Art Synk

German Expressionism: World War I, Hitchcock & The Scream

Art School, Mar 26, 2022
the scream

Simple forms, brilliant colors, and expressive movement characterizes German expressionism. This movement blossomed in the early twentieth-century, during a time of great turmoil. Understandably this style prioritizes the artist's inner sentiments over replicating a stark reality.

Due to the ongoing World War, this art movement was initially confined to Germany. The government prohibited the import of foreign films in 1916, creating an uptick in domestic film production. With inflation at an all-time high and an uncertain future ahead of them, Germans flocked to the movies. They were not afraid to indulge since they couldn't guarantee that their savings or the world would still exist tomorrow.

das cabinet film still

Distorted Imagery became a hallmark of the movement. The realistic representation of objective reality was rejected by German Expressionist artists, who frequently depicted deformed persons, buildings, and landscapes in a confusing style that ignored perspective and proportion rules. This method was utilized to communicate subjective feelings, together with jagged, stylised forms and harsh, unnatural hues.

Throughout the 1920s, people across Europe experimented with bold, original ideas and creative forms, embracing an enthusiasm for the future. Early Expressionist films made use of set designs with absurdly non-realistic, mathematically preposterous angles, as well as patterns painted on walls and floors to represent lighting, shadows, and objects, in order to compensate for a lack of budgets. Psychosis, insanity, betrayal, and other intellectual difficulties prompted by World War I events were regularly included in Expressionist films' themes and plots as opposed to standard action-adventure and romantic films seen in America. Metropolis and M, two of Fritz Lang's films, are considered the most famous and important films of the movement.


Alfred Hitchcock was influenced by German Expressionism throughout his career. In 1924, he went to Potsdam, near Berlin, to work as the art director for The Blackguard. His expressionistic set designs are clearly influenced by the environment in Germany. Despite his studio's concerns, Hitchcock introduced the British audience to expressionist set designs, lighting techniques, and trick camera work in his third picture, The Lodger. Among his visual experiments was the use of an image of a man walking across a glass floor captured from below to reflect someone pacing above.

With the ongoing pandemic coupled with rising political tensions at home an abroad, an expressionist renaissance is underway. Censorship is on the rise and freedom of speech is hinged on who you are associated with rather than as a human right. The internet has wilted from a shiny new frontier to a contentious place. This is a time for abstraction and conveying your thoughts without saying it explicitly.

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