Visual Distinctions of Class and Wealth in Three German Films of the Silent Era

In the German films of the Expressionist Era of 1920-1927, class and wealth distinctions between people were presented visually in a variety of ways. All the films produced in this time period were silent, so distinctions of any kind between human beings were necessarily visual. For the purposes of this paper, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), Nosferatu (1922), and Metropolis (1927) will be examined in this regard.

The intertitles for each of these films were originally in German. Since translation is at best problematic, the diction and grammar of speakers' words, which are common markers of class and education, in the English intertitles will not be considered. In addition, the musical accompaniments used for films at this time were variable for screenings at different times and theatres (Thomson and Bordwell, 22), and for different versions, so any consideration of accompaniment music as an explicator of social rank is impossible. Thus, the entire stratification of personal wealth, rank, and class will be examined only in the visual arena.

The directors of these films (Robert Wiene, F. W. Murnau, and Fritz Lang, respectively) were skillful at this kind of visual communication, and used a variety of shared techniques...

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