Expressionism’s Stealth Return

Expressionism began in post WWI Germany And Is Re-emerging Today, sign of the times?

Video creator and cinefile Thomas Flight (author of the video accompanying this post) is one of my absolute favorite young voices on YouTube in the screen story space. He has an amazing array of videos like this one that picks a film style or director and breaks down the elements. Almost like a recipe 🌞 and you know how I feel about recipes. A bit obsessed.

In college, one of my favorite elective classes (and music majors don’t get many) was the history of film. Although I was a music major at the time I was so into this class, I was asked to teach it one day in my professor’s absence. We had already briefly studied German Expressionism before my student teaching day. Expressionism, if you didn’t happen to watch Thomas Flight’s attached clip, was a movement in early European cinema that occurred after WWI and is probably best remembered by Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking film, Metropolis.

The fim we viewed and critiqued in my class was an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s short story, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. The style of this film shows the influence of expressionism and the manipulation of time from a subjective POV. The story is set in the American Civil War and documents the experience of being executed on the bridge. It is one of those unforgettable pieces of film whose impact is still felt today.

There were a few films in 2021 that displayed expressionism in my view, most notably director David Lowery’s adaptation of The Green Knight and director Joel Cohen’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Tragedy of Macbeth. HBO’s Euphoria displays neo-expressionism on the small screen. Euphoria is the American adaptation of an Israeli show by the same name. It’s been causing a stir and collecting awards since May 2019 and has two seasons under its belt.

Euphoria is the perfect setting for neo-expressionism because the leading characters live on the fringes of “normal” reality (teenage drug addiction, transgender lifestyles, hormone-fueled anger and the drug-like affects of love). It’s a post modern nighttime, serial soap that explores taboos and shadow psychology like nothing else on the small screen. Season three is coming but not until 2024.

Having screened director Matt Reeves’ 2022 reboot of The Batman this afternoon, I would argue that it too uses the language of expressionism to tell a much more deeply emotionally revealing story of the DC comic book character than we’ve yet seen. I will post my review of that film tomorrow.

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