Cinema Culture in Europe 04
Expressionism in Cinema The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Cinema, a new form of communication at the beginning of the 20th century attracted the attention of many different people. Cinema attempted to either show the real world, or tell stories of the imagination. The contrasting options for film, representation or imagination/illusion, were not simply a choice they were a dilemma. This was a dilemma not easily solved, for a very simple reason; no film is completely true as life and not cinema is completely imaginary, completely free of everyday life. The classic narrative implies a completeness, there is a beginning a middle and a conclusion, there is a enigma, a series of events, and in the conclusion all questions are answered. But, one very interesting point about Rear Window, is that we never see the murder which is the centre of the movie. We do not see very much of the murderer either. Our imagination is asked to fill in many spaces and complete the story.
Photographs give the impression of reality, they are pictures of people and objects in the world, but these are not always real, Rear Window was not filmed in New York, it was filmed in a studio in California. However, the set was a detailed copy of a real place in New York, but a detailed copy is not an exact copy, let alone is it the place it is supposed to be; a copy is not the real thing.
Created at the end of the 19th century, cinema was quickly influenced by 20th century modern art movements. At the beginning of the 20th century there was an explosion of creativity in the arts. In painting and literature many modern art movements appeared. Two modern art movements that emerged in the early 20th century that had significant influence on cinema were Expressionism and Surrealism.
In cinema Expressionism was very important for the introduction of new techniques of camerawork and of story telling. Surrealism stressed more the unconscious and dream world, imagination in making movies, for them this was greater reality. Both, Expressionism and Surrealism questioned the honesty of classic narrative cinema. That like every good liar, the liar always promise the truth, but really they are not telling the truth. Expressionist and Surrealist cinema criticise classic narrative as false; their films suggest:
That the audience is not told everything by the film. The viewer needs to add information to complete the story, from what the see or hear.
That interpretations of events in the film vary, that the meaning of the films events are not the same for everyone.
However, they also argued that real life was not clearly ordered and logical either. That the picture presented in classic narrative is not true of real life either. These modernists argued that as real modern life was alienating and contradictory, then the arts need to be contradictory to reveal that too. These sorts of arguments were presented as heated discussion about modernism. The arguments raged over whether modern arts should be representational and have a logical structure (as classic narrative tries to have) or should it be imaginative, expressive and not necessarily logical. These arguments are similar to current arguments between modernism and postmodernism. One difference is that the modernists sought to remove the contradiction and alienation they thought they saw in modern life, todays postmodernists do not seek to remove the fragmentation and contradiction that they think they see in contemporary life. Instead, postmodernists want to make an ironic game of life.
To consider how Expressionists and Surrealist tackled these question, we will look at the Expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), and the Surrealist film Un Chien Andalou (1928). Both are black and white silent films. While there is almost ten years between these two films, these two art movements were both part of the same modernist movement and both situated in the events of post-WWI Europe. Both were influenced by early 20th century social and economic modernism.
At the beginning of the 20th century there began an explosion of creativity in the arts. In painting and literature, for example, many modern art movements appeared. In Europe, before the 15th century painting was used to show stories from the bible. After the Italian Renaissance, in the 15th century, painting began to portray images of real people and place. This continued until the end of the 19th century, when photography was created. Photography was able to show people and objects accurately. Photographs could be produced much more quickly than paintings. Because of photography, painting became free from the need to represent. Painting moved to expression, abstraction and pure painting, pictures (see Gombrich for example). Eventually, though the move from representation to expression and abstraction also began to influence photography, and photographers began to produce abstract images (see, for example some of the photographs of the US photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, who used the term pure photography.
Above, is The Terminal, (1892), below is Equivalent (1926). The first is a realistic winter picture of a horse drawn tram terminal, in New York, the second is an expressive, abstract photo, the title refers to an image equialent to anemotional state. These and other Stieglitz photos can be found here:
Or in photos of the the US artist Man Ray:
The photot above, Noire et Blanche (Black and White), is representational, realistic, the one on the belowt is abstract, Untitled (1922):
Expressionism emerged in painting and in literature in Germany and Austria around 1905. They were strongly influenced by the wild, exciting colours used by Van Gogh, (Please visit my homepage to see some of Van Goghs art). The German artists formed the group called Die Brucke, the Bridge, meaning the Bridge to the Future. These artists included Ernst Kirchner (1880 - 1938), Fritz Bleyl, Erich Heckel, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, and a little later Emile Nolde, and Max Pechstein, among others. In Austria, the leading artist was Oskar Kokoschka (1886 - 1980), Examples of their art can be seen on my homepage, and also at this internet site:
Expressionist painters were influenced by the paintings Van Gogh, who used bright, unreal colours, for expressive reasons. This can be seen in the contrast of two paintings of cafés; of Van Gochs Starry Night and Vlamincks Restaurant at Marly-le-Roi. Expressionist artists also used German and Nordic folk myths and art techniques, of the European Middle Ages, of between 1000 1453. They also used art techniques and ideas of non-European art, such as African and Asian arts. These produced by carving images on wood, the wood is inked and pressed onto paper. This prints rough images with very strong, strange angles. The Expressionist painters used the 11th to 15th century German art techniques of woodcuts. We can be seen examples of this in the prints below. The one on the left is the The Gang, (ND), and the one on the right is the Wounded Soldiers (1915), both by the artist, Heckel o Schmidt-Rottluff.
Between 1914 and 1918, Europe was involved in a horrendous and bloody war, and these events can be seen in some of the Expressionists paintings, the woodcut on the right. The wood print below is the Wounded Soldiers (1915), both by the artist, Heckel o Schmidt-Rottluff.
The European bloody war can also be seen in this painting below, by the artist Ernest Ludwig Kirchner:
Two concepts in painting that are of interest to us are representation and expression. Representation, is the showing objects or people in paintings, for example.. Expression is showing feelings, emotions or personality of the painter. A good comparison is a mirror and a lamp; the mirror reflects things, and the lamp shed light on things, the emotions are perhaps coloured light. The first attempts to show external reality, the second attempts to the internal feelings and understandings of artists. Expressionist artists wanted to paint very strong emotions, sometimes crazy emotions, more than real objects as we see them in the world. They wanted to paint wild emotions, the world of dreams. They also used ancient myth to give ideas and to compose their art works. They used exaggeration and illusion, in their paintings, to show a what they thought was a truer reality, and they did not want to give the illusion of a normal everyday reality. In the early decades of modernism this brought heated arguments over the way art should be produced and the ideas that it should express. The debated focused on realism and what representation meant for art and artists. This was true whether these artists were writers, painters, photographers, or film makers, for example.
To use representational art means that the artist shows the world and people as they are, to be realistic. However, some modernists argued that real life, social life was not clearly logical. They argued because of this the images of realist arts were not true to life. For cinema, that the picture presented in classic narrative was not true of real life either. The modernists argued that as real life was contradictory, then the arts need to be contradictory to reveal that too; that they needed to represent a contradictory, alienated and insane world. The Expressionist dramatist is quoted as writing: "that because his figures were modern characters he had deliberately made them uncertain, disintegrated." (Kumar, 1995, p. 95). These sorts of arguments were presented as heated discussion about modernism. The arguments raged over whether modernism should be representational, realist and have a logical structure (as classic narrative tries to have) or should it be imaginative, expressive and not necessarily clearly logical. (This debate has similarities with the current discussions of the contrast between the modern and the postmodern. With postmodernists arguing that the world is contradictory and fractured. Postmodernists are also arguing that the ways that we try to understand the world must also be contradictory and fractured.)
These sorts of arguments were presented in heated discussion about modernism in art and literature in the beginning of the 20th century. One argument presented the view that art must be realistic and representational to increase human understanding. By this way of increasing human understanding it would be possible to improve individual and social life. The other argument was that because human society and social life were contradictory our understandings and emotions were made contradictory, wrong, and perhaps insane. They pointed to the contradiction of Western Europe claiming to be civilised and yet to be sending millions to war and death in WWI. To allow us to see this sort of insanity, and to understand the true nature of humans and the true social world, art would need to be the same. That art would need to present the world and our human emotions and understandings in the same way. That art would need to be contradictory and irrational to represent human reality and the human condition. However, this stress on insanity and on German folk myths, later would led to arguments that Expressionist art helped the rise of Fascism in Germany. Some critics argues that the film Dr. Caligari contributed to the rise of Fascism in Germany in the 1920s.
Key features of Expressionism:
Expressionist artists were inspired by ancient myths. They were particularly inspired by German and Nordic mythology, and its tales of gods, devils, witches, magic, spirits, religion and middle ages Christianity. The artists also picked up some aspects of non-European art, to African art, Asian art, and tribal arts for models, images, ideas, and a sense of the supernatural. Expressionism, with the emphasis on emotion, insanity, German and Nordic mythology, was found in the theatre. Expressionist theatre told strong emotional stories, often with elements of alienation and insanity.
Expressionism and Cinema
In cinema Expressionism first appeared in German films, inspired by Expressionism in painting and the theatre. German Expressionist film makers included and Robert Wiene (1881 1938), F. W. Murnau (1888 1931),and Fritz Lang (1890 - 1976). Robert Wiene made films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), Genuine (1920), and The Hands of Orlac (1924) click for full filmography. Murnau made films such as Nosferatu, the Vampire (1922) one of the first Dracula films, The Last Laugh (1924, and The Grand Dukes Finances (1924) click for full filmography. (It is possible to view Nosferatu, the Vampire, by going to this link: http://thesync.com/ram/nosferatu_56.ram Lang made films such as Spiders (in two parts 1919 & 1921), Destiny (1921), and Metropolis (1927), a film of the modern industrial world dominating humanity, and a murder mystery M (1931) click for full filmography. The film that we are going to examine in more detail, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), was the first Expressionist film, directed by Robert Wiene, for the Decla-Bioscop company, in Germany. It is also possible to view The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari by going here: http://thesync.com/ram/caligari56.ram
Expressionist film makers used Expressionist painting and wood print styles to create stage sets, and the used Expressionist theatre in their storytelling of insanity, and illusion. Expressionist film makers wanted to use the tricks of the camera, of technology, to create illusion. But they wanted to do so to criticise parts of modern, industrial society. The wanted to create films that surprised, or shocked people to change the way that they looked at and understood the modern world. Sometimes this included revealing the illusion of the way that cinema told its story.
As in the wood prints there is a very strong use of black and white contrasts, in Expressionist cinema there is a strong use of shadows, of hiding things in darkness. It is possible to see this in these two still photographs from Dr. Caligari:
The image in the left also clearly the shows the use of strange angles in Expressionis. This is seen in the architecture in Dr. Caligari. Look at the angles of the window on the left, look at the wall corner on the left. Indeed, none of the angles in this toom are normal 90 degree angles.
On film it is easy to see things in that are in daylight, in full sunshine. We can see clearly people, where they are, their faces, what they have in their hands, and what they are doing. At night, in the dark it is not so easy to see these things. There is not enough light, we can not see people and things clearly. What we cannot see, gives us the sense of danger, of hidden people, or monsters, or ghosts, who want to harm. In film, shadow and darkness is used to create uncertainty and fear. This was one of the key innovations of Expressionist films. Expressionists used darkness and shadow to give their films a stronger feeling of fear, and anxiety. We can see this in the stills below, from Murnaus Nosferatu:
|Innocence, as a child, is threatened by the shadow slowly falling over her...||Peter Lorre, in shadow and darkness, is terrified at seeing his own image in a mirror. Notice also the M, for murder.||A graphic poster for the film.|
The image of the world in Expressionist cinema is of an insane world. They developed unusual camera perspectives that gave strange picture angles. By this method, buildings look as though they tower above people, the look as if they are going to fall over. Cities and buildings do no look like they provide a safe environment for people, but they look as wild as a forest full of wolves and vampires. They look like they are going to collapse and provide hiding places for thieves, robbers, and killers. By this method the world looks out of the individuals control, even of the film's hero; we ask, can the hero find the answers, master and control all of the events in the film in such a chaotic world? By this method the world looks threatening, chaotic, and contradictory. We saw this in the first still from Dr. Caligari, above. Now we can see this odd use of camera perspective even more clearly in the image below from Metropolis:
The use of ancient myth is found in the story of Caligari, which is said to be based on the recurrence of an 11th Century myth. Thus, the tale told in the myth is said to be describing real events, which are again occuring in Germany. This is reproduiced beow in th first intertitle for Dr. Caligari:
It is also found in the themes of Nosferatu, the tale of Dracula the Vampire, and number of other Expressionist films, such as the Spider.
The German Expressionist film making had a very short life. It began at the end of WWI, 1918 / 1919, and ended 1926. The main difficulty was the cost of making the films. In the U.S., there is the sunny dry climate of California, and a potential audience of nearly 200 million English speakers; in Germany the climate was darker, so the films had to be made indoors with enormous stage sets, and a lot of artificial lighting, all of this is very expensive. The film that ended Expressionist film making in Germany was Fritz Langs Metropolis (1926). The film budget started at 1,900,000 marks, but it cost 5,000,000 marks to make. the film. This film required the construction of a futuristic city in the Studio, seen in this photograph:
This is a still showing the city of Metropolis. This is a futuristic vision of elevated highways, and helicopters and aeroplanes flying between buildings. (Similar to today's Tokyo?) Below is a night picture of the city:
The film was a financial failure, and there were no more attempts at such great productions again. This film has strongly influenced the vision of the City in many films since, e.g., Blade Runner, Batman), and M, 1931, a detective film of a child serial murderer, it has also been used recently for music videos.
The City inlater films, Blade Runner (1982, Riddley Scott), above, Batman Returns (1992,Tim Burton) below:
In these sets you can also see the lingering effect of odd camera perspectives too.
The specific influences of Expressionism on films are:
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
"...the success of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was a major artistic event which was to dominate the entire future development of the art of cinema." (Langlois in Rould ed., 1980 p. 422)
Cast of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) - Daclau-Bioscop - Germany:
|Werner Krauss||Dr. Caligari|
|Hans Heinrich von Twardowski||Alan|
|Rudolf Lettinger||Dr. Olson|
|Rudolf Klein-Rogge||A Criminal.|
As an example of Expressionist cinema we shall watch, Robert Wienes film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It is this last film which we shall watch, as it was the first Expressionist film and it shows very clearly Expressionist film making ideas. Robert Wiene made The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1920, and The Hands of Orlac in1924, tells the story of a pianist who loses his hands in a train accident. In hospital he is given the hands of an executed murder and these hands begin to control him.
The film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, at first gives the impression that it will follow the classic narrative model in story telling. It begins with two men sitting on a bench. A strange, dream like woman passes them, and then one man tells a story to the other man. He tells a story of a travelling fare, with some attractions coming to town. He is going to narrate a story with a beginning a murder a middle more murders and investigations and an end But, what kind of end is this?
One of the attractions was a man who had been sleeping for 20 years, and who wakes up only occasionally. He can be wakened only by Dr. Caligari, his master. When he wakes he can tell people what will happen to them in their future. He is wakened at the fair and he tells a man that he will die that night. The man is killed that night and in the town a number of murders begin to happen. Who is doing these murders, and why? Francis and the police try to find out
From the point when the camera fades to Dr. Caligari, the audience is told a story, a story that begins to resemble the classic narrative model:
However, this is not a classic narrative film.
From the beginning we seen that there are some things which are not right, that are not normal, that do not fit the classical narrative:
There are clues that this is not exactly classic narrative. These clues become stronger as the film proceeds.
All of the set on the film is painted. There are no 90 degree angles in any of the buildings or things, it looks like a town afteer an earthquake. It is painted to look like a crazy world. It looks like a very frightening world. There is a very strong uses of shadow, of darkness, and light. It looks like a world out of control and very dangerous. It is a world as in your dreams, or more truly, our nightmares.
The events are driven by the actions of the characters, and there is hero, Alans friend. The events appear to follow natural time. But we are aware that the story is being told from the present of the past. That someone in the present is telling a story of what happened in the past. The sequences of film are joined together in that sort of time sequence. Thus the time sequences flow like this:
Time Sequences in Caligari: For the beginning of the film:
Sometime in the pas
Sometime in the past
Sometime in the past
The beginning of the film is the murder, the middle of the film is told as if it is a story following natural time when more murders happen. There also seems to be a logical end to the film, when Cesare stopped from murdering Jane, he dies and the police try to arrest Dr. Caligari. However, this is not the end of the film. At the end of the film, the time sequence moves into the future, it moves to the story tellers sitting on the bench.
The film uses the model of classic narrative, our desire to interpret a film in a meaningful way to show us how we can be tricked. The time sequence only looks like a normal time sequence.
The film director is in the same position as the person telling the story at the beginning of the film. The director plans the telling of the story, and makes the film according to that plan. The director has a plan of the beginning, the middle and the end. The director, as the storyteller leads you through the story. But, this director is showing the storytelling method. The time fluctuates from the present into the past, and into the present, and so on until at the end, the film takes the story a little beyond the time that it started with. Time does not move in a single direction in this film. That what appeared to be realistic, verisimilitude, was not at all realistic.
At the last sequence of the film we discover that the person who has been telling the story of the film is a patient in a hospital. The hospital is not an ordinary hospital, it a hospital for the mentally ill, and the person in charge of the hospital is Dr. Caligari. Also, many of the other characters in the film are shown to be patients in that hospital, e.g., Cesare, Jane, Janes father. The film shows a world of insanity not sanity, of dream not reality. We learn that the story tellers cannot be relied on. That the might not have been telling the truth all along, and that what we have watched is not a true story. That what we have watched might have been the product of insane people in an asylum. Thus, we do not have everything answered at the end, and the world appears not to be logical and orderly, but rather insane and full of deceptions.
The people look like they could be real people, people we see in the everyday world. At the end, we learn that these people were not the people that we thought they were at the beginning. We find out that film can very cleverly deceive us while pretending to be telling the truth; that it lies to us that it is telling a true story.
That deception is a clear point in the film is revealed also in the stress on hypnotism. Hypnotism plays a strong role in the film; Caligari hypnotises Cesare to control him. But we should also think that perhaps film can hypnotise. That the flickering image on the screen perhaps hypnotises us, captures and controls our emotions, our emotional and physical reactions to the camera images. That the flickering images showing people and events hypnotise in same way as the swinging watch can hypnotise. It is a film about the power of cinema to trick as well as to reveal, because in the end the film reveals that we have been tricked.
The Persistent Influences of Expressionist Film Making Techniques on Later Film Making
Some of the films that have influences from Expressionist film making techniques. Expressionists were very influential for a style of film called film noir, of the private detective genre of murder and suspense. Alfred Hitchcock started making film in Germany at the time of Expressionist cinema and his films are strongly influenced by it. Other more recent films with Expressionist influence: It is possible to see the influence of Exprssionism, in Science fiction films, for example, on Seven, Heat, Blade Runner The two images below compare the robot of Metropolis,, with C-P3), of Star Wars:
This image of Catwoman, also resembles the Metropolis robot::
The city views of Metropolis can be compared with those in Blade Runner (197?), two pictures below:
And also,Batman Returns (1992):
We saw the influence of Expressionism in Rear Window, especially at the end of the film when the killer enters Jeffs apartment we see only his face and glasses, we see only a part of Jeff; is the killer coming closer, we can only hear his feat. All of these increase our uncertainty, our fear, our anxiety.
This list is endless, although the movement was short lived in Germany, the aesthetics of German Expressionist cinema have had enormous continuing impact on film making. I will show you some of these images on my homepage and next week.
Cinema, a new form of communication at the beginning of the 20th century attracted the attention of many different types of people. I said before that cinema could either tell stories of the real world or of the imagination. The contrasting options of film telling stories of the real world or of imagination, were not simply a choice they were a dilemma. This was a dilemma not easily solved, for a very simple reason; no film is completely true as life and not cinema is completely imaginary, completely free of everyday life. The classic narrative implies a completeness, there is a beginning a middle and a conclusion, there is a enigma, a series of events, and in the conclusion all questions are answered. But, one very interesting point about Rear Window, is that we never see the murder which is the centre of the movie. We do not see very much of the murderer either. Our imagination is asked to fill in many spaces and complete the story.
Created at the end of the 19th century, cinema was quickly influenced by 20th century modern art movements. At the beginning of the 20th century there began an explosion of creativity in the arts. In painting and literature, for example, many modern art appeared. Two modern art movements that emerged in the early 20th century that had significant influence on cinema technique were Expressionism and Surrealism.
In cinema Expressionism was very important for the introduction of new techniques of camerawork and of story telling. Surrealism stressed more the unconscious and dream world, imagination in making movies, for them this was greater reality. Both, Expressionism and Surrealism questioned the honesty of classic narrative cinema. That like every good liar, the liar always promise the truth, but really they are not telling the truth. Thus, Expressionist and Surrealist cinema criticised classic narrative as false; their films suggest:
However, they also argued that real life was not clearly logical either. That the picture presented in classic narrative is not true of real life either. The modernists argued that as real life was contradictory, then the arts need to be contradictory to reveal that too. These sorts of arguments were presented as heated discussion about modernism. The arguments raged over whether modernism should be representational and have a logical structure (as classic narrative tries to have) or should it be imaginative, expressive and not necessarily clearly logical. These arguments are similar to current arguments between modernism and postmodernism.
Expressionists were very influential for a style of film called film noir, of the private detective, of murder and suspense. Alfred Hitchcock started making film in Germany at the time of Expressionist cinema and his films are strongly influenced by it. Other more recent films with Expressionist influence; Seven, Heat, Blade Runner This list is endless, although the movement was short lived in Germany, the aesthetics of German Expressionist cinema have had enormous continuing impact on film making. I will show you some of these images on my homepage and next week.
There is one point that should not be forgotten with Caligari. Faced with the strong competition of big business cinema from Hollywood, European cinema makers had to find a different way to compete. Caligari and Expressionist cinema provided the basis for one of these lasting strategies, the art cinema. They stressed that cinema was an art, equal to the other arts of the novel, poetry, theatre, painting, music, photography, etc. Furthermore, as with all of these other arts, they were saying that cinema could examine as difficult subjects as these arts, that cinema could do this as intellectually, and philosophically as any of the other arts.
Chipp. Herschel B., (ed.) 1968. Theories of Modern Art: A Source Book by Artists and Critics. University of California Press.
Cook, Pam. 1986 The Cinema Book. British Film Institute. London.
Gombrich, Ernest, 19?? The Story of Art
Kracauer, Sigfried, 1947 From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of German Cinema
Vincendeau, Gene. (ed.) 1995 Encyclopedia of European Cinema. Cassel & British Film Institute. London.