[jahsonic.com] - [Next >>]

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - Robert Wiene

Related: 1920 - art film - German film - Robert Wiene - psychological horror - German expressionism - film

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, "the cult film par excellence," which ran continuously at the same Paris movie house from 1920 through 1927. --Midnight Movies (1983). page 23.

from the intertitles of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - Robert Wiene

"Ladies and gentlemen!
Cesare knows all secrets.
Ask him to look into your future"

"How long shall I live?"

"The time is short.
You die at dawn."

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - Robert Wiene [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]


The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari in German) is a groundbreaking 1919 silent film directed by Robert Wiene. It tells the story of a mentalist who predicts a man's death, then is accused of his murder. It stars Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Fehér, Lil Dagover and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski.

The movie was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer.

Producer Erich Pommer wanted to have Fritz Lang direct this film, but Lang couldn't work it into his schedule, so it went to Wiene.

The film was much noted for its Expressionist style, with wild, distorted painted sets and harsh lighting and is an excellent example of film communication through mise en scène.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was released in 1919 in Germany.

It tells the story of deranged doctor (Caligari), and his faithful somnambulist Cesare. The story centers around Caligari and Cesare, and their connection to a string of murders in a small quiet German town in the mountains.

Caligari is the first modern horror film, symbolized by its dramatic acting, scenery, and music (mise en scene). Caligari is also the first film to fully express German Expressionism. The opposite of impressionism, expressionism centers on the artists vision rather than on the viewers impression. German Expressionism is dotted with dark images, sharp contrasting figues, jagged geometry, and chiaroscuro. All of these artistic devices serve to express the despar felt in Germany after the First World War. Other German expressionist movies include Metropolis and Nosferatu. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cabinet_of_Dr._Caligari [Apr 2005]

Noel O'Shea review

Screenwriters Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz saw a Germany being destroyed by Prussian authoritarianism, the general populace being moulded into a collection of mindless conformists, and sought to sound a warning through the medium of film (Caligari, in the figure of the mad doctor compelling the unsophisticated Cesare to do his bidding, predicted the rise of Hitler). But this theme was lost on most, who instead marvelled at the brilliantly-conceived sets, all odd angles and painted shadows, created by artists Walter Reiman, Walter Rohrig, and Hermann Warm, who spearheaded the rise of German Expressionism in the years after World War One. Conrad Veidt, who would later perform brilliantly in such film classics as The Thief of Bagdad and Casablanca, mesmerised audiences with his portrayal of Cesare, the somnambulist who is hypnotised by Caligari (a superb Werner Krauss) into committing murder, until he rebels against his master when he falls for one of his intended victims. The scene where he carries Lil Dagover through some wildly surrealistic sets has been copied ever since (most notably in Frankenstein). Even if the film is framed by scenes that suggest the story comes from the infected imagination of an asylum patient, thus downplaying the anti-authoritarian stance of the film (with Caligari representing the Prussian rulers), the final close-up of Caligari's demonic smile is enough to prove that the film's purpose is by way of a wake-up call for the masses. This anti-authoritarian stance was to crop up in Hollywood films during the Depression era, most notably in King Kong (1933). --Noel O'Shea


Since silent films had no synchronized sound for dialogue, onscreen intertitles were used to narrate story points, present key dialogue and sometimes even comment on the action for the cinema audience. The title writer became a key professional in silent film and was often separate from the scenario writer who created the story. Intertitles (or titles as they were generally called at the time) often became graphic elements themselves, featuring illustrations or abstract decorations that commented on the action of the film or enhanced its atmosphere. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_film#Intertitles [Feb 2006]

I just watched the first part of Caligari online (see link above) and it occurred to me that in the silent film era, films were as much a literary as a filmic medium. I unsuccessfully tried to find a complete transcription of the Caligari intertitles because I'm quite sure you could 'watch' the film by reading the intertitles. [Feb 2006]

View at http://www.archive.org/stream/DasKabinettdesDoktorCaligariTheCabinetofDrCaligari/The_Cabinet_of_Dr._Caligari_256kb.mp4 [Feb 2006]

See also: silent films - The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - title

Noel O'Shea review

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari can be called the first art film, and it is certainly the very first psychological horror film. German expressionism flourished after the First World War, and Caligari was a prime example of the techniques involved. What were audiences to think of this wildly surreal nonsense, a tale seemingly told by a madman, and involving weird goings on with a somnambulist and his evil master? They thought it was great, actually. -- Noel O'Shea, Seminal horror films 1919-2004

Amazon review

A milestone of the silent film era and one of the first "art films" to gain international acclaim, this eerie German classic from 1919 remains the most prominent example of German expressionism in the emerging art of the cinema. Stylistically, the look of the film's painted sets--distorted perspectives, sharp angles, twisted architecture--was designed to reflect (or express) the splintered psychology of its title character, a sinister figure who uses a lanky somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) as a circus attraction. But when Caligari and his sleepwalker are suspected of murder, their novelty act is surrounded by more supernatural implications. With its mad-doctor scenario, striking visuals, and a haunting, zombie-like character at its center, Caligari was one of the first horror films to reach an international audience, sending shock waves through artistic circles and serving as a strong influence on the classic horror films of the 1920s, '30s, and beyond. It's a museum piece today, of interest more for its historical importance, but Caligari still casts a considerable spell. --Jeff Shannon, Amazon.com

From Caligari to Hitler (1947) - Siegfried Kracauer

  1. From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film (1947) - Siegfried Kracauer [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    A landmark, now classic, study of the rich cinematic history of the Weimar Republic, From Caligari to Hitler was first published by Princeton University Press in 1947. Siegfried Kracauer--a prominent German film critic and member of Walter Benjamin's and Theodor Adorno's intellectual circle--broke new ground in exploring the connections between film aesthetics, the prevailing psychological state of Germans in the Weimar era, and the evolving social and political reality of the time. Kracauer's pioneering book, which examines German history from 1921 to 1933 in light of such movies as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, M, Metropolis, and The Blue Angel, has never gone out of print. Now, over half a century after its first appearance, this beautifully designed and entirely new edition reintroduces Kracauer for the twenty-first century. Film scholar Leonardo Quaresima places Kracauer in context in a critical introduction, and updates the book further with a new bibliography, index, and list of inaccuracies that crept into the first edition. This volume is a must-have for the film historian, film theorist, or cinema enthusiast. --Princeton University

your Amazon recommendations - Jahsonic - early adopter products

Managed Hosting by NG Communications