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Expressionism and Film

Expressionism and Film

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Expressionism and Film

By Rudolf Kurtz

Edited with an afterword by Christian Kiening and Ulrich Johannes Beil

Publication date: 2016
Total pages: 256
ISBN: 9780 86196 718 6
Price: £ 25.00


Expressionism and Film, originally published in German in 1926, is not only a classic of film history, but also an important work from the early phase of modern media history. Written with analytical brilliance and historical vision by a well-known contemporary of the expressionist movement, it captures Expressionism at the time of its impending conclusion – as an intersection of world view, resoluteness of form, and medial transition. Though one of the most frequently-cited works of Weimar culture, Kurtz’s groundbreaking work, which is on a par with Siegfried Kracauer’s From Caligari to Hitler and Lotte Eisner’s The Haunted Screen, has never been published in English. Its relevance and historical contexts are analysed in a concise afterword by the Swiss Scholars Christian Kiening and Ulrich Johannes Beil.


Quotes from respected experts in the field of Weimar cinema

Jan-Christopher Horak, Director, UCLA Film & Television Archive:

“Rudolf Kurtz’s Expressionismus und Film (1926) [...] is to my mind one of the key texts, illustrating the reception of German Expressionism as an art movement in the cinema in Germany. Not only does Lotte Eisner quote extensively in her The Haunted Screenfrom this work, virtually all other writers in German about this period, too,have found it necessary to reference Kurtz. The original publication also included on its cover abeautiful Expressionist drawing by Paul Leni, a seminal figure in German Expressionist cinema. This translation of Kurtz’s book will certainly help to clarify the many misconceptions that have crept into Anglo-American definitions of German Expressionist cinema, where the term has often been used synonymously with all German 1920s cinema, rather than in Kurtz’s narrow definition ofan exclusivelyhigh art cinema with spiritual aspirations.”

Eric Rentschler, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Harvard University:

Expressionismus und Film “is, without question, a seminal and an influential study, a monograph that has strongly impacted the essential works on classical German cinema, but, to this day, has remained inaccessible to English-language readers. I know that scholars, students, and cineastes will be very pleased to have this book available in a translation.”

Kristin Thompson, Honorary Fellow, Department of Communication Arts at the University of Wisconsin:

Expressionismus und Film “is a key text, the only book written on German Expressionist cinema during the era. Because Kurtz had access to filmmakers and to artists and critics in other fields, the volume is something of a primary document itself rather than simply a monograph by a scholar or journalist. Of the German books on cinema written during the silent period, this is the one most obviously crying out for translation.”


The Meaning of Expressionism

World View


Film and Expressionism

Set Design; Technology; Camera; Lighting

The Expressionist Film

Caligari; From Morn till Midnight; Genuine; The House on the Moon; Raskolnikow; Waxworks; Expressionist Elements in Film

Abstract Art

Viking Eggeling; Hans Richter; Walter Ruttmann; Fernand Léger; Fernand Picabia

Style in Expressionist Film

Direction; Script; Actors; Set Designers

Limitations of the Expressionist Film



Rudolf Kurtz (1884–1960) was among the protagonists of the expressionist movement, which he accompanied with a multitude of essays, lampoons, reviews, and commentaries. From 1914 on he regularly worked in the film business, writing also scripts and directing his own movies. Between 1916 and 1926 he served in leading positions in the Projektions-AG “Union” (later part of Ufa), responsible especially for the marketing of the films of Ernst Lubitsch. In the 1930s he published a number of comedies and popular books. From 1945 to 1953 he acted as publisher and editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Nacht-Express (East Berlin).

Christian Kiening is Professor of Germanic Studies at the University of Zurich, director of the National Competence Centre for Research Mediality, and co-editor of the Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte (Stuttgart: Metzler). Among his recent books are: Mittelalter im Film (ed., Berlin, New York: de Gruyter 2006), Urszenen des Medialen (Göttingen: Wallstein 2012), Der absolute Film (ed., Zürich: Chronos 2012), Das Mittelalter der Moderne (Göttingen: Wallstein 2014).

Ulrich Johannes Beil is Privatdozent at the University of Munich and Senior Researcher at the National Competence Centre for Research Mediality at the University of Zurich. Among his recent books are: Medien – Technik – Wissenschaft (ed., Zurich: Chronos 2010), Urszenen des Medialen (Göttingen: Wallstein 2012), Aura und Auratisierung (ed., Zurich: Chronos 2014).

Brenda Benthien is an independent film scholar and critic. Her work has appeared in Variety, Filmecho/Filmwoche, the Berlin Film Festival Journal, and other publications. She is the translator of Rudolf Arnheim’s Film Essays and Criticism for the University of Wisconsin Press.

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