[Editor's Note: This video essay, a collaboration by Press Play and No Film School, will be the first in a series on different film movements, their histories, and their enduring influence. Familiarity with movements of the past is crucial to understanding of current cinematic trends. The following introduction was written by Max Winter, editor of Press Play.]

There are few film movements which have traveled quite as far as German Expressionism. It was born out of the ferment of post-WWI Europe, where the last notes of fin-de-siecle decadence clashed with the yearning for the constructive change modernity could bring as the world clambered out of the wreckage of battle.

The darkness and intensity of these films was what literary critics might call an objective correlative for the general mood of Germany—but perhaps more broadly the mood of a continent, or even a planet. It’s all there: the shadows representing dread, as well the bursts of light which, rather than bringing positivity or hope, merely cast the darkness into greater relief. 

And so the movement has persisted, in the work of Tim Burton most notably, but elsewhere, too: directors from Guillermo del Toro to Ridley Scott could be said to have benefited from this movement’s influence. Tyler Knudsen’s video essay, the first in new a series, zips us through the history of this movement with admirable efficiency: watch, and you may see the darker side of many of your favorite movies reflected in the depths of such early films as Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu, or Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse the Gambler

Movies referenced

  • Pan’s Labyrinth (2006 dir. Guillermo del Toro
  • Edward Scissorhands (1990 dir. Tim Burton) 
  • Batman Returns (1992 dir. Tim Burton) 
  • Metropolis (1927 dir. Fritz Lang) 
  • Nosferatu (1922 dir. F. W. Murnau) 
  • The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1921 dir. Robert Wiene) 
  • The Scream by Edvard Munch (Painting) 
  • The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (Novella) 
  • Pandora’s Box (1929 dir. G. W. Pabst) 
  • Faust (1926 dir. F. W. Murnau) 
  • The Crow (1994 dir. Alex Proyas) 
  • Blade Runner (1982 dir. Ridley Scott)
  • M (1931 dir. Fritz Lang) 
  • Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1927 dir. Fritz Lang) 
  • The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933 dir. Fritz Lang, René Sti) 
  • The Third Man (1949 dir. Carol Reed) 
  • Frankenstein (1931 dir. James Whale) 
  • Vertigo (1958 dir. Alfred Hitchcock)