From Morn to Midnight: extreme German Expressionism

Von Morgens bis Mitternachts (From Morn until Midnight, 1920)

Von Morgens bis Mitternachts (From Morn to Midnight, 1920)

This year, the British Silent Film Festival is commemorating the anniversary of the birth of the Weimar Republic. This means we will be looking both at some acclaimed German films of the 1920s, but also international co-productions and those British films that betray the clear influence of Weimar cinema. We are also exploring the origins of the horror genre, as the  nights draw in. So there is no finer way to begin our festival than with an influential and bold classic of German Expressionist cinema. We want to create the perfect atmosphere too, so our opening night movie will screen at the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery in Leicester, which is home to an internationally acclaimed collection of Expressionist art.

The film we are screening is Karlheinz Martin’s From Morn to Midnight (1920) – a bold  film that epitomises the styles and concerns of German Expressionism. The Expressionist movement moved from fine art – distorted perspectives and artificiality combine with thick, obvious brush strokes to create a visual representation not of naturalism but of the artist’s innermost psychological turmoil – to the theatre . From Morn to Midnight was made very shortly after the famous The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919), which has widely been celebrated as the first true Expressionist film. It shares with that film a sense of foreboding and introspection, a feeling that the outside world is filled with danger – and of course a heavily stylised, theatrical production design.

From morn tomidnight4

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A hundred years ago … The Midnight Girl and the cinema in 1919

Adolph Philipp and Marie Pagano in The Midnight Girl (1919)

Adolph Philipp and Marie Pagano in The Midnight Girl (1919)

We’re standing on the verge of the Roaring Twenties all over again. It’s often instructive (and fun!) to look back at how cinema has advanced in a century and 1919 was a particularly strong year for the movies. As the Cento anni fa strand at Il Cinema Ritrovato proved this year, many films we now acknowledge as silent classics were released just before the feted 1920s began. In 1919, the war in Europe had ended, Hollywood was growing strong, the feature film was rapidly becoming a fixture, and things were about to get very interesting in Germany. At the 20th British Silent Film Festival, we’re commemorating the anniversary of the Weimar Republic by looking at the fascinating German cinema of this period and its global influence too.

We’ll be screening several diverse films from 1919 at this year’s festival in Leicester: from Mauritz Stiller’s captivating Swedish drama Song of the Scarlet Flower starring Lars Hanson, to Maurice Elvey’s WWI movie Comradeship and Ernst Lubitsch’s frenetic comedy The Oyster Princess. One of the 1919 films on the slate is likely to be unfamiliar to most of us – The Midnight Girl, a charming two-reel comedy, which reveals the extent of the influence not just German culture but the New York stage had on mid-period silent cinema. Not only that, but our screening of the film will be very special.

Adolph Philipp, the writer and director of The Midnight Girl,  was born in Germany but ran away as a teenager to join an acting troupe. In the early 20th century he opened a theatre in New York, where he staged many of his own musicals for the substantial German-speaking audience in the city, as well as selling his sheet music. Continue reading

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