This emphasis upon light can be traced to an experiment Max Reinhardt made on the stage shortly before CALIGARI. In his midr-en-scene of Sorge’s prewar drama The Beggar (Der Bettler) — one of the earliest and most vigorous manifestations of expressionism — he substituted for normal settings imaginary ones created by means of lighting effects. Reinhardt doubtless introduced these effects to be true to the drama’s style. The analogy to the films of the postwar period is obvious: it was their expressionist nature which impelled many a German director of photography to breed shadows as rampant as weeds and associate ethereal phantoms with strangely lit arabesques or faces. These efforts were designed to bathe all scenery in an unearthly illumination marking it as scenery of the soul. “Light has breathed soul into the expressionist films,” Rudolph Kurtz states in his book on the expressionist cinema. Exactly the reverse holds true: in those films the soul was the virtual source of the light. The task of switching on this inner illumination was somewhat facilitated by powerful romantic traditions.

[76] The attempt made in CALIGARI to co-ordinate settings, players, lighting and action is symptomatic of the sense of structural organization which, from this film on, manifests itself on the German screen. Rotha coins the term “studio constructivism” to characterize “that curious air of completeness, of finality, that surrounds each product of the German studios.” But organizational completeness can be achieved only if the material to be organized does not object to it. (The ability of the Germans to organize themselves owes much to their longing for submission.)

Since reality is essentially incalculable and therefore demands to be observed rather than commanded, realism on the screen and total organization exclude each other. Through their “studio constructivism” no less than their lighting the German films revealed that they dealt with unreal events displayed in a sphere basically controllable.