Silent Film and How Critical Research Paper

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[. . .] A good example of the first movement would be Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." (Blakeney, 2009) Blakeney write that the films' atmosphere and plot are through visual means almost entirely revealed through use of sets that are "wildly abstract and dramatically exaggerated makeup." (Blakeney, 2009) The film is reported to unfold "in an enthralling completely artificial environment where even the movements of the actors echo the distorted angular shapes of their setting." (Blakeney, 2009)

According to Blakeney (2009), Bazin is correct in the statement that films such as the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are "an entirely separate art form. The story is conveyed through the intricate interactions between images, lighting, composition, and movement. If The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was suddenly flooded with sound, its delicate visual poetry would have been destroyed by the harsh invasion of reality. Reality has no place in this hallucinatory world of illusion, its beauty is in its dreamy detachment from the grounded, solid world outside the screen." (Blakeney. 2009)

VII. Religious Themes and Metaphors of Fate and Destiny

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The work of Chehelnabi reports that one aspect of Expressionist films form the 1920s and 1930s were those of religious themes. The German expressionist cinema primarily used Christian and Germanic metaphors of fate and destiny according to Chehelnabi. Chehelnabi additionally states "German paganism coupled with Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity, made for a rich syncretistic mix of religious symbols and themes that were indicative of post-war Europe. Religious themes were foremost in the minds of writers and directors during this time, with the production of classic expressionistic films such as Metropolis, Nosferatu, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari." (Chehelnabi )

Research Paper on Silent Film and How Critical Assignment

European expressionism is reported to have began before the First World War began and originated as a "visual arts movement." (Chehelnabi ) Expressionism is reported to have had a progressive influence on the "disciplines of music, architecture, theatre and finally cinema." (Chehelnabi ) Expressionism was harnessed by German filmmakers " as a cultural force to revive the national after the war." (Chehelnabi ) Dietrich Orlow stated in the work "A History of Modern Germany" that

"a spiritual and cultural regeneration would establish a foundation for Germany's return to greatness" since the Great War had served to "considerably weakened the authority of standard practices and methods in the traditional disciplines of visual arts, architecture, music, and literature, forming a spiritual void in German society. The most pervasive theme in literature was a profound sense of cultural pessimism, which permeated the burgeoning art of cinema. The breakdown of imperial Europe after the Great War was the foundation upon which the expressionist movement flourished. Germany's defeat in the war fuelled the collapse of many social limitations, including the arts. With the abdication of the Kaiser followed the renunciation of the 'sentimental realism' so entrenched in German society during the Wilhelminian years. Expressionistic films of the 1920s and 1930s altered representations of traditional social boundaries." (Chehelnabi )

The German expressionist cinema is such that effectively "harnessed religious and mythological beliefs to generate imaginary worlds." (Chehelnabi ) It is reported that the experience of viewing an expressionistic film during the 1920s and 1930s decade was one that was "immersive" in nature. The first viewing of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is described by Thomas Elsaesser as an overwhelming visual experience. The 1920's and 1930's was the era of silent film, which served to enhance the "allegorical nature of expressionistic films." (Chehelnabi ) Eisner (1952) writes that the expressionist view is that one must detach themselves from nature "and strive to isolate an object's most expressive expression. ON the one hand expressionism represents an extreme form of subjectivism; on the other hand the assertion of an absolute totalitarian self-creating the universe as linked with a dogma entailing the complex abstraction of the individual." (Eisner, 1952) Cracauer (1947) writes that Caligari "mobilizes light. It is a lighting device, which enables the spectators to watch the murder of Alan without seeing it; what they see, on the wall of the student's attic, is the shadow of Cesare stabbing that of Alan. Such devices developed into a specialty of the German studios."

Kaes (1992) writes that familiar objects "could appear strange and threatening in film." The rapid-fire succession of images in film was noted by Walter Benjamin to subject "the viewer to incessant shock. This formal feature corresponds to certain narrative motifs in early films: dangerous chase scenes through big city streets, the sudden confrontation with transgression and violence; and the intrusion of something or someone foreign, inexplicable and threatening into a reality that had previously been comforting and protected." (Kaes, 1992) European films are reported by Kaes to be "peopled with mysterious figures, mad scientists and half-criminal inventors, monsters, vampires and artificial, unnatural human beings, outsiders who disturb the extant inner order and thus must be eliminated according to the narrative logic of these films." (Kaes, 1992)

Eisner notes that it was held by Hermann Warm's formula that "films must be drawings brought to life." ( ) The canvases and draperies of Caligari are reported to have "abounded in complexes of jagged, sharp-pointed forms reminiscent of gothic patterns. Products of a style, which by then had become almost a mannerism, these complexes suggested houses, walls, landscapes. Except for a few slips or concessions -- some backgrounds opposed the pictorial convention in a too direct a manner, while others all but preserved them in the settings amounted to a perfect transformation of material objects into emotional ornaments." (Eisner, ) Eisner reports that lettering "was introduced as an essential element of the settings -- appropriately enough, considering the close relationship between lettering and drawing. In one scene the mad psychiatrists desire to imitate Caligari materializes in jittery characters composing the words "I must become Caligari" -- word that loom before his eyes on the road, in the clouds, in the treetops. " ( )

Eisner writes that the view of Carl Hauptmann "elucidates the expressionist style of Caligari. It had the function of characterizing the phenomena on the screen as a phenomena of the soul -- a function that overshadowed its revolutionary meaning. By making the film an outward projection of psychological events, expressionist staging symbolized -- much more strikingly than did the device of a framing story -- that general retreat into a shell which occurred in postwar Germany." (Eisner, )

Armide's Manifesto held that movies should be both progressive and innovative and instill a vision and as well should be patriotic and convey a spirit of service and contain a sense of truth in the story related. Amid held that film should be such that transcended international boundaries and should be that likened to a part of a language that was universal in nature. Films in the view of Amid should have not only a political message but a conveyance of specific values.

Summary and Conclusion

Expressionism in German films served to convey horror and to relate the experience of the German people as well as providing entertainment that was slightly twisted but conveyed the horror witnessed by the German people during the Great War. The question remains whether the war and its horrors had somehow left the German people somewhat desensitized to horror or if the expressionism in German films was in actuality a method of contesting and protesting their collective experience of the German people during the Great War.


Andre Bazin, "The Evolution of the Language of Cinema," in Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen ed., Film Theory and Criticism (1999)

Andre Bazin, "Umberto D: A Great Work," in What is Cinema?, trans. Hugh Gray, (Berkeley: University of California Press, c1967-71), pp.81-82

Blakeney, K. (2009) An Analysis of Film Critic Andre Bazin's Views on Expressionism and Realism in Film. Student Pulse. Vol. 1 No. 12. Retrieved from:

Bowman, LM. (2011) Horror Film Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Directed by Robert Wiene. Retrieved from:

Chehelnabi, A. (nd) The Holy Gaze of Dr. Caligari. Retrieved from:


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