Lecture Notes October 4: Expressionist Tehnique in the Context of the Silent Movie: The Modernist Project of Early Silent Film

Category for Film Analysis: photography (realism versus formalism, shots, angles, lightning)

History of Universum-Film AG (Ufa): 1917-1945, main shareholder: Deutsche Bank; connection of its foundation with war effort; principle of team work and construction of studio sets; self-stylization through representative venues (f.e., Ufa-Palast am Zoo, Berlin); principle of exotic subjects and lush decorations: imaginary locations embody relics of pre-industrial society (why? is it shown as idyllic? as claustrophobic?); main directors: Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang, Murnau. All practice deliberate attempt to stay away from open political topics; capitalist principle of destruction (of nature) and reconstruction (of set) is followed; representations of modern technology (affirmative or critical?) coupled with images of pre-modern society; geometric choereography of crowd scenes; first sound film in 1925; Ufa und Hitler: no obvious fascist aesthetics developed but also cooperation with regime.

Summary of elements of expressionist cinema: images of manipulation, critique of authority/submission to authority, representations of female sexuality as dangerous (vampiristic, robotic, etc.): femme fatale versus desexualized mother figure, tendency to psychologize, representations of technology/machine.

Fritz Lang, Metropolis. Universum: Berlin, 1926:

Screenplay: Thea von Harbou; stars include Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Heinrich George

location: futuristic society, urban space, dependence on technology, time structure (10 hours clock), traffic, societal stratification (relation to genre of futuristic science fiction)

religious overtones and symbolism (Christian and pagean)

representations of the great machine (Moloch): affirmative of threatening?

"accidents are unavoidable"

medieval space: Rotwang, the evil scientist (role of memory)

robot: "machine in the image of man that never tires and makes mistakes" (in fact, it is female; why?)

significance of plans (reading texts)

story of the Tower of Babel; moral: no mediator between hand and heart

Maria: robot.mother (absence of biological mother)

role of foreman

ideology of moral: Hans as mediator between brain and heart (v. Harbou)

Background Information: 17 months production time, 36.000 extras, 1,6 mio Mark payroll, architect Otto Hunte constructed miniature models including 300 cars and airplanes that had to be moved by hand for each shot, Schüfftan-technique: through mirroring tricks miniature models are reflected into scene instead of constructing them in the studio (workers' city, stadium, cathedral, Moloch, Tower of Babel, Rotwang's House), the construction of the miniature model for main street took 6 weeks (for 12 minutes of film), robot-masque was made out of woodputty and then sprayed with silver lacquer.

The Internet Source Book for Early German Film: page on Fritz Lang, filmography (in English), bibliography, data on film (in German).

The Metropolis Home Page: screen caps, lost scenes, photographs from films, robot images, city images, information about different versions, reviews

Lotte Eisner, The Haunted Screen: crowd scenes are influences by Erwin Piscator's principle of agglomerating the speaking choruses (Ballung der Sprechchöre): this emphasized man's collectivity and deemphasized individuality; symmetrical choreography of crown scenes (prefiguration of choreography in Riefenstahl and Nazi rallys); crucial role of lightening in creation of robot.