Tuesday, October 8, 2013

German Expressionism~ specifically, Metropolis, by Fritz Lang

            Metropolis, a film released in 1927, is undoubtedly regarded as a highlight from the German Expressionist Era. 

        As critics attempt to describe Metropolis, David Fine remarks that it is a film of ruthless capitalism…rendered in a disorienting, abstract, expressionistic visual composition” 4. The countless cinematic and film set structures of this mise-en-scene period undoubtedly differentiate itself from other nations’ styles at the time. 

However, as Robert Sklar writes,Many critics have found it easier to characterize German expressionism not by what it was but by what is was against: naturalism, efforts to depict reality, the idea that there were artistic forms through which the “real” could be represented”[i](page 73). 

           The influence of the German government on its country’s cinema, especially during WWI since “War had transformed the world of cinema” [1] was great. German expressionism became prominent as a movement in all the arts during the years 1914-1925 [1]  (page 83). Specifically shown in Metropolis, German Expression is known for experimentation with cinematic techniques. Fritz Lang truly captured the essence of an era, and as this film gave him and the actors “immortal places in motion pictures history”[ii] (page 424).

Experimentation in cinematography is prominent in Metropolis in a number of ways. It begins with Point-of-View shots, like the example where Dr.Rotwang reaches for an object and the camera is in his POV. Additionally, there are shots that help define the space using only lighting; such as the scene when Dr.Rotwang chases after Maria in the catacombs with a flashlight, and the flashlight flies through the cave-like space to the terrified face of Maria. Lastly, another example is the action shots, where Fritz Lang used a car or a dolly to create the shot itself. In the scene where John Freder’s son is first presented in the Stadium, running a race, there is an insert of the boys running towards the camera where this action shot is recorded. The cinematography truly evolved in ways during this era as it began moving the camera in untraditional ways to portray divergent messages.  

German Expressionism, especially in Metropolis, presents clear characteristics in its cinematic style. The staging of the majority of shots resembles the staging of an opera theater and the set designs are extremely abstract. An effect many of the Establishing Wide shots have in Metropolis is to make the human beings look as small and vulnerable as possible, as these abstract sets symbolize how the machinery dominates humanity. The actors’ performances also parallel those in opera performances, in that they are extremely dramatic and prolonged in the displaying of emotions; an example of this is when John Freder’s son asks, “Who- is That?”[iii], when Maria leaves to go back to the machine rooms. Furthermore, the lighting’s effect in Metropolis creates a dramatic atmosphere with harsh shadows and high exposure. Also, as done on many Hollywood sets in the 1920’s, an eye light is placed over the main subjects’ eyes in a shot or in a scene so as to intensify the glint in their eyes. This can be shown in Metropolis’s first Medium Close-up of Maria, where the glint in her eyes is extremely prominent and gives her an angelic look. Also, the headlight behind subjects, such as on Freder’s son2, gives them a halo-like effect amplifying a theater-like presence to the subjects. 

            My very short film, The Tale of Alavia the Forest Fairy, reflects the cinematic style in Metropolis and of German Expressionism in a number of ways. First, I purposefully deleted half of my recorded footage, as to specify how there were only a very small number of films from the German Expressionist Era, which have been restored in their entirety. Additionally, the first shot of Alavia parallels to the presentation of Maria in Metropolis, in that it is a head-on shot of the subject moving its eyes from the ground to the camera in an angelic way. I chose the lighting in the shots to be very exaggerated in its highlights and its values; such as in the Medium shots of Alavia in the Gazebo. In the scene where Alavia is dreaming about James and her running around the Gazebo, I directed their running by making it match exactly to Metropolis in the scene of to the running of Freder and his entertainer in the Eternal Gardens. In my piece, I also purposefully left some small black blocks between the shots, as it was a common error in films in the 1920s and pre-1920s. Due to the fact that film was extremely expensive at the time, I reused many of my establishing shots as I would if I was a filmmaker in the German expressionist era to save money. Metropolis, although it being the most expensive film production in the 1920s, using around 40,000 extras[ii], it reused certain shots saved a certain amount of money (page 423). Additionally, to mirror how the makeup of characters, such as Freder’s in Metropolis, is dramatic in it’s very white skin, it’s dark lips and eyes, I applied the same makeup to both my actors. Overall, I used many aspects of the cinematic style of German Expressionism on a smaller scale in my project.

Watch my film here! 


[i] Sklar, Robert A WORLD HISTORY OF FILM New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002. Print.

[ii] Kleeper, Robert K. Silent Films, 1877-1996 A Critical Guide to 646 Movies Jefferon: McFarland & Company, Inc Publishers, 1999. Print.

4. Fine, David. "From Berlin to Hollywood: echoes of expressionism in Fritz Lang's the Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street." Literature-Film Quarterly 35.4 (2007): 282+. Academic OneFile. Web. 1 Oct. 2013.
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Friday, September 20, 2013

A Letter to Georges Méliès and "A Trip to the Moon"

Dear Mr. Georges Méliès

Hello! My name is Anna Eva Kotyza, a young lady living in the village of Rye near New York City, daughter of Knight Stanislav Robert Kotyza von Humpolec the first. I write to you as to inquire about the miraculous film you made, “Le Voyage dans la lune”, or in english, “A Trip to the Moon”. And what a miraculous thing the film is! I have never experienced such magic like a moving picture. You see, I visited New York City for a weekend to visit my Aunt Vilma, and for the first time I saw a film theater, a very rare place for a young lady like myself to be near, so I begged and begged until I was allowed to go by my aunt. Thinking it would be a magic show of sorts, it was so much more, Mr. Méliès . Some sort of sorcery overcame me when I saw the enormous white rectangle showing your moving images. And your motion picture pulled me into another world, a world where my wildest dreams fabricated into a living picture before my very eyes! Méliès, you have done an act of immense admiration, engraving these characters and even as the actors may die in real life, their images remains forever imprinted in history! 
As the film finished, I wondered if I may faint. I felt so overwhelmed, Mr. Méliès, you haven’t the slightest idea. The film itself was a journey into a world unknown, where I was right in front of the moon and the civilization on it, where I could stretch out my hand almost touch the fantastic moon civilians. I saw, right in front of me, the building of a ship and I so desperately desired to help the men boarding it and to go with them. Alas, I needed to sit down in my theater seat, but as I listened to the music, I was more than entertained, I was moved. The magic shown on screen proves how magic, and socery, really is real. And now, every time I look at the moon, I believe those people live there, in the magical world I will never see, except in you film. 
Thank you, Méliès, for giving me a slice of magic no one could. You are a suburb man and it would mean the world if you replied back to this letter. I am interested in seeing if we could meet the next time I visit Paris, as I still have some unnerving questions (did you really use magic to create this film, or are you such an exceptional illusionist that I am just taken aback by your work?). 


Anna Eva Kotyza

  My character, a young lady in 1903, who has never seen  motion picture in her life, would have easily been shocked, amazed, and dumbfounded by seeing a motion picture for the first time. This is due to the fact  that seeing a still image itself was incredible at the time, but seeing moving images, and with music, telling a story, must have thrilled populations around the world. I chose “A Trip to the Moon” because its journey to a the moon with flawless illusions could have persuaded any young girl that magic, or people on the moon, could be real.