Chapter Expressionism And Realism In Film Form

1. Like Griffith and Eisenstein, Murnau worked in the theater before he came to the cinema. He began as an actor in Max Reinhardt's theater school, but eventually became more interested in directing. After serving as a flyer in World War I, he came to Berlin and founded a film company. For detailed background on Murnau's early life, theatrical career, and the films he made prior to The Last Laugh, see Lotte Eisner's Murnau (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973).

2. Lotte H. Eisner, The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the German Cinema and the Influence of Max Reinhardt (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), 10.

3. William Nestrick, Film Study Extract: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Mount Vernon, N.Y.: Macmillan Films, 1975), 9-10.

4. Film historians such as David Cook refer to The Last Laugh not as an expressionist film but as a Kammerspiel, a term that translates as "intimate theater" (A History of Narrative Film, 3rd. ed. [New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996], 117). But as Cook and other historians acknowledge, Carl Mayer, the co-scriptwriter of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, wrote the script for The Last Laugh during the height of expressionism and the film retains many expressionist qualities.

5. Many of Murnau's techniques were inspired by the ideas of his cameraman Karl Freund, with whom he closely collaborated.

6. Quoted in Lotte Eisner, Murnau, 65.

7. Because the film has no titles, the identity of this woman is uncertain. Commentators refer to her variously as the doorman's aunt or housekeeper.

8. This title, announcing a totally implausible happy outcome, was tacked on by the studio bosses because they felt the original sad ending in which the doorman finally accepts his defeat was too downbeat for export to American audiences.

9. Lotte Eisner, Murnau, 67.

10. Lotte Eisner, Murnau, 67.

11. High-key lighting evenly illuminates a scene with no dramatic shadows and low contrast between dark and light areas of the shot.

12. Other filmmakers Bazin celebrated for their realist aesthetic include Orson Welles, Jean Renoir, Eric von Stroheim, Yosujiro Ozu, and Vittorio De Sica.

13. André Bazin, What Is Cinema? ed. and trans. Hugh Gray (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967), 13.

14. Rudolph Arnheim, Film As Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 9.

15. V. F. Perkins argues in Film as Film that expressionist conceptions of film art were influenced by the fact that the birth of cinema coincided with the heyday of Postimpressionism in the arts, a period in which descriptive imitations of natural forms were denigrated. Photography's ability to mechanically reproduce images of the world was seen as a limitation that had to be overcome if film were to be taken seriously as high art. See "The Sins of the Pioneers," in Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies (Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1972), 9-27.

18. I noticed this detail for the first time when I viewed the film again before writing this chapter.

19. The shooting ratio of The Adventurer was about 100 to 1. That is, for every one foot of film that showed up in the finished product, he shot one hundred feet of film. My source for these production details was Gerald Mast, The Comic Mind: Comedy and the Movies (Indianapolis, Ind. and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1973), 67.

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Responses

  • berengario fanucci
    What is expressionism in film Gerald Mast?
    8 years ago

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