Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Directed by Robert Weine in 1920, this film has many strange qualities. It is about a man called Francis who is relating a story about his friend Alan and Jane his fiancée. Alan goes to a fair where he meets Caligari and Cesare the somnambulist who predicts his death at dawn. This prophecy comes true and Alan is murdered with Cesare being the prime suspect. Cesare then abducts Jane and flees from the townspeople eventually dying from exhaustion. A dummy is discovered in Caligari's cabinet while he flees. Caligari is eventually tracked to the mental asylum where he is shown the body of Cesare. Film 4 had this to say about this film: 'Pre-dating even early genre landmarks Nosferatu (1922) and Metropolis (1926) by some distance, Robert Wiene's silent film is both influential and one of a kind.'

This is another silent film, making use of exaggerated and theatrical acting to emphasise emotions. There is also vibrant makeup on the characters, especially round the eyes and lips to make them stand out more for expressions.
The sets in this film are painted and very monochromatic, often with strong directional lines that lead the eye around and across the set. The sets themselves are in some cases extravagant as seen when Cesare is taking Jane and carries her through a forest and out onto a rooftop. Although this is blatantly a painted almost cardboard cut-out set, it still strikes a good image when he's running through it.
Another thing about the setting is that all of the lighting and shadows are painted in. While this allows the film makers to definitely control where the lighting comes from, it does create a strong sense of unrealism and makes the black and white characters blend in with the background.
NYT sums up this pretty well by saying ' it is chock-full of skewed windows, crooked doors and warped walkways, not to mention freakishly made-up characters.'

In conclusion, this film is very unique for its time in the way that that it deals with set design and the use of perspective. IMDB calls it 'a milestone of German Expressionist cinema' which along with Metropolis, it really is.

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