Essay: Films: Royal Tenenbaums &amp Nosferatu

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[. . .] washington.edu/crmscns/FilmExpressionismHandout.pdf (accessed October 10, 2012).] [15: Gerald Mast and Bruce F. Kawin, A Short History of the Movies, 149.]

In Nosferatu, Murnau manipulates the scenery not through the use of painted backdrops as was demonstrated in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but rather set design and camera angles. Nosferatu's use of realism in terms of landscapes and cityscapes help to add to the horror of the narrative. Because Nosferatu does not use painted or fantasy backgrounds, distortion is created through set design. For example, when Thomas Hutter sits down to eat at Count Orlock's castle shortly after meeting him, perception is altered through the use of long or tall objects, such as the high-backed chairs, or even Count Orlock himself. By continuously playing with dimensions, Murnau creates a sense of unease. Furthermore, this unease is heightened through the use of exaggerated camera angles -- low, high, and skewed -- which add to the running element of distortion. The film's unnatural decor extends to the "painted shadows on streets and stairs; the irregular; the exaggerated heights of the furniture; [and] the boldly painted make-up."[footnoteRef:16] [16: Gerald Mast and Bruce F. Kawin, A Short History of the Movies, 151.]

Distortion is also evident in costume design. For instance, Knock and Count Orlock have exaggerated features and nefarious costuming. Knock's image thus establishes that he cannot be trusted and that he has ulterior motives; by making Knock's costuming similar to that of Count Orlock it is established that the two characters have a similar mission and may even be working together. Furthermore, Knock's disheveled appearance insinuates that that he is not only physically disheveled, but also psychologically disheveled. On the other hand, Count Orlock is not presented as a disheveled character, but rather is given sinister features that reflect his nature; he has pointed ears, long and sharp fingers, and sharp, pointed teeth. Count Orlock's mannerisms further insinuate that he is not to be trusted.

Lighting in Nosferatu is used to emphasize the supernatural and evil that is attributed to Count Orlock. By focusing on Count Orlock through the shadows that he casts against walls, through the use of chiaroscuro, and more particularly during the scene when Count Orlock's shadow is seen ascending a set of stairs, Murnau again plays with perception and distortion. By not showing Count Orlock in these instances, the audience is led to believe that Count Orlock is an evil spirit that preys upon innocent peoples. Moreover, by casting shadows, the audience is free to imagine to what extent Count Orlock is evil. Harsh lighting in Nosferatu is intended to challenge the viewer's established perceptions; Murnau depends on an individual's fear of the unknown over their fear of the known to further the film's plot.

Symbolism within Nosferatu is shown through the juxtaposition of Hutter's world and Count Orlock's world. Murnau is able to distinguish between the natural and supernatural world through "the use of negative film and single-frame exposure."[footnoteRef:17] While Hutter's world appears to be idyllic, Count Orlock's influence slowly seeps into it through Knock, who is an unreliable character and who is also seen holding a suspicious document. Hutter's world, Wisborg, is representative of good and innocence; this good and innocence can also be seen through Ellen Hutter, who inadvertently becomes the damsel in distress and object of Count Orlock's attention. On the other hand, Count Orlock's world is highly distorted and more fantastical than Hutter's world. While Hutter's world appears to be shown in a brighter light, Orlock's world is darker; this is further emphasized by the contention that Orlock cannot be exposed to light; it is later demonstrated that exposure to light will kill Count Orlock. Additionally, Count Orlock's malevolent presence in Wisborg brings about many unexplained deaths, thus making Count Orlock a symbol of death and destruction. [17: Gerald Mast and Bruce F. Kawin, A Short History of the Movies, 158.]

The anxiety that was created through the use of mise-en-scene, lighting, camera angles, and symbolism transcended the German Expressionist movement. By incorporating unrealistic sets, playing with light and shadows (chiaroscuro), integrating camera techniques and angles to heighten distortion, and analyzing and manipulating characters psychologically, German Expressionism laid the foundation for future film genres including horror and film noir, and inspired directors such as Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock to push the boundaries established by the German Expressionist movement.

Bibliography

"German Expressionism in Film." PDF. University of Washington,

http://courses.washington.edu/crmscns/FilmExpressionismHandout.pdf

Mast, Gerald and Bruce F. Kawin. A Short History of the Movies. 8th Edition. New York: AB

Longman, 2003.

Nosferatu. Netflix Instant Streaming. Directed by F.W. Murnau. Germany: Film Arts Guild,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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