Presented by Ana Katherine Miller
This short season screens two North American films in the (German) Expressionist style. Nightmarish fairy-tales lyrically told; symbolism and imagery create a world of innocence and beauty under threat from ominous figures. Form and content unite in an array of oppositions: light and dark, good and evil, innocence and corruption, peace and violence, love and hate… Both films are critically renowned as masterpieces of cinema but they failed commercially – Sunrise (1927) was the most expensive silent film made by Fox but failed to recuperate its cost at the box office when its release was overshadowed by the first ‘talkie’ (The Jazz Singer). The Night of the Hunter (1955) harks back to an Expressionist style uncommon in films of its time and it was such a commercial failure that Charles Laughton would never direct again. But like good wine and classic film, these get better with age.
SUNRISE: A STORY OF TWO HUMANS (1927)
Directed by F. W. Murnau, a master of German expressionism in Hollywood, Sunrise won three Academy Awards: Best Unique and Artistic Production, Best Cinematography and Best Actress. A 2002 critics’ poll for the British Film Institute voted it the 7th best film in history and although I’d question the mathematics of this endeavour, it does suggest the historical/critical import of Sunrise. A silent film with a sparse use of titles, this film works on its visual impact, employing various Expressionist techniques: distorted art design and camera work (forced perspective), animal and plant imagery, and archetypal characters. The disruptive and dangerous force of emancipated women (and Jazz) provides the film with its moral in the form of a sultry femme fatale from the City.
THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER (1955)
The one and only film directed by Charles Laughton, The Night of the Hunter is an under-acknowledged gem of US cinema. This Expressionist film by an unrecognised director (Laughton was appreciated more for his acting skills) failed to meet popular expectations but has become a cult classic and has had a wide cultural impact. A menacing atmosphere builds up as evil – now in the male form of a violent preacher – sets out to destroy innocence. The poverty of prohibition-era America and the susceptibility of the masses (and particularly women) to being duped by pseudo-religious rhetoric, offers social commentary of ongoing relevance. And if you’ve ever wondered where the LOVE/HATE knuckle tattoos originate, you have your answer in this film.