Expressionism (film)

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Cover of the special “Film” issue of the magazine “Das Plakat”, October 1920, designed by Paul Leni , a pioneering production designer and director of Expressionist film

The expressionistic film was mainly in Germany , especially in the "movie capital" Berlin , in the silent era to the first half of the 1920s -years. That is why one often speaks of German Expressionism . But even in the years before, the first expressionist elements appeared in Austrian productions - the so-called “pre-expressionist” films that developed from the popular literary adaptations.

Stylistic devices

Characteristic are the grotesquely distorted backdrops, strongly influenced by Expressionist painting , and the high-contrast lighting, which was supported by painted shadows. A surrealistic and symbolistic mise-en-scène creates strong moods and deeper levels of meaning.

In addition, it is above all the emphatically exaggerated gestural style of play of the actors that characterizes the expressionist of this film trend. It is borrowed from the artistic forerunner, stage expressionism.

History and Development

After the First World War , the German-speaking film industry experienced a strong boom, but without having budgets comparable to those of Hollywood . For economic reasons alone, German-language films were forced to compensate for the lack of technology and equipment with other means. Since there was a great willingness to experiment in all art styles in Germany and Austria at the same time, this also led to radical new creations in film that were strongly influenced by expressionist art forms.

The first “pre-expressionist” productions included the Fritz Freisler productions Das Nachtlager von Mischli-Mischloch (1918), The Mandarin (1918) and The Other I (1918). The main actors in these productions included Harry Walden , Karl Götz and Fritz Kortner , who was considered the best expressionist actor in the 1920s.

Jakob and Luise Fleck's The Snake of Passion from 1918 is probably the first film to use expressionist stylistic devices . The dramaturgical construction of the fever nightmare, through which the main character is purified, speaks for this assumption. Paul Czinner also staged a work that can be attributed to “pre-expressionism” in Vienna in 1919: Inferno .

During the silent film era, the UFA studios in Potsdam-Babelsberg in Berlin were the largest film production facility in the German-speaking region, which is why numerous Austrian directors, screenwriters and actors were temporarily or permanently based in Berlin, thus influencing German film. The best-known example is the director Fritz Lang , but also the scriptwriters Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer , who wrote the script for the first famous expressionist production Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari from 1919.

The heyday of expressionist films was between 1920 and 1925, when the most important expressionist films appeared. These include Paul Wegener's The Golem as He Came into the World (1920), Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse, the player (1922) and Friedrich Wilhelm Murnaus Nosferatu, a symphony of horror (1922). Significant expressionist works also came from Austria , where the silent film heritage was recognized late as important, secured and research began, which is why many areas could only be inadequately reproduced in film literature. Reliable evidence for the integration of expressionist style elements in Austrian films are Robert Wiene's Orlac’s hands (1924) and - in parodic form - Hans Karl Breslauer's Die Stadt ohne Juden (1924).

Important films


The brief epoch of Expressionist film was over by the mid-1920s. When, after the Nazis came to power in 1933, many of the former protagonists left Germany for Hollywood, the aftereffects were felt only there. Two genres in particular were influenced by this and can be considered the "heirs" of film expressionism: horror film and film noir .

Today, David Lynch's work seems to be inspired by expressionist ( Fritz Lang : M ) as well as surrealist films ( Luis Buñuel , Salvador Dalí : An Andalusian Dog ). Werner Herzog shot a Nosferatu remake in 1979 as a homage with Klaus Kinski in the lead role. The American director David Lee Fisher also shot a remake with sound of a famous expressionist silent film in 2006 with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari , with today's actors acting on a blue screen against the backdrop of the original film.

Tim Burton often builds bizarre backdrops into his films. The backdrops in the spirit world at Beetlejuice , for example , or “Halloweentown” in Nightmare Before Christmas and the backdrops in the film Corpse Bride - wedding with a corpse - are very influenced by the expressionist models . Lemony Snicket - Mysterious events , the film adaptation of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events , it draws strongly on the these films Burton and therefore is also heavily based on expressionist style.

Later films with an expressionist influence

See also


  • Rudolf Kurtz : Expressionism and Film. Berlin 1926. Reprint Zurich 2007 (Chronos), ed. And with an afterword by Christian Kiening and Ulrich Johannes Beil, 224 pages: Ill. ISBN 978-3-0340-0874-7
  • Leonardo Quaresima: Expressionism as a film genre. in: Uli Jung, Walter Schatzberg (ed.): Film culture at the time of the Weimar Republic. Munich, London, New York, Paris 1992, pp. 174-195 ISBN 3-598-11042-1
  • Michael Gould: Surrealism and the cinema: (open-eyed screening). South Brunswick [u. a.]: Barnes 1976, 171 pp .: Ill. ISBN 0-498-01498-3

Individual evidence

  1. For a discussion of the forerunners of expressionist film, see: Jürgen Beidokrat, The artistic subjectivity in expressionist film, in: Institute for Film Studies (ed.), Contributions to German film history, Berlin 1965, pp. 71–87.
  2. Thomas Ballhausen and Günter Krenn, Die unheimliche Erde, in: Medienimpulse, Issue No. 57, September 2006, p. 38 ( PDF ).
  3. Ibid., P. 35.