Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari :: Index
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Crew & Cast
The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari :: Making
When it was released in Britain in 1922, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari was billed as 'Europe's greatest contribution to modern picture art' and it remains one of the cinema's landmarks. But its making and its meaning continue to give rise to controversy, with the sometimes conflicting accounts lef by the participants playing a significant part.
Evidently, Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, two young writers, devised a script in which they mingled their own memories of a notorious Hamburg sex murder and an unsympathetic army pyschiatrist Carl encountered while on military service with several archetypal themes from German Romanticism. They apparently intended their story to be a modern pacifist parable, with Cesare as the synbol of the people and Caligari as the state, seemingly benign and respected but in fact ordering the people to kill (in wars). The meaning of the ending, in which Caligari is unmasked and overthrown, is therefore clearly anti-authoritarian.
Erich Pommer, head of the small Decla company, agreed to produce a film of the script and assigned Fritz Lang to direct. But when Lang's work on Die Spinnen (1919, The Spiders) went on longer than expected, the job fell to Robert Wiene, who, it was felt, was equipped to handle a story involving insanity because his own father, a once-famous actor, had gone mad towards the end of his life. Then either Pommer or Wiene or both insisted on adding a framing device to the script (a prologue and an epilogue), making the story a tale told by a madman. The result of this is to completely reverse the meaning of the original story and rob it of its subversive intent.
In his classic book, From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer elaborated the theory of the German cinema directly reflecting the mentality of the German people and foreshadowing the rise of the Nazis. In particular he saw Caligari as the first of a series of power-crazed tyrants in German films, to whom the other characters in the story situation submit without question. But this view is now regarded as too precise and mechanistic.
Equally untenable is the view advanced by scholars like Lotte Eisner that the Germans are somehow peculiarly obsessed with death, madness and twilight. Interestingly, although Hollywood in the Thirties produced horror films in the same style and on the same themes as Germany in the Twenties, no one suggests that the Americans are therefore peculiarly pessimistic or doom-laden. It seems more likely that the popularity of tales of horror in Weimar Germany and Depression America has the same cause - a turning to stylized horrors to escape the real horrors of depression and inflation.
What is incontrovertible is that The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is an Expressionist film. But to what extent? Expressionism was a movement in the arts beginning before World War 1. It involved painters whose work was characterized by subjectivism, emotionalism and anti-naturalism. This is significant because Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Rohrig, who designed The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, were themselves Expressionist artists. In literature, Expressionism embraced the themes of 'alienation, anti-authoritarianism, pacifism, salvation through love, and hostility to bourgeois society'. Some of these elements were certainly present in the original script but were negated by the framing device.
The visual style of the film was distinctly Expressionist - with painted backcloths, dominated by curves and cubes, deliberately distorted perspectives, and furniture unnaturally elongated. The effect was to disorientate the viewer, and it was enhanced further by the Expressionist style of acting - with Werner Krass' top-hated and bespectacled Caligari, a shuffling, gesticulating, totally malign presence; and Conrad Veidt's somnambulist, a slender, hollow-eyed, ashen-faced, living corpse. Lil Dagover also stars. There were only a few totally Expressionist films like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, which drew themes, styles and visual motifs directly from the movement, but elements of Expressionism in art direction and the plastic, externalized acting style it fostered nevertheless became distinguishing features of the German cinema until the late Twenties.
Over the years considerable attention has been devoted to the political, psychological and artistic importance to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, but only recently has its perhaps most obvious importance - as horror film - been more fully appreciated. For whatever else it was, the film also represented the latest manifestation of German Romanticism with a pedigree stretching back to the novelist E.T.A. Hoffman, the folklorists Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, and the dramatist-poet Schiller. It is from these roots that the themes of death, tyranny, fate and disorder, and the subjects of haunted students, mad doctors, ghosts, mummies, vampires and somnambulists spring. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari was as much a product of this tradition as such contemporary horror classics as Der Golem: wie er in die Welt Kam (1920, The Golem), Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922, Nosferatu, The Vampire), Orlacs Hande (1925, The Hands of Orlac) and Der Student von Prag (1926, The Student of Prague).
In the Romanticism of its content and the Expressionism of its form, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari not only exercised a decisive influence on other German horror films, but also on the later Hollywood horror genre - where, for instance, in the films of Robert Florey, the students, fairground, mad doctor and killer ape of Murder in the Rue Morgue (1932) and the madman's fantasy of persecution in The Beast With Five Fingers (1946) are recognizably akin to the milieu of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari :: Plot
Seated on a bench in a lane, Francis tells his story to a companion...
In the north German town of Holstnwall a travelling fair appears, and Francis persuades his friend Alan, a student, to visit it with him. Dr Caligari, one of the showmen, asks the town clerk to grant him the necessary licence. The clerk mocks him and next day is found murdered.
Francis and Alan, now at the fair, go to see Caligari and his somnambulist Cesare. Cesare foretells Alan's future - he will live until dawn. Next day, Alan is found killed in the same manner as the town clerk. Francis, suspecting Caligari, takes the doctor father of Jane, the girl he loves, to examine Cesare but the doctor can find nothing amiss. Francis, however, continues to watch Caligari, not knowing that he was replaced Cesare with a dummy, which now rests in the coffin where the somnambulist sleeps.
Sent to kill Jane, Cesare carries her off instead, chased by her family. Eventually he falls dead of exhaustion. The police discover the dummy in the coffin, but Caligari escapes. Francis follows Caligari to the asylum and entering, discovers he is the Director.
Next night, Francis and three of the asylum staff search the Director's papers and discover an account of an eighteenth-century Italian showman called Caligari who used his somnambulist Cesare to kill people. Francis confronts the Director with Cesare's corpse and, raving, he is put in a strait-jacket.
Having finsihed his story, Francis returns to the courtyard of the asylum, where he, Cesare and Jane are inmates. The Director appears and Francis attacks him. Attendants overpower Francis and the Director declares that now he has realized that Francis thinks he is Caligari, he can cure him of his madness.
The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari :: Mini Photo Stills
Gallery :: Typeface
Gallery :: Still
Gallery :: Inverted
Gallery :: Classic Still
Gallery :: Stills
Cast >> Making >> Plot >> Mini Photo-Stills >> Gallery >> Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari Movie Poster Gallery >> UK Dvd >> Lil Dagover >> Carl Mayer >> Conrad Veidt >> Robert Wiene >> UFA >> Fritz Lang >> F.W. Murnau >> Advertise >> Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari Dvds available @ amazon.com