motion picture of the German Expressionist faction, so compelling even an American critic, Robert Ebert, noted it as the primal bona fide horror movie. Also this is the film that launched the “spin around” movie finale method, starring Friedrich Feher as Francis, Lil Dagover as Jane, Hans Heinrich Von Twardowski as Alan, Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari and Conrad Veidt as Cesare. The plot circles on Francis, who was enamored by Jane, calling her his “fiance”. He and his friend Alan met with Dr. Caligari and Cesare to whom the doctor puts down to sleep in a cabinet appearing like a coffin by means of hypnotic approach. Alan died and Francis and Jane probed on Caligare and Cesare. Jane’s life fell in danger and Francis was appalled by the further terrifying revelations concerning the identity of the doctor as he continued his inquisition. So thus, the ending twist of the movie is even more jaw-dropping as it is.