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23 June 2011

[Silent Film Marathon] 12# Das Cabinet des Dr Caligari (1919) {The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari}


Directed by: Robert Weine
Written by: Carl Mayer & Hans Janowitz
Genre: Horror, Mystery & Suspense, Drama
Runtime: 69 Minutes

All the way from Germany The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari creates a presence and atmosphere like I’ve never seen in a silent motion picture. With it’s wacky distorted sets full of German Expressionism –and seems to be where director Tim Burton inherited some of his style, it is one of the finest silent films that exist. With a flashback structure, which was new at this time, the story unfolds the murder mysteries that have been happening in the bizarre architecture of a village. The film is simply one of the most inspirational films from the silent era because of it’s style and story structure. Director Robert Weine, the German expressionist director did a blast of a job with this dark-stylised, thrilling and chilling film. For the time of it’s release the film leaves a huge impressions with the style and story that has been dissected and influenced many things in the world of cinema. It sits among the greats of silent cinema such as Metropolis, City Lights and Nosferatu with great ease. The film has such an impact it almost hypnotises you into it’s kooky world and explaining why this film has such power. This may very well be the birth of the genre.
Plot:
Approaching the end of the film I was getting confused of the plot, but now it makes more sense now, which makes this film extremely clever. So let’s start from the beginning. We begin with our character Francis who is telling a man of his fiancée, Jane who walks by seeming quite disturbed the story. So we hop into the flashback and in 6 acts mysterious murders happen as the wacky Dr. Caligari shows off, Cesare a somnambulist (A fortune teller). A man (or creation) who carries out Caligari’s evil deeds. Francis’ friend Alan asks Cesare as to how long he will live. The verdict: “You die at dawn.” This chilling revelation is quickly thrown aside as but part of the act, until the following morning, when the dark prophecy is fulfilled by a shadowy, unseen figure. Francis and the town folk quickly look to Caligari in their inquiries.

The Organic and Inspiring Style
The style and design is astounding. The topsy-turvy village with its sharp points, slanted doors and windows gives it a much distorted feel. After seeing the crooked doors and slanted windows I knew right away that director Tim Burton must have truly been inspired by this work. In his book ‘Burton on Burton’ he said himself he was always fond of the classic horror movies and had an interest in German Expressionism. So once you watch this, take a look at some of his films such as The nightmare before Christmas, Edward Scissorhands or even Beetlejuice; especially Beetlejuice and you will see a similarity. The enriched design of the film is truly inspiring and is considered art to some people today.


The best shot that shows the style of the Village.
Even the title cards where edgy and surprising using a pointy font and even scrolling, which is something I’ve never seen the title cards do in silent films. Another thing that has gripping effect is the make-up. The somnambulist Cesare has this fresh and maddening look on him and the make-up effect was brilliant. I even loved the make-up of Jane. The eye shadow and eyeliner back in the day was used to make the eyes stand out more on the camera, and in this film it creates a marvellous effect of emotion. When we see her big eyes open at the sight of Cesare there is something visually striking about it. With it’s colour tinted shots this also adds to the scary format that gives the scenes mood so overall the lighting was very well done.

The Story and Grand Acting
The story is wonderfully scary, and during the 20’s I’m sure this would have freaked anyone out who saw it. Today, one can appreciate the outrage of CALIGARI's writers, Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz, without lamenting their failure to prevail. The story has great strength to scare it’s viewer with surprises and shrouded mystery. One thing I adored plenty of this film was how the characters moved and looked. Doctor Caligari looks like a mad scientist and his creation Cesare who has this disturbingly but innocent look to him and the way he moves gives the balance to the character.

Cesare approaching Jane in one of the film's finest moments.
Another thing to note with Care is the striking resemblance Burton’s character Edward Scissorhands has with Cesare. The overall black suite, the watery eyed expression and I don’t know if this was a conscious thing or not, but it’s truly fascinating to think about. If it was sub-consciously done then that shows the impression this film leaves on people. The character Jane does not appear much in the film nor does she have much personality, but the expression on her face is strong with emotion with those big eyes. One of my favourite scenes is when Cesare breaks into Jane’s room with a knife to kill her, but he is overcome by beauty, which soon later became a regular concept of horror films. I loved this idea and it is what gives this monster –if you can call him that- innocence and depth. Overcome by beauty as we see his expression, he lifts her and carries her away. Soon the townsfolk are after him and begin to uncover the mysteries.


Overall:
The film has come to a point of time where it is discovered, loved, cherished and talked about by film fans and enthusiast and doubles as a truly inspirational landmark of Cinema. Many have praised it’s style before me and it is simple to see why. It almost has a gothic essence on it with its dark tones set design and surprising make-up. The films power to scare the viewer and almost put them in a trance of this film’s bizarre tone has made this a spectacle of a film. Overall the film has a huge artistic quality and is one of the many classic silent films of the era, which leaves a strong impression.


My Rating: 9.5/10











Watch it on youtube here: 

1 comment:

  1. I didn't see the twist coming in this one. Once they finally do the reveal all the strange sets finally made sense. This may be the oldest movie there is with a twist ending.

    ReplyDelete

 

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