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German expressionism – mutual influence of film and print


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Ramljak Purgar, Mirela. (2017). German expressionism – mutual influence of film and print. PhD Thesis. Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Department of Comparative Literature.
(Poslijediplomski doktorski studij književnosti, izvedbenih umjetnosti, filma i kulture) [mentor Gilić, Nikica and Kovač, Leonida].

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The research entitled “German expressionism – mutual influence of film and print” is an endeavour to explain the possible influence of, first, film on prints and graphic art (stemming from the origins of film and of Expressionist graphic art coming at approximately the same time), using the example of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, and secondly, of graphic art on film. This part of the research was primarily prompted by a legend of the exclamation of one of the set designers of the film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919), Hermann Warm, that “film has to become graphic art”. The period of time that we deal with derives from these reciprocal influences: from the end of the 19th century (although we shall also analyse phenomena from the first half of the 19th century that will essentially contribute to the origins of the “multimedia observer”, according to John Fullerton [1999]) to the end of the second decade of the 20th century. Discussed in the first part is the influence of film on graphic art, for by comparative analysis we arrived at crucial concepts for the early theory of cinema as well as for graphic art theory (contemporary to Kirchner as well as that produced in the 1960s), that is, via the concepts of movement, mobility and vitality. In part two we have endeavoured to include an example of the graphic art of E. L. Kirchner already discussed in the first part into the comparative material, and to bring back into the discussion an example earlier excluded from it (Siegfried Kracauer); from this point of view we have analysed the graphic art of Lyonel Feininger and concluded that there is a possible influence according to the criteria of deformation and anthropomorphisation. One of the conclusions arrived at in part one concerns the function of the woodcut in mediating filmicity (the presence of movement in the corresponding medium – film), i.e., deformation: the attempt at the representation of movement is transferred from film into the pictorial medium of the woodcut. Speaking to this is Kirchner’s testimony in his diary entries and correspondence, almost all of which are quoted by authors who have written about his woodcuts and the problem of movement. Kirchner himself writes about the surface, the relations between forms and the inseparable detail, when he analyses his drawings, and about the problem of “strong and final” (fest und endgültig) and deformation (verzerrt, Deformationen) in his own graphic work (chapter 4). This takes us to the conclusion about correlating the print (the woodcut) with film, on the basis of the movement that is a motif of representation that is common to them. Chapter two of part one actually explains the differences between the concepts of “mobility” (Bewegtheit) and “motion” (Bewegung), that is, in that the first means a theoretical engagement with the problem of deformation, as a consequence (as we conclude) of dealing with the representation of movement, while the presence of the concept of movement means a thematisaton that, as witnessed to by Kirchner’s colleague Erich Heckel, was dominant in Kirchner. Liveliness (Lebendigkeit) was, apart from having a direct influence on the worldview and the actual technique of printmaking of the Brücke group, as Heckel informs us, crucially important for Kirchner: liveliness is at once thematisation of everyday life and a formal-vital property of art. Kirchner proved his connection with cinema only in the 1920s in letters: then he wrote about his concrete experiences as observer, as well as of the importance for him of visual impressions more widely understood – advertisements, dance and film. The earliest film theories tell (chapter three; references were taken from book Geschichte der Filmtheorie, edited by Helmut H. Diederichs) of the documentary film, the film of nature, but here already or particularly in this part of the theory movement, liveliness and image are discussed. In these earliest examples (1907, 1908, A. Günsberg, H. Häfker) theorists were to emphasise the relation of inner and outer, which in later texts, from a different angle, either that of the director or that of the actor, was analysed by Urban Gad, Germaine Dulac and Béla Balázs. By the end of the decade, theorists like Gustav Melcher and Maximilian Rapsilber were writing about the image as the basis of artistic representation, that is, about the procedures of clarity and montage as achievements of “a bit of bodily life” (ein Stück leibhaftigen Lebens). To the analogousness of the inner and the outer, in 1913 Hermann Häfker added the interesting phrase of translating the seen into the cinematographic, the so-called greater clarity comparable with Kirchner’s requirement of “clear graphic structure” (klares graphisches Gestalten), which, however, has in him very different consequences. It has, namely, to be in accord with powerful expression, not with some art-for-art’s-sake unhindered continuity of images by which any sudden or diagonal movements within the cinematic image are avoided. Movement, flatness, tense action and uncommon speed are analysed from the aspect of film as independent artistic form by Herbert Tannenbaum in 1912. He was followed by Joseph Aug. Lux, writing about the “most lively possible exchange of images” (Bildern von möglichst reichem lebendigem Wechsel) while Paul Lenz spoke in almost identical words – the “greatest possible change” (grösste Abwechslung). Like Gad and Balázs later, Walter Thieleman too in 1913 was to write about empathic identification, with reference to the actor’s movements, conveying with his body the state of the spirit “moved with his own interior” (aus dem mitbewegten eigenen Innern) while Herbert Tannenbaum would pick out the adjustment of acting as a manifestation of the movement “to the level of the image” (in der Bildebene). The concepts movement and life are at base theories of the visual idea of Germaine Dulac (1926), serving the art of the eye, counting on our feeling and thinking. In a torrent of words, Béla Balázs describes a vividly initiated gesture and physiognomic expression (physiognomischer Ausdruck) when it is acting that is concerned; when he writes about montage however he uses the phrase “image direction” (Bilderführung) by which he defines the relation of rhythm and atmosphere: the “movement of life” (die Bewegung des Lebens) links together the visible and the, to the ordinary eye, invisible. Also theorising about the “densest life” (das dichteste Leben), invisible to the eye, in connection with the problem of montage is Vsevolod Pudovkin, 1926: on the other hand is the artificiality of sticking frames. In the same chapter, the third, we recall the history of film (Kristin Thompson, David Bordwell, 2003; Ante Peterlić, 2008; David A. Cook, 1990) and corresponding references to the concepts of movement and liveliness: it turns out that these concepts are inseparable from the history of the medium, not only because the film originated in the recording of motion, after experimental attempts at breaking movements down into its component parts, but because the procedures of shooting with a camera and later – editing, involve the abridgement of the duration of time, that is, of movement. At the same time when the most vigorous theoretical and critical engagement with film was going on (in Germany), E. L. Kirchner in 1914 produced his paradigmatic prints – woodcut and coloured woodcut –Women in Potsdam Square (Frauen am Potsdamer Platz) (after the painting Potsdam Square (Potsdamer Platz)) (chapter five). Not only would it continue with complex spatial approaches including both geometrical composition and superimposition of spaces, as stated by Donald E. Gordon (1968), but also in these works there is an inverted perspective, and the suggestion of shooting with a camera, shooting through a lens (inside the category of sharpening the focus), and temporal extension of apparent momentariness and simultaneity, features that we observed when looking at pictures that preceded Potsdam Square reaching their culminating in the painting and in prints. We have also analysed other woodcuts with the same themes, Berlin street scenes, and noted the presence of “naturalness” of the procedure (the sense of naturalness, Janet Bergstrom, 1990.), i.e., the apparently accidental ingress into the space of the image (and of the observer) of a figure at the edge of the depiction, of the kind seen in the films of Asta Nielsen. The hatching on the woodcut Women makes out of the woodcut a unit that functions as a formalisation of time (the lower hatching as suggestion of finitude, the upper as leading outside the space of the image) and as link with all other formal determinations of the woodcut: the hatching develops into a unit of measurement of spatial relations. In an analogy with Arnheim’s theorising about the simultaneous flatness and spatiality of the film image, and of movement that can only partially be implemented, the print Women at Potsdam Square is a conceptualisation of this paradigm. We see equally in this woodcut the ambivalence proper to the stereoscope, ambivalent to the seen (Rudolf Arnheim: spatial clarity; Jonathan Crary; instability of space). By adopting the interpretation of Janet Bergstrom, in the sense of embodying internal conflict in the acting of Asta Nielsen we have identified an analogy between the film Girl without a Homeland (Mädchen ohne Vaterland) (1912) and Kirchner’s picture Street (Die Strasse) (1913): the flatness of the scene is identical and repeats in formal terms the scene of the separation of the actions of the male and female characters in the scene. On the other hand, in the interpretation of Heide Schlüpmann (1996) the female character in the film Downfall (Afgrunden) is located in a double spatial position – that with respect to the audience of the film and that with respect to the audience within the film: the character is dynamic and invokes the phenomenon of the articulation of real life. The character in Kirchner’s picture Potsdam Square with the dark blue dress recalls the figure from Downfall, while, on the other hand, in the woodcut of Women, the dominant female figure grows in her static being, in her anchorage in the hatching, in her orientation to the mover of the action – the male figure, producing a complex play of looks – the observer with respect to the female figure, the female figure with respect to the external space of the depiction, the look of the male figure to the right. In the text of the second part, devoted to an attempt to demonstrate the influence of the print on the film, using the example of the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari) (1919), we have compared the texts of the set designers (Hermann Warm; Walter Reimann) with the texts of theorists (Rudolf Kurtz (1926), Lotte H. Eisner (1980/1955), Kitty Vincke (1997)), that is, we have correlated it with the text used in her review by Lotte H. Eisner. The book Abstraction and Empathy of 1908 (W. Worringer), is not only the foundation of her approach to Caligari but also of our approach to an analysis of Warm’s drawings with which in 1963 he reconstructed the set designs for the film. We conclude that the so-called Northern Gothic ornament is at once an expression and an abstraction, the so called expressive abstraction, pursuant to our possible cognition of the sense and value of Warm’s and Reimann’s set designs. In the case of Warm, of course, one has to bear in mind that we are dealing with reconstructions, and in a comparative analysis we note, on the one hand, the influence of Reimann, while on the other there are the simultaneous similarities and differences vis-à-vis the film excerpts. We provide a review of Reimann’s text of 1926, in which he mentions in conjunction with the film image the “dramatic-lively characteristic” (dramatisch-lebendige Eigenart) contained in the “mobility” (Beweglichkeit), deriving not from the sets in the background but from the “feeling” (das gefühlsmässige) produced by these images. This differs from Warm (1970), who gave the sets priority, just as did Dietrich Scheunemann in 1997, calling it the main avant-garde contribution to the film. Concepts such as mobility, liveliness and feeling are fundamental, according to Kirchner’s correspondence and his treatise Die Arbeit of 1925/26, just as Vincke (1997) mentions graphic linearity, the transformation of the “film image” (das Film-Bild zur Graphik wandeln) into “graphic art” and one of Reimann’s drawings contains “graphic quality” (in ihrer graphischen Qualität) that recalls “Expressionist woodcuts”. The criterion is, then, the Expressionist woodcut. Thus we have endeavoured, drawing on Worringer and the theory of ornament, to “borrow” from Kirchner’s Female Nude with Black Hat (Der Akt mit schwarzem Hut) (1911/13) the spatial ambivalence, constructed with mimetic objects and abstract ornamentation in the background of the actual nude, in order to explain the procedure of combining ornament and mimetically presented objects in the scenographic interiors and exteriors of film. We have also drawn on the appropriate examples of woodcuts of Lyonel Feininger of 1918 and 1919, and correlated some of them with film scenes: the denuded trees, the anthropomorphisation of objects and deformation also relate these examples to scenes from films. “Film gets influenced, but film also does the influencing”, wrote Ante Peterlić in his History of Cinema. We have attempted in this research to relate to this claim.

Item Type: PhD Thesis
Uncontrolled Keywords: expressionism, graphic art, woodcut, film, expressionist film, movement, mobility, liveliness, deformation, modernism
Subjects: Comparative literature
History of art
Departments: Department of Comparative Literature
Supervisor: Gilić, Nikica and Kovač, Leonida
Additional Information: Poslijediplomski doktorski studij književnosti, izvedbenih umjetnosti, filma i kulture
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2018 13:25
Last Modified: 31 Dec 2018 00:15

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