What sound does this picture make?
Also, what does the number 9 taste like?
I know that's a very strange question, but bear with me here: When you look at this tranquil nature scene, what music does your brain instinctively play? I bet it's a kind of soft flute melody that sounds like the beginning of a new day, perhaps something like ... this:
Whoa, how did I know that? Simple: Because I'm in your head right now, going through your thoughts, and I can hardly masturbate to all the sick stuff I'm finding there. Seriously, though, the reason you hear that specific music while looking at pictures of sunrises is because every cartoon ever has at one point used it as its score. It's "Morning Mood" by Edvard Grieg, and yes, you did misread that title.
Grieg was active in the latter half of the 19th century, and his works were reportedly crucial to popularizing Norwegian music across the globe. It's kind of a shame then that he now shares that distinction with Bugs Bunny, Ren & Stimpy, The Simpsons, and a ton of other cartoons that have used "Morning Mood," accidentally familiarizing you with (*gasp*) classical music. Once again, I recommend alcohol.
Grieg is also the author of "In the Hall of the Mountain King," aka the creepy duun-dun, duun-dun music that plays in cartoons when something dangerous is approaching.
You might have heard it in My Little Pony, Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, and other animated shows that needed a classy melody to signal an upcoming Ohhhh shiiiiit moment. And when they needed a crazy and darkish dance tune, many of them turned to "March of the Dwarfs," which appeared in everything from The Smurfs to Disney's The Skeleton Dance, a 1929 short about dancing undead monsters that not only completes your Grieg education (Griegducation), but also out-Burtons Burton 29 years before there even was a Burton.
And while we're at it ...
If you don't exactly know what German expressionism is, then shut up, because you actually do; you just don't know that you know it, you know? In broad terms, German expressionism is a cultural and artistic movement from the 1920s that differs depending on the medium, but with movies ... well, imagine what would happen if moody lighting and overwhelming hopelessness had a killer-clown baby and you'll be on the right track. Or you could just check out Tim Burton's Batman Returns.
You had me at "Batman."
Almost every part of Burton's 1992 Bat-sequel was actually the director's attempt to introduce German expressionist aesthetics to the modern age. The angular, oppressive look of Burton's Gotham, for example, is heavily influenced by Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927), a landmark in the field of sci-fi, German expressionism, and gigantic buildings that look like dystopian headstones marking the spot where hope was buried.
Also, the bizarre look of the Penguin in Batman Returns was apparently paying homage to Dr. Caligari from the 1920 German expressionist film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. But Ger Express isn't just about how stuff looks. It's more of a mindset born in isolated Weimar Germany and fueled by the bleak, depressing reality of the country's economic downturn. And as much as Burton would love to patent, bottle, and inject that shit into his eyeball every waking hour, he isn't the only filmmaker capable of bringing those sorts of emotions to the big screen. Take Blade Runner, which itself has taken so much from Metropolis that it could walk into Metropolis' house and fuck its wife without her noticing that something was wrong. That's because both films deal with robots passing as humans and making the film's protagonists question their own sanity in an industrial crapsack world.
Now replace robots with aliens and make the film so noir that it'll need a photo ID to vote in the South and you'll have Dark City, 1998's answer to the question: "What is German expressionism, and how can I stop experiencing joy for 112 minutes?"
New Line Cinema
Other important elements of German expressionism were themes of betrayal and the brutal bleakness of the world, as seen in M (1931) and The Student of Prague (1913) -- aka the summary of the pitch for The Crow (1994), which interestingly was directed by the same guy who did Dark City.
Interestinglier, though, it's funny how most modern examples of German expressionism are science fiction/fantasy movies, when that wasn't as common in the 1920s and '30s. Perhaps the horrors of World War II have made us less willing to explore the ideas of madness, bleakness, and terror in anything even approaching a realistic setting, preferring to take refuge in the audacity of sci-fi with its reality-shaping aliens and billionaires dressed as flying rodents. So you can make the case that, if it wasn't for Hitler, we never would have gotten Tim Burton's German expressionism-inspired followup to Batman.
I'm ... conflicted.
Cezary Jan Strusiewicz is a Cracked columnist and editor. Contact him at email@example.com.