Expressionism was an artistic movement that originated in Germany at the start of 20th century. The expressionist was originally used in the medium of painting, poetry and architecture as well as by the ideas from German romanticism of the 19th century; gothic literature, myth and folklore; which spread to other medium such as film. German expressionist became popular in the 1920’s during the Weimar years. Expressionist films were heavily influenced by modern art (paintings), Expressionist movie used exaggeration and distortion to create images that expressed a emotional and psychological despair and chaos through mise-en-scene.
Although Germany had made a magnificent movies in 1914, the industry’s output was rather small. The state were playing movies from countries like France, America, Italy, and Denmark. After the war broke out America and France banned German films. The German government began to support the film industry to combat imported competition, as well as to create its own propaganda films. The war was unpopular with many in Germany, and resistant likelihood grew after the triumph of the Russian revolution in 1917.
To promote pro war movies, the government, the deutsche bank, and large industrial concerns combined several small film firms to create the large company UFA (universum Film Aktiengesellschaft) which later dominated German film production. With a huge financial backer, UFA had the best technician and built the best equipped studios in Europe. Despite UFA’s expansion, some small companies remained independent, among these was Erich Pommer Decla. Expressionism had first been important in paintings, and had been quickly taken in theatre, then in literature and architecture.
Companies now believed that this was the new way of selling to the international market, This theory was backed in 1920 when Decla’s film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) created a buzz in Berlin and then in America, France and other countries. Thomas Elsaesser, in his Weimar Cinema and After, he states that the point of the expressionism and strange style of the movie was to sell itself. “As entertainment made for profit, Weimar cinema was responsive to the point of clairvoyance to the desires and pleasures as well as anxieties and secret fears of its primary audience.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari was directed by Robert Wiene and was one of the first German expressionist film. A young man shares his horrible memory of his and his fiance’s experiences. Francis and his friend Alan encounter the crazed Dr. Caligari at a carnival in Germany, The men see Caligari showing off his somnambulist, Cesare, a hypnotized man who the doctor believes can see into the distant future. Suprisingly, Cesare then foretells Alan’s death, and by morning his chilling prophecy has come true — making Cesare the prime suspect.
The whole plot of the movie is a frame narrative. The movie starts with Francis sitting in a bench with a old man who tells him that the spirits have driven his family and home, a senseless women dressed in white walks past them. Fred explains the old man that they too have endured a great ordeal, the movie then cuts to a flashback, most of the scene are shown through the flashbacks and we see the world as Fred imagines it to be. At one point when the hero enters the asylum, he pauses to look around, the world of the movie is strictly a vision of the hero’s mind.
Through the use of mise-en-scene the movie creates a distorted and unnatural setting, The director made the choice to use the environment which are supposed to be a representation of a German rural town, where this narrated story has taken place in a dissimilar style as normally used in that realist era, we can clearly see that all settings are all shown through painting arts. Not only the man made structure such as homes, walls and roads, but also the natural environment such as landscapes like hills which are also made to like the one used in a theater. The intertitles also have irregular shapes which acts as a backdrop for the subtitles.
The film use of expressionist style is used to create tension and mystery. The movie uses painted settings and adds some distorted angles on the scene in asymmetrical and distorted style, to illustrate as a matter of fact the walls are supposed to be vertically straight but throughout this movie we can see the walls and the houses were made in a bizarre shapes. The movie makes extensive use of set design to convey the inner commotion of it’s disturbed character, “the decor has been conceived as having the same spiritual state as that which governs the character’s mentality.
The houses of the tov slanted and disjointed and windows and doors that are placed half hazardly and in a peculiar way. The furniture are misshapen and the paint backdrops which go all the way through the city, giving the town a claustrophobic and labyrinth themed feel. In the movie the audience are presented with clean shot which makes the audience lose themselves in the image rather than focus their attention in directed approach.
The character also seem at the mercy of the sets, generally mixing in the framework, for instance when Cesare is on his way to murder the heroine he creeps out of the shadow along the wall towards the light of the heroines house, there are clear shots that summon fear like the pattern on the walls that create razor sharp that reflects his entry into the room with his dagger, also in the scene where cesare dies the trees on the background are jagged and sharp reflects his movement and his body and outstretched arms mimic the shapes of the trees and branches.
The characters do not merely live within a setting but form visual elements that affiliate within the setting. The movie uses lighting to reflect the enigma of the characters inner mind. Through the scene the light were shined in low-key lighting together with the use of sharp tone lighting, which dramatises the contrast light and shadow. All the way through the movie the protagonist have enhanced shadows on their face which connotes their dark side.
The director deliberately created the story through Frank who’s mad so all the characters have odd behavior. This movie was made after the first world war ended so the movie depicts the phases German people went through, such as depression and paranoia. Caligari uses hypnotic powers to make other do his bid – a technique foreshadowing in content that manipulation of the soul which Hitler was first to practice on a bigger scale. Metropolis was directed by Fritz Lang (1927) and is hailed as one of the best sci fi movie of all time.
The movie takes place in a distant dystopian future where the city is segregated into a class system, the thinkers and the false utopia created by mistreated workers. The movie opens by presenting the workers who work down below the earth’s surface. The workers are all dressed the same in black, their movements synchronized, yielding their heads to the ground which shows that the workers are depressed and despises their work, they move slowly towards the elevator which looks like a cage, takes them down below the earth to the city of workers.
The intertitles picks up the movement which goes down, and blends with the movie. The buildings also look dull and looks the same connoting that the workers do not have any creative flow and shows how they are being oppressed into thinking the same thing as all the workers by brainwashing them. The movie juxtapositions when it shows how the people live in the upper area. The contrast is sharp between its openness and the vast sky and the cramped cities of the workers.
The intertitles tells us that they have libraries, theatre, lecture halls and stadiums connoting that these people have the choice of freedom as they are literate. The scene then cuts to a garden which symbolises the tranquil state of the main character, but he soon enters a whole different world with giant machines and the workers. Freida searches for a woman and find the machine, He sees the workers devoured by the machines they serve, the workers body flex and rotate like gears.
The steam rises from the pipes around the workshop which anchors the machine is breathing. One worker struggles at the console as he twists and turns violently, unable to hold the breaks of the machine. The temperature gauge ascends quickly, the music crescendos and the steam soars. The steam engulfs and bodies fly, the machine is then transformed into a sacrificial pit and in the inter titles it says Moloch which is a name for ancient type of sacrifice.
The men are dragged up the step like slaves, the men are thrown into the pit in two courses the first one slaves, whose hands are tied and forced into the pit, the second are workers dressed in their uniform moving perfectly in rhythm with no struggle. The moloch then transfers back to machine, a machine which produces nothing but requires the tribute of the dead like in the war, which occurred ten years before the film was made. In the riot scene we see women in the scene with the workers too only when the uprising started we see female trait.
The same venue where the workers silently walked and waited for the elevator to come and now it’s reversed, unleashed mess and determined to destroy the place. The movie focuses in dehumanisation of the future and how the machines could look and a act like human and the horror is not that we will be replaced but consumed by the machines. As Hitler came to power the influence of German cinema decreased and Hitler denounced the style of filmmaking and only allowed propaganda piece to be made, this caused German filmmakers to flee the country to continue making movies without the tyranny of a dictator.