Expressionist Film or Weimar Cinema?

From Caligari to Hitler, 1947

"The German cinema of the Weimar Republic is often, but wrongly identified with Expressionism. If one locates Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch and F.W. Murnau on the mental map of Berlin in the twenties, home of some of Modernism's most vital avant-garde directors, then Expressionist cinema connotes a rebellious artistic intervention. If one sees their films grow from the studio floors of the Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft (Ufa), the only film company ever to think it could compete with Hollywood, this golden age of silent cinema takes its cue more from commerce and industry than art. Either way, coming so soon after a catastrophic military defeat and a failed socialist revolution, the emergence of a national cinema of international fame in Germany was as unexpectedas it proved to be exceptional. No single stylistic label could hope to cover the many innovative ideas about film decor, the distinctive mise-en-scene of light and shadow, or the technical advances in cinematography usually attributed to Weimar filmmakers." [6]

The Haunted Screen, 1952

"For half a century, two books have shaped the understanding of the cinema of the Weimar Republic, Siegfried Kracauer’s From Caligari to Hitler and Lotte Eisner’s The Haunted Screen. While Kracauer aimed at a socio-psychological reading of the films with a view to disclosing dispositions in the psyche of the German people that would explain the surrender of broad sections of the population to fascism, Lotte Eisner focused on aesthetic aspects pursuing in particular the development of expressionist features in films of the 1920s. Both works, complementing each other in their approaches and results, have acted as guides for film historians ever since they appeared in 1947 and 1952, respectively, and it is to their credit that the films of this period have remained so alive in the cultural memory." [2]

In his article on 'Expressionism and Film', Werner Sudenhorf laments over the great confusion that made expressionist film became widely synonymous with Weimar cinema. In Sudenhorf's view, most of the blame lays on Eisner’s overenthusiastic attribution of the expressionist label to films of different genre and style throughout the Weimar period. Sudendorf also writes that:

The confusion referred to was probably initiated by the subtitle of Lotte H. Eisner’s history of cinema, The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the German Cinema and the Influence of Max Reinhardt, which first appeared in French in 1952. Suddenly, all the classic German films made during the Weimar Republic were termed "expressionist."

And worse was yet to come. From the late 1960s onward several book publications extended the "expressionist" label beyond the period of Weimar to films noir and contemporary films as long as these showed some eccentricity in their set designs and used lighting and camera techniques which distort perspectives. The term expressionism has been abused to such a point that the word has become virtually meaningless. Most problematically, its usage has often failed to specify whether its referent is a film movement, an ideology, a film style, or a film design (strictly speaking, art direction).

Film historian Lotte H. Eisner (1896-1983)

In two articles from 1958 and 1978 Lotte Eisner herself expressed regrets about this obvious misunderstanding of the intentions of her book and tried to redress the impression it had given. Eisner was brave enough to risk undermining the great reputation which her book had gained, and "she radically restricted the radius of expressionist cinema to only a few films and only the first few years of the Weimar Republic. Furthermore, in her books on Fritz Lang and Murnau from 1976 and 1979 respectively, she questions a number of the stylistic attributions that she had initially made. Having become aware of the distortions which the apprentice sorcerer’s broom had created in the minds and hearts of film enthusiasts about the radiation of expressionist film in Weimar, Eisner tried to confine the broom’s activities without losing the basic, valuable insight of her book, i.e. that German cinema of this period is indeed to a significant degree art cinema guided by artistic styles and generic choices. Eisner’s attempts to redress the balance of her book is no doubt a result of the close contact and cooperation which she maintained with directors like Fritz Lang, the communication which she afforded with people from all walks of film production in Weimar and her great familiarity with contemporary documents and echoes. Neither in the exchange of letters or conversations with Lang, nor in documents relating to the lighting or camera techniques in Murnau’s films, does the expressionist label play any significant role. It is not accidental, therefore, that Eisner reduced, six years after the publication of The Haunted Screen, the number of genuinely expressionist films to no more than three: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), Von morgens bis Mitternacht (From Morn to Midnight, 1922), and in particular the last episode of Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks, 1924)." [2]

In a more modern perspective, film historians today refer to Expressionism, in its most narrowly defined meaning, to a specific group of six or seven modernist art films produced in Weimar Germany between 1920 and 1924, while in its broadest sense is utilized as a catchall term to define any film or style in the history of cinema opposed to realism or attempting to convey strong emotions.

Expressionist Style

The diagonal composition of the wall dictates the movement of the actor, with his tight black clothes contributing to the compositional effect. (Dr. Caligari, 1920)

"In late February 1920, a film premiered in Berlin that was instantly recognized as something new in cinema: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Its novelty captured the public imagination, and it was a considerable success. The film used stylized sets, with strange, distorted buildings painted on canvas backdrops and flats in a theatrical manner. The actors made no attempt at realistic performance; instead, they exhibited jerky or dancelike movements. Critics announced that the Expressionist style, by then well established in most other arts, had made its way into the cinema, and they debated the benefits of this new development for film art.

In painting, Expressionism was fostered primarily by two groups. Die Brucke (The Bridge) was formed in 1906; its members included Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Erich Heckel. Later, in 1911, Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), was founded; among its supporters were Franz Marc and Wassili Kandinsky. Although these and other Expressionist artists like Oskar Kokoschka and Lyonel Feininger had distinctive individual styles, they shared some traits. Expressionist painting avoided the subtle shadings and colors that gave realistic paintings their sense of volume and depth. Instead, the Expressionists often used large shapes of bright, unrealistic colors with dark, cartoonlike outlines. Figures might be elongated; faces wore grotesque, anguished expressions and might be livid green. Buildings might sag or lean, with the ground tilted up steeply in defiance of traditional perspective. Such distortions were difficult for films shot on location, but Caligari showed how studio-built sets could approximate the stylization of Expressionist painting.

A dark shape indicates a hill, and actors stare wide-eyed or assume grotesque postures in Fritz von Unruh's play Ein Geschlecht (1918)

A more direct model for stylization in setting and acting was the Expressionist theater. As early as 1908, Oskar Kokoschka's play Murderer, Hope of Women was staged in an Expressionist manner. The style caught on during the teens, sometimes as a means of staging leftist plays protesting the war or capitalist exploitation. Sets often resembled Expressionist paintings, with large shapes of unshaded color in the backdrops. The performances were comparably distorted. Actors shouted, screamed, gestured broadly, and moved in choreographed patterns through the stylized sets. The goal was to express feelings in the most direct and extreme fashion possible. Similar goals led to extreme stylization in literature, and narrative techniques such as frame stories and open endings were adopted by scriptwriters for Expressionist films." [4]

What traits characterize Expressionism in the cinema? Historians have defined this movement in widely differing ways. Some claim that the true Expressionist films resemble The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in using a distorted, graphic style of mise-en-scene derived from theatrical Expressionism and Expressionist painting. Of such films only half a dozen were made - Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920), Genuine (1920), Verlogene Moral (Torgus, 1921), Von morgens bis mitternachts (From Morn to Midnight, 1922), Raskolnikov (1923) and Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks, 1924).

A stairway in 'Torgus' seems to lean dizzily, with a slender black triangle painted on each tread

Other historians classify a larger number of films as Expressionist because the films all contain some types of stylistic distortion that function in the same ways that the graphic stylization in Caligari does. By this broader definition, there are close to two dozen Expressionist films, released between 1920 and 1927. So we find Dr. Mabuse der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler, 1922) and Nosferatu (1922) easily grouped together with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and From Morn to Midnight. In the case of Mabuse it is an expressionist trace in the sets, in the case of Nosferatu the rendering of nature into a cipher for horror, which provide the link to the great, recognized manifestations of expressionist film, Dr. Caligari and From Morn to Midnight.

"In 1926, set designer Hermann Warm (who worked on Caligari and other Expressionist films ) was quoted as believing that "the film image must become graphic art." Indeed, German Expressionist films emphasize the composition of individual shots to an exceptional degree. Any shot in a film creates a visual composition, of course, but most films draw our attention to specific elements rather than to the overall design of the shot. In classical films, the human figure is the most expressive element, and the sets, costume, and lighting are usually secondary to the actors. The threedimensional space in which the action occurs is more important than are the two-dimensional graphic qualities on the screen.

Setting on Fritz Lang's 'Niebelungen'

In Expressionist films, however, the expressivity associated with the human figure extends into every aspect of the mise-en-scene. During the 1920s, descriptions of Expressionist films often referred to the sets as "acting" or as blending in with the actors' movements. In 1924, Conrad Veidt, who played Cesare in Caligari and acted in several other Expressionist films, explained, "If the decor has been conceived as having the same spiritual state as that which governs the character's mentality, the actor will find in that decor a valuable aid in composing and living his part. He will blend himself into the represented milieu, and both of them will move in the same rhythm." Thus, not only did the setting function as almost a living component of the action, but the actor's body became a visual element.

The old, sagging house in G. W.Pabst's 'Der Schatz'.

In practice, this blend of set, figure behavior, costumes, and lighting fuses into a perfect composition only at intervals. A narrative film is not like the traditional graphic arts of painting or engraving. The plot must advance, and the composition breaks up as the actors move. In Expressionist films the action often proceeds in fits and starts, and the narrative pauses or slows briefly for moments when the mise-en-scene elements align into eye-catching compositions. ( Such compositions need not be wholly static. An actor's dancelike movement may combine with a stylized shape in the set to create a visual pattern.)

Perhaps the most obvious and pervasive trait of Expressionism is the use of distortion and exaggeration. In Expressionist films, houses are often pointed and twisted, chairs are tall, staircases are crooked and uneven.

In Kriemhild's Revenge, Marguerithe Schon's wide-eyed stare, her heavy makeup, and the abstract shapes in her costume create a stylized composition completely in keeping with the rest of the film.

To modern viewers, performances in Expressionist films may look simply like extreme versions of silent film acting. Yet Expressionist acting was deliberately exaggerated to match the style of the settings. In long shots, gestures could be dancelike as the actors moved in patterns dictated by the sets. This principle of exaggeration governed close-ups of the actors as well. In general, Expressionist actors worked against an effect of natural behavior, often moving jerkily, pausing, and then making sudden gestures. Such performances should be judged not by standards of realism but by how the actors' behavior contributed to the overall mise-en-scene.

A crucial trait of Expressionist mise-en-scene is the juxtaposition of similar shapes within a composition. Along with Robert Wiene and Fritz Lang, F. W. Murnau was one of the major figures of German Expressionism, yet his films contain relatively few of the obviously artificial, exaggerated sets that we find in other films of this movement. He did create, however, numerous stylized compositions in which the figures blended in with their surroundings.

In Nosferatu, the vampire creeps up the stairway toward the heroine, but we see only his shadow, huge and grotesque

For the most part, Expressionist films used simple lighting from the front and sides, illuminating the scene flatly and evenly to stress the links between the figures and the decor. In some notable cases, shadows were used to create additional distortion.

Although the main traits of Expressionist style come in the area of mise-en-scene, still there are some film techniques which usually function unobtrusively to display the mise-en-scene to best advantage. German films are noted for having a somewhat slower pace than other films of this period. This slower pace gives us time to scan the distinctive compositions created by the Expressionist visual style.

In Tartuffe, a high angle places an actor against a swirl of abstract lines created by a stairway

Similarly, the camera work is typically functional rather than spectacular. Many Expressionist sets used false perspective to form an ideal composition when seen from a specific vantage point. Thus camera movement and high or low angles were relatively rare, and the camera tended to remain at a straight-on angle and an approximately eye-level or chest-level height. In a few cases, however, a camera angle could create a striking composition by juxtaposing actor and decor in an unusual way.

Expressionist filmmakers gravitated to certain types of narratives that suited the traits of the style. The movement's first film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, used the story of a madman to motivate the unfamiliar Expressionist distortions for movie audiences . Because Caligari has remained the most famous Expressionist film, there is a lingering impression that the style was used mainly for conveying character subjectivity.

Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)

This was not the case in most films of the movement, however. Instead, Expressionism was often used for narratives that were set in the past or in exotic locales or that involved elements of fantasy or horror genres that remained popular in Germany in the 1920s. Der Schatz takes place at an unspecified point in the past and concerns a search for a legendary treasure. The two feature-length parts of Die Nibelungen, Siegfried and Kriemhild's Revenge, are based on the national German epic and include a dragon and other magical elements in a medieval setting. Nosferatu is a vampire story set in the mid-nineteenth century, and in The Golem (1920), the rabbi of the medieval ghetto in Prague animates a superhuman clay statue to defend the Jewish population against persecution. In a variant of this emphasis upon the past, the last major Expressionist film, Metropolis, is set in a futuristic city where the workers labor in huge underground factories and live in apartment blocks, all done in Expressionist style.

A symmetrical shot in Algol shows a corridor made up of repeated abstract black and white shapes and lines

Some Expressionist films do take place in the present. Lang's Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler uses Expressionist style to satirize the decadence of modern German society: the characters patronize drug and gambling dens in nightclubs with Expressionist decor, and one couple lives in a lavish house decora ted in the same style. In Algol, a greedy industrialist receives supernatural aid from the mysterious star Algol and builds up an empire; the sets representing his factories and the star are Expressionist in style. Thus, in the cinema, Expressionism had the same potential for social comment that it did on the stage. In most cases, however, filmmakers used the style to create exotic and fantastic settings that were remote from contemporary reality." [4]

The Story of Caligari

"Discussions of expressionist film almost invariably start with Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920) although certain stylistic and thematic elements that would become identified with this tradition already appear in such films as the prewar Der Student von Prag (Student of Prague, 1913) and Das Haus ohne Tür (The House Without a Door, 1914). Yet Caligari is usually singled out partly because the film is credited with making cinematic expressionism popular, but also because its use of that style had, almost from the start, raised the question of how an avant-garde aesthetic might fit within conventional – and largely realist – cinematic practice." [3]

Hans Janowitz (1890-1954)

"The Czech Hans Janowitz, one of the two authors of the film, was brought up in Prague - that city where reality fuses with dreams, and dreams turn into visions of horror. One evening in October 1913 this young poet was strolling through a fair at Hamburg, trying to find a girl whose beauty and manner had attracted him. The tents of the fair covered the Reeperbahn, known to any sailor as one of the world's chief pleasure spots. In search of the girl, Janowitz followed the fragile trail of a laugh which he thought hers into a dim park bordering the Holstenwall. The laugh, which apparently served to lure a young man, vanished somewhere in the shrubbery. When, a short time later, the young man departed, another shadow, hidden until then in the bushes, suddenly emerged and moved along - as if on the scent of that laugh. Passing this uncanny shadow, Janowitz caught a glimpse of him: he looked like an average bourgeois. Darkness reabsorbed the man, and made further pursuit impossible. The following day big headlines in the local press announced: "Horrible sex crime on the Holstenwall ! Young Gertrude . . . murdered." An obscure feeling that Gertrude might have been the girl of the fair impelled Janowitz to attend the victim's funeral. During the ceremony he suddenly had the sensation of discovering the murderer, who had not yet been captured. The man he suspected seemed to recognize him, too. It was the bourgeois - the shadow in the bushes.

Carl Mayer (1894-1944)

Carl Mayer, co-author with Janowitz of Caligari, was born in the Austrian provincial capital of Graz, where his father, a wealthy businessman, would have prospered had he not been obsessed by the idea of becoming a "scientific" gambler. In the prime of life he sold his property, went, armed with an infallible "system", to Monte Carlo, and reappeared a few months later in Graz, broke. Under the stress of this catastrophe, the monomaniac father turned the sixteenyear-old Carl and his three younger brothers out into the street and finally committed suicide. A mere boy, Carl Mayer was responsible for the three children. While he toured through Austria, peddling barometers, singing in choirs and playing extras in peasant theaters, he became increasingly interested in the stage. There was no branch of theatrical production which he did not explore during those years of nomadic life - years full of experiences that were to be of immense use in his future career as a film poet. At the beginning of the war, the adolescent made his living by sketching Hindenburg portraits on postcards in Munich cafes. Later in the war, Janowitz reports, he had to undergo repeated examinations of his mental condition. Mayer seems to have been very embittered against the high-ranking military psychiatrist in charge of his case.

The war was over. Janowitz, who from its outbreak had been an officer in an infantry regiment, returned as a convinced pacifist, animated by hatred of an authority which had sent millions of men to death. He felt that absolute authority was bad in itself. He settled in Berlin, met Carl Mayer there, and soon found out that this eccentric young man, who had never before written a line, shared his revolutionary moods and views. Why not express them on the screen? As youth will, the two friends embarked on endless discussions that hovered around Janowitz' Holstenwall adventure as well as Mayer's mental duel with the psychiatrist. These stories seemed to evoke and supplement each other.

Screenshot of Caligari

One evening, Mayer dragged his companion to a side-show by which he had been impressed. Under the title "Man and Machine" it presented a strong man who achieved miracles of strength in an apparent stupor. He acted as if he were hypnotized. The strangest thing was that he accompanied his feats with utterances which affected the spellbound spectators as pregnant forebodings.

Any creative process approaches a moment when only one additional experience is needed to integrate all elements into a whole. The mysterious figure of the strong man supplied such an experience. On the night of this show the friends first visualized the original story of Caligari. They wrote the manuscript in the following six weeks. Defining the part each took in the work, Janowitz calls himself "the father who planted the seed, and Mayer the mother who conceived and ripened it." At the end, one small problem arose: the authors were at a loss as to what to christen their main character, a psychiatrist shaped after Mayer's archenemy during the war. A rare volume, Unknown Letters of Stendhal, offered the solution. While Janowitz was skimming through this find of his, he happened to notice that Stendhal, just come from the battlefield, met at La Scala in Milan an officer named Caligari. The name clicked with both authors." [5]

Screenshot of Caligari

Their story is located in a fictitious North German town near the Dutch border, significantly called Holstenwall. Francis, a young man, recalls in his memory the horrible experiences he and his fiancée Jane recently went through. It is the annual fair in Holstenwall. Francis and his friend Alan visit The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, an exhibit where the mysterious doctor shows the somnambulist Cesare, and awakens him for some moments from his death-like sleep. When Alan asks Cesare about his future, Cesare answers that he will die before dawn. The next morning Alan is found dead. Francis suspects Cesare of being the murderer, and starts spying on him and Dr. Caligari. The following night Cesare is going to stab Jane in her bed, but softens when he sees the beautiful woman, and instead of committing another murder, he abducts her. Jane's father awakens because of the noise, and he and some servants follow the fleeing Cesare. When Cesare cannot outrun his pursuers anymore, he gently places Jane down on the ground, and runs away. Francis and the police investigate the caravan of Dr. Caligari, but the doctor succeeds in slipping away. Francis pursues the fleeing Dr. Caligari, and sees him disappear into a madhouse. Francis enters the madhouse, where he is sure he will find the truth behind all these mysterious events. He calls on the director of the asylum to inquire about the fugitive, and recoils horror-struck: the director and Caligari are one and the same person.

Screenshot of Caligari

"The following night - the director has fallen asleep - Francis and three members of the medical staff whom he has initiated into the case search the director's office and discover material fully establishing the guilt of this authority in psychiatric matters. Among a pile of books they find an old volume about a showman named Caligari who, in the eighteenth century, traveled through North Italy, hypnotized his medium Cesare into murdering sundry people, and, during Cesare's absence, substituted a wax figure to deceive the police. The main exhibit is the director's clinical records; they evidence that he desired to verify the account of Caligari's hypnotic faculijes, that his desire grew into an obsession, and that, when a somnambulist was entrusted to his care, he could not resist the temptation of repeating with him those terrible games. He had adopted the identity of Caligari. To make him admit his crimes, Francis confronts the director with the corpse of his tool, the somnambulist. No sooner does the monster realize Cesare is dead than he begins to rave. Trained attendants put him into a strait jacket.

Screenshot of Caligari

This horror tale in the spirit of E.T.A. Hoffmann was an outspoken revolutionary story. In it, as Janowitz indicates, he and Carl Mayer half-intentionally stigmatized the omnipotence of a state authority manifesting itself in universal conscription and declarations of war. The German war government seemed to the authors the prototype of such voracious authority. The character of Caligari stands for an unlimited authority that idolizes power as such, and, to satisfy its lust for domination, ruthlessly violates all human rights and values. Functioning as a mere instrument, Cesare is not so much a guilty murderer as Caligari's innocent victim. This is how the authors themselves understood him. According to the pacifist-minded Janowitz, they had created Cesare with the dim design of portraying the common man who, under the pressure of compulsory military service, is drilled to kill and to be killed. The revolutionary meaning of the story reveals itself unmistakably at the end, with the disclosure of the psychiatrist as Caligari: reason overpowers unreasonable power, insane authority is symbolically abolished.

A miracle occurred: Erich Pommer, chief executive of Decla Bioscop, accepted this unusual, if not subversive, script. Was it a miracle? Since in those early postwar days the conviction prevailed that foreign markets could only be conquered by artistic achievements, the German film industry was of course anxious to experiment in the field of aesthetically qualified entertainment. Art assured export, and export meant salvation. An ardent partisan of this doctrine, Pommer had moreover an incomparable flair for cinematic values and popular demands. Regardless of whether he grasped the significance of the strange story Mayer and Janowitz submitted to him, he certainly sensed its timely atmosphere and interesting scenic potentialities. He was a born promoter who handled screen and business affairs with equal facility, and, above all, excelled in stimulating the creative energies of directors and players. In 1923, Ufa was to make him chief of its entire production.

Screenshot of Caligari

Pommer assigned Fritz Lang to direct Caligari, but in the middle of the preliminary discussions Lang was ordered to finish his serial Die Spinnen (The Spiders, 1919); the distributors of this film urged its completion. Lang's successor was Dr. Robert Wiene. Since his father, a once-famous Dresden actor, had become slightly insane towards the end of his life, Wiene was not entirely unprepared to tackle the case of Dr. Caligari. He suggested, in complete harmony with what Lang had planned, an essential change of the original story - a change against which the two authors violently protested. But no one heeded them.

The original story was an account of real horrors; Wiene's version transforms that account into a chimera concocted and narrated by the mentally deranged Francis. To effect this transformation, the body of the original story is put into a framing story which introduces Francis as a madman. Janowitz and Mayer protested that this approach perverted, if not reversed, their intrinsic intentions. While the original story exposed the madness inherent in authority, Wiene's Caligari glorified authority and convicted its antagonist of madness. A revolutionary film was thus turned into a conformist one - following the much-used pattern of declaring some normal but troublesome individual insane and sending him to a lunatic asylum. This change undoubtedly resulted not so much from Wiene's personal predilections as from his instinctive submission to the necessities of the screen; films, at least commercial films, are forced to answer to mass desires. In its changed form Caligari was no longer a product expressing, at best, sentiments characteristic of the intelligentsia, but a film supposed equally to be in harmony with what the less educated felt and liked.

Screenshot of Caligari

Janowitz suggested that the settings for Caligari be designed by the painter and illustrator Alfred Kubin, who, a forerunner of the surrealists, made eerie phantoms invade harmless sceneries and visions of torture emerge from the subconscious." [5] Wiene took to the idea of painted canvases, but preferred to Kubin three expressionist artists: Herrmann Warm, Walter Rohrig and Walter Reimann, all affiliated with the Berlin Sturm group which promoted expressionism in all the arts. They designed sets with "exaggerated dimensions, altered spatial relationships and distorted perpendiculars. The sinister umiaturalness of Caligari's world was further compounded by the thick, frozen make-up of the performers and the stylized representations of light and shade painted onto the backdrops which, for all their impact and significance, were rather forced on the production by electricity rationing. What lighting was available was low-key to accentuate the artwork." [1]

"After a thorough propaganda campaign culminating in the puzzling poster "You must become Caligari", Decla released the film in February 1920 in the Berlin Marmorhaus. While the Germans were too close to Caligari to appraise its symptomatic value, the French realized that this film was more than just an exceptional film. They coined the term Caligarisme and applied it to a postwar world seemingly all upside down; which, at any rate, proves that they sensed the film's bearing on the structure of society. The New York premiere of Caligari in April 1921, firmly established its world fame. But apart from giving rise to stray imitations and serving as a yardstick for artistic endeavors, this "most widely discussed film of the time" never seriously influenced the course of the American or French cinema. It stood out lonely, like a monolith." [5]

The End of Expressionist Movement

Faust (1926)

"The production of Expressionist films was most intense between 1920 and 1924. During the final years of the trend, only two films were released, both made by Ufa: Murnau's Faust and Lang's Metropolis. The latter's release in January 1927 marked the end of the movement. Two major factors in Expressionism's decline were the excessive budgets of the later films and the departure of Expressionist filmmakers to Hollywood. Pommer, who had produced many of the Expressionist films at Decla, Decla-Bioscop, and Ufa, allowed Murnau and Lang to exceed their budgets on these two films. The resulting restructuring of Ufa and departure of Pommer meant that Expressionist filmmakers would no longer enjoy such indulgence. It might have been possible to make inexpensive Expressionist films, especially given that some of the early Expressionist successes had had low budgets. But by 1927, there were few filmmakers left who seemed interested in working in the style.

Robert Wiene, who had initiated the style with Caligari, went on to direct three more Expressionist films. The last of these, Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac, 1924), was made in Austria, where Wiene went on working, making non Expressionist films. After the appearance of Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (Waxworks, 1924), Paul Leni was hired by Universal in 1926; he made a series of successful films there before his death in 1929. Fox hired Murnau on the basis of the critical plaudits for Der letzte Mann (The Last Laugh, 1924), and he departed for America after finishing Faust.

Metropolis (1927)

Other personnel closely associated with the Expressionist movement also went to Hollywood. Both Conrad Veidt and Emil Jannings, who were among the most prominent Expressionist stars, left Germany in 1926, and each acted in several U.S. films before returning to Germany in 1929. Set designers were also snapped up. Rochus Gliese, Murnau's set designer, went with the director to Fox to do Sunrise (1927) and stayed on briefly to work for Cecil B. De Mille. Walter Reimann, who had worked on Caligari and other Expressionist films, left Germany to design the sets and costumes for Lubitsch's last silent film, Eternal Love (1929). Perhaps most crucial, after resigning as head of Ufa in early 1926, Pommer went to America. His most important project there was Swedish emigre director Mauritz Stiller's Hotel Imperial (1927). By late 1927, after frustrating stints at Paramount and at MGM, Pommer returned to Ufa, no longer as head of the studio but merely as one producer among many. His brief absence coincided with the depletion of Expressionist film personnel and with a move toward more cautious policies in the German film industry.

In 1927, Lang was the only major Expressionist director left in Germany. He left Ufa to start his own production company. His next film, Spione (Spies, 1928) used sets that were closer to the clean lines of Art Deco than to the distortions of Expressionism. Although Lang and other German directors used Expressionist touches in their later films, the movement was over.

Its influence, however, was considerable. Expressionism had proved an effective way of providing atmospheric settings for horror and other genre stories. As these films were seen in America and later as filmmakers fleeing Nazi Germany found their way to Hollywood, echoes of the style appeared in Universal horror films of the late 1920s and 1930s and somewhat later in the stark highlights and shadows of the moody crime thrillers known as films noirs." [4]

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