EXPRESSIONISM comes from latin – EXPRESSIO, the ‘expression’. before WWI it was a development in style that was mainly aimed against naturalism and impressionism. expressionism became the ART of ENHANCED EXPRESSION.
the characteristics of expressionism in film were painted- instead of built-sets, as well as distorted perspectives and high contrast in lights and darks. inspired by paintings and some theatre experiments like MAX REINHARDT at the deutsches theater in berlin, a few directors tried to come up with similar solutions for film after WWI. grotesque phantastic worlds were shown as a mirror of psychic nightmares. budgets in german and austrian films were not comparable to hollywood, and alone for that reason, the producers tried to compensate the missing technology and expensive set-designs in different ways. the art in those days was willing to experiment everywhere, what was leading in film as well to radikal new solutions.
famous examples are robert wiene’s DAS KABINETT DES DR.CALIGARI 1919, friedrich wilhelm murnau’s NOSFERATU 1921, paul wegener’s DER GOLEM 1920, karl grune’s DIE STRASSE 1923, fritz lang’s DR.MABUSE DER SPIELER 1922, and georg wilhelm pabst’s DIE FREUDLOSE GASSE 1925. the expressionist silent film featured very prominent actors, like GRETA GARBO, CONRADT VEIDT, POLA NEGRI, FRITZ KORTNER, ASTA NIELSEN and WERNER KRAUSS and became a major style influence in international film in its time.
later especially two film genres were influenced by german expressionistic film – HORROR FILM and FILM NOIR.