Expressionism.

September 14, 2007

“Ask a German moviegoer of the late 1910s to name their favorite movie and the chances are it would have come from either Hollywood or Scandinavia. The dark, brooding dramas directed by Danes such as Carl Dreyer and the Swedes Victor Sjostrom and Mauritz Stiller left an indelible mark on the German film psyche. Shadows, symbolism, and the supernatural were the truest expression of the defeated nation’s postwar despair.”   -John Naughton, Movies, a Crash Course

The industrial revolution was in full swing, with one man in a tractor doing the work of fifty farmers. So what did all these ex-farmers do? Well, there were plenty of new jobs in the modern factories. What did these factories do? Assemble pots and pans, automobiles, or maybe ammunition, lots of ammunition. What did they need so much ammunition for? To put in the newly invented machine guns and warplanes and tanks. Yes, technology can make things very convenient, but it has always had a dark side. In just a few years, more people died in World War I than any previous war. So after the war things were looking pretty bleak in Europe. So bleak, that painting pictures of beautiful people doing beautiful things just didn’t seem to cut it anymore. Instead artists like Edward Munch went more in this direction:

The Scream

Now, if he went out and painted a man standing on a bridge with a lake and hills in the background, and tried to do it as realistically as possible, it wouldn’t look like this. But instead he was trying to paint how this man (or he, the painter) felt, and that requires manipulating reality. That’s what expressionism is all about: an outward expression of inner emotions (that’s the answer to one of the questions!)

Pretty soon this caught on in the film world as well. Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari set the tone. A tale of murder and madness, it used distorted sets, sinsiter backdrops, and stylized acting to convey its narrator’s tnnuos grip on reality. To some it was “painting in motion.” Many later directors incorporated some of these stylistic elements, such at Fritz Lang in Die Nibelungen or Metropolis, G.W. Pabst in The Joyless Street, and F.W. Murnau in Nosferatu and Faust.

Some characteristics of expressionism:

1. Purposefully unrealistic, dreamlike or nightmare quality

2. exaggerated sets, costumes, acting

3. dark/ominous subject and tone

4. Lots of darkness and shadows

5. main character has some kind of unfulfilled spiritual hunger.

6. a search for meaning in an industrial world (often ends in failure).

7. fear of being overwhelmed or taken over by technology

8. Christ figure hero whose sacrifice goes unnoticed.

Depending on which class you’re in we also watched modern clips from Edward Scissorhands, City of the Lost Children, Brazil, and Blade Runner.  Can you think of any others that apply?

Download this assignment, and get working!

Expressionism worksheet

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Expressionism.”

  1. Matt Thomas Says:

    Items 1-4 and 7-8 on your “expressionism” list describe my life “to a T,” as they say. My only deviation from that formula is that I’ve filled my “spiritual hunger” and found a “meaning of life in the industrial era”: to torment poor, unsuspecting school children by making them read and write.

    MT

  2. filmhistory Says:

    Hmmmmmmmmm. It’s all coming clear now…


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: