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Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Kiss, 1909

German Expressionism: Hitler labeled it as degenerate art, but Hollywood adored it. Kirchner and his ilk painted scenes that would define German cinema and later come to influence film noir in the United States. Kirchner’s Kiss practically looks like an artist’s rendition of a scene from Fritz Lang’s M or Curtiz’s Casablanca.

Do you remember reels of film? Or the clicking sound projectors would make? For a moment, lose yourself. Lean back in your seat and relax. You can hear the clicking now. Newspaper headlines soar onto the screen. They are constantly changing, telling the story of a crowded town full of crime and loneliness. Suddenly, paint drips onto the ever changing headlines. The outlines of buildings, a man, and a woman appear. The couple leans towards each other. Then the title of the movie appears in the sky: Kiss.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Mountains (Weinfluh and Schafgrind), 1921
Works such as Kirchner’s Kiss give off this old Hollywood vibe because they gave birth to old Hollywood, but I love German Expressionism for reasons beyond this. German Expressionism acts as the gap between Romanticism and film. Many German Expressionists were inspired by the German landscape artists of the Romantic period, which happens to be my favorite period of art (besides German Expressionism). In fact, some of Kirchner’s own work looks to be inspired by such artists as Caspar David Friedrich, painter of Wanderer above the Sea of Mist.

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Mist, 1818
German Expressionism takes Romanticism’s focus on nature, solitude, and the individual and updates them for modern times. These feelings where then captured on film by Fritz Lang, who brought them to Hollywood as he fled persecution by the Nazi party. The Romantics’ focus on the individual can be seen in how cold the city looks. Kirchner paints with a blue that reflects the coldness of the town. There are no other people in the portrait besides the couple. So despite being around masses of people, the growing city lifestyle actually swallows the couple. The canvas being covered in newspapers also reinforces this motif. Here are actual images and stories of people living in this town, but they are nothing more than ink on paper. Kirchner then paints the woman yellow, making her this warming and comforting force for the man. Kirchner only outlined the man, making him empty and waiting for the woman to give him comfort and life again.

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