Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

To continue the seasonal theme I thought I'd take a look at what is widely regarded as the first horror film, Robert Weine's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari".
Filmed in Germany in 1920 the story centers around the nefarious Dr. Caligari who, under the guise of a traveling hypnotist, and with the help of his somnambulist assistant Cesare, roam the German countryside committing murder.

The story is fairly straight forward though the use of flashbacks as a narrative device is pretty advanced for the time. Also a surprising twist at the end was an original development that filmmakers have borrowed from heavily (if not just outright ripped off) since the movie's release and the same basic plot twist can still be seen in many movies today. But all storytelling innovations aside the real reason this movie is worth a gander now is the pure visual insanity of the thing. The sets, designed by Hermann Warm (who also did the amazing "Passion of Joan of Arc") are utterly bizarre. Heavily influenced by the then avant garde Expressionist movement, Warm went wild and created sets that look like something out of a fever dream. The shadows and surfaces of the film are impossibly contorted, threateningly jagged and beautifully surreal giving the movie a real sense of existing outside of any space or time.

All in all it is a very interesting film in that it is the first instance were a director was interested in creating a world which you have never seen while still telling a complete story. At the time it was made silent movies were still enamored with the novelty of the camera's ability to reproduce reality, but Weine was among the first filmmakers to be interested in creating an alternate universe the audience hadn't seen yet, and for that innovation he is owed a debt of gratitude. If you are at all interested in film history, or are just in the mood for something weird, check this movie out...

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