Surreal and distorted, heavy shadows, unexpected camera angles. German expressionism; one of the most recognisable and memorable styles of silent cinema. A movement that birthed, what we refer to now, as film noir.
Expressionism is a modernist movement that initially began in the world of poetry and painting, originating in Germany at the beginning of the 20th century. Most expressionist forms of art present the world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect, in order to evoke moods or ideas.
Expressionism began in the world of cinema in response to the German government placing a ban on all foreign films – meaning a huge increase in German-produced films.
The German economy and lives of people were suffering greatly at this time and expressionist films stand out as reflecting the inner conflict of their 1920s German audiences. They put their woes on the big screen and depict the reality of daily life.
If you look closely, every expressionist film has similar qualities. Films tend to be surreal and distorted, with heavy shadows, making the story appear gloomy and depressing. The sets are artificial with realistic details. The camera work is set in unexpected angles, giving the audience a different perception. They all similarly aim to evoke mystery and emotional stress which reflects exactly the mood of Germany at that time.
Take the film ‘Der Golem; Wie er in die Welt kam’ for example, an iconic early masterpiece of German expressionist horror. When watching with a modern eye however, it includes very few horror moments, but back when it was made, it would have been considered a scary film.
Written and directed by Carl Boese and Paul Wegener, the silent horror film is based around the mythical creature and Jewish Legend, ‘Golem,’ who has transfixed audiences for centuries.
The story, derived from Jewish Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) is an interesting and unusual one. Set in medieval Prague, a respected Rabbi (played by Albert Steinrück) observes the stars one evening and concludes that trouble is brewing for his people. So, of course, he creates a man shaped from clay and names him ‘Golem’ (played by Wegener.) This clay-man then comes to life (with a demon spirit and the star of David placed in the centre of its chest) and serves as a stoical servant and protector of the ghetto, pretty handy.
Golem, surprisingly, becomes a likeable character. He does not play the role of a threatening monster rather a practical servant who is used to fetch groceries and wood. His scenes are in some cases, quite humourful.
The story continues with the Rabbi, known for his supernatural expertise, being invited to the emperor’s palace to entertain the people during a festival, but when they respond with laughter, the palace crumbles. Naturally, the Golem saves the Emperor and his citizens by holding up the crumbling roof. He is a heroic character.
Der Golem is a pre-World War II German film that deals with Jewish religion and community which is what makes it so interesting. What is striking is how the story portrays the mistreatment of the Jewish community in showing them being kicked out of their homes, as a precursor of the abuse laid out by the nazi which was commonplace at that time in many European cities.
Der Golem is a landmark film. It had a major influence on the horror films that followed (most notably James Whale’s 1931 adaption of Frankenstein) and therefore made a hugely important contribution to the world of Weimar cinema.
The special effects, music and editing make this film an innovative and intelligent piece of early fantasy film and expressionist cinema, that is appreciated mostly by the die-hard fans of horror.
The reader will have to forgive this review being penned by a latecomer to theatre performance productions. While this might be my first experience of one, this review shall tend to those who frequently attend theatre performances as well as other newcomers, where my now realised affection for theatre productions has been brought out of me by Breach Theatre’s It’s True, It’s True, It’s True production.
If a single theatre production can ultimately change the preconceptions of one newcomer – is that not worth this review? A review that considers, breaks down, and intends to transport the reader into the mind of someone new to, and indeed, someone who is ready to learn more of the theatre scene? The It’s True theatre performance deserves the commentary of the frequent attendee, but also, and perhaps more importantly, the effect it has on someone who has never engaged in performances until seeing It’s True.
It’s True is about a 17th Century rape trial between Artemisia Gentileschi, the victim, and Agostino Tassi, the perpetrator, that is overlooked by a judge. Using an all-female cast of three actors; Ellice Stevens, Harriett Webb and Kathryn Bond, this drama around rape, treatment of women, and male dominance demonstrates how little has changed since Renaissance Rome and the contemporary world.
“The power they have…”
Each of the three actors interchange between the different roles of the victim, perpetrator and the judge, delivering a different acting style as soon as they switch characters, occurring at the sound of eclectic rock music. The set up is quickly understood, realising who is who at the intervals with the foldable stairs. This change in the actor’s style allows us to experience the performance in all its might; you anticipate the next change, engaging with each actor’s style, and soon after begin to have a preference for which actors you prefer the most in each role. Each performance is unique, as is obvious between different actors, but seeing the consistently changing style of the actor’s is both entertaining and inspiring.
And yet, despite the seriousness of the performance you expect it to be the tone of the performance is also comedic. The near-full nakedness of – Ellice Stevens as Artemisia Gentileschi in the middle of the play is a pinnacle moment, one that unexpectedly becomes comic when loud sexual music plays and hilariously critiques the men assuming ‘women wanted it’ when it comes to sex versus rape. Her drastic movement between sexual poses while naked and the music is timed so perfectly from the serious scene beforehand and takes us by surprise – suddenly performing the role of a seductive woman who craves sex.
“You should be a good girl, not bring shame”
While the performance is based on the few surviving transcripts, the ones that are missing are filled in with a kind of ‘behind the scenes’ of Renaissance Rome – beyond the courtroom and in the actual world as it were. The dialogue is key in these scenes: they are constructed to not only fit within the performance but they exercise an underlying meaning of men and the perpetrator at the time. ‘You should be a good girl’ or ‘she thinks she can’ brings into question the female role in society. These constructed scenes are not there to simply serve as fillings of the missing transcripts or to discuss the treatment of women; but also offer commentary in the form of fierce, but not too fierce, feminist dialogue to question and sometimes destroy female stereotypes.
It is a formula of fiction and history with truth prevailing throughout.
“I think you imagine me as a woman who still gives to you”
Later in the performance Ellice Stevens gives a monologue as Artemisia Gentileschi, one that is perhaps the most important part of the performance, entirely built upon three words: it is true, repeated continuously like the endless ringing of a church bell which only stops once it has finished its tune. It is hard hitting, intense and powerful and steps up in gradual frustration in her long exclamation that it is simply true, against the disbelief and deceit that is tried upon her. As you sit there, embracing the chilling words that are repeatedly spoken, you become infused within the performance and gripped with the emotional intensity of it. It was a perfect ending to the trial that was shadowed by male disbelief and demonstrated female empowerment in the face of it.
The performances by Harriett Webb and Kathryn Bond were also excellent and their respective roles as judge and perpetrator suited them best. Harriett Webb as a kind of macho-styled version of Agostino Tassi established the mean-natured side of Tassi, along with a humour that did not at any point disrupt the seriousness and authenticity. Kathryn Bond as Agostino Tassi presented a distinctively evil sounding figure of machismo and deceit and was a perfect portrayal of the type of man the play intends to criticise.
“My lordship, I am going to show you what a woman can do”
The ending delivers the final blow with bombastic music and the dramatic head cutting of Agostino Tassi. It is the victory for women, a result that should have been given at the time; a reality that should have been but could not have been. It might not have been the actual demise of Tassi, but this play is a feminist Renaissance and a reality that almost felt real. To hear however, that Artemisia Gentileschi went on to become a prolific painter of her generation, is still a reality we are glad to hear.
Breach Theatre’s It’s True, It’s True, It’s True production is an emotional rollercoaster ride, boiled to the brim with passion, defiance and female empowerment in the face of men that never looks to turn down the heat.
The Fourth Wall: An aspect of storytelling that involves a character breaking the theoretical “wall” that exists between the actors and the audience to speak directly to the audience. It is a technique that has been used for ages as way to bring the viewers into the character’s mind and to reveal the intimate thoughts of the individual.
Originating from 17th century theatre, the term refers to the box sets that were constructed with only three actual walls to be moved in any way that the production needs, with the fourth wall being the imaginary wall separating the stage and the audience. Breaking this fourth wall, a technique utilized countless times in film, television, and theatre, can often help the audience connect directly to the character and allow the viewer to become more than just an observer. When a character seemingly stops the action to address the viewer directly, there is a psychological boost that happens as a direct response to having a “star” address you specifically.
Movies, especially, have taken this technique to the next level, manipulating it to allow their films to stand-out and become endeared in the hearts of viewers across the globe. Since the beginning of filmmaking, the fourth wall has created a number of cult classics and infamous movies that have utilized this tool to garner fame and world renown.
Here are my top 5 favorite films that break the fourth wall to talk to the audience:
This 1986 film by John Hughes brought the classic character of Ferris Bueller to the forefront of pop culture as this conniving, school-ditching, teen won the hearts of audiences around the world. Throughout the film, he often addresses the viewers, drawing them into his schemes and allowing them to see the genius behind his plans.
Directed by David Fincher in 1999, the film is narrated by by Edward Norton’s character who breaks the fourth wall constantly when he starts addressing the audience directly. Whether during a story about Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler Durden, or pointing out aspects of film like cigarette burns and sound tracks in the movie itself, the shift that the narrator takes stands as a cheeky reminder that the fourth wall can always be broken.
One of the most recently recognized movies to break the fourth wall, Martin Scorsese allows Jordan Belfort, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, to address the viewers directly and ‘pitch’ the audience his lifestyle and extravagance. His speeches are filled with his signature sales techniques and they allow the viewers to understand his motives and his greed for success.
Another infamous Scorsese film, although shot two decades earlier than The Wolf of Wall street in 1990, breaks the fourth wall as the film ends to bring closure and emphasis to a dramatic finale. Ray Liotta’s narration goes from offscreen to the courtroom as he directly addresses the camera and closes the movie with a somber nod to the end of the scene.
Closing this list with a classic, British comedy, this 1966, Lewis Gilbert film opens with Michael Caine as our galavanting, cohort, Alphie, who readily imparts his womanizing talents and sexual conquests with the viewers. His nonchalant and unassuming attitude towards his bachelor lifestyle draws the audience in as he breaks the fourth wall to reveal his suave tactics with the world.
Ever think of the colour purple without thinking of Prince? Impossible. Seductive, erotic and hypnotising, Prince was the walking definition of this colour. The life and soul of Prince represents true artistry and individuality between 1958-2016. It has been said he “lived life like movie”, his head being a constant radio, forming melodies and rhythms – a procedure he used for the “one take” process of his music. He is an iconic symbol of a man who did not go by social norms, he played and performed the way he wanted to completely within his own vision. It seems as if he was obsessed with this controversial colour, making it his total theme for music and art as if he really did adopt it like his own. The newly released book by Mobeen Azhar ‘PRINCE Stories from the Purple Underground’ gives an ultimate pictorial tribute to the artist in the truest form of his life, evolution, career and death. For the first time we see key members of Prince’s ongoing legacy give a first-hand account of the artist in a light never seen before. Author of the piece Mobeen is a fanatic of Prince, even appearing on stage with the man himself, who evidently is the perfect passion and person for the making of the book.
This is a beautiful record of Princes life, it features photos all the way back to when he got his first record deal at 19 years old, to performing at Madison Square Garden decades later. The photographs are bold, powerful and heroic, helping us understand the real Prince on and off stage. It is an unbiased, yet honest portrayal of the artist, making the pages personal and sentimental to the reader. We witness how much of an inspiration he was to many, even teaching one guitarist to only love the way they play guitar and no one else, to fully embrace yourself (without being arrogant). These personal monologues prevent the Purple Underground book from being a cliche autobiography, making us hear the different voices and experiences from many who feature in the book. One story in particular comes to mind which mentions having to share a an awkward moment inside of a lift with him.
Left: Prince in Canada, December 1996. Top right: On stage during the Parade tour, 1986. Bottom right: Photoshoot at Kemps Ice Cream building. Minneapolis. 1997.
What comes to mind when imagining the colour purple? Perhaps a smoky jazz bar or even the only two flags in the world that contain this colour. Although it is seen upon as a colour of spiritual awareness in China it is somewhat a controversial tone, even to be seen as a negative, unlucky or a forbidden colour in some cultures. As a powerful member of the rainbow, it’s a colour that represents a strong level of power which is particularly used by royals or emperors. Considering it to be culturally controversial and neglected in some areas, Prince saw it as the ultimate colour of inspiration (as do some others) which could still quite be an unusual choice to make in the world today.
Demi Bailey Paul
Antonio Pagano is a photographer. He contributed to the ‘Landscape’ issue of .Cent, guest-edited by Sam Hecht.
Karina Taira is a director and stills photographer. She contributed to the ‘Landscape’ issue of .Cent, guest-edited by Sam Hecht.
Minnie Weisz is a photographer, curator & filmaker. She guest edited the ‘Seeing Stories, Telling Pictures’ issue of .Cent Magazine