The cabinet of Doctor Caligari

The cabinet of Doctor Caligari

The cabinet of Doctor Caligari is a 1920 German expressionist film. It is in fact one of the earliest examples of expressionism in films, and the imagery is an important part of the story. Told in a long flashback, within which another flashback occurs, The cabinet tells of a young man whose friend is murdered and his life is completely turned upside down by the mysterious Doctor Caligari and his assistant the somnambulist Cesare.

I must say I figured the ending of the story from the very beginning, so I am not sure how much of a plot twist it was intended to be, although according to the film commentary, the original script was different precisely because it did not have this end, which was added by the director. I think it is the end what makes the film work as a narrative and not just as an artistic experiment.

The score that accompanies the DVD version I saw was composed for the DVD. Apparently, early silent movies were to be shown with a score playing on the background, but it was the responsability of the theatre showing the film to provide this music. It certainly was a nice addition to the mood of the story and I must say that recent exposure to early films has made me realize how important and carefully planned music used to be while in most mainstream movies nowadays it is loud and distracting.  

Part of what I enjoy looking at in old films is the way storytelling conventions have evolved, the way scenes are framed, how they fade, or how attention is drawn to particular areas or characters. Due to the highly artificial scenery in this story, most sets seem to only work from one position, so there are some curious technical difficulties the director has to overcome here. There are also a few other peculiarities, like how areas of the set where an important action occurs are “illuminated,” or the excessive use of make-up by some of the characters, which gives the whole story an odd and somewhat dreamlike quality. Very nice.

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