"Flashback, A Brief History Of Film" quotes that "expressionism emphasized a given artist's emotional,
intensely personal reactions; it was thus in contrast to the traditional view that an artist should strive
faithfully to reproduce the natural appearance of the object or person being painted, sculpted, or written
about." All different definitions of "Expressionism" acquaint it as a theory of art that expresses feelings in an
In film or theater "Expressionism" is a theory in which subjective feeling, rather than objective observation,
is represented symbolically in form (shape, colour, contrast) and subject matter. Expressionism is a symbolic
representation of the artist's state of mind, rather than of events, places, or things. In Germany, it developed
into an anguished style which tended to explore the darker sides of the psyche.
German Expressionist Cinema
The German Expressionist cinema from 1919 to 1933 was a new movie style that revealed a few widely
regarded films. As adapted for film Pam Cook describes expressionism in her Cinema Book as an "extreme
stylization of mise en scene... " and "The stylistic features of German Expressionism are fairly specific and
include chiaroscuro lighting , surrealistic settings and, frequently, a remarkable fluidity of mobile framing."
Flashback adds that German Expressionism "concentrated on a heavy use of light and dark contrasts,
exaggeration, tilted angles, a dream like atmosphere"
"The end of the Fist World War [in 1918], and massive inflation all contributed to an export boom in the
German film industry that began in 1919." "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is generally regarded as the film
which first brought Expressionism to the German cinema." "It is also one of the most typical examples."
However it is "the story of a madman's fantasies filmed with starkly artificial sets made up cardboard
backdrops or painted cubist shadows, which effectively suggested the disorientation of the storyteller's
mind." "We see the world as the hero does. The world of the film is literally a projection of the hero's
Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau (December 28, 1888 – March 11, 1931) was one of the most influential
directors of the silent film era.
He was one of a number of German film directors to take part in the expressionist movement that took root
in German cinema during the 1920s, and he directed a number of movies that were influential and remain
widely seen among film scholars today. Much of Murnau's output from the silent era has been lost, and only
a few of his films are extant; film scholars acknowledge them as masterpieces.
In 1921, when legendary filmmaker F.W. Murnau set about making the first adaptation of Dracula for the
silver screen, he ran into a little snag: Stoker's widow denied permission for her husband's work to be used.
80 years later, it is unclear whether Florence Stoker wanted more money than Murnau was offering or
whether she simply didn't want the movie made, but the director was unfazed by her refusal and went ahead
with the project. His only concessions were to change the names of the characters and to make some minor
plot alterations. However, anyone familiar with Dracula would immediately recognize Nosferatu as a
Unfortunately for Murnau, Stoker's widow made the connection and sued. The eventual decision of the
courts was that all copies of Nosferatu were to be destroyed. Obviously, since the film still exists, this was
not fully implemented. However, it is uncertain whether copies available today contain all of the material
from Murnau's cut.
Nosferatu is often viewed as the poster child of the German expressionist wave of motion pictures. This
movement, of which Murnau's classic is clearly a member, externalizes emotions and relies upon a heavily
theatrical acting style to achieve that aim. Expressionism has many components, including a strong visual
approach and a visceral appeal, but subtlety is not among them. By today's standards, the acting in Nosferatu
is almost comically over-the-top, but, seen in the context within which the film was developed, it was par for
the course. And, even though Murnau is less interested in building characters than he is in exploring themes
and telling a chilling story, we nevertheless develop a sense of sadness where Orlock is concerned. Despite
his horrific appearance, he is very much a tragic figure.
Atmosphere and visual composition represent two of Nosferatu's most prominent features. Murnau carefully
planned every shot in the film - nothing is left to chance, from the placement of a mirror to the point on the
screen in which characters enter and exit a scene. Framing devices like arches (for Orlock) and windows (for
Ellen) are presented repeatedly. Primitive special effects, such as time lapse photography, are used sparingly
but effectively. And certain images, such as one of Orlock's distorted shadow climbing the stairs of Ellen's
house, imprint themselves upon the mind. Nosferatu may not be traditionally frightening, but the result of
Muranu's artistic approach is a pervasive sense of eerieness and unease. And, because the film's visual palette
is so rich, there is much to be discovered on subsequent viewings. Like all great artwork, Nosferatu hides
many of its most striking features from those who sample it casually.
Contrary to popular opinion, the word "nosferatu" does not mean "vampire", "undead", or anything else like
that. The term originally came from the Old Slavonic word nosufur-atu, which itself was derived from the
Greek "nosophoros". "Nosophoros", in the original Greek, stands for "plague carrier". This derivation makes
sense when one considers that amongst western European nations, vampires were regarded as the carriers of