German Expressionism

Films that where produced or influenced by certain directors, during and around Germany’s Weimar era (i.e. circa 1910’s,1920’s & 1930’s), who associated themselves with, and whose movies where directly influenced by, the art-movement ‘German Expressionism’. German Expressionism was a direct rejection of realism, the artists would use angular distortions to convey an underlying emotional aspect, rather than what appears on the surface of the plot. These distortions could be manifested in lighting, set design, makeup and costumes. As well as in a more natural approach, using natural lighting, fog, mist and clouds.

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:

 

 

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:

EERIE TALES [ORIGINAL TITLE: UNHEIMLICHE GESCHICHTEN , aka GRAUSIGE NÄCHTE] (1919) BY DIRECTOR RICHARD OSWALD

Reinhold Schünzel (The Devil), Anita Berman (The Strumpet) and Conrad Veidt (Death)

After watching this recently uploaded, fairly decent, restoration of Eerie Tales on Youtube, I was totally baffled and even quite saddened to discover that this film is merely glanced over in most of the German Expressionism literature that I’ve read.  And the websites or books that have taken the time to feature it, haven’t done so very flatteringly.  Could this be because the film has only recently been rediscovered, and therefore any previous accounts of it were based on hearsay and guess-work?  Or is it because the multitude of names it was released under has caused so much confusion among film historians (e.g. Weird Tales / Eerie Tales / Tales of Horror / Tales of the Uncanny / Five Sinister Stories / Unheimliche Geschichten / Grausige Nächte etc etc) that they simply gave up on it?  The fact that the film was remade in 1932, under the same name (Unheimliche Geschichten) and by the same director, I’m sure didn’t help much to mitigate the confusion.  But regardless what the reason may have been that this ‘kleine Juwel’ of a film was over-looked for all these years, it’s now high-time it was dusted down and given the limelight it deserves.

Reinhold Schünzel, Richard Oswald and Conrad Veidt embrace triumphantly right at the start of the film

Eerie Tales is an early (possibly the very first) example of the Anthology (or Omnibus) Horror [i.e. several stories told within a framing story], that many years later would be copied by almost all the major horror production companies, and eventually become the trade mark of Amicus Films (Tales of the Crypt; The House That Dripped Blood, Vault of Horror etc). It was certainly the first ever feature-length anthology, of this I’m pretty confident.  The ‘framing’ sequence is set within an antiquarian book shop, after hours. Once all the customers have left, and the shop is empty, the portraits of Death (Conrad Veidt), the Devil (Reinhold Schünzel), and the Strumpet (Anita Berber) come to life!  They then have fun telling each other five eerie tales of mystery and macabre from the withered pages of the dust-covered books; each tale based on a well known literary work by, among others, Edgar Allen Poe.  The five tales, are also acted out by Veidt, Schünzel and Berber, each time playing alternate roles.

Conrad Veidt and Reinhold Schünzel in a cozy, off-screen publicity shot.

Eerie Tales is meant as a tongue-in-cheek horror film with moments of both pure terror and utter silliness, and in this it succeeds, assisted by the infinity talented Veidt and his accomplished co-stars.  It’s been suggested by one critic that, had the film been made two years later, it would have been considered a part of the ‘new’ German Expressionism art-movement. I contend, however, that Eerie Tales was not only part of the German Expressionist art-movement, but was a bold cinematic statement that set the standards for future Expressionist directors, as well as the horror genre in general. I can only imagine that that particular critic hadn’t yet seen the film. Furthermore, director Richard Oswald, who was regarded as one of Weimar cinemas great forward-thinkers [one of the first directors to make openly candid “enlightenment films”, aimed at educating the public about STD’s, prostitution and homo-sexuality] was canny in his timing for the release of Eerie Tales, by giving the audience a fore-taste of the new Expressionist style of film-making, six months before the release of Dr Caligari.

It was also no coincidence that Oswald’s cinematographer, the renowned and visionary, Carl Hoffmann (who would later work on Siegfried, Dr. Mabuse and Faust, among others) was handpicked to create the stage to which Veidt could bring his magic.  The keen eye will be able spot reoccurring similarities between Hoffmann’s ingenious imagery in these later films, and the ‘still-a-little-green’ and experimental camera work he applies to Eerie Tales.  This collaboration between performance, direction and image-documentation, results in a naturalistic, calculated and carefully constructed vehicle through which Oswald and co. could represent the new Expressionist art-movement.  This mutual passion they shared for their art-form is evident at the very beginning of the film when, right between the opening credits and the first scene, we see Oswald embracing his two leading men, in a sign of camaraderie and unity; something you would normally expect to see at the end of a film or play, as a sign of accomplishment and jubilation, like a final curtain-call.  With this most simplest of gestures, Oswald was clearly making a significant statement: that the young Expressionists had arrived and it was now their turn to shine.

SECRETS OF A SOUL (“Geheimnisse einer Seele”, 1926) by GW Pabst

Near the end of the 1920’s, and as far as German Expressionism’s “New Objectivity” (Neue Sachlichkeit)-style was concerned [focusing on realism, public-engagement and social issues, as opposed to the self-indulgent, intellectual ‘surrealism of ‘traditional’ Expressionism], Pabst was clearly this new art-movement’s cinematic ambassador. This was exhibited through his series of progressive, highly topical films dedicated to the portrayal of troubled women, and their plights in German society. 


Secrets of a Soul- Dream sequence with Werner Krauss (1926)

In keeping in this tradition, Pabst’s 1926, Freudian, psychological-drama, Secrets of a Soul, deals with the marital problems a happy, but childless, couple start to face when the husband- played by UFA veteran and master of creepy characters, Werner Krauss (Dr Caligari)- starts to have nightmares in which he visualizes his wife- played by the ever-sultry Ruth Weyher (Warning Shadows)- and her dashing young cousin, in ‘compromising’ situations. The nightmares started when a local murder coincides with a visit from the cousin –played by suave, English actor Jack Trevor. The husband’s inner torment eventually manifests itself in a bizarre fear of any, and all, knives! It’s when he starts to visualizes himself stabbing his wife, that he then decides it’s time to seek professional help.

Secrets of the soul - Dream Sequence

Secrets of a soul – Dream sequence with Werner Krauss(1926)

This is when the film starts to get really interesting; most of all in the way the film tackles the subject of psychoanalysis. From here on the film focuses on the dialogue between the husband and his therapist. Don’t forget the film was made in a time when most people hadn’t even heard of psychoanalysis, let alone know how it was administered. Pabst goes into great detail to illustrate to his audience how exactly this revolutionary new wonder-treatment worked.

Curiously enough, one of the team of writers for Secrets Of A Soul was an important and influential German psychoanalyst, and colleague of Sigmund Freud. As far as the plot’s concerned, I think I’ll leave it there so as not to spoil it too much for you.
I will say, however, that what I especially liked about this film is that, unlike other films from Pabst’s New Objectivity series, in Secrets Of A Soul he pays homage to his ‘traditional’ expressionism roots through a number beautifully filmed, highly-stylized, dream and fantasy sequences, synonymous with the spirit of the early expressionist cinema. Available online and DVD from the KINO collection. 8/10

Secrets of a Soul (1926). Dream sequence with Werner Krauss

This link to stream the whole movie is working as of 02/01/15:

http://vdownload.eu/watch/1124865-geheimnisse-einer-seele-georg-wilhelm-pabst-1926.html

Master of the House (1925) by Carl Theodor Dreyer – LESSONS IN HOW ‘NOT’ TO TREAT YOUR WIFE!

Master of the House. Danish film poster (1925)

Master of the House [aka Thou Shalt Honor Thy Wife] (1925) “Du skal ære din hustru” (original title)

Director/ Writer/ Film Editor/ Art Direction/ Set Decoration: Carl Theodor Dreyer
Screenplay: Svend Rindom
Cinematography: George Schnéevoigt

Cast:

  • Johannes Meyer … Viktor Frandsen
  • Astrid Holm … Ida Frandsen
  • Karin Nellemose … Karen Frandsen
  • Mathilde Nielsen … Old Victor’s wetnurse
  • Clara Schønfeld … Alvilda Kryger
  • Johannes Nielsen … Doctor
  • Petrine Sonne … Laundress
  • Aage Hoffman … Dreng, son
  • Byril Harvig … Barnet, son
  • Viggo Lindstrøm
  • Aage Schmidt
  • Vilhelm Petersen

In complete contrast to the last film I reviewed (Nerven by Robert Reinert), instead of feeling the need to run into the street shouting “Now I’m going to die… now I’m going to die”, this one will have you feeling relaxed, rosy and content with the world. Master of the House, by renowned Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer, is a minimalistic, theatre-style, comedy-drama that plays itself out almost entirely withing four walls (a set that was specially designed by Dreyer’s own fair hands), and is by definition one of the finest, and most enchanting, examples of the “kammerspielfilm” I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing.

The film centres around the Frandsen household, run by Ida Frandsen (played by Astrrid Holm, who some of you may remember as the sweet, terminally-ill, Salvation Army girl in The Phantom Carriage) and her equally sweet and obliging daughter (played by Karin Nellemose); while the tyrannical husband, Viktor (played by Johannes Meyer), requires constant attention and complains about everything. Another dominating presence is that of Viktor’s old wet-nurse, from when he was a child (played masterfully by the matriarchal figure of Danish cinema, Mathilde Nielsen), who pops in occasionally to lend a hand to the over-worked, over-tired, yet ever-smiling Ida. If viewers can get through the first half an hour of watching how appallingly Viktor abuses his wife’s kindness, without being tempted to throw something at the TV screen in frustration, then you’re in for a real treat as the plot takes a sweet turn of events.

Noteworthy is the standard of acting from the entire cast (including the two kids), which is of the highest grade -as we’ve come to expect from a Danish cast- particularly that of Mathilde Nielson, the old wet-nurse, who governs every scene she’s in with the eloquence and sovereignty of a true professional.

Although a seemingly simple concept, the film is nevertheless carefully constructed, merging canny humour with subtle psychological observation. Once again we see the familiar theme of the suffering woman coming to the fore, as was very much en vogue at the time, but it then concludes with Dreyer paying homage to marital happines founded on mutual respect. 8.5/10

Working video link as of 02/01/15

Fear (1917) by Robert Wiene

Conrad Veidt as the Indian High-Priest in Fear (“Furcht”, original title) 1917

.Fear (original title ‘Furcht’) 1917

Director/ Writer: Robert Wiene
Producer: Oskar Messter
Art Direction: Ludwig Kainer
Starring: Conrad Veidt, Bruno Decarli, Bernhard Goetzke, Mechthildis Thein

A rare opportunity here to watch this sought-after Robert Wiene film, Furcht (original title) or Fear (1917) starring Conrad Veidt, online. Not the best quality and a rather short version, nonetheless, not an easy one to find.

The film is about a young scientist’s inner torment, having returned from a long expedition in the east, with a holy statue of the the Buddha which he stole from a sacred temple. Conrad Veidt plays an Indian High-Priest who appears to the young man several times in his dreams (or is it reality??) and warns him that he only has 7 years to live, as punishment for his wicked crime. Upon receiving this news, the young man tries to forget his inner-torment and decides he will go out with a bang, enjoying life to the fullest, before his time is up.

The film is clearly incomplete, and Veidt has a rather minor role. Yet it’s a clear indication which direction Wiene was taking that would eventually lead him to his masterpiece:The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. Visually lacking the same impact Wiene’s later films made, Furcht is nevertheless full of Expressive theatrics provided by the on-screen performances and holds true to the usual jolly themes of despair, inner-torment and insanity, making it more one to watch for the aficionados among you, rather than the casual curious. Working video link as of 02/01/15:

http://video.yandex.ru/users/humus777/view/101

Herr Tartüff (1925). Another feather in Friedrich Wilhelm’s ‘Alpine hat’

Herr Tartüff (1925) movie poste.r

Director: F.W. Murnau
Writers: Molière (play), Carl Mayer (manuscript)
Producer: Erich Pommer
Cinematography: Carl Freund
Score: Giuseppe Becce
Starring: Emil Jannings/Werner Krauss/ Hermann Picha/ Rosa Valetti/ André Mattoni/ Lil Dagover

Finally, I managed to find FW Murnau’s Herr Tartüff (1925) online with ENGLISH SUBS…on YouTube! Below is the link… and here’s what I thought:

Contrary to previous belief, Herr Tartüff isn’t as much a screen adaptation of the comedy stage-play Tartuffe by Molière, but rather a story about a young man who shows his wealthy and decrepit grandfather a film of the Tartuffe tale, to prove a point to the old man. The point the grandson’s trying to make and why he wants to make it, is something best found out for yourselves. There are no philosophical or intellectual statements being made here. Instead Murnau brings us an early example of the story-within-a-story format, which is both hilarious and beguiling. Interestingly, Herr Tartüff was also one of the first films to use the ‘breaking the fourth wall’ technique, where the protagonist talk directly to the audience through the camera, which the grandson does at the beginning of the film. As usual Jannings is sublime in the title-role, which sees him once again making full use of his incredible diversity and natural feel for humour. The more absurd, the more he’s in his element. Watch out for his Benny Hill impression!

Emil (Benny Hill) Jannings and Lil Dagover

 

The rest of the star-studded cast includes Lil Dagover (Destiny/Caligari/Phantom) as Elire; André Mattoni as Sein Enkel/the grandson; Werner Krauss, who’s appeared in almost everything I’ve seen recently (Dr Caligari/ The Joyless Street/ Waxworks/ Shattered/ and Secrets of the Soul, which I’ll be reviewing shortly) as Herr Orgon; and UFA’s resident grumpy old battle-axe, the ever reliable Rosa Valetti, as the housekeeper. I can’t think of a single UFA film made, which featured a café, where Rosa Valetti wasn’t behind the bar with her grimacing look of disapproval.

But the iconic names don’t stop there. As well as being directed by FW Murnau, Carl Mayer was the writer, Karl Freund the cinematographer, and it was produced by Erich Pommer, who was arguably the most important film-producer of the Weimar film industry. Another feather in Friedrich Wilhelm’s ‘Alpine hat’, the superbly filmed Herr Tartüff scores a well deserved 8/10.

UFA’s resident grumpy old battle-axe, the ever reliable Rosa Valetti, and Gramps

Lil Dagover and Emil Jannings, playing a hilarious game of cat and mouse in FW Murnau’s, Tartuffe (Herr Tartuff, original title), 1925.

Working video link as of 02/01/15:

AT ITS PREMIERE THIS FILM STRUCK THE “NERVEN” OF ONE OR TWO MEMBERS OF THE AUDIENCE

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NERVES (1919 )[“Nerven”- original title]

Director/ Writer/ Producer: Robert Reinert
Cinematography: Helmar Lerski
Score: Joachim Bärenz
Starring: Eduard von Winterstein/ Lia Borré/ Erna Morena/ Paul Bender/ Lili Dominici/ Rio Ellbon.

Is there such a thing as too Expressionistic? Well some of the audience at the premiere of the epic German production Nerven (Nerves) by director Robert Reinert in Munich in 1919, seemed to think so. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Reinert’s depiction of a “nervous epidemic” sweeping the nation, and in particular, its effect on one family of industrialists:

“Nerven opened in Munich in 1919. People were hospitalized after watching the movie and one woman, after seeing it, woke up one night, went out on the street in her nightshirt and screamed ‘Now I am going to die! Now I am going to die!’ About Nerven, one recent critic wrote ‘Nerven is a disorienting, highly experimental work. Released in 1919, before The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (early 1920), it might have become a prototype of German Expressionist cinema if it had been widely seen.’ Reinert’s films were not a commercial success, and in 1925 he got a job with UFA, where he worked until his death of a heart attack in 1928”

Robert Reinert’s 1919 movie, Nerves (“Nerven”, original title) opening sequence with half naked young men and graphic violence had some female members of the audience in Munich theatres hospitalized.

It certainly touched a nerve or two with that particular member of the audience. The German Wikipedia also describes how several ‘Münchners’ were driven to insanity after watching the film and eventually the Chief of Police was called to intervene. And not surprising since the film shows extremely graphic imagery of dozens of young German soldiers dying slow and painfully, all piled atop each other in a corpse-ridden battlefield. And all this so soon after the war; it’s no wonder that some mothers in the audience were traumatized. The timing for the release of the film was a little off, to say the least. However I’m pretty sure the producers gloated at the film’s effect on the audience, and used this as a promotional ploy to entice the public into the shocking new world of Expressionist cinema.

It’s easy to imagine, in 1919, Nerven having high appeal to the artistic young followers of the increasingly popular Expressionist cinema á la mode. With highly graphic and stylized imagery, expensively designed sets, full frontal nudity and the usual intellectual themes of despair, insanity, paranoia, and social unrest, it’s no wonder it was described as a ‘prototype’ for future German Expressionist films. Yet above all the visually pleasing aesthetics, it’s the emotionally charged story-line that is most heart wrenching:

“This unique portrait of the life in 1919 Germany,describes people from all levels of society: Factory owner Roloff who looses his mind in view of catastrophies and social disturbances, teacher John who is the hero of the masses and Marja who turns into a radical revolutionary.Released shortly before The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nerven ought to have entered the Expressionist canon. Its themes echo the movement’s post-Romantic attack on capitalism and the modern conception of the anguished soul.”
—David Bordwell (Edition Filmmuseum)

As well as also directing the highly controversial ‘Opium’ (1919), starring Conrad Veidt, Robert Reinert also wrote the screenplay for the über visionary, 6-part epic ‘Homunculus’. A sci-fi horror about artificial life, in the same vein as Metropolis, Der Golem and Frankenstein. If his work is a reflection of his personality, then Reinert must have been an incredibly complex and intense person, and it’s no wonder the poor guy’s heart gave out in the end. Below is a link to good restoration of Nerven. The subtitles are not well translated, but this shouldn’t detract from your enjoyment. But be warned, it’s not for the faint-hearted!

Video link working as of 02/01/15: