German Expressionism

Films and Movie Memorabilia

German Expressionism was one of many creative styles and movements that came out of Germany after their defeat in World War I. UFA studios which was Germany’s principal film studio at that time, decided for the film industry to go private which largely confined Germany and isolated the country from the rest of the world. In 1916, the government had banned any foreign films in the nation, and so the demand from theaters to generate films led to the rise of film production from 24 films released in 1914 to a high 130 films in 1918. During the 1920s it was also the decade where audiences saw the rise of the Dadi and Surrealist movements in which its intentions were to reject all pretense and sincerity in the cinema. German Expressionism, Dadi and Surrealism films were bold and profound artistic expressions of bleak hopelessness, grim satire and alienation which rejected traditional values and sought to overthrow society with its bleak themes of anarchy, dreams, psychosis and the unconscious mind. Many believe the birth of these radical movements were a reaction to the horror of World War I, which upset decades of tranquility and order, and threw the European nations into unstable new relationships with the rest of the world. After people witnessed the brutality and instability of warfare and death, it would be difficult to return to landscapes of order, government and peace. German Expressionism’s aesthetics were first derived from German Romanticism and of architecture, painting, and of the stage, most famously from German set designers Herman Warm, Walter Rorhig, and Walter Reimann. Much of German Expressionism’s style and design expressed interior realities via exterior realities and emotionalism rather than objectivity or realism. Many films of German Expressionism used bizarre set designs with wildly non-realistic, geometrically absurd sets, along with designs painted on walls and floors to represent lights, shadows, and objects. The world that characters inhabit in a German Expressionism film are full of exaggerated landscapes and environments of abstract shapes, angles, shadows and distorted sets. The building architecture is off kilter, jagged and many of the props seem to be geometrically off-balance. This unusual visual look is intentional to give the viewer a feeling of inner emotional reality rather than realism. It’s unsettling sets of instability gives the feeling of claustrophobia and space collapsing around the viewer. The actor’s in German Expressionism films usually wear heavy make-up, their acting is greatly exaggerated and their movements are jerky and unnatural to blend in with the stylistic and abstract environment. German Expressionism’s odd and distorted style are as unrealistic as the dilution of its main character who’s narrative is a good contrast to its style as it revolves around such themes as psychology, fantasy, madness, betrayal and murder as its creators used extreme distortions in expression to show an inner emotional reality rather than realism or what was on the surface. Films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), Metropolis (1927), The Blue Angel (1930) and M (1931) are considered landmarks of German Expressionism, with some scholars looking at the aesthetics of German Expressionism as the early beginnings of American film-noir.

German Expressionism
Featured German Expressionism Films
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Articles and Essays on German Expressionism

Faust (1926)

F. W. Murnau was one of the boldest and imaginative artists working during the silent period of German Expressionism. Along with his horror classic Nosferatu, his creation of Faust is considered one of the greatest of all supernatural fantasies; and the visionary Murnau was so distinctive with his use of canvas that he constructed one of the most haunting vistas […]


Blue Angel, The (1930)

Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel is one of the most provocative, risqué and taboo-sexual oriented German films of the early 30s. Not only is the film known for being the first major German sound film but also the film that brought the beautiful and legendary actress Marlene Dietrich into international stardom. The Blue Angel portrays all […]


Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, The (1919)

Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is one of the most visually frightening and bizarre horror films of all time and the quintessential film that started the German Expressionism movement in early German cinema. German Expressionism is a style that was largely confined to Germany due to the isolation the country experienced during World War I and usually involved surreal […]


Nosferatu (1922)

To watch F.W. Murnau’s 1922 horror masterpiece Nosferatu is to see the vampire movie before it became a trendy pop icon of commercials, jokes, skits, franchises, books and over 100 different films. Nosferatu is the greatest of all vampire films, and its surreal and haunting tone and intensity gives off the feeling as if its creators were truly in awe of […]


M (1931)

Legendary director Fritz Lang took a gamble when making M, which tells the story of a child murderer in Berlin, as the film has been credited with forming two different genres: the serial killer movie and the police procedural. Lang’s earlier silent films including Metropolis were all worldwide successes, and by the year 1931, the Nazi […]