The aesthetic movement of Expressionism gained prominence during the early twentieth century, and had a profound impact on the arts - especially theater, painting, sculpture, and film. Expressionism was particularly popular between 1910 and 1920, and the movement ushered in a rebellion against the established Impressionist style that had previously dominated the fine arts. Whereas Impressionism concentrated on the artist's interpretation of a given subject, Expressionism was rooted in the artist's own state of mind or vision. Expressionists infused their subjects with a rich emotional quality through a concentration of systematized symbols.
The movement was largely inspired by Nietzsche's philosophy of art, which held that the artistic impulse inspired a wondrous vitality - a reawakening of the senses - in the artist himself. In other words, the artist breathes in the basic gestures of creation, which are then expressed in his work. Developed during a period of history that saw Germany undergo severe social, political, and economic dislocation following the country's defeat in World War I, German Expressionism conveyed a feeling of chaos through the usage of darkly violent images that reflected the state of mind of both the artist and society in general. Art became an action, and the human gestures being portrayed became a reflection of the artist's personality and sensibility. The artist's medium was thus transformed into a vehicle for social and political critique. The works were driven by activist impulses and colored by the emotional registers of the revolutionary spirit.
While Expressionist painters were predominantly inspired by Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin, and thus paid special attention to color and symbolism and employed exaggerated imagery, German Expressionism focused on the more sinister aspects of the human psyche. German Expressionism conveyed a feeling of darkness, eccentricity, madness, paranoia, and obsession. German Expressionists often focused on the criminal underworld, infusing their works with a surreal, eerie atmosphere, anti-heroic characters, and elements of evil and betrayal. They also utilized geometric shapes, and often examined the contrast between the city and the country. They did not aim to offer a realistic portrayal of the world, but rather strove to elicit a powerful, authentic emotional response from their audiences. Deliberately dream-like, their images were filled with distorted lines and shapes, and often included intensely sexual - even orgiastic - scenes.
As an art student, Friedrich Duerrenmatt, to the dismay of his teachers, rebelled against the Impressionist establishment and began painting in the German Expressionist style. Early in his career, he exhibited a tendency towards insubordination - a proclivity that can also be seen in The Visit, which receives the full brunt of his political and social critique of Swiss neutrality during World War II. In The Visit, Duerrenmatt also critiques capitalism using dramatic gestures and visual techniques that are highly reminiscent of German Expressionist art. The Black Panther, the character of Louisa, and the four citizens who constantly change into trees and back again are particularly reminiscent of German Expressionist works.
The film The Cabinet by Dr. Caligari by Robert Wiene (1919) was designed in an expressionist style. Expressionism was an avant-garde that began in paintings between the years 1898 to 1905. Expressionism was taken up in theatre, literature, architecture until eventually it was taken up on film by Robert Wiene in 1919.The expressionist style of Cligari was advanced by three designers by the names Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Rogrig. This film by Robert Wiene expresses the viewpoint of a madman whose vision is the projection of the movie.
Expressionism is an art movement with its roots dating back to the French impressionism and it has the characteristics originating from it in the end of the 19th century. Both the leading post-impressionists and the pre-expressionist innovators such as Edvard Munch all clearly had a direct persuasion on the initial German expressionists. German expressionism had already begun before the beginning of the Brücke (“Bridge”) group in Dresden in 1905 although; it was until 1911 that the group became associated with German expressionism.
The group Brücke did not stick to any programmatic artistic doctrines but it led to the development of definite traits and tendencies that shows their inclination towards expressionism. These young artists of the Brücke came up with new vibrant art that was real and energetic, and not associated with forces of traditional art free of the stifling forces associated with the traditional art world. The artists of the Brücke tried to regenerate the pleasant atmosphere of late-nineteenth-century works of art.
Expressionism in art went on to establish itself as dynamic force in the art world until its decline during the years of the world war one. Most expressionist artists and writers were killed during these wars leading to their reduction in numbers throughout the world. There was also the problem of contradictions between the aesthetic theory and social practice of many leading expressionists. This led to the movement’s quick disappearance after 1916. As much as they were no more from this point in time, they had left a lasting mark in areas of modern culture. The two leading expressionist artists, Marc and Macke had been killed in the world war one bringing an end to their lyrical talents that helped define the modern art. Through their work we were able to use expressionism to convey political messages meant to bring revolutionary change to the society.
In the film, expressionism is a stylization that summarizes and changes reality as we see it through a number of ways. It involves the use of photography with unexpected camera angles and little movements to the camera. The lighting made with shadow to bring out various effects. There is the use of overtly theatrical acting styles and application of heavy make up on the actors. All elements of mise-en-scene in the film are integrated to come up with an overall composition.
The main aim of these expressions was mainly to abstract from realistic parts of the film. It also had the mission to show out the real meaning of an object or situation. It was also used to communicate a subjective viewpoint of the film. The other functions were to invoke mystery, bring out disharmony, hallucination and destabilization to the film in general.
This film was a great piece of art applying the use of expressionism to convey its geopolitical message to the audience. The Cabinet by Dr. Caligri was based on the premise that film develops into an art to a point where the images used in the film is different from the reality. From this interpretation, the use of expressionism would be used by so many other film makers from them henceforth. The film was a great success as it is still regarded as one of the most influential films of all time.
Happening during a turbulent and hard episode in German history, these talented moviemakers ventured in the admired zeitgeist and developed an important film that has grown to become one of the best ever produced. This film is on its way is an enlightening appearance of the society at a particular point in history. It had the effect of showing the disillusionment, lack of trust isolation that was common in the German society during this time.
The film was a major success applying the work of early expressionists to come up with a stunning result. This led to several other films being produced due to the success of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The film acted as an artistic way to convey social and political messages that could not be conveyed through proper channels as at that time.
Adkinson, R V, Robert Wiene, Carl Mayer, and Hans Janowitz. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: A Film by Robert Wiene, Carl Mayer, and Hans Janowitz : English Translation and Description of Action. London: Lorrimer, 1984. Print.
Roberts, Ian. German Expressionist Cinema: The World of Light and Shadow. London: Wallflower Press, 2008. Print.
Wiene, Robert, Werner Krauss, and Conrad Veidt. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. North Hollywood, CA: Hollywood Select Video, 1995.