The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920 Babelsberg Studio film)
We start tonight off by a trip back in time to what people would consider the very first movie of the horror genre. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was released in 1920 as a German silent film. Written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer and Directed by Robert Wiene this film is thought to be at the apex of expressionist German cinema.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligar follows the exploits of an insane hypnotists (Werner Krauss) who uses a somnambulist or a type of golem (Conrad Veidt) to commit a foray of gruesome murders. The film uses a dark and twisted visual style consisting of a number of oblique curving lines, sharp-pointed forms, structures and landscapes that are twisted and at impossible angles. The shadows that are streaked across the screen were actually PAINTED onto to the sets to uncrompromise your senses.
Janowitz and Mayer claim the script was inspired due to events that happened in their lives. Both Janowitz and Mayer, were distrustful of government authority in part due to World War I. They remained pacifists throughout the war. They asked Herman Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig to handle all the set design. The trio used a ethereal graphic style instead of a natural one.
Under scrutiny, we now realize that the film was representative of German oppression during World War I. Dr. Caligar is clearly the German government with his use of brutal and irrational presence. Cesare is representative of the citizens of Germany who were brainwashed and conditioned to kill those ordered too.
From the book, “From Caligari to Hitler”, Siegfried Kracauer writes that the film is reflective of the subconscious need in German society to have a tyrant, and is an example of the authority and unwillingness to rebel against the the power structure that has become deranged and war-like. Kracauer believes that the film is actually a premonition of the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.
Other themes of the film portray the desperation of the German people. The use of very specific visuals portray a distinct contrast between sanity and insanity. It begins to question the duality of human nature through a Cesare’s subjective perception of reality.
Just as World War I ended, film imports on German films were gradually lifted and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari released to foreign film industries and was released all around the world. No one really knows however how successful the film actually was. However, film crititcs and historians alike are very glad to call The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari a revolutionay film.
Notable people such as Roger Ebert calls it “the first true horror film.” Danny Peary claims The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the world’s first cult film. This film is definitely a classic and went on to help draw attention to the plight of the German people during World War I through the use of noir and horror.
This film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is truely and beginning of many great German silent films for the next decade. This film is timeless and still relevant even today. Not bad for a film that is 96 years old!
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