American cinematic photography is regarded, thanks to its as yet unparalleled recording equipment, its film stock and the brilliant work of its technicians, as the best photography in the world. But the Americans have still not understood how to use their magnificent equipment to elevate the miracle of photography into the realm of the spirit; that means, for example, that the concepts of light and shade are not to be made mere transporters of mood but factors that contribute to plot. I recently had the opportunity of showing an American technician a few scenes from Metropolis, in which the beam of an electric flashlight illumined the pursuit of a young girl through the catacombs of Metropolis. This beam of light pierced the hunted creature like the sharp claws of an animal, refused to release her from its grasp, drove her unremittingly forward to the point of utter panic. It brought the amiable American to a naive confession, “We can’t do that!” Of course they could. But the idea never occurs to them. For them, the thing remains without essence, unanimated, soulless. I, on the contrary, believe that the great German dramatic film of the future will have the thing play just as important a role as the human character. Actors will no longer occupy a space that they appear to have entered by accident; rather the space will be constructed in such a way that the characters’ experiences appear possible only in it, appear logical only on account of it. An expressionism of the most subtle variety will make surroundings, properties, and plot conform to one another, just as I believe in general that German film technique will develop along lines that not only raises it to the level of an optical expression of the characters’ actions but also elevate the particular performer’s environment to the status of a carrier of the action in its own right and, most important, of the character’s soul! We are already trying to photograph thoughts, that is, render them visually; we are no longer trying to convey the plot complex of an event but to make visual the ideational content of the experience seen from the perspective of the one who experiences it.
The first important gift for which we have film to thank was in a certain sense the rediscovery of the human face. Film has revealed to us the human face with unexampled clarity in its tragic as well as grotesque, threatening as well as blessed expression.
The second gift is that of visual empathy: in the purest sense the expressionistic representation of thought processes. No longer will we take part purely externally in the workings of the soul of the characters in film. We will no longer limit ourselves to seeing the effects of feelings, but will experience them in our own souls, from the instant of their inception on, from the first flash of a thought through to the logical last conclusion of the idea.
If earlier performers satisfied themselves with being pretty, pleasant, or dangerous, funny or repulsive, film will propel new German actors and actresses from carriers of the plot to carriers of an idea. To become preachers of every creed that has people since they left their abode in the trees.
The internationalism of filmic language will become the strongest instrument available for the mutual understanding of peoples, who otherwise have such difficulty understanding each other in all too many languages. To bestow upon film the double gift of ideas and soul is the task that lies before us.
We will realize it!
Source of English translation: Fritz Lang, “The Future of the Feature Film in Germany,” in The Weimar Republic Sourcebook, edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay, and Edward Dimendberg. © 1994 Regents of the University of California. Published by the University of California Press, pp. 622-23.
Source of original German text: Fritz Lang, “Wege des Grossen Spielfilms in Deutschland,” Die literarische Welt 2, No. 40, October 1, 1926, pp. 3-6; reprinted in Anton Kaes, ed., Weimarer Republik, Manifeste und Dokumente zur deutschen Literatur 1918-1933. Stuttgart: J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung und Carl Ernst Poeschel Verlag, 1983, pp. 222-24.