In the late 1800's until the first world war Bruges was an escape for a certain type of romantic tourist. The town had become almost deserted (the canals and waterways had dried up) and heavy fog and a feeling of sadness and despair hung over the city. The English were especially drawn to Bruges, and often had a second house there. A school of art called Symbolism was created by a small group of writers and artists surrounding the writer, Georges Rodenbach. They gave Bruges the nickname - The Dead City. The Symbolists believed in the power of dreams--they often felt dreams were filled with the real character of people, and were more truthful than waking life. Rodenbach wrote:
“The essence of art that is at all noble is the DREAM, and this dream dwells only upon what is distant, absent, vanished, unattainable.” Georges Rodenbach
The artists James Ensor and Odilon Redon expressed many of the ideas of the symbolists. Ensor’s depictions of grotesque masks to reflect people's inner lives, and Redon’s misty landscapes inspired some of the visual motifs of the film. A teenage composer, Eric Korngold, was fascinated by the novel Rodenbach wrote in 1892, and adapted a libretto for his opera Die Tote Stadt. Chase’s collaboration with stage director, Frank Corsoro for the New York City Opera required footage to be shot on location in Bruges. The film was created from this footage.