German Expressionism: From Horror to Film Noir

Course Dates: 03/06/23
Time: 10:30 - 16:30
Location: Keeley Street
German Expressionism influenced Hollywood horror after itself being influenced by early Swedish Nordic noir. Along with F.W. Murnau and Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang was one of the key figures of German Expressionist cinema. Their influence crossed borders and is alive today in cinema tropes, camera techniques and narrative themes still used by filmmakers, game designers and artists. Their films changed moviemaking forever as directors and set designers created a nightmare environment of unnatural perspectives and distorted images in early films such as Nosferatu (1922 F.W. Murnau), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919 Robert Weine), and Metropolis (1927 Fritz Lang) which led to Dracula (1931 Tod Browning), Spellbound (1945 Alfred Hitchcock) and Blade Runner (1982 Ridley Scott). American pulp fiction shaded this into film noir in The Killers (1946 Robert Siodmak) and Double Indemnity (1944 Billy Wilder), films created by directors who had fled the land of German Expression. It had come full circle.
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Full fee £59.00 Senior fee £47.00 Concession £38.00

Course Code: HF301

Sat, day, 03 Jun - 03 Jun '23

Duration: 1 session

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What is the course about?

Dracula (1931)—descended from Nosferatu (1922)—introduced sound to the Universal horror film, with visuals by Karl Freund. Recently arrived from Germany, he had given the look to The Last Laugh (1924 F.W. Murnau) and Metropolis (1927 Fritz Lang). These were landmarks in fluid storytelling and in camera movements through elaborate sets by using depth in the frame. Also shaping these films was screenwriter Carl Mayer’s naturalistic style, often to stunning effect. The sets are seen cinematically instead of stage sets so there are spaces beyond and within spaces. “I've always believed that you can tell as much visually as you can with words. That's what I learned from the Germans.” - Alfred Hitchcock.

What will we cover?

During WW1, Germany lost its supply of British, French and American films and the only imports were from neutral Sweden and Denmark, for example, The Phantom Chariot (1921 Victor Sjostrom). This film led to German Expressionism – shadowy and surreal, chiaroscuro lighting, grotesque characters and nightmarish sets – reflecting a fractured German spirit in a dark mirror. This very particular and local expression led to a cinema that abandoned realism in favour of a distorted reality expressing subconscious feelings and ideas: the theme of the human soul in search of itself provided a succession of haunting visual images: Caligari’s early Expressionism (1919) was mainly graphic but Nosferatu’s (1922) is purely cinematic, relying on camera angles, lighting and editing rather than set design. Macabre films of a threatening past or future.
Film noir of the 1940s/50s similarly reflects the anxieties of a population that endured years of warfare, though largely inspired by the hard-boiled fiction of the 1930’s Depression. Murder, sex, money and betrayal, and low-production values cast a light on the darker aspects of human nature and the unfairness of the fates, as well as the trauma of WWII, when women entered the labour market. Film noir’s femme fatale trope attempted to demonise this dangerously independent woman. Meanwhile, the loner male – private detectives, insurance investigators, raging boxers – represent the pessimism, paranoia and fatalism of men battling changing gender roles and their place in society. They're often adrift, morally compromised and inevitably doomed. What’s not to like!

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

- Describe how cinema developed technically, culturally, nationally and internationally.
- Distinguish national film movements and cycles such as German Expressionism and Film Noir.
- Distinguish key Expressionist and Noir films across the whole of cinema.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

This is a course for those interested in cinema. No previous experience or film study is necessary but those who have done previous study will find it well-informed and genuinely educational.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Opening lecture illustrated by film clips followed by group discussions and screenings. No outside work necessary (although going out to the cinema would benefit you, the class and the film industry).

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

No other costs. Please bring pad or device for note taking.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Look for other film courses at, history & writing/Film Studies.

John Wischmeyer

John Wischmeyer (MA in Film Theory) set up, ran and programmed his own cinema in West London and has since taught film studies at the former Gainsborough studio, the BFI and City Lit since 1999, Hitchcock’s centenary year. John has covered a wide range film topics under the banner ‘Cinema Investigates America’ and has a particular interest in and considerable knowledge of Hitchcock, Hollywood studios, American independent cinema and film noir, film technique and style.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.