German expressionist cinema is one of the fundamental moments in the history of the art film. The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari (1919), by Robert Wiene (three images of this film are shown above); Nosferatu (1922) by F.W. Murnau; or Metropolis (1926), by Fritz Lang, constitute its main lighthouses. In this new throbbing of Cine and transcendence of Temakel, Martín Matus, a member of the Electroacoustic Composition Career of the University of Quilmes, Argentina, immerses us in a broad and solid introduction to the world of expressionist cinematographic image. On the end, you will find the list of the main films of this current, along with the recommendation of the works of Sigfried Kracauer and Lotte Eisner, historical works of aesthetic, philosophical and sociological analysis of expressionism in the cinema. And, also, finally, websites are suggested for an extension of the aforementioned sources.

Historical context

Historical context

After the declaration of the end of the hostilities of the First World War, the Kaiser William II abdicates and flees to Holland (October 1918). The imperial government is undone and the German Republic is proclaimed, whose new government is the “Council of town commissioners.”

The League of Spartacists (social-democratic group) advocates a Soviet-type regime, that is, the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat. In January 1919 there was a Spartacist uprising in Berlin, which extended to Bavaria, Hamburg and other cities. The repression of this movement is assumed by army forces and nationalist groups under the command of Noske, and among its consequences are the murders of the Spartacist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht at the hands of these right-wing groups.


Around that nucleus that is the experience of the Germans of the First World War and its consequences, the most important cultural movement in Germany of that time will emerge: expressionism. Although the best known artistic field is that of painting, we can also find it in literature, music, architecture, theater and, of course, cinema. Its main characteristic consists in the attempt of representation opposed to naturalism and the objective observation of external facts and events, emphasizing the subjective. For the expressionist artist, the important thing is his internal vision, which extends to what is intended to be deformed, trying to find its essence. Some of his main concerns were reflected in criticisms of the dominant materialism in the society of the time, of urban life and of apocalyptic visions about the collapse of civilization, sometimes loaded with revolutionary political content.

In painting, expressionism was the avant-garde movement opposed to naturalistic art that guided European artistic production for more than four centuries, and which reached its peak with impressionism. Expressionist deformation could occur in various ways: distorting the shape, color, or space through the non-traditional use of perspective. Finding antecedents towards the end of the 19th century in Van Gogh, Gaugin and Munch, the most important expressionist groups in Germany were Die Brucke (1905-1913), and Der Blaue Reiter (1911-1914) whose direction is oriented towards abstraction.

In the letters, analogous to painting, the important thing is not the exact description or narration of the facts, but their inner meanings. His main antecedents are, towards the end of the 19th century, the German Franz Wedekind and the Swede August Strindberg. However, the first expressionist work is Der Bettler (The Beggar) by Reinhard Sorge, written in 1912 (staged only in 1917 by Max Reinhardt). Other writers were Georg Kaiser, Ernst Toller, and the poets Ernst Stadler and Georg Trakl.

Cinema Review November 29, 2019

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