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What is expressionism in film? 

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Historically, films have been mediums to help cultural movements while becoming an appealing form of art that reflects society’s problems and behavioural tendencies. There are different ways a film achieves such a level of stature. Clearly, a lot goes behind the process of filmmaking and ideating them.

Visual art forms often influence each other. It can be difficult to define a certain form of visual art in the construct of words but this blog will try it's best to help you understand expressionism in a film. We hope that by the end of this article, you're prepared to create your very own expressionist film using an easy online video editor.  

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari German Expressionist film still

What is expressionism in film?

Expressionism in film emerged in the early 20th century in Germany as a result of World War 1. These films contained various techniques to convey emotional states as opposed to a realistic world. Expressionism in film can be identified by the use of crisp shadows, exaggerated angles, expressive characters along with an undertone of change that's constant throughout the films. This form of film later expanded to Hollywood as German filmmakers travelled overseas, bringing their videography and style with. This style is still relevant in today’s cinema, with director Tim Burton's films being heavily influenced by it.

Why is it important to understand German expressionism? 

Apart from being a form of entertainment, films have become an integral part of shaping up societies as they rapidly developed on both technical and cultural fronts.

German expressionism holds a different value to filmmaking as it lets you go beyond reality to explore the art form.

Historically, it was born amidst a lot of emotional turmoil, and the films that have come out in the same period justify the imagery that goes into expressionist films. This tells us a lot about the correlation between a filmmaker, their surroundings, and the times that they’ve lived in. This provides great value to aspiring filmmakers who are in constant search of ideas.

Let's explore the application of expressionism in today's cinema.

German expressionist films became an important chapter in film history and its evolution. There are a lot of films today where you can find traces of German expressionism in a few scenes but it also influenced an entire genre that derives a lot from it. Today's horror films and film noir are heavily influenced by German expressionism.

Be it the intimidating sets, pale makeup on characters, larger-than-life shadows, or weird angles horror films have incorporated most of the elements from German expressionism.

German expressionism chooses to highlight the character’s inner world, emotions, and turmoil over realism. This gives a lot of room for horror to bring the psychological state of the characters to come to light. 

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When to apply German expressionism techniques in your film? 

German expressionism allows you to experiment with surrealistic visuals, leaving a lot of room for your creativity to run wild.

A filmmaker can use German expressionism techniques in their characters, their surroundings, or the way the film is shot, as long as it suits the script. One doesn’t necessarily have to use all the elements but only the ones which enhance their sequence and film.

It can be a dream sequence in form of a video montage that brings out the character’s psyche and inner complexities. It can be a horror film sequence where the ‘ghost’ chases a bunch of friends. 

The ideas can be simple but when combined with German expressionism techniques, they get a stylized look and feel to it giving the audience a superior experience.

It’s about the treatment of the film that gives a dark feeling to the audience, you it should be used with consideration.

How to use German expressionism in film?

Tim Burton, one of the most iconic filmmakers of Hollywood uses German expressionism in most of his films. If you take a look at his filmography, some of his most renowned works have been a direct influence on German expressionism.

Right from Edward Scissorhands to Frankenweenie, the films embody expressionist visuals.

If you're a budding filmmaker, you can learn from such films about incorporating German expressionism smoothly into their story. You can pick up the sets, characters, looks, the feel of the film, the magnified sounds, or the visual effects and distort them to create your version of a German expressionist film.

To best use expressionist ideologies in your work, you must watch similar cinema and consume similar paintings while enhancing your knowledge about the stories behind the existence of the art.

Create your expressionist video with Clipchamp

A lot of expressionist filmmaking happens in the video editing stage, and you can explore Clipchamp’s list of video glossary terms to take your editing skills to a whole new level. 

If you're looking for expressionism or horror stock video, or are ready to edit your own video footage, just drag, drop and edit your film in minutes on an easy video editor. Sign up to Clipchamp.

Expressionism stock videos on Clipchamp video editor

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