German Expressionism, the film movement of the 1920s had a huge impact on comic books. Superman's home town was named after the movie Metropolis (1927). Batman villain "The Joker" was inspired by The Man Who Laughs (1921).
No movie exemplifies the influence of German Expressionism on modern comic book movies than director Tim Burton's Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992).
What is German Expressionism?
The German Expressionist movement influenced architecture, painting and film of the 1920s and 30s. Psychological states were given surrealistic shape and structure. Extreme contrast of light and dark, the use of reflective surfaces and abstract optical tricks and anthropomorphism are all trademarks of German expressionism.
What is the Film Metropolis?
Wikipedia says, "Metropolis is a 1927 German expressionist science-fiction film directed by Fritz Lang. The film was written by Lang and his wife Thea Von Harbou, and starred Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel and Rudolf Klein-Rogge. A silent film, it was produced in the Babelsberg Studios by UFA.
"Made in Germany during the Weimar Period, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia, and follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city's ruler, and Maria, whose background is not fully explained in the film, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classist nature of their city."
The movie follows Freder as he discovers the inhuman working conditions of the poor, forced to work 10 hour days deep underground. Thanks to Maria, he works to uncover the truth and free the poor from their deep poverty, while his father enlists the help of a mad scientist to build a robot version of Maria to overthrow the revolution.
How Does German Expressionism Influence Director Tim Burton?
Tim Burton loves German expressionist films. He once said, "It was the strength and simplicity that I really loved about the expressionists' work. That and the fairy-tale element." His films are heavily influenced by the dark, shadowy style and heavy make-up of the silent German films of the 1920's. Metropolis is the most well-known German Expressionistic film, so it's not surprising Burton was motivated to include imagery from Metropolis in his movies.
What Are The Connections Between Metropolis and Batman?
The look and sky line of Batman's Gotham City matches the look of Metropolis. Both Gotham City and Metropolis are angular, shadowed and full of tall dominating buildings.
The two cities have a very futuristic look, art deco interiors and a smoky atmosphere. Metropolis’ city is in daylight but has a dark tone. Burton's Gotham City has this same darkened atmosphere.
Tom Duffield, who was Art Director on several of Burton's films, said there was an intentional connection with Lang's film, saying "the interiors of the Shreck building did have a Metropolis influence".
In Batman Returns there's a shot of Schreck's toy store. The angle is an exact copy of the shot of the massive Tower of Babel.
In Batman Returns, the wealthy industrialist is named Max Schreck (Christopher Walken). He was named after the actor in the German vampire film Nosferatu. But Walken's makeup and hair are inspired by the inventor C.A. Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) from Metropolis.
In Batman, when Jack Napier (Jack Nicholson) was escaping from police in the Axis Chemical plant, he starts throwing giant levers at a huge bank of dials and switches. This was a reference to the scene in Metropolis when the workers are operating the huge levers of the M Machine. Batman Returns has a set of statues that are also a reference to the M Machine levers.
Both films end in a cathedral. In Batman, The Joker takes Vicki Vale to the top of the enormous cathedral. In Metropolis the movie ends in a cathedral with Joker as Rotwang, Vicki as Maria (Brigitte Helm), and Batman as Freder (Gustav Fröhlich). The 800 foot cathedral was partly inspired by expressionistic architecture design. Architect Antoni Gaudi was inspired by and inspired German expressionist design. When talking about the design of Gotham Cathedral, Production designer Anton Furst said, "I basically stretched Gaudi into a skyscraper and added a castle feel which was especially influenced by the look of the Japanese fortress."
In Metropolis, there is a man only known as The Thin Man (Fritz Rasp) who wears all black and a distinctive hat. In Batman Jack Napier, before becoming the Joker, wears all black and a similar hat. There's even a scene of him behind a newspaper like in Metropolis.
TIm Burton's Batman and Batman Returns are a testimony to one of the greatest films of the last 100 years. With it's art deco style, deep shadows and expressionistic themes Burton was heavily influenced by the German Expressionistic film Metropolis.
I'd like to give a nod to the L.A.M.B. (Large Association of Movie Bloggers) for making Metropolis the movie of the month. I'd always meant to watch it, but this gave me the motivation to watch this amazing film. I highly recommend it.
What do you think? How much are Tim Burton's films inspired by Metropolis? Did you learn anything about Metropolis or Batman?
[Image Source: Batman-Online, ]
Please use the buttons below to tell your friends about this post. Click on the links to follow us for free by Email, RSS and follow us on Twitter @thegeektwins