Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari

A stunning masterpiece of German Expressionism, ‘Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari’, made in 1919 by Robert Wiene, was a critical success, which influenced many directors and multiple genres, such as film noire. Its marvelous visuals, coupled with a excellent acting by Werner Krauss, Friedrich Feher and Conrad Veit , brings forth a story of  murder and deceit. The asymmetric architecture, where vivid colours can be imagined, creates an off balance set which befuddles the eye. With scenes of anthology, such as the one where the Somnambulist carries the young women on the uneven roofs of Holstenwall.

The movie is presented as a flashback, with Francis sitting on a bench with an older man, recounting him a story he experienced earlier on in his life. He narrates the coming of a mysterious individual called Dr.Caligari, who brought with him a somnambulist. We see him enter the tent with his friend Alan. When Alan asks the mime to tell him his future, he gets as an answer that he is going to die at dawn. True to his word the mime kills Alan during the night.

This brings us to a cat and mouse chase to find the killer. I have found that people today generally fail to appreciate movies according to their cultural setting and to the time it was made. The overacting is essential in silent cinema, for without it, the movie would be incomprehensible, for through it, the message is passed. The music plays wonders at creating the mood and complements the acting, with deep sounds when there is tension in the air and a lighter melody as the mood lifts and joy flows through the viewer.

The main characters each represent one aspect of the human being. The sleepwalker, very Freudian, as he fails to kill Jane, seemingly enthralled by her beauty. In what at first looked like a scene of rape, turns into a kidnapping. This ends in disaster as he eventually abandons her in the face of pursuit and falls into a ravine where he dies. Is change in attitude is an interesting case to study, its psychological meaning not lost to the viewer. Why, after staying so loyal to his master, does the somnambulist suddenly fail to act in the required manner? One must look into the deeper psyche of the subject and look at the subconscious. It seems that abandons himself to a subconscious sexual lust, which causes his change in action.

On to the Doctor, described as a Madman, straining at the chains inside his cell, and possessed of a diabolical look. His actions spark the intrigue in the movie, his obscure dealings with the art of hypnotism allowing him to mind control the poor soul know as the Somnambulist. Through him, Dr.Caligari can fulfill his dark motives, though this is the view of Francis.  The role evokes a lot classic references to old tales and legends. Werner Krauss, who plays the role, is masterful in his interpretation, the madness in his eye lined with kohl inspiring unease. The extreme use of make-up and simple costumes enables the actors to really go to town with their extravagant yet extremely useful way of portraying emotions.

Yey in an incredible twist in the film, we find out the Francis is the actual madman, not the Doctor, and that he is interned in an asylum with Jane and the Somnambulist. The a twist had never been seen before in film history, and added to this dark and surrealist film, made by an expressionist director. The film is a the start of a new genre, and as Catherine Bray from Film4 says: “With a zombie-like killer and twist-in-the-tale this anticipates everything from psychological thrillers to stalk 'n' slash.”

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