Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Film Review - The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari (1920)

One of the first things that surprised me when watching this movie was that I enjoyed it, being as I am new to old fashioned films and was originally close minded and thought that being as it was an old black and white silent film I thought I'd find it boring. I am glad that it made me more open about older films, I found it entertaining, despite the lack of spoken speech, with it's very artistic surreal approach on its atmospheric outlook. As american film critique Kevin Thomas said "It sparked a wave of German Expressionist cinema, and completely revolutionised story telling of the time..." I agree with this statement. If it weren't for films like this and German Expressionism we wouldn't have had the work from Tim Burton in the cinema today, such as a favourite like "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Tim Burton is thought to be a very original and creative director and although I believe this to still be true I think it is clear that he has clearly taken great influence from the German Expressionism period in cinema.

German Expressionism rooted from the pre-war movement for World War II and is neither considered to be a solo style or way of creating art, instead, it was the result of numerous artists, writers and thinkers who were of age prior to World War II. German Expressionism also came from the idea that literature was capable of influencing change in society, focusing on an individuals point of view. This can be seen in the film with the way the sets and backdrops are set out, with the distorted proportions of the houses and town streets, a very surreal dream-like approach, much like the character of Cesare, who is a somnambulist, continually in a state of sleep and dreams. Throughout the film Cesare is seen to be controlled by his master, Dr. Caligari, to commit dark deeds of murder in the night, without Cesare realising. Just like the buildings and settings in the film are uncontrolled, with their uncomplimentary proportions and general daunting and awkward buildings. The whole German Expression concept behind the film fits really well with the horror genre of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as the unsavoury shapes and crowding shapes of the buildings exhibit an uncomfortable and restless viewing for its audiences.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) is classed under the horror genre in cinema, although the actual scary factor may not be as obvious nowadays as it was back when this was released to the world, it is still considered as a contemporary horror in today's cinema, due to its influence in the world of film-making. There is also debate into whether or not it was the world's first horror film as film critique Roger Ebert noted. " There had been earlier ghost stories and the eeries serial "Fantomas" made in 1913-14 but their characters were inhabiting a recognizable world. "Caligari" creates a mindscape, a subjective psychological fantasy. In this world, unspeakable horror becomes possible."

Even though the frame rate, effects and camera angles in cinema nowadays is very advanced thanks to our high knowledge in technology. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was exciting for its time in terms of technology, the camera angle shots are varied in order to represent the nature of the particular scene being shot, for instance, the scene where Cesare has kidnapped the female heroine of the story and it standing on top of a rooftop with her. In this scene the camera angle is a low angle shot that is used to make the character of Cesare look powerful and intimidating as he has the female heroine in his possession while the heroes try to save her. Another noticeable good use of camera angles in this film, though there are many, is the scene where Cesare is revealed for the first time to the audience at the fair, this scene takes on a close up shot of Cesares' unnerving face staring into the camera, eyes wide open, to raise fear into the audiences with his frightening face is staring directly into the eyes of the audience.

Overall this film has been inspirational to films that we see today. Robert Wiene, put a lot of thought process into the horror genre and his concept into dreaming. Robert Wiene really his stamp on the world of film, inspiring many today, the concept art and ideas behind the film are highly original, creative and incredible. The thought process behind the camera angles was thought out and planned well too. The only thing that I can fault on a visual point of view is I found the writing for the speech of the characters was sometimes hard to read. I understand the whole chilling but decorative font behind the film being as it was a horror but it wasn't easily readable at times.

Kevin Thomas
Cabinet of Dr.Caligari

University of Maryland
About German Expressionism

Roger Ebert
The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari



  1. Hello again!

    You have made some very interesting observations here, and have linked German Expressionism to the set design etc well. :)

    What is different in this review to the previous one, is that you are writing in the 1st person - 'I think' etc. This gives the review a less academic voice. So, your first paragraph at the moment is very personal -'I liked it' etc. You should try and approach it from a broader sense, so for example 'Modern audiences may today find the idea of a black and white silent movie less exciting, however...' Does that make sense?

    Ok, on to referencing - check out the Harvard guide here for full details on how to reference just about any source and image, and how to create your bibliography -
    Basically, after the quote you need the author's surname and the date of publication, in brackets. Your bibliography is organised alphabetically, by the author's surname, so Ebert, R. etc. You also need other info in there, such as the date accessed - the guide will make it all clear!
    You might also want to have a look at the folder in the Teaching Materials section of the unit on myUCA, entitled 'Essays & Articles' - this is a really useful guide to writing in the 3rd person, and also have some other 'dos and don'ts' for essay writing.

    Good luck with the next review! :)

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  3. Hi Rhianna - See links!