Friday, August 16, 2013

180 of 1001 Movies: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

If you were someone who had to study film in school, or you have gotten curious about the history of it yourself then you most likely at some point encountered The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari somewhere as it is noted as being one of the most influential films in existence, and even though it is classified as horror it's influence spans as far as film noir to other horror films with it's expressionist style. The costumes even remind you of something that punks in the 70's and 80's were wearing, and the goths were wearing when I was in high school.

Summary: The story begins with Francis narrating the story to another person at an asylum, so he can explain how he has arrived there. In a series of flashbacks we then see how the mysterious, Dr. Caligari and a somnambulist that he keeps in a cabinet and hypnotizes know as Cesare. He keeps Cesare on display at a fair that is travelling through. The somnambulist also is said to tell the future. Francis' life becomes wrapped in the horrors of Dr. Caligari and Cesare as he tries to investigate mysterious murders that are taking place upon his arrival.

Acting: With early silent films comes a lot of over acting, because without it you may lack the emotions and feelings to translate to the audience with the emphasis on how they are feeling nonverbally. Then again, after watching The Artist it seems very possible to translate emotion without over doing it. Conrad Veidt does a very creepy Cesare who is the sleepwalker. They gave him a very artsy, goth, vibe with all the makeup and black clothes. Werner Krauss was Dr. Caligari. The twists and turns are interestingly tied into the tale with hi characters. What was interesting to me was reading about these actors since they are all German, and eventually did have their lives affected by the rise of the Nazi regime party led by Hitler. These two actors would end up two opposing sides of the spectrum of their country. Veidt went on to be married to a Jewish woman and escaping Germany since he openly opposed the Nazis, and Krauss became a very hardocre supporter of Hitler and the Nazis even gaining an award from Hitler. Quite crazy. If you're curious as well the director of this movie, Robert Weine, was not a supporter of the Nazis.

Filming: The movie has a lot of artsy style to it, and it does put you in mind of how Tim Burton might have been inspired to also use a lot of the artsy traits in his own movies. It makes sense why the style isn't often done as it leans more toward putting the setting in a fantasy world than something real. It's very creative, and at the time people have said it represents some growing personality about the Germans. It isn't only the props that take on the very stylized, slanted art look though, but also the makeup and style of clothes. The makeup is very heavy, with the characters having very dark eyes. You also have dramatically dark or bright clothes. Like the woman, Jane, is wearing a white dress that is very ghost like in appearance. Another notable aspect of the movie is the music score. I think of all the parts of the movie that was the strongest for me.

Plot: The plot has to keep it as simple as it can, because you can't do as much explaining in a silent film. The movie does try to provide as many twist as it can that wouldn't take as much explanation and they do work, and don't conform to the sappy happy endings that would later arrive. With a silent movie though I find it very difficult to become attached to the characters, so whatever the fates of Francis or Jane were just didn't resonate much with me because I was never that attached to them as if they felt like real people.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a nice look at an early horror film that stands out among other silent movies that were released at that time. It's from a director wanting to be very artsy and creative, and he would go one to inspire many movies after that. It also gets creative with coloring the film from sephia, blue, to a purple, in order to capture the atmosphere of the scenes.

Rating 7 of 10.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) on IMDb

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