Tuesday, February 19, 2008
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Das Kabinet des Dr. Caligari; Silent Horror, Germany, 1920; D: Robert Wiene, S: Friedrich Feher, Werner Krauss, Conradt Veidt, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Lettinger
Francis is sitting on a bench and telling one man how he met the mysterious Dr. Caligari: many years ago, on some fair, Caligari was performing an act with Cesare, a man who walks while asleep, and among the audeince was Francis and Alan. When Alan asked him how long he will live, Cesare answered with: "Until tomorrow morning". And truly, Alan is found murdered the next morning. Francis suspects Dr. Caligari, especially when Cesare kidnaps his girlfriend Jane. After Cesare gets killed, Caligari turns out to be a mad principal of a mental asylum, and thus gets arrested...And then a twist: Francis turns out to be just a patient in Dr. Caligari's mental asylum.
Considered by many to be the first example of German expressionism, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is also one of the first horror films and classics of cinema, an interesting achievement that is more significant for its time than for our. Considering expressionistic, even avant-garde style, the movie is fantastic: the whole "athwart" set design of the city turned out to be one giant, extreme mise-en-scene of the author's minds, made out of bizarre paper buildings and houses of extatic phisionomy that seem as if they came from some Salvador Dali painting, is brilliant, the authentic "flashback" structure of the story is fresh and inventive for the silent era, especially in the fascinating plot twist at the end, while some scenes are ontological, like when the mad Dr. Caligari suddenly imagines to see a caption "You Must Become Dr. Caligari!" all around him. Still, the mood and the rhythm don't have enough energy to compell to the fullest, yet gave a valuable example of a "more active" vision pushing itself through on film.