German Expressionism (1913 – 1930)

Nosferatu - German Expressionism

The History of German Expressionism (1913 – 1930)

Politics in 1910 Germany was highly tumultuous. World War I dominated the country, and most of its films were geared towards recruiting soldiers for the war effort, and hardly any films were made, simply for the enjoyment of making films. However, 1918 saw the end of the war, with Germany being defeated and slapped in the face with a treaty that they couldn’t ignore.

Now with the restrictions on what goes in and out of the country, the German film market was rapidly declining, and they needed new ideas to revive their dying industry, and who better to do that than the UFA (Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft – AG for short). With the release of Madam DuBarry, the German film markets began to rise. Of course, as the UFA’s influence began to dominate Germany, smaller companies were becoming less and less independent. One of these companies was Erich Pommer’s Decla (which would become Decla-Bioscop in later years). It was this small company that created the early German Expressionist film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

The writers of the film, Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz, wanted a highly stylised film and so with the help of the three designers they brought onto the scene, Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig, they incorporated the artistic style of German Expressionism. It had been an avant-garde movement in the art world, eventually moving on to theatre, literature and architecture, and because Film was becoming a major hit around the world, Mayer, Janowitz and their three “amigos” decided to see if this artistic style could be just as big as the industry itself.

Needless to say, it did, and the film itself became a major hit in the international market, eventually winning over Europe and causing a storm in the USA, despite the heavy tariffs and prejudice against the German film industry. However, the film’s release did not go uncontested. As David Puttnam (1997) claims, “[For Americans] Germany was depicted as a society riddled by class hatred, in which the sexual immorality of its citizens manifested itself in a voyeuristic enjoyment of ‘horror and suffering on the screen’”.

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