Desire and lust foretold with Warning Shadows.

                                                                                 warning shadows


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:


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