Warning Shadows: German Expressionism and American Film Noir

Janet Bergstrom

in Film Noir

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print November 2014 | ISBN: 9780748691074
Published online May 2015 | e-ISBN: 9781474406420 | DOI:

Series: Traditions in American Cinema EUP

Warning Shadows: German Expressionism and American Film Noir

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When it comes to film noir, German Expressionism stands for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919/1920) and the dark distinctiveness of the best-known films of the Weimar Republic that followed, from 1919 to early 1933, the end of the World War One to the Nazi regime. Many films produced in Germany during that time are far from noir, but memory and viewing availability have been selective. Certain Weimar titles and directors come back again and again in the vast literature on film noir. Noir's inheritance from Weimar cinema has been seen in two different ways: a) resemblances in style, structure and themes, especially a visual language that menaces the characters while seducing the audience; and b) skills and cinematic experiences brought to Hollywood by the flood of émigrés from the German film industry (regardless of national origin) fleeing the Hitler regime during the 1930s -- directors, cinematographers, editors, writers, composers, producers, actors and almost every other trade -- that could be put to new use when the time came. Second generation Expressionists penchant for extreme violence would be sublimated and transformed for the screen, although expressed in understated reaction shots in noir. In the extreme noir phase, the mood and look of Expressionism, whether through German forerunners or American inheritors, was wedded to an eclectic, ever-changing American idiom.

Keywords: Noir; German Expressionism; Fritz Lang; Caligari; Otto Dix; George Grosz; Tourneur; Orson Welles

Chapter.  7986 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Film

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