Essay on German Expressionist Movement

Submitted By Karen-Flynn
Words: 1543
Pages: 7

German Expressionism began in the 1920's prior to the First World War. The movement reached it's peak in the mid 1920's and only lasted until the end of the decade. The Expressionist movement in Germany was part of a larger movement which was taking part across Europe, including countries such as France and Spain. The movement had a large effect within the art world which then influenced fashion, décor and film.

In 1927, Fritz Lang released upon the world of cinema, his terrifying vision of the future, “Metropolis.” This was one of the very last German Expressionist films of its time. Director Fritz Lang and his film titled “Metropolis” are both included in the canon of the German Expressionism Movement. This style of film making was developed in Weimer, Germany. However, the German Expressionist directors departed Germany for Hollywood in the late 1920's, taking with them inspiration from the Expressionist movement, which had now ended. In Thomas Elsaesser's, “Weimer Cinema and after Germany's Historical Imaginary” he mentions that directors in Germany, “had to compete with other, more established arts and their social institutions, and internationally with the permanent threat of Hollywood hegemony.”1 The German Expressionist movement may have ended, but it's influence be easily recognised in many Hollywood productions long after it's time. For example, echoes of Lang's depiction of darkness within the city can be noted in the film, “Blade Runner” as well the fictional “Gotham City” from “Batman.”

Upon it's release, Metropolis was both praised and criticized. Fritz Lang himself later expressed his own unhappiness with the film. He said, “Anyway, I didn't like the picture, I thought it was silly and stupid.”2 However, in my opinion, the visual effects are extremely impressive. Metropolis is considered to be one of the very first Science Fiction films of it's time. Therefore, the set was designed to depict Fritz Lang's visionary idea of the future. It was one of the most expensive films to be produced during the Silent Era, because a vast amount of equipment and extras were required to create Lang's vision of two worlds.

It can be argued that Metropolis belongs outside of the German Expressionist movement, because it was released towards the very end. However, in my opinion, the style in which Metropolis was filmed is incredibly expressionist. Expressionism is to take reality and transform it into something abstract. According to Kracauer, “'Expressionism' in Weimar cinema has determinate modernising or constructivist functions, creating for the cinema a space not only among the arts but making it a vehicle also of the emergent life-style technologies and leisure industries, such as fashion, décor and display. That Expressionism also served internationally as a brand-name recognition for the 'better' Germany.” 3 In my opinion, Metropolis is an expression of it's time. It reflects the art and fashion of the 1920s, with were both forward thinking branches of the arts.

When studying the mise en scene, it is essential to consider individual shots within the film, rather than each shot coming together as a whole. Lang composed Metropolis in such a way that each scene stands alone and can be analysed thoroughly by itself. It is important to consider the visual effects used in a film belonging to the Silent Era, rather than the narrative between the characters. In my opinion, Lang has produced an expressionist work of art. His collection of visual imagery is now iconic, and I find it difficult to understand his own dissatisfaction with the film itself because I can only praise the attention to detail found in each shot.

Furthermore, the staging for each shot can be considered as expressionist. Lang's clever use of lighting and stylized visuals can create contrasting worlds for the differing social classes. For example, the workers live underneath the earth in a colourless city and there is little or