Saturday, December 1, 2012

Warning Shadows (1923) Review

Warning Shadows poster
Director: Arthur Robison
Stars: Fritz Kortner, Ruth Weyher, Gustav von Wangenheim
Genre: German Expressionism, Fantasy, Horror
Also known as: Shadows: A Nocturnal Hallucination, Schatten – Eine Nächtliche Halluzination 

Wow, just wow. Warning Shadows is a very under-appreciated German Expressionist film and, in my opinion, very close to being a masterpiece. 

The film is about a husband and wife who invite four men over to their home for dinner. They also hire a shadow puppeteer for entertainment. But, alas, the husband begins to suspect that the dinner guests are making moves on his wife and that his wife is playing along with the flirt. The shadow puppeteer, who also seems to be a hypnotist, shows all the people of the house how the night will end if the guest continue their pursuit of the woman; if the man continues his jealousy; and if his wife continues her flirting; in short, it would end in disaster.

The film, at times, can be a bit confusing. It definitely requires your full attention. It's not so much that the plot is confusing, but more so that there are no intertitles and the film relies heavily on visuals to tell the story.

This actually seems to be the first feature length silent film to intentionally have a lack of intertitles and a strictly visual presentation. A technique that would be often imitated later in the genre's history.

The film takes place almost completely inside of a mansion. The sets here aren't surreal, complex, or dazzling, but it still has beautiful interior design and architecture. The main eye candy comes from the film's amazing use of shadows. The film certainly lives up to its name.

I've always had an acute interest and fascination with shadows. I'm not sure where the interest roots from but nonetheless this film only heightens my fascination. The shadow work is great in here, some of the best I've seen, which is largely due to the shadow puppeteer. It's almost as if, in certain scenes, you're watching two planes of existence at once: the material plane and the shadows.

Shadow puppetry in Warning Shadows

The world of shadows is never quite the same as the real world, and this film does a great job of making a point of that. Shadows are deceiving, and I'd even say that shadows are one of the antagonists of this film. The dinner guests, just fooling around, pretend to fondle the woman's shadow. But, from the other side of the curtain it appears, to the husband, that they are actually fondling her body. This is a recurring theme in Warning Shadows, that things aren't always quite as they seem.

The first half of the film plays out a bit like a melodrama, but a good one. The story deals with lust, jealousy, vengeance, and more. The latter half of the film is a bit more action packed, since it takes place in the puppeteer's induced vision. I actually found the latter half to be a bit boring, which is a shame because it definitely had the potential to be awesome. My eyes just kind of got bored of watching and stopped paying attention.

The Woman, played by Ruth Weyher, in Warning Shadows

There are some truly amazing scenes throughout the film though. I loved the mirror scene, and the the shadow animals. My favorite moment was definitely when they left the real world and entered the hallucination; their shadows shrinking into their bodies and coming out on the other side. It's a spectacle that must be seen to be understood.

It's a very stylized film. I loved the use of mirrors and even the opening credits where all the characters were introduced was ingenious.

Opening credits in Warning Shadows

I truly have trouble doing this film justice with mere words, it really is something you must witness for yourself. A film with so much great and only a few strides short of masterful. 

4/5 stars

Purchase Warning Shadows on Amazon: DVD - German Expressionism DVD Collection 
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