Since the beginning of the 19th century up to date, German expressionism has continually been portrayed in cinema, especially through horror movies. German expressionism in films encompasses dreams, provocations, unreality, and psychoanalysis (Strozykowski 1). These are the elements, whose use has been transferred from art to films and their application is evident today. Movies such as Dario Argento’s Suspiria, Tim Burton’s Batman Returns, and Darren Aronotsky’s Black Swan have all been influenced by German expressionism.
In the movie Suspiria by Dario Argento, all its frames take the look of a nightmarish painting. As Smith points out, Argento drew his inspiration from a collection of horrific movies such as the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The final product is a mixture of primary colors, which brings out an atmosphere of strange silence that provokes fear in the viewers. The language track, followed by the movies, reveals scenarios that clearly bring out the difference between realities and dreams (Dario Argento's Opera 1).
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As Smith points out, Argento confirmed in an interview that he was driven by German expressionism. The movie starts with the character Jessica Harper, who acted as Suzy, moving from New York to Freiburg, where she attends Tanzakademie, a school which was full of witchcraft and black magic. Despite the fact that Suzy is a new comer in the school, it does not take her long to get convinced that the teachers were witches, which came out to be true.
According to Smith, the movie uses soundtrack that gives it a salient atmosphere that provokes fear and feeling of unreality in the viewers. Goblin, the soundtrack that was used in the movie, gives it a mixture of silence and noise with chanting and screeching voices, alternated with pounding heartbeat drums that give the movie a feeling of unreality. Suspiria is a movie that has used characters, scenes, soundtracks, and other aspects in clearly portraying German expressionism such as unreality, dreams, and psychoanalysis (Smith 1).
Tim Burton’s film, Batman Returns has been described as a modern movie that has attempted to capture the aspect of German expressionism. The movie uses buildings with angular designs and Gotham city squares, which look extremely severe. Burton’s influences have been clearly portrayed through his fairy tale suburban landscape in Edward Scissorhands. The suburb in the movie is candy-colored, which casts degree of unease and tension that builds fear in the viewers (Digital Film Archive 1).
Burton adds more tension in the movie through the use of Edwards’ gothic castle, which was hovering above the houses. The movie uses Caligari as the main character who clearly brings out German expressionism through creating unreality. It is also reported that Burton was influenced by various silent films and German expressionism in choosing the background music for his movie. He said in an interview that Batman Returns movie can be described as a silent film with music.
According to a report on the influence of German expressionism, the movie is one of the best examples of the movies that have been influenced by German expressionism. Burton has effectively used a setting, characters, background music, and other aspect that have brought a horror movie full of unreality, provocations and psychoanalysis (Digital Film Archive 2). All these are the aspects that make up German expressionism.
Black Swan is another horrific movie that has been influenced by German expressionism of dreams and unreality. The movie uses a main character Nina, who is a perfect dancer in the theater world. According to Baker, Nina is tested by her manager, Thomas Leroy so as to achieve the duality of her role. The company Nina works for employs Lily, the latest dancer, who has the intentions to undermine and finally eliminate Nina.
Nina’s mother, Erica is determined to live her dreams through the success of her daughter as a dancer but, at the same time, she is jealous of her success. Erica shelters her daughter to a point of admiring her image. Nina’s mother spends most of her time painting, and she has painted Nina in almost all her works. However, whenever Nina looks at the paintings, they seem to be moving. This builds fear in the viewers and, at the same time, brings out an aspect of German expressionism, unreality.
The characters, surrounding Nina, are shadows of her. This portrays the internal tension and struggle that Nina is facing to become the black swan. Lily, on the other hand, is determined to become the black swan, and this imposes anger and jealousy in Nina. Lily uses her sexual powers and beauty through exposing her back, which was marked with black wings and tattoos. On the other hand, Nina always hides her scratches, using a white shawl.
The movie has a clear theme of duality. The swan lake has a metaphor that requires a dancer to be the white swan and, at the same time, the black swan. Nina’s alienation from her body is a clear illustration of psychoanalysis as an aspect of German expressionism. The movie portrays Nina as a person with so much control over her physical body but with no control of her sensuality.
The movie uses a mirror motif throughout the film, so as to separate characters visually and build tension. The movie is full of hallucinations and horrific scenes that give it an aspect of unreality. Nina, sometimes, transforms on stage, which builds fear in the viewers. Nina is struggling to become the black swan, which has a character opposite to the white swan. The movie ends with Nina, having killed Lily, and, hence, she transforms from being the white swan to a black swan. However, by killing Lily, she has killed a part of her, since she represented both the two swans.
The Black Swan, though an entertaining horror movie for many people, is not a movie for everyone. This is because the unreality and fear that unfolds through the character Nina is not tolerable by some people. This shows that Darren had effectively incorporated almost all aspects of German expressionism in his movie. Nina has been described by many as a character, who was perfect in portraying the theme of duality and has given the movie an atmosphere of unreality, psychoanalysis, and provocations (Baker 1).
Through the analysis of these few movies, it is abundantly clear that German expressionism has continued to influence cinema up to date. German expressionism encompasses aspects such as dreams, provocations, unreality, and psychoanalysis among others. Almost all horror movies are characterized by these aspects. Suspiria uses the character Suzy to bring out these aspects. The Batman Returns movie uses Caligari and the Black Swan movie uses Nina to show its influence by German expressionism. The aspect of German expressionism in these films is what instills fear and tension in viewers and this makes them enthralling and horrific.
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