Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Considered one of the greatest films ever made in the silent era, and cited as having introduced the "twist ending" in cinema, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (which also has a 100% critics rating in Rotten Tomatoes) surely is a must-see for cinephiles & horror film lovers.

Directed by:  Robert Wiene
Written by:  Hans Janowitz, Carl Mayer
Music by:  Guiseppe Becce
Cinematography by:  Willy Hameister
Running Time:  71 mins
Country:  German
I started to watch this film without any idea what it's about. I didn't even know it was a silent movie. All I know is that it's a classic and is considered one of the best films ever. And man, it didn't disappoint! 

The first scene, I was a bit hesitant whether or not I was in the mood for that kind of film - but I did notice the unique quality of its cinematography. But the moment the little town was introduced, my attention was caught 100%. Tim Burton "feels". I love it!

the village of Holstenwall

The rare times that I watch a silent film, it's either I'm enchanted with the music, or the acting, or the story. This time, it's the visuals first and foremost that got me curious. Every single scene was like looking at an artwork in a museum. The distorted little houses or architecture makes you feel like you're staring at paintings of Salvador Dali or even Picasso, and the wonderful play of shadow and light (and the color, at times) sometimes reminds me of my favorite Caravaggio. Seriously, it's amazing. But after the feast I got from the artsy background/set & the wonderful colors or cinematography, the characters intrigued me. I rarely get creeped out just by looking at actors with over the top make up, but TCoDC obviously is the king of all creepy characters. The close-up shots, the play on shadows, the make-up which makes The Rocky Horror Picture Show seem tame,  and the jerky dance-like movements of the actors, really unsettles you and creeps you out. In short, everything about this movie has enraptured me!

Sure, this may not be scary by today's standards, and the acting sometimes could be hammy (though that may be intentional), but all that I've mentioned above makes this film highly effective. 

Most silent films (at least the serious ones) already have that creep factor without trying hard. Maybe it's the lack of dialogue that forces you, the audience, to watch something without using one of your senses - it leaves you at a disadvantage, thus unsettling you without being aware of it. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is more than that! It's in a totally different level, so other-worldly, so technically superior than most silent films I've watched (though that doesn't mean anything because I've only seen a few.) because it has everything. 

And I'll never forget Cesare. The first time I saw his scene with Dr. Caligari, it greatly reminded me of Edward Scissorhands. And if you think about it, you can see a bit of Tim Burton in this production. The weird characters, the equally weird set or background, etc. etc.
Dr. Caligari & the somnambulist, Cesare
What I'm saying is, aside from being one of the greatest films, it's also obvious how great its influence is. This is one of the reasons why I continually fall in love with cinema. The impact a great film leaves behind, that even after several decades after it was made, the actors & crew already long gone, still, the influence continues to reverberate through different generations of film makers and audiences. Even rockstars look like Cesare. Truly amazing.

My Rating:  4.5/5 

YOUR POINT OF VIEW: What's your favorite silent film?

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  1. Great review.. I know this film, and you were spot-on with all ! Nice job.

  2. I wanted to add, I too felt the Edward Scissorhands aroma with the sleepwalker and the unusual movements of the characters, they were indeed very eerie to me. I believe Tim Burton possibly was inspired by this film, because it was very similar to his style.



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