German Expressionism 1905 – 1940

International movement in art and architecture, which flourished between c 1905 and c 1920, especially in Germany It also extended to literature, music, dance and theatre The term was originally applied more widely to various avant-garde movements: for example it was adopted as an alternative to the use of ‘Post-Impressionism’ by Roger Fry in exhibitions in London in 1910 and 1912 It was also used contemporaneously in Scandinavia and Germany, being gradually confined to the specific groups of artists and architects to which it is now applied

German Expressionism refers to a number of related creative movements beginning in Germany before the First World War that reached a peak in Berlin during the 1920s These developments in Germany were part of a larger Expressionist movement in north and central European culture in fields such as architecture, dance, painting, sculpture, as well as cinema This article deals primarily with developments in German Expressionist cinema before and immediately after World War I

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The German Expressionist movement was initially confined to Germany due to the isolation the country experienced during World War I In 1916, the government had banned foreign films The demand from theaters to generate films led to an increase in domestic film production from 24 films in 1914 to 130 films in 1918 With inflation also on the rise, Germans were attending films more freely because they knew that their money’s value was constantly diminishing

Besides the films’ popularity within Germany, by 1922 the international audience had begun to appreciate German cinema, in part due to a decreasing anti-German sentiment following the end of World War I By the time the 1916 ban on imports was lifted, Germany had become a part of the international film industry

The extreme anti-realism of Expressionism was short-lived, fading away after only a few years However, the themes of Expressionism were integrated into later films of the 1920s and 1930s, resulting in an artistic control over the placement of scenery, light, etc to enhance the mood of a film This dark, moody school of film making was brought to the United States when the Nazis gained power and a number of German filmmakers emigrated to Hollywood These German directors found US movie studios willing to embrace them, and several German directors and cameramen flourished there, producing a repertoire of Hollywood films that had a profound effect on film as a whole Nazi film theorist Fritz Hippler though was a supporter of expressionism Two further films produced in Nazi Germany using the expressionist style were “Das Stahltier” (The Animal of Steel) in 1935 by Willy Zielke and “Michelangelo Das Leben eines Titanen” (Michelangelo The Life of a Titan) in 1940 by Curt Oertel

Two genres that were especially influenced by Expressionism are horror film and film noir Carl Laemmle and Universal Studios had made a name for themselves by producing such famous horror films of the silent era as Lon Chaney’s The Phantom of the Opera German filmmakers such as Karl Freund (the cinematographer for Dracula in 1931) set the style and mood of the Universal monster movies of the 1930s with their dark and artistically designed sets, providing a model for later generations of horror films Directors such as Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, Otto Preminger, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Carol Reed and Michael Curtiz introduced the Expressionist style to crime dramas of the 1940s, expanding Expressionism’s influence on modern filmmaking