must be at least 1/2 pageExplain the aesthetic innovations of German ExpressionismDescribe the historical condit

must be at least 1/2 pageExplain the aesthetic innovations of German ExpressionismDescribe the historical conditions that allowed for German ExpressionismDiscuss the maturation of Film Style in the late silent eraExamine film aestheticsDescribe how elements of Mise En Scene can help shape meaning and elicit emotionDescribe how elements of Cinematography can help shape meaning and elicit emotion

Reading Week 3
DW and the development of EARLY CLASSIC HOLLYWOOD
Classic Hollywood Cinema by Thompson
The period 1909–1917 saw the development of the basic continuity principles. Eyeline matches occur
with increasing frequency from 1910 on. The match on action developed at about the same time and was
in common use by 1916. Shot/reverse shot was used only occasionally between 1911 and 1915, but it
became widespread by 1916–1917. During this period, films rarely violated the axis-of-action [180°] rule
in using these techniques. By the 1920s, the continuity system had become a standardized style that
directors in the Hollywood studios used almost automatically to create coherent spatial and temporal
relations within narratives. A match on action could provide a cut to a closer view in a scene A three-way
conversation around a table would no longer be handled in a single frontal shot.
The classical cinema’s dependence upon POV shots, eyeline matches, and SRS [shot/reverse shot]
patterns reflects its general orientation toward character psychology. …most classical narration arises
from within the story itself, often by binding our knowledge to shifts in the characters’ attention: we
notice or concentrate on elements to which the characters’ glances direct us. In the construction of
contiguous spaces, POV, the eyeline match, and SRS do not work as isolated devices; rather, they operate
together within the larger systems of logic, time, and space, guaranteeing that psychological motivation
will govern even the mechanics of joining one shot to another. As a result, the system of logic remains
dominant. (CHC, 210)
Christian Metz on the development of Classic Hollywood Cinema
Jean Mitry, who has written a very precise synthesis of these problems, examines the first occurrences of
a certain number of procedures of filmic language—the close-up, the pan shot, the tracking shot, parallel
montage, and interlaced, or alternative, montage—among the film primitives. I will summarize the
conclusions he reaches: The principal inventions are credited to the Frenchmen Méliès and Promio, to the
Englishmen G. A. Smith and J. Williamson, and to the American E. S. Porter; it was Griffith’s role to
define and to stabilize—we would say, to codify—the function of these different procedures in relation to
the filmic narrative, and thereby unify them up to a certain point in a coherent “syntax” Between 1911
and 1915
DW and Early Narrative
But with the general shift to the classical model, the status of narrative changes. Devices like editing,
camera distance, inter-titles, and acting function more specifically to narrate causal information as clearly
as possible. Cinematic technique, rather than remaining a novelty or means of recording, began to be
considered a way to convey narrative through careful manipulation of audience attention.
The long framing was the earliest device for creating and maintaining a clear narrative space. When other
spatial devices were introduced— cut-ins, multiple spaces—the long shot ceased to present virtually all
the action. Instead, it acquired a more specific function, that of establishing space. (The long shot can also
have other functions, such as displaying spectacular mise-en-scene or suggesting a character’s isolation in
a vast space, but these usually occur in addition to the basic establishing function.) Multiple spaces
Reading Week 3
involve cutting together shots that show entirely different locales, whether at a distance from each other
or contiguous; analytical editing cuts to portions of a single space. In the classical system, the establishing
shot is so important that these other devices usually are organized around it.
In seeking models of characterization, the classical cinema turned away from vaudeville, with its stock
figures, toward the short story, the novel, and the drama; in these media, characters had multiple traits
from which actions could arise logically. In most genres, random incident became an unacceptable way of
getting a plot moving or of resolving it. In 1911, The Moving Picture World declared that ‘In farcecomedy alone can characterization be subordinated to incident and action,’ adding that the most
interesting stories were those which lead ‘to some readjustment of the characters in action. Director James
Kirkwood wrote in 1916 about the desirability of basing narrative on character rather than situation: ”I
believe that the most desirable sort of play today is modern and American, whether a swift-moving drama
with strong, human characterization, or a comedy devoid of extravagance, its incidents growing out of the
foibles of human nature rather than produced by one of the characters smiting another with what is
commonly called a slapstick.” The shift in the early teens toward a more psychologically based narrative
also affected the types and uses of inter-titles. The two basic types of inter-titles were expository and
dialogue. An expository title would either describe the upcoming action—a ‘summary’ title—or would
simply establish the situation and allow the action within the images to present causes and effects.
Moving away from the primitive period’s considerable dependence upon summary titles, filmmakers
gradually began to employ a higher proportion of establishing expository titles and dialogue titles. The
dialogue title was one of the many devices which made narration less self-conscious and less overtly
suppressive in the classical period; it helped characters take over more of the functions that expository
inter-titles had performed.
Griffith himself described the process of ‘learning’ this method with his actors, in a 1914 interview: It is
this learning step by step that brought about the ‘close-up.’ We were striving for real acting. When you
saw only the small, full-length figures, it was necessary to have exaggerated acting, what might be called
‘physical’ acting, the waving of the hands and so on. The close-up enabled us to reach real acting,
restraint, acting that is a duplicate of real life.” But the close-up was not accepted at once
The new approach to acting was widely recognized at the time and even labeled as specifically
American…With the new acting style came closer framings. These were not actually close-ups; at this
point, a distinction existed only between close and long shots. Any shot that cut off part of the human
figure would be considered ‘close.’ Griffith’s ‘close-ups’ were actually medium and medium-long shots.
Instead, some contemporary critics felt that the closer framings violated traditional aesthetic principles.
Along with the acting shift, the rise of the star system also encouraged the use of closer framings.
Filmmakers moved in upon the famous faces in order to allow spectators to gaze upon their favorites.
These closer shots were not the lingering glamor shots of the twenties and thirties, but they served
somewhat the same function.
The classical narrative, then, came to place more emphasis upon character, and to construct tightly
organized causal chains.
The basic principles of Hollywood film practice are here already: the story as the basis of the film, the
technique as an ‘indiscernible thread,’ the audience as controlled and comprehending, and complete
closure as the end of all.
‘Continuity’ quickly developed from a general notion of narrative unity to the more specific conception of
a story told in visual terms and continuing unbroken, spatially and temporally, from shot to shot.
Reading Week 3
When a film presents contiguous spaces in separate shots, it needs some method for showing the viewer
that these spaces are indeed next to each other. There are different ways of providing cues: a character or
object moving from one space to another might link them together; or a character looking offscreen in one
direction might lead the viewer to surmise that the next shot shows the space that character sees ie Eyeline
match, or Shot Reverse, or Cross Cutting
Although this idea came up only occasionally in the silent period, the basic idea of creating the spectator
as an invisible onlooker at the ideal vantage point underlies the development of the classical system. One
of the best formulations of this idea appeared in 1913; the author is describing the difference between the
loose causality of comedy and the tighter structure of drama…
But the ‘American foreground,’ as this closer framing came to be known, was not simply a matter of
single figures moving forward. Several characters who might have stood side by side in a primitive
staging would be likely, from the early teens on, to occupy several planes realistically from narrative
space and varying with circumstances.
A 1918 article defined light effects: A sign of the increased artistry on the part of motion picture
producers was the introduction, some years ago of ‘light effects’ in their interior scenes, a ‘light effect’
being broadly defined as that manner of lighting a scene which would produce in the resultant
photographs the appearance, or effect, of the various objects or characters in the scene being lighted to an
extent which would be expected under the natural conditions which the scene was intended to represent,
and with the light on any given object coming from the direction which, likewise, would be noted under
the natural conditions supposed to be duplicated in the scene.
The principles of composition … Important characters and actions draw our eye because they occupy the
center of the screen. The area about one-third of the way down from the top of the frame is privileged one
for faces; whether the framing is distant or close, the heads tend to line up there
Reframing was not always a matter of casual adjustment to the vagaries of figure movement. Many
reframings, especially from the mid-teens on, show strong evidence of planning.
A Perspective on DW Griffith from one of the great (black) American Novelist
James Baldwin from The Devil Gets Work on DW
The Birth of a Nation is really an elaborate justification of mass murder. The film cannot possibly admit
this, which is why we are immediately placed at the mercy of a plot labyrinthine and preposterous
The first image of the film is of the African slave’s arrival. The image and the title both convey the
European terror before the idea of the black and white, red and white, saved and pagan, confrontation.
The first image, then of the Birth of a Nation is immensely and unconsciously revealing. Were it not for
their swarthy color – or not even that; so many immigrants having been transformed into white men only
upon arrival, and, as it were, by decree – were it not for the title preceding the image: they would look
exactly like European passengers, huddled, silent, patient, and hopeful, in the shadow of the Statue of
Liberty. (Give us your poor! Many of the poor, not only in America, but all over the world, are beginning
to find that these famous lines have a somewhat sinister ring.)
These slaves look as though they want to enter the Promised Land, and are regarding their imminent
master in the hope of being bought.
Reading Week 3
This in not exactly the way blacks looked, of course, as they entered America, nor were they yet covered
by European clothes. Blacks go there nearly as naked as the day they were born, and were sold that way,
every inch of their anatomy exposed and examined, teeth to testicles, breast to bottom. That’s how
darkies were born: more to the point here, it is certainly how mulattoes were born.
For the most striking thing about the merciless plot on which The Birth of a Nation depends is that,
although the legend of the nigger controls it the way the day may be controlled by threat of rain, there are
really no niggers in it. The plot is entirely controlled by the image of the mulatto, and there are two of
them, one male and one female. All of the energy of the film is siphoned off into these two dreadful and
improbably creatures. It might have made sense – that is, might have made a story – if these two
mulattoes had been related to each other, or to the renegade politician, whose wards they are; but, no, he
seems to have dreamed them up (they are like creatures in a nightmare someone is having) and they are
related to each other, only by their envy of white people. The renegade politician is brought brutally to
his senses when his mulatto ward, now a rising congressman, so far forgets himself as to offer himself in
marriage to the renegade politician’s beautiful daughter, [played by] Miss Lilian Gish. The Klan rides out
in fury, making short work of the ruffian, and others like him. The niggers are last seen, heads averted
and eyes down, returning to their cabins — none of which have been burned, apparently there being no
point in burning empty cabins – and the South rises triumphantly to its feet.
It is not clear what happens to the one presumably remaining mulatto, the female. Neither of the two
mulattoes had any sexual interest in the other; given what we see of their charms, this quite
understandable. Both are driven by a hideous lust for whites, she for the master, he for the maid: they are
at least, thank heaven, heterosexual, due, probably to their lack of imagination.
Some thoughts on DW from a filmmaker we will study in two weeks. And if DW was a master of anything
it was self promotion – note the ad below that he bought
Eisenstein on Griffith
We have only to read Oliver Twist carefully to encounter
straight away another montage method typical of Griffith—the
montage progression of parallel scenes, intercut. For this let
me turn to the set of scenes in the famous episode where Mr
Brownlow, to show his faith in Oliver, chooses him to return
books to the bookseller; and where Oliver again falls prey to
Sikes the burglar, his friend Nancy and old Fagin. These
scenes unfold in a way that is utterly Griffithian, both in their
internal emotional content and in the unusual way that the
characters stand out—their delineation; in the uncommon
richness of their dramatic and comic features…
Reading Week 3
Complex. Sophisticated. Groundbreaking. Shocking.
These words describe the German Expressionist cinema during the Weimar era after World War I — a
bravura brand of filmmaking that is still mesmerizing audiences and influencing filmmakers today.
They were highly stylized pictures with off-kilter set designs, innovative cinematography and chiaroscuro
lighting that highlighted the nightmarish, dark and often perverse subject matters.
Among the master filmmakers were Robert Wiene (1920’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”), F.W. Murnau
(1922’s “Nosferatu,” 1924’s “The Last Laugh”), Paul Leni (1924’s “Waxworks”) and Fritz Lang (1924’s
“Die Nibelungen,” 1927’s “Metropolis”). And bringing their visions to the screen was the German studio
Universum-Film AG, a.k.a. UFA, which dominated production and distribution there during this era.
The post-World War I, pre-Nazi era in Germany saw a confluence of directors, producers, writers,
costume and production designers and cinematographers craft motion pictures whose style helped create
film noir and can still be felt in today’s horror and science fiction films.
German Expressionism, Harrington said, “was in many ways the maturing of the art house cinema in the
late silent into the early sound era. They were starting to deal with more complex themes and stylistic
decisions that made those films the precursor of what we’ve imagined to be art house cinema today. They
stepped aside from the mass market kind of storytelling and starting delving into these more
psychological and more human stories.”
These films also reflected the mood of Germany during the postwar Weimar period. Germans were
reeling from the death and destruction of the four-year conflict, followed by the harsh reparations under
the Treaty of Versailles. The country endured hyperinflation and other hardships that eventually led to the
rise of Adolf Hitler.
Once the Nazis came to power in 1933, many of the architects of German Expressionism, such as Lang,
came to Hollywood, where they put their stamp on genre cinema
Sikov Ch 3

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