German Expressionism is seen as the Weimar period in Germany where films have been produced. However, the question is to whether the Weimar period can be seen as expressionistic in terms of style or whether only certain films are considered to be this. Throughout this essay, I will discuss the constant argument as to whether Weimar cinema is considered to have an expressionistic style or whether this is a myth created by the works and analysis of Lotte Eisner and Siegfried Kraucauer. During the period of cinema in Germany which shall be referred to as the Weimar period, there was a great shift in the German moral. After just losing a war, the German’s surprisingly managed to create a great deal of high quality films in a devastating financial climate for the country. The themes in the films however, can be said to be somewhat reflecting upon this feeling of self-hatred and depression. For example, in the film “Der Golem” (Wegner: 1920) the issues of anti-Semitism come into play with the use of a Jewish ghetto where in which a ‘monster’ is created however then destroyed by the innocent children outside of this boundary set up forming the view of the Jewish people to be the creators of evil by the audience. These films were very powerful and distinct for the era. The Weimar period can be said to have created many different forms of expressionism as it changes throughout from early Weimar with films such as “Der Golem” previously mentioned and “Das Kabinett Des Doktor Caligari” (Weine: 1920) which can be seen as arts films in terms of their mise-en-scene. Throughout the latter part of the period with films such as “Der Blaue Engel” (Von Sternberg: 1930) this film deals with more contemporary issues and is filmed completely differently with camera movements. The film “The Last Laugh” (Murnau: 1924) distinctly shows the change in Weimar cinema at these dates with the change in the camera style due to lighter camera’s being used. The film makers were able to create distinct camera movements such at the start of the film where the camera pans down in a long shot of the hotel lobby and the lift moving downwards effectively showing a crane shot.
In the book “The haunted screen: expressionism in German cinema and the influence of Max Reinhardt” (Eisner: 2008) it is clear that Eisner’s view is that expressionist art had a great influence on the expressionism in Weimar films: “The leaning towards violent contrast- which in Expressionist literature can be seen in the staccato sentences- and the inborn German liking for chiaroscuro and shadow, obviously found an ideal artistic outlet in cinema”(Eisner: Page 17) she claims that the influence of art had a heavy impact on the filming of said ‘expressionist’ films. It is clear in ‘Nosferatu’ (Lang:1921) that yes, there is the use of chiaroscuro lighting in the classic tense seen in which Count Orlok himself slowly creeps towards Ellen Hutter whom lies helpless in her bed. Does this indicate expressionism however? There are several elements in Weimar cinema which distinguish the period from any other before. The German film makers tended to have certain styles in which they were able to create their narratives from and show an interest of the audience of the time however, there were many styles within the expressionist period which changed from film to film. In the book “Weimar Cinema and after: Germany’s historical imaginary” (Elsaesser: 2000) he considerably managed to de-stabilise the views of Eisner and also of “From Caligari to Hitler A psychological history of German film” (Kraucauer:1947). These books have been criticised by (Elsaesser:2000: Page 21) “None the less, the central idea of these books has imposed itself with single self-evidence: in Kraucauer, the claim for a demonstrable relation between Weimar films, social upheavals and Nazism; in Eisner, the demonstrable relation between German Romanticism, Expressionist film and Nazism.” He claims here that there is a...
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