Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Robert Wiene (director), 1920, 71m, silent, Germany

German expressionism is the way the German's expressed themselves specifically in the aftermath of WW1 and what they felt doesn't seem to have been very pretty. Other movies that could slide under the generic label are M (1931), Faust (1926), Metropolis (1927). All these films share an element of perversion and a disoriented imagery projecting a process of disintegration, decay and despair.

Caligari is about a mad scientist (alchemist would be a better word) who is carrying out weird experiments on somnambulism, or sleepwalking. He has set up a stall in a fair in which he displays Cesare, who has been sleeping for twenty three years, and who momentarily wakens to his command, and tells futures. He predicts the death of one young man the next day, and this young man is murdered as foretold. Meanwhile a series of murders shakes the town. Caught in this sorcerer's web is the beautiful Jane and her two suitors.

Most notable about the film are the sets, which seem to be two dimensional drawings depicting interiors and streets across which the actors move with exaggerated actions, as usual in silent cinema. Everything is acute angled, as though the surroundings are in a process of shrinking and crushing the hapless manikins. The lanes are a zig-zag sawtooth and even the placards to display the inter titles are lightening strokes in tune with the bizarre angularity of the film.

We are in a restless, hope starved world of fearful impermanence and uncertainty, prescient of what was about to befall the ill fated continent.

Roger Ebert


Anonymous said...

A spooky masterpiece. On VHS or DVD, its perverse eerieness from the weird, exaggerated sets never loses the effect on the viewers.

S. M. Rana said...

It may be over interpretation, but I can't help seeing it as reflecting it's time and place. German silent cinema seems so different from others--American, Soviet, French.

Anonymous said...

I agree with kaist455. This is one of my favorite horror movies, and one of my favorite films. Mood is so important to this film, and the story is no less compelling.

S. M. Rana said...


You said it--weird is the word!