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Expressionist Style

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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) is a landmark film of the German Expressionism. It is characterised by distorted set design with landscapes painted in light and shadow.  It is generally considered to be one of the greatest horror films of the silent era. 

The film director is Robert Wiene, screenplay was done by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. The development of a film was conceived by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Being enthusiastic about works of Wegener and memories of Janowitz,  they created a plot on the basis of the event which happened to Janowitz in 1913 in Hamburg. Janowitz glimpsed a stranger who disappeared in the shadows; the next morning a young woman was found killed on that place. This event was taken as a main plot of the movie.

The Expressionist style has been praised  for distorted set design. “Dr. Caligari” is an example of ‘mise en scene’. Another remarkable feature of the film is that lighting effects are produced on the sets and scenery thus creating a dramatic lighting. Due to the contrast of white and black rays on the wall the impression is created as if the actions take place in the woodcut. The so-called ‘reality’ is  made up with the help of numerous paper cut-outs of houses, chimneys, rooftops and trees. With the help of such kind of presentation of reality everything seems strange and frightening in the film. In fact almost everything which was so familiar in the town has suddenly changed when Dr. Caligari the central figure appears.

The notion “stranger“, which is embodied in the film in the figure of Dr. Caligari is associated with the evil. It is presented as a kind of unknown danger which is unfamiliar to the citizens of the town. The stranger represents some marks of “other”. It has certain indications of foreignness. Moreover, as it is vividly seen from the plot the more citizens try to get to know about Dr. Caligari the more death happen. It can be equaled with the notion of xenophobia. The notion is stranger is characterized by being out of society, alien and other. The stranger brings about disorder, panic and anarchy. In this connection it is possible to draw similarities between the panic and terror which was brought by Nazi during the World War I and the deaths which were caused by the appearance of Dr. Caligari.

Another example of German expressionist horror films of 1920s is “The Golem-How he came into the world”.  Based on the novel “The Golem” by Gustav Meyrink the film was directed by Carl Boese and Wegener. The film starrs Paul Wegener who plays the role of Golem, a mythic automaton created out of clay and endowed with supernatural forces with the help of amulet. 

The notion of “The Uncanny”, which was first introduced by Freud can  be applied for the analysis of the film. As Freud claims that concept of the uncanny which is used to denote opposition between “heimlich” and “unheimlich” is differently presented in literature.

It is necessary to stress that “the unheimlich” is not obligatory opposite to Heimlich. Thus, the notion of uncanny is  merely perception of the other opposite side of some concept.

The uncanny is something strange, which makes us be afraid of it. This idea  is justified by the fact how familiar objects and things like streets, building rooftops etc. are distorted thus making them unfamiliar strange and even frightening for us.

The figure of Golem serves as a kind of embodiment of uncanny. Elaine Graham in her work “Representation of the post/human, Monster, Aliens and Others in Popular culture” claims that the golem figure  is “the tangeable, corporal manifestation of sinful and disobedient acts”( Graham, 2002).

The uncanny nature of Golem is presented by the mechanized jerky movements of it. The non-organic origin of Golem is stressed. At the same time the uncanny has another side in the film. The figure of Golem is not completely presented as strange and unfamiliar. The scene where Golem is sent to go shopping in the town makes a view draw comparisons with something very familiar to human ordinary life.

 “Nosferatu” is a classic Expressionist horror film which was directed by F.W. Murnau. It serves an kind of adaptation of Drakula by Stoker. The production of the film was carried out by Enrico Dieckmann and Albin Grau. The film is interesting in term of abjection. As defined by Kristeva abjection is our perception and wishes to accept or deny objects on the basis of our likes and preferences. In this connection it is necessary to stress that the central figure of the film as well as many events and fact from it are abjection to the majority of viewers.

It goes without saying that the living death which kills its victims in an abnormal way arouses abjection. Abjection is based on our generally negative attitude towards death and the dead.

Subconsciously viewers distant themselves from death as everyone wants to live. Abjection in the film “Nosferatu” is presented in all not human creatures.

The main peculiarities of the film is that it appeals the viewer through the conflict between technical perfection and psychological elements. Another peculiar feature is  a hidden logic and subconscious presentation which is based mainly on abjection.

One more significant Expressionism film is “Dr. Mabuse” directed by Fritz Lang on the basis of the novel Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler written by Norbert Jacques. The central figure of the movie is a pulp magazine villain. Similarly to the silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari  it is a prominent film among the horror film of the early 20th century.

The design of the sets as well as conversation between Count Told and Dr. Mabuse arose speculations about whether the film really belongs to the expressionist art movement.

At the same time Litte Eisner claims that “it is possible that more expressionism has been read into the film than was intended” (Scheunemann, 2006)..

It is necessary to point out that the most striking and probably the only expressionism feature is the restaurant with flame walls in which Wench has dinner.

One more striking fact of the film is the attitude of the director towards it. It comes to the foreground in the conversation between Count Told and the Doctor.

Thus, Dr Mabuse claims, “Expressionism is just a game… But why ever not? – Everything is just a game today!”

Expressionism of the film is connected with reliance on speed and rhythm, episodes and conveyance of the so-called “picture of the time”.

Eisner argues the “Land adopted all the elements of Expressionism he could use on the visualization of his ideas” (Scheunemann, 2006).

It is possible to make a conclusion that the above-mentioned film have had a prominent influence on filmmaking. The main figures of the films and their techniques have found their application and reflection in many consequent films. 

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