Month: February 2015

Regret, Guilt and Suspicion in The Haunted Castle

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The Haunted Castle (1921) Poster

 

 

Schloß Vogelöd(Castle Vogeloed) or The Haunted Castle.

Directed by F.W. Murnau 1921

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The film has touches of Expressionism, but mostly feels like a subtle noir. The Haunted Castle (1921)

 

This film really does not fall under a moniker of Horror, which is somewhat misleading because of the mood conveyed in the posters and english title, it instead seems to fall into an area occupied by Murder Mysteries and even feels like a direct precursor to Film Noir without the sleek stylings.

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The Haunted Castle (1921)

 

 

The look of this film is not what I would refer to as overtly Expressionist, it’s very straight forward, with almost nothing underneath to be “expressed” by way of a specific expressionist vehicle or plot device. The sets are beautiful and extremely accurate, for the setting of the story. There are a few expressionist moments, they mostly are found in flashbacks or dream sequences. That being said the rest of the film seems based so much on reality, in a way which renders any emotion trying to be conveyed, directly on the surface of the film. I find the principle emotion of this film to not be sadness, despair or fear, but more in the realm of guilt, regret and shame.

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First Flashback, Natural approach to Expressionism, lighting used to convey positive feelings. The Haunted Castle (1921)

 

The shinning scenes for me proved to be in the first flashback, which actually had a nice expressionist touch via lighting conveying a positive and happy aspect, which came across in a very natural approach. The fifth act had most of the expressionist moments, which comes with the release of the films tension and climax of guilt. I will not spoil the ending, but I feel as if most will see it coming.

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Lighting used to set a positive mood. The Haunted Castle (1921)

 

The basic plot is a story of redemption, a group of men are gathered at Castle Vogelod for a hunting party. It is unfortunately raining, leaving the men to occupy themselves inside the walls of the castle. Soon an uninvited guest arrives “Count Otesch” he is immediately viewed as an outsider, rumors of his past start to occupy the conversations of everyone in the castle. He was arrested but not convicted of killing his brother “Count Peter Oetsch” adding to the unrest of  “Count Otesch’s” unforeseen arrival, is the arrival of his dead brothers newly remarried widow, the “Baroness Safferstatt” and her new husband “Baron Stafferstatt”. As soon as she is aware that “ Count Otesch” is present, she decides she would not be able to stay in the castle, until she is reminded that “Father Faramund of Rome” a relative of her former husband,is to arrive soon.

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Overcome with guilt The Baroness confesses a secret. The Haunted Castle (1921)

 

Once the Baroness is able to speak with “Father Faramund”, she is overcome with guilt and regret and makes a confession unto the Father. The Father returns to his room speaking with no one else, it is noticed the next day that “Father Faramund” has gone missing. We are left with spiraling accusations and suspense leading up to a very interesting conclusion which, I will leave incomplete, for you to watch yourself or read about if you cannot wait. A good film but not an overtly expressionist film.

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One of the few outdoors scenes which convey a lot of naturalistic Expressionism, with its use of lighting and clouds. The Haunted Castle (1921)

 

Video link working as of 02/03/2015:

 

 

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From Morn to Midnight and The Folly of Man

 

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From Morn to Midnight (German: Von Morgens bis Mitternachts) is a 1920 German silent expressionist film directed by Karlheinz Martin based on the play, From Morning to Midnight by Georg Kaiser. It is one of the most Avant Garde films of the German Expressionist movement.

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I really enjoyed this one, it’s without question the most Expressionistic film I’ve seen yet. The sets are even more distorted than in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Fans of that film will definitely enjoy this. The whole film seems deranged and avant garde. The entire “bike race” scene is very interesting and experimental. 

 

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A bank cashier who realizes the “power of money” after a rich Italian women makes a visit to the bank in preparation of purchasing a piece of art. He suddenly gives into all his lesser temptations and in a moment of weakness (often mistaken for passion) and in a frenzied state of delusion he decides to steal the money from the bank, thus Catapulting him down a twisted and distorted road of folly and temptation becoming the ‘cashier on the run.’ He returns to his home only to realize how much contempt he has for his life, and everyone in it including a wife, daughter and mother.

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He soon realizes he seeks passion in his life, he has a terrible void, which he attempts to fill using money and all of the luxuries and thrills it affords you. Throughout the film the cashier’s death is eluded to and conveyed by the face of death, which he sees in the face of a beggar that he ignored, the face of the daughter who he abandons, and in the faces of the women he seeks to bring excitement and fulfill his life with. He cannot escape it. He proclaims that he wants real passion in his life and is what he seeks the entire film, but each time it fails to meet his expectations.

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He buys expensive clothing and shaves his beard, an attempt to transform, and hide from the police and from his true nature. He then attends a bicycle race, where he offers money to the winning racers in hopes of rousing the crowd and pushing the athletes into a frenzy. This scene has a lot out of focus, and slightly augmented scenes which are very experimental, it also has a good deal of social and class commentary. The Cashier keeps upping the reward which drives the crowd wild, he starts to think he has found his passion, but soon royalty shows up and steals his thunder. He next ends up at a bar, drinking and dancing and mingling with ladies of the night, only to be disappointed yet again and see his fate once more in the face of a woman he mistreats. He then finds himself gambling with some rather rough individuals, they seem to be trying to hustle him, but he soon starts winning and much to their dismay he seeks to leave with his winnings. They confront him and it seems as if a fight will take place.

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Just then a “Sister” of the Salvation Army appears and stops the fight and brings the cashier to her worship services. He witnesses the confessions of a few individuals which makes him self reflect on his own actions. He then wishes to confess and in this moment realizes “All the money in the world cannot buy anything of value,”. I will leave the ending unspoiled, but it’s very powerful and poignant. It has a great subtext about the folly of man and the temptation of the world. I feel as if the film takes a strong influence from Nietzsche, but this could be my personal perspective.

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In so many ways it makes me think of the Expressionist woodcut artist Frans Masereel, in particular the wordless novel (The City: A vision in woodcuts).

 

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The look of this film is extremely intense and employs techniques of German Expressionism mixed with Avant Garde, in a few scenes actors are actually used as part of the sets, when the cashier is walking down a snowy path you can see branches swaying in the wind, which are simply actors arms painted black with white highlights to really give the branches a “moving” and “swaying” quality.

From Morn to Midnight snow

 

Another highlight is when he is buying new clothes the mannequins are actually actors and begin to move and dance, as if to entice him into buying the new clothes. You can really sense remorse for his actions by the end of the film, his mannerisms change constantly and he even become less neurotic by the end of the film. As if, seeing how empty the money actually made him feel, cleansed his soul in a way it had not been, before the crime. (Ryan Keinath)

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Video link working as 02/01/15:

Desire and lust foretold with Warning Shadows.

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A German Silent film Directed by Arthur Robinson(1923)

Warning Shadows or Shadows- A Nocturnal Hallucination(Schatten- Eine nacthliche Halluzination)

                                                                                                       

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This was a very interesting film without any inter-titles, split into five acts, which grew more tense, with each passing act. The main aesthetic principles of this film are shadows and light used to convey an outward expression of internal desires. The sets are simple but done tastefully, they are not overly expressionistic (except for a few very beautiful set paintings if you look carefully) as the main vehicle for expressionism was the ever-present, if not looming qualities of shadows and lights. The acting is standard for a film of this style with standout performances by “The Count” played by Fritz Kortner, “The Servant” played by Fritz Rasp, who will be familiar to fans of Metropolis as “The Thin Man” and “The Shadowplayer” played by Alexander Granach known for his role in Nosferatu.

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The shadows are used to convey the mens lust.  Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 7.40.40 AM

 

 

The basic storyline is as follows. The Count is hosting a dinner party with his very beautiful wife. In attendance are four men, the youngest of which is his wife’s lover, the other three men are simply admirers of the Counts very self-absorbed and flirtatious wife. The Count seems to be aware and often frustrated and anxious about his wife’s behavior, but too passive to act on his jealous impulses. As the night passes a strange individual arrives offering his skills as a Shadowplayer, a master of telling a story with shadows created by his hands and small puppets, which in many ways looks similar to Kabuki. The Shadowplayer character often feels like a mischievous spirit sent to warn the guest, using shadows to show what awaits them if they do not change their ways. During his performance for the dinner guests the Shadowplayer is able to hypnotize the dinner guests, during this time it seems as if he takes their shadows and places them onto the screen, into his performance, before them. We then see what happens when our internal desires, represented by the shadows, are capable of if left unchecked. Examples being the admirers constant advances towards the counts wife, the flirtatious and adulterous nature of the wife herself as well as the adulterous nature of her lover, and the Counts unchecked jealousy. I won’t spoil the ending but the climax seems very freudian to me.

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Climax of the film(Warning Shadows 1923)

 

 

A note about the shadows and costumes, most of the actors hair styles and outfits which resemble a Victorian/Gothic style, seem to be a vehicle for expressionism as well. As they have details and adornments that seem ‘drastic’ and “over the top”. I feel as if this is simply so the shadows of the actors seem more like caricatures of the desires inside the characters. In many ways the shadows seem like split personalities of the characters and almost completely different side characters. Often it’s the Shadowplayer using these shadows to showcase what the actors really feel internally, but do not act upon. For example the wife and her lover want to reach out and hold hands at the dinner table but do not. The Shadowplayer sees this and uses his candle to make it appear as if the shadows of the hands are embracing each other, which the Count soon notices. I thought this was a really well done film and highly recommend it. It’s a bit slow in the beginning but quickly picks up steam if you stick with it.

(Ryan Keinath)

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The use of shadows to convey the inner desire for the lovers to embrace(Warning Shadows 1923)

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Working video link as of 02/01/15: