Broken Blossoms. 1919. USA. Directed by D. W. Griffith

The Aesthetics of Shadow, Part 2: Europe and America

April 1–17, 2014 The Museum of Modern Art

This exhibition is based on Daisuke Miyao’s new book The Aesthetics of Shadow: Lighting and Japanese Cinema, which takes as its starting point the now 80-year-old essay “In Praise of Shadows,” by the novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. Tanizaki argued that traditional Japanese architecture offers “the magic of shadows…that formed…a quality of mystery and depth superior to any wall painting or ornament.” Miyao’s book applied this to cinema and cited numerous examples of Japanese filmmakers whose works reflected this principle. In the course of this discussion, he also focused on counter-influences between Japanese movies and those produced in America and Europe.

This second part of the exhibition looks at a number of directors and cinematographers in the West whose use of lighting in their films—many of which could be labeled all-too-conveniently as Expressionism or, later, film noir—mirrors that of their Japanese counterparts. These figures include F. W. Murnau and Josef von Sternberg, both of whom worked in Germany and the United States; D. W. Griffith’s Boston-born cinematographer Billy Bitzer (who was baptized Gottfried Wilhem); Alfred Hitchcock, who learned his craft in Berlin on Murnau’s set; and the Scandinavians Victor Sjöström, Benjamin Christensen, and Carl Th. Dreyer, who made major contributions in the silent period (and both Sjöström and Christensen wound up at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer). Significantly, two major stars of Hollywood’s “golden age,” Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich, also benefitted greatly from working with many of these lighting geniuses in both America and Europe.

The Aesthetics of Shadow is a cooperative venture between MoMA and the Berlinale Retrospective organized by Deutsche Kinemathek - Museum for Film und Fernsehen and the Berlin International Film Festival, which took place in February.

Organized by Charles Silver, Curator, Department of Film, MoMA; Rajendra Roy, The Celeste Bartos Chief Curator of Film, MoMA; Dr. Rainer Rother, Artistic Director, Deutsche Kinemathek; Connie Betz, Program Coordinator, Deutsche Kinemathek; and Annika Schaefer, Deutsche Kinemathek.

Special thanks to Dirk Förstner, Deutsche Kinemathek, UCLA Film & Television Archives, George Eastman House, Janus Films, Warner Brothers, Universal Pictures, and Friedrich-Murnau-Stiftung.

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