CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, THE (Robert Wiene, 1919, Germany, 69m, BW)
Cast: Friedrich Feher, Rudolf Lettinger, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Hans Heinz von Twardowski, Frederich Feher, Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, Lil Dagover
Director: Robert Wiene
Writer: Hans Janowitz, Carl Mayer
Running Time: 69 min.
At a carnival in Germany, Francis (Friedrich Feher) and his friend Alan (Rudolf Lettinger) encounter the crazed Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss). The men see Caligari showing off his somnambulist, Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a hypnotized man who the doctor claims can see into the future. Shockingly, Cesare then predicts Alan's death, and by morning his chilling prophecy has come true -- making Cesare the prime suspect. However, is Cesare guilty, or is the doctor controlling him.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (German: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) is a 1920 German silent horror film, directed by Robert Wiene and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. Considered the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, it tells the story of an insane hypnotist (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) to commit murders. The film features a dark and twisted visual style, with sharp-pointed forms, oblique and curving lines, structures and landscapes that lean and twist in unusual angles, and shadows and streaks of light painted directly onto the sets.
The script was inspired by various experiences from the lives of Janowitz and Mayer, both pacifists who were left distrustful of authority after their experiences with the military during World War I. The film's design was handled by Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig, who recommended a fantastic, graphic style over a naturalistic one.
The film presents themes on brutal and irrational authority; Dr. Caligari represents the German war government, and Cesare is symbolic of the common man conditioned, like soldiers, to kill. In his influential book From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer says the film reflects a subconscious need in German society for a tyrant, and it is an example of Germany's obedience to authority and unwillingness to rebel against deranged authority. He says the film is a premonition of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, and says the addition of the frame story turns an otherwise "revolutionary" film into a "conformist" one. Other themes of the film include the destabilized contrast between insanity and sanity, the subjective perception of reality, and the duality of human nature.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was released just as foreign film industries were easing restrictions on the import of German films following World War I, so it was screened internationally. Accounts differ as to its financial and critical success upon release, but modern film critics and historians have largely praised it as a revolutionary film. Critic Roger Ebert called it arguably "the first true horror film", and film reviewer Danny Peary called it cinema's first cult film and a precursor to arthouse films. Considered a classic, it helped draw worldwide attention to the artistic merit of German cinema and had a major influence on American films, particularly in the genres of horror and film noir.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, 1920) was produced during the cultural flowering of the German Weimar Republic after World War I and was one of the great early German Expressionist films. The producers had originally chosen Fritz Lang to be the director, but he had other obligations, and so Dr. Robert Wiene was tapped to direct the film. The story concerns a psychotic killer, Dr. Caligari, who hypnotises a somnambulist (a person who is perpetually asleep but who can be awakened briefly) to perform grisly murders at his choosing. Two friends, Alan and Francis, see Caligari at a village fair exhibiting for a concession his somnambulist patient. After Alan is later murdered (by the somnambulist), Francis suspects that the real culprit is Caligari, and both he and the father of his girlfriend, Jane, set out to expose Caligari as the evil mastermind. They eventually succeed at this, but not before the somnambulst abducts Jane and nearly kills her. When Caligari is finally confronted by the authorities with the evidence, he becomes violent and has to be secured in a straitjacket. This entire story is told by means of a narrative framing device such that Francis is initially shown at the start of the film to be relating the tale to a companion on a park bench. At the end of the film, we go back to Francis, and now it is revealed that it he who is an insane inmate of the asylum and that the whole story was a deranged fantasy on his part.
What makes the film unique and enduring is that the entire world depicted is skewed and distorted in a nightmarish fashion. This is Expressionism in its pure form: the external world is twisted to reflect the emotional state of the storyteller. There are almost no right angles anywhere. All the buildings, windows, and doors are slanted and deformed. Inexplicable lines and dark shadows mark the walls of buildings. The chairs of city officials are absurdly elevated to reflect the dominating and unapproachable status of their officious occupants.
The original script of the screenwriters, Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, only had the enframed narrative, the tale of Francis. Their intention was to cast the horror tale as a critical commentary on German society that had sent millions of young men to their deaths in the World War. Caligari was to be symbolic of a deranged ruler who had sent so many soldiers off like sleepwalkers to commit uncountable murders on the battlefield. But the producers of the film decided, apparently for commercial considerations, to include the framing device. By doing this, Francis’s own tale of Caligari is reduced in credibility to be the deluded ravings of a madman and so the impact of any political implications is diminished. Nevertheless, the film as it stands today is perhaps even more cosmically disturbing than if the framing device had not been employed, because it now calls into question our own basic reference system. In the backs of our minds, we may even harbor an unconscious suspicion that perhaps Francis is somehow right after all and that he is being held prisoner by a diabolically insane asylum director.
One of the interesting expressive visual techniques in the film is the heavy use of iris shots, which localize the view to a small circular vignette in one part of the screen, with the rest of the shot darkened. These are often use to "fade" into or out of a scene by localizing attention to one area of interest, and this was a popular technique during the silent film era. In this film, where we are constantly striving to find our way in a distorted reality, the technique fits in very and is particularly effective.
Despite its undeniable popularity, even with today’s audiences, the film has been criticised, unjustly in my opinion, by a number of influential critics, including Siegfried Kracauer (From Caligari to Hitler) and Lotte Eisner (The Haunted Screen). These arguments fall along four lines:
Some criticise the film on the basis of their own allegiances to formal theories of art. Some “realists”, for example, dismiss Expressionism as merely decorative and meaningless. Others, Expressionist adherents, criticise the film for occasionally straying slightly from the demands of aesthetic consistency. I think it is best to take the film as it is and to forget the dogmas of artistic movements.
Other critics complained that the sets were too “flat” and lack depth. It is true that there is a foreshortened look to the various settings, which gives the film something of a theatrical appearance. However, I feel that the frame still has “depth” to it, even if foreshortened, and the foreshortening actually has an “interiorising”, claustrophobic effect that has its own alarming power of suggestion.
Leftist critics, such as Kracauer, complain that the original politically-oriented script of Mayer and Janowitz was defanged by the framing narrative. But to me, the framing mechanism has its own positive features, and one should examine the film as it stands, as opposed to what it might have been. And, finally, some critics dismiss the film, because Robert Wiene does not stand among the major film “auteurs”. That is so, but filmmaking is ultimately a collaborative art, and on many occasions a fine film can be made as the happy result of a collection of contributors. Forget those critics; this is a classic and should not be missed by any serious filmgoer.
The 1920s were the decade that saw the rise of the Dada and Surrealist movements. The first rejected all pretense, all standards, all sincerity. It was a profound expression of hopelessness and alienation. It led to the rise of the related art movement Surrealism, which cut loose from order and propriety, rejected common values, scorned tradition and sought to overthrow society with anarchy. It's said such movements were a reaction to the horror of World War I, which upset decades of relative tranquility and order, threw the European nations into unstable new relationships and presented the inhuman spectacle of modern mechanized battle.
Conrad Veidt (1893-1943)
Conrad Veidt started his career in 1913, at Max Reinhardt's acting school. After a short
period of employment in the First World War as a member of different front theatre
ensembles, he returned to the Deutsches Theater Berlin, and then, in 1916, began working
in the movies. In 1919, in the first homorelational role on screen in Anders als die Andern,
and above all as the somnambulist Cesare in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, he created an
expressionist acting style that made him an international star. In the early 1920s he starred
in several of Richard Oswald 's Sittenfilme dealing with relational enlightenment, and went
on to work with many of the best-known directors of the time. Veidt moved to the USA in
the second half of the decade, but returned to Germany on the introduction of sound,
starring in some of the early Ufa sound successes and their English versions. In 1932
Veidt started work in Britain, shooting a pro-Semitic version of Jew Suss ( 1934) and the
more equivocal Wandering Jew ( 1933), after which he became persona non grata in Nazi
Germany. With his Jewish wife Lily Preger he remained in London, gaining British
citizenship in 1939. He continued to work, incarnating Prussian officers for Victor Saville
and Michael Powell. In 1940 he moved to Hollywood, where he was cast mainly as a
Nazi - most famously. Major Strasser in Casablanca ( 1942).From figures reach beyond
the scope of the familiar scoundrel cliché. His characters are burdened with the
knowledge that they are doomed, and so have an introverted and stoic edge, accepting
their fate and never compromising in order to save their own lives. They always remain
true to their mission and often border on the fanatical in their sense of duty and singleness
of vision. However, Veidt's characters are also enveloped in an aura of melancholy which
is made distinguished by their good manners and cosmopolitan elegance. Veidt's face
reveals much of the inner life of his characters. The play of muscles beneath the taut skin,
the lips pressed together, a vein on his temple visibly protruding, nostrils flaring in
concentration and self-discipline. These physical aspects characterize the artists,
sovereigns, and strangers of the German silent films, as well as the Prussian officers of
the British and Hollywood periods. The intensity of Veidt's facial expressions is supported
by the modulation of his voice and his clear articulation. His tongue and his slightly
irregular teeth become visible when he speaks, details which allow his words to flow
carefully seasoned from his wide mouth - in contrast to the slang-like mutterings of
Humphrey Bogart who played opposite him in two US productions of the 1940s. Veidt's
German accent is a failing which he turns into a strength; it becomes the means of
structuring the flow of speech. The voice, which can take on every nuance from an
ingratiating whisper to a barking command, is surprising in its abrupt changes in tone.
Once heard, it is easy to imagine the voices of his silent film characters. Veidt's late film
roles reflect back on the early silent ones, enriching them retrospectively with a sound-
track. DANIELA SANNWALDSELECT FILMOGRAPHY (with directors) Der Weg des
Todes ( Robert Reinert, 1916-17); Anders als die Andem ( Richard Oswald, 1918-19);
Das Cabinet des Dr Cattgari ( 1919-20); Das indische Grabmal ( Joe May, 1921); Die
Bruder Schellenbeig ( Karl Grune, 1925); Der Student von Prag ( Henrik Galeen , 1926);
The Man who Laughs (USA, Paul Leni, 1927); Die letzte Kompagnie ( Kurt Bernhardt,
1929); Der Kongress tanzt ( Erik Charell, 1931); Jew Suss ( Lothar Mendes, 1934); The
Spy in Black ( Michael Powell, 1939); Casablanca ( Michael Curtiz, 1942); Above
Suspicion ( Richard Thorpe, 1943)
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