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Genres of Film & Literature => Horror => Topic started by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 10:48:50 pm

Title: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 10:48:50 pm

Directed by Robert Wiene
Produced by Rudolf Meinert
Erich Pommer
Written by Hans Janowitz
Carl Mayer
Starring Werner Krauss
Conrad Veidt
Friedrich Fehér
Lil Dagover
Hans Heinrich von Twardowski
Music by Giuseppe Becce
Cinematography Willy Hameister
Distributed by Goldwyn Distributing Company
Release date(s)  February 26, 1920
 March 19, 1921
 May 14, 1921
Running time 71 min.
Language Silent film
German intertitles
Budget DEM 20,000 (estimated)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (original title: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) is a groundbreaking 1920 silent film directed by Robert Wiene from a screenplay written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. It is one of the earliest, most influential and most artistically acclaimed German Expressionist films.

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 10:49:53 pm

The film tells the story of the deranged Dr. Caligari and his faithful sleepwalking Cesare and their connection to a string of murders in a German mountain village, Holstenwall. Caligari presents one of the earliest examples of a motion picture "frame story" in which the body of the plot is presented as a flashback, as told by Francis.

The narrator, Francis, and his friend Alan visit a carnival in the village where they see Dr. Caligari and Cesare, whom the doctor is displaying as an attraction. Caligari brags that Cesare can answer any question he is asked. When Alan asks Cesare how long he has to live, Cesare tells Alan that he will die tomorrow at dawn — a prophecy which turns out to be fulfilled.

Francis, along with his girlfriend Jane, investigate Caligari and Cesare, which eventually leads to Jane's kidnapping by Cesare. Caligari orders Cesare to kill Jane, but the hypnotized slave relents after her beauty captivates him. He carries Jane out of her house, leading the townsfolk on a lengthy chase. Francis discovers Caligari is the head of the local insane asylum, and with the help of his colleagues discovers that he is obsessed with the story of a previous Dr. Caligari, who used a somnambulist to murder people as a traveling act.

Cesare falls to his death during the pursuit and the townsfolk discover that Caligari had created a dummy of Cesare to distract Francis. After being confronted with the dead Cesare, Caligari breaks down and reveals his mania and is imprisoned in his asylum. The influential twist ending reveals that Francis' flashback is actually his fantasy: The man he claims is Caligari is indeed his asylum doctor, who, after this revelation of his patient's delusion, claims to be able to cure him.

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 10:51:31 pm


Writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer met each other in Berlin following World War I. The two saw the then-new film medium as a revolutionary form of artistic expression – visual storytelling that necessitated collaboration between writers and painters, cameramen, actors, directors. They felt that film was the ideal medium through which to both call attention to the emerging pacifism in postwar Germany and exhibit the radical anti-bourgeois art.

Although neither had connections to any Berlin film company, they decided to concoct a scenario. As both were enthusiastic about Paul Wegener's works, they chose to write a horror film. The duo drew from past experiences – Janowitz had disturbing memories of a night in 1913, in Hamburg: After leaving a fair he had walked into a park bordering the Holstenwall and glimpsed a stranger as he disappeared into the shadows after having mysteriously emerged from the bushes. The next morning, a young woman's ravaged body was found. Mayer was still embittered about his sessions during the war with an autocratic, highly ranked, military psychiatrist.

At night, Janowitz and Mayer would often go to a nearby fair. One evening, they saw a sideshow titled "Man and Machine", in which a man did feats of strength and forecast the future while supposedly in a hypnotic trance. Inspired by this, Janowitz and Mayer devised their story that night and wrote it in the following six weeks. The name "Caligari" came from a book Mayer read, in which an officer named Caligari was mentioned.

When the duo approached Erich Pommer about the story, Pommer tried to have them thrown out of his small Decla studio. But when they insisted on telling him their film story, Pommer was so impressed that he bought it on the spot, and agreed to have the film produced in expressionistic style, partly as a concession to his studio only having a limited quota of power and light.

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 10:54:00 pm

Pommer put Caligari in the hands of designer Hermann Warm and painters Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig, whom he had met as a soldier painting sets for a German military theater. When Pommer began to have second thoughts about how the film should be designed, they had to convince him that it made sense to paint lights and shadows directly on set walls and floors and background canvases, and to place flat sets behind the actors.

Pommer first approached Fritz Lang to direct this film, but he was committed to work on Die Spinnen (The Spiders), so Pommer gave directorial duties to Robert Wiene. Wiene filmed a test scene to prove Warm, Reimann, and Röhrig's theories, and it was so impressive that Pommer gave his artists free rein. Janowitz, Mayer, and Wiene would later use the same artistic methods on another production, Genuine, which was less successful commercially and critically.

The producers, who wanted a less macabre ending, imposed upon the director the idea that everything turns out to be Francis' delusion. The original story made it clear that Caligari and Cesare were real and were responsible for a number of deaths.

Filming took place in December 1919 and January 1920. The film premiered at the Marmorhaus in Berlin on February 26, 1920.

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 10:59:15 pm

Critics worldwide have praised the film for its Expressionist style, complete with wild, distorted set design—a striking use of mise en scène. Caligari has been cited as an influence on film noir, one of the earliest horror films, and a model for directors for many decades, including Alfred Hitchcock.

Siegfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler (1947) postulates that the film can be read as an allegory for German social attitudes in the period preceding World War II. He argues that the character of Caligari represents a tyrannical figure, to whom the only alternative is social chaos (represented by the fairground). However, Kracauer's work has been largely discredited by contemporary scholars of German cinema, for example by Thomas Elsaesser in Weimar Cinema and After, who describes the legacy of Kracauer's work as a "historical imaginary". Elsaesser claims that Kracauer studied too few films to make his thesis about the social mindset of Germany legitimate and that the discovery and publication of the original screenplay of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari undermines his argument about the revolutionary intent of its writers. Elsaesser's alternative thesis is that the filmmakers adopted an Expressionist style as a method of product differentiation, establishing a distinct national product against the increasing import of American films. Dietrich Scheunemann, somewhat in defense of Kracauer, noted that he didn't have "the full range of materials at (his) disposal". However, that fact "has clearly and adversely affected the discussion of the film", referring to the fact that the script of Caligari wasn't rediscovered until 1977 and that Kracauer hadn't seen the film in around 20 years when he wrote the work.

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 11:03:55 pm

The film was adapted into an opera in 1997, by composer John Moran. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari premiered at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, directed by Robert McGrath.

Numerous musicians have composed new musical scores to accompany the film. In 1994, jazz bassist Mark Dresser led pianist Denman Maroney and trumpeter Dave Douglas in his compositions for the film, which they performed live at the Knitting Factory and released on CD in 1994. The British electronica band In The Nursery created an ambient soundtrack for the film, released on CD in 1996. In 2002, British musician and composer Geoff Smith composed a new soundtrack to the film for the hammered dulcimer, which he performed live as an accompaniment to the film.

In 2006, Peruvian rock group Kinder composed a soundtrack to the film, performing it live during the screenings. The venue was "El Cinematógrafo", a film club in the district of Barranco.

A radio version is published by Blackstone Audio featuring John de Lancie, written and produced by Yuri Rasovsky.

In 2005, the Chicago-based Redmoon Theater performed a Bunraku adaptation of the film. The only dialogue throughout the 80 minute production was the thoughts of Cesare as played through a Victor Talking Machine at the base of the stage. The stage was made up of many small stages with a dominant large stage, each being a drawer or cupboard in a large cabinet.

A movie with a very similar title, The Cabinet of Caligari, produced by William Castle and written by Robert Bloch, was made in 1962, claiming to be inspired by this movie.

Jean-Marc Lofficier wrote Superman's Metropolis, a trilogy of graphic novels for DC Comics illustrated by Ted McKeever, the second of which was entitled Batman: Nosferatu, most of the plot derived from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

A sound remake was released in 2005 and won several awards at horror film festivals. It attempted to reproduce the look of the original film as closely as possible.

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 11:19:14 pm

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 11:20:04 pm

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 11:21:15 pm

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 11:22:23 pm

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 11:23:42 pm

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 11:44:50 pm

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 11:55:13 pm

Tags: Film & Art, German Cinema, Film & Culture, Film History,

Film Analysis Kammerspielfilm, Part 2: The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari by Robert Weine

Note from the author: This post is Part 2 of a trilogy of articles on German Expressionist Cinema movement of the 1920s and 1930s. The name given to this type of cinema is ‘Kammerspielfilm’ meaning ‘Chamber Feature Film’ in German. This trilogy presents three of the most important films that were made during this period.

The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari is a 1920 silent film directed by Robert Weine. It is a radiating example of German Expressionist Cinema’s foremost forays into the genre of psychological horror. The film deals with the themes of mind control, mental illness and psychological crime. ‘The Cabinet’ was also one of the first films to include an anti-climatic twist at the end of the story.

Robert Weine tells us a tale of a deranged brilliant psychologist- Dr.Caligari and his somnambulist slave- Cesare. Set against a fantastic outback of Expressionist set design, ‘The Cabinet’ shines with darkness unlike any other film ever made. Bizarre and incredible trapezoidal doorways, ridiculously tall furniture and severely inclined streets are just a few noticeable elements of the world of Dr.Caligari. The unrealistic environment adds to the note that the entire film is being told by Francis who, at the end of the film is revealed to be deranged himself.

‘The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari’ is a 51-minute journey into a painting-in-progress, where the viewer is actually witnessing the various brush strokes as they paint a masterpiece. The film can only be perceived as beautifully grotesque.

The story is the work of a genius, even by present day standards.

A Study of the Plot

As the very first scene opens, there are two men seated at a curious corner. The older of the two men warns the other that there are many spirits that lurk around. As he speaks these words, a beautiful woman clad in ghostly white robes walks by them. The younger man, Francis reveals that he and the woman have gone through a very remarkable event recently. He proceeds to narrate the same.


The event took place in a place called Holstenwall, where Francis was born and it begins with the arrival of a travelling carnival fair and a mysterious mountebank figure. His name is Dr.Caligari, and he approaches the town clerk for a permit to host his act- a psychic somnambulist. The town clerk ridicules him by calling him a “Fakir” and dismisses him but eventually, Dr.Caligari manages to get the permit. Dr.Caligari secures a spot for his business and opens his show. That night, the town-clerk is mysteriously murdered. The town authorities are unable to find any clues. In the mean time, Francis’ friend Alan visits Francis at his home and pleads him to accompany him to the fair.

At the fair, Alan and Francis attend Dr.Caligari’s show. There, the dark doctor introduces his somnambulist and asks a volunteer from the audience to put his psychic skills to a test. Alan steps up and asks the somnambulist about how long he will live to which the somnambulist predicts that Alan has until dawn to live. Shocked and amused by the prediction, both Alan and Francis leave the show and head towards home. On their way back, they meet their lovely friend Jane. Both Alan and Francis are in love with her and they leave it to her to decide which of the both she’d like to wed. They make a pact that no matter whom she chooses, they shall remain close friends.

That night, Alan becomes the second victim of the mysterious murderer. He is found dead in his home at dawn as predicted by the Somnambulist. This sends a shockwave throughout the town and everyone is gripped in fear of the unknown murderer, not knowing his identity or who his next victim will be. Francis, disturbed by the loss of his dear friend, actively undertakes an investigation to find the killer. He suspects the involvement of the villainous Dr.Caligari and proceeds to keep an eye on him.

In the mean time, Dr.Caligari eyes the beautiful Jane and commands his Somnambulist to abduct her while she’s sleeping. But the somnambulist fails his mission as he is followed by several town people and he is forced to release Jane and escape to his own safety. Now, after being convinced that the murders were the doing of the deranged Dr.Caligari, Francis sets on a town-wide search. He is eventually led to a mental asylum. He enquires the staff for a patient named Caligari, but they don’t have anyone registered on that name. He later finds out that the head of the institution is the evil Dr.Caligari himself and based on the journal entries written by Dr.Caligari, he finally apprehends the evil doctor.

The narration ends and we’re taken back to the curious corner where Francis explains to the old man that in the present day, Dr.Caligari is a raving madman chained to his cell. Both men stand up and head back to where they came from. It is now revealed that both the men are patients of the same mental asylum from the town and other such patients include the Jane and Cesare the somnambulist. The asylum is run by a doctor described by Francis as Dr.Caligari in his story. When the doctor comes to make his routine check on his patients, Francis goes into a state of Frenzy and attacks him. He is held back by the staff and put into a strait jacket. Dr. Caligari does a check-up on Francis and claims he knows how to cure his mania.

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 05, 2007, 11:59:09 pm
The Greatness of the Film

The anti-climatic ending to the film is perhaps one of the first ever. The story draws in the attention and brings us to a faux-ending and as the narration rests, we’re taken to the real ending. Considering this was an idea that was conceived in the year 1920, it is quite astonishing. Once again, films like ‘The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari’ prove that the men and women of the early 20th century were not backward in their ideas.

The performances by all the lead actors: Friedrich Feher as Francis, Lil Dagover as Jane and Conrad Veidt as Cesare the Somnambulist are all exceptional considering that this is a silent film and there was no dialogue available at all. They never once fail to communicate the emotions of the characters. But the best among them is the performance delivered by Werner Krauss as the brilliantly insane Dr.Caligari. He strikes a chord of fear and fills the frame around him with a vibe of darkness.

The film was one of the first instances where Dutch Angles were used extensively to present a state of psychological imbalance in the story.

The shining example of Dr.Caligari has inspired film-makers over the following decades and continued living through the films that they made. ‘Dr.Caligari’ can be called as the first film to deal with the concept of Psychological Horror.


American Director Tim Burton is best known for the use of German Expressionist elements in his films. He creates beautifully dark environments for his films and often deals with the themes of horror and grotesque. His inspiration with Dr.Caligari is clearly apparent in his film ‘Edward Scissorhands’ where his Frankenstein-ish character Edward (played by Johnny Depp) clearly resembles the Somnambulist of Dr.Caligari. Another example is the villainous character ‘Penguin’ from Burton’s ‘Batman Returns’ who is a splitting image of Dr.Caligari himself. More so, his other films ‘Sleepy Hollow’ and ‘Corpse Bride’ are set against a beautifully grotesque atmosphere, much on the lines of Weine’s world of ‘The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari’.

Other film-makers who have drawn inspiration from Robert Weine’s magnum opus include: Woody Allen, Alfred Hitchcock and most recently Robert Rodriguez in ‘Sin City‘.

‘The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari’ is available for download here.

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 06, 2007, 12:01:06 am

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
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Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 06, 2007, 02:13:23 am

Title: Re: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Post by: Aphrodite on October 06, 2007, 02:24:53 am


Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari (1920)
(aka The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari)
A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1997  

Delving deeply into the morass of human insanity, this landmark film achieves a stunning balance between art, story and characterisation. The story of Dr.Caligari is related by a young man, Francis (Friedrich Feher), to an older one, as they sit together on a park bench. Transporting us into the past, the small, German town of Holstenwall is playing host to a travelling fair. Among their number is the sinister Dr.Caligari (Werner Krauß), who proclaims that he exhibits a somnambulist. The city bureaucrats can barely restrain their laughter as they grant him permission to parade Cesare (Conrad Veidt) before the townspeople. However, when the town clerk is stabbed to death, in his bed, that very night, their laughter soon turns to sorrow. As a counterpoint to this tragedy, the friendly rivalry of Francis and his friend Alan (Hans Heinz von Twardowski) over the beautiful maiden Jane (Lil Dagover) is like a sweet dose of innocence.
The following day, Francis and Alan visit the carnival and find themselves drawn to the tent of Dr.Caligari. Inside, the hushed crowd are shown Cesare as he drifts in eternal sleep, only waking up to the command of Caligari. With a few words, the darkened eyelids of the somnambulist flutter open, as he slowly emerges from his trance, and he awkwardly takes a few steps away from his coffin. His appearance, tall, painfully thin and desperately pallid, fascinates the assembly, as does the remark that Cesare can predict the future. Alan boldly steps forward and enquires, "How long have I to live?", to which Cesare immediately replies, "Until dawn". The prophecy becomes reality later that evening as a shadow stands over Alan's bed, plunging a wicked knife through his feeble defense.

Francis obviously suspects Dr.Caligari and his associate and determines to investigate the murder, although the police are less convinced. They agree to consider the matter but before they have time to act another murder is committed, with the culprit caught after the slaying. It appears that the mystery has been solved, yet the next morning the criminal claims that he knows nothing of the first two murders. He simply hoped that his would be blamed on the unknown killer as well. As fearful uncertainty runs through the town, Cesare strikes again when he ventures into Jane's night-chamber. Fortunately the monster is overcome by her beauty and, instead, carries her off into the night. Simultaneously Francis is keeping watch over Caligari and Cesare, in their tent, convinced that neither have left their abode. The resolution of this contradiction provides the key to the entire episode, yet there are further (more horrific) levels to the tale.

Throughout this story the imagery of instability parades forth with twisted streets, over-hanging buildings, crazily squeezed rooms and contorted scenery. Using Expressionistic themes the connection with reality is both non-existent, in parallel with the unhinged mind of either Francis or Caligari, and incredibly unsettling. The inhabitants of this skewed world, especially the ghost-like Cesare, fit right in, twisting themselves terribly (both internally and externally) to accommodate their surroundings. The result is alien, unique and powerfully oblivious to the usual movie techniques - an impressive statement given the devastation of post-war Germany. It's also interesting that many of the standard horror conventions have their genesis in this movie yet it has had no successful direct imitators. Hence, while it's true that the acting is rather stagey (in accordance with the picture's feel), The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari is simply one of the corner-stone films of this century.