Monday, July 2, 2012

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a review

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI — Directed in 1919 by German expressionist filmmaker Robert Wiene, this silent masterpiece has been regarded as the first cult film in cinema history. The film concerns a young student named Francis who encounters an evil magician named Dr. Caligari at a traveling fair. Caligari's "act" at the fair consists of a frightening somnambulist named Cesare, who has lain asleep in a coffin for over 25 years. When awakened, Cesare predicts certain death to Francis' friend, and is blamed for a series of murders that take place in the nearby town. (A scene from the film is shown above left) Story continued below)

(Watch Plan9Crunch bloggers Steve Stones and Doug Gibson discuss The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

This film has many interesting characteristics of both German-Expressionist painting and film, such as the transformation of everyday objects — furniture, windows, walls and buildings — into unmistakable symbols that reveal a hyper-psychological essence and the opposition of the standards of naturalism.

"Caligari" is an important film in the history of the cinema because it lays the groundwork for many devices used in contemporary horror films, such as the use of the "mad doctor" or "mad scientist" theme used in many Universal Studios horror films of the 1930s and 1940s, and the use of light, a sense of terror and tension in filmmaking. I highly recommend this film to anyone studying silent films.
(This review was originally published in the Standard-Examiner)

-- Steve Stones

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