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Röhrig, Walter

RÖHRIG, Walter

Art Director. Nationality: German. Born: Berlin, 13 April 1897 (some sources give 1892 and 1893). Career: Painter, associated with Der Sturm Expressionists in 1910s; stage designer, then film designer: 1919—first film, Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari; often collaborated with Robert Herlth. Died: In Potsdam, 1945.

Films as Art Director/Production Designer:


Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari) (Wiene); Die Pest von Florenz (Rippert)


Der Golem (The Golem) (Wegener); Irrende Seelen (Froelich); Masken (Wauer); Das Geheimnis von Bombay (Holz); Der Menschheit anwalt (Rippert)


Toteninsel (Froelich); Der Müde Tod (Between Two Worlds); Destiny (Lang); Satansketten (Lasko); Das Spiel mit dem Feuer (Wiene and Kroll); Pariserinnen (Lasko); Die Intriguen der Madame de la Pommeraye (Wendhausen)


Luise Millerin (Froelich); Fräulein Julie (Miss Julie) (Basch); Der Graf von Essex (Felner) (+ costumes)


Der Schatz (The Treasure) (Pabst)


Komödie des Herzens (Gliese); Der letzte Mann (The Last Laugh) (Murnau)


Zur Chronik von Grieshaus (At the Grey House) (von Gerlach); Tartüff (Tartuffe) (Murnau)


Faust (Murnau) (+ costumes)


Luther (Kyser)


Looping the Loop (Robison); Rutschbahn (Eichberg)


Asphalt (May); The Informer (Robison); Die wunderbare Lüge der Nina Petrovna (The Wonderful Lie of Nina Petrovna) (Schwarz); Manolescu (Tourjansky)


Der unsterbliche Lump (Ucicky); Hokuspokus (Hocuspocus) (Ucicky); Das Flötenkonzert von Sanssouci(Ucicky); Rosenmontag (Steinhoff); Ein Burschenlied aus Heidelberg (Hartl); Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht (Siodmak)


Der Kongress tanzt (The Congress Dances) (Charell); Der falsche Ehemann (Guter); Nie wieder Liebe (Litvak); Im Geheimdienst (Ucicky); Der Kleine Seitensprung (Schünzel); Yorck (Ucicky)


Die Gräfin von Monte Cristo (Hartl); Mensch ohne Namen (Man without a Name) (Ucicky); Der schwarze Husar (The Black Hussar) (Lamprecht)


Walzerkrieg (Waltz Time in Vienna) (Berger); Fluchtlinge (Ucicky); Saison in Kairo (Schünzel); Morgenrot (Ucicky); Ich und die Kaiserin (The Only Girl) (Hollaender)


Die Csarsasfürstin (Jacoby); Ich bin du (Hoffmann); Der junge Baron Neuhaus (Ucicky); Prinzessin Turandot (Lamprecht)


Das Mädchen Johanna (Ucicky); Frischer Wind aus Kanada (Kenter and Holder); Barcarole (Lamprecht); Amphitryon (Schünzel); Königswalzer (Maisch)


Hans im Glück (Herlth); Savoy-Hotel 217 (Ucicky); Unter heissem Himmel (Ucicky); Verräter (Ritter)


Urlaub und Ehrenwort (Ritter); Patrioten (Ritter); Mein Sohn, der Herr Minster (Harlan); Unternehman Michael (Ritter); Brillanten (von Borsody)


Capriccio (Ritter); Pour le Mérite (Ritter)


Die Hochzeitreise (Ritter)


Bal paré (Ritter); Des Herz des Königin (Froelich)


Heimkehr (Ucicky); Uber Alles in der Welt (Ritter); Kadetten (Ritter)


G.P.U. (Ritter); Rembrandt (Steinhoff)


Gefährlicher Frühling (Deppe); Liebesgeschichte (Tourjansky); Der kleine Grenzverkehr (Deppe)


Via Mala (von Baky)


On RÖHRIG: articles—

Rotha, Paul, "Plastic Design," in Close Up (London), September 1929.

Cinématographe (Paris), February 1982.

* * *

The German painter and, initially, stage-set designer Walter Röhrig was closely associated with the Berlin Sturm group, and so a practitioner in the so-called Expressionist movement in the fine arts. Hermann Warm, another designer in the group, claimed in reaction against naturalism that "films must be drawings brought to life," and both Warm and Röhrig, along with Walter Reimann, another Expressionist, came to the fore as film designers in the Expressionist style with the celebrated film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in 1919, directed by Robert Wiene immediately after Germany's defeat in the First World War. With the lowest of budgets, the film's three designers were instructed to create, out of stretched-canvas flats, simple backdrops, and minimal furnishing worthy of a small provincial repertory theatre, sets which would give the impression of a medieval town (fairground, civic offices, houses, both interior and exterior, roofs, bridges) all in a distorted form revealing the warped vision of the young madman who is the hero of this romantic horror film. Their success in scene after scene combined Expressionist distortion of actuality with a haunted beauty; psychological realism gives way to sets painted over with spectacular curves and whorls, rostra interset at cunning angles, doors, windows, and roofs melodramatically askew, but all combined to achieve an extraordinary pictorial effect when lit and photographed. [The artistry of Caligari is very fully discussed by Paul Rotha—a former student of fine art—in his book The Film till Now.]

Both Röhrig and Warm had highly creative careers in the silent cinema, supported by the inspired visual taste of many of Germany's leading directors. Röhrig in particular worked with another partner, Robert Herlth, on four key films made by F.W. Murnau, partly in the Expressionist manner [excellently described by Lotte Eisner in her books The Haunted Screen and Murnau], but also widened to achieve greater psychological intensity and fantasy than Expressionism proper allowed within its bounds. Inevitably Expressionism and Baroque fantasy merged in film after film by Murnau and others as a result of the atmospheric needs of each individual film. The films by Murnau on which Röhrig worked along with Herlth were The Last Laugh, Tartuffe (with its beautiful and meticulously executed period settings), and Faust, as well as the initial drawings for Murnau's American film The Four Devils. Röhrig also worked for Fritz Lang, Murnau's great rival among Germany's leading directors, on Destiny and on Arthur von Gerlach's legendary Bohemian film Zur Chronik von Grieshaus.

Like Herlth, Röhrig served as art director on many merely routine but decorative German sound films before and during the period of the Third Reich, the more notable being The Congress Dances, Amphitryon, the anti-Polish Nazi film, Heimkehr, and Rembrandt, the effects of Expressionism long since gone. A fine example of Röhrig's sketch work for Faust can be seen in Eisner's Murnau, and the general atmosphere of collaboration between director, screenwriter, set designers, and the director of cinematography is admirably described by Robert Herlth for Eisner in the same book.

—Roger Manvell

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