The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Das Cabinet Des Caligari itself explores horror and psychological themes and is the first and probably the most recognised films of the German expressionist era. Various techniques were used to bring out the theme of horror: cinematography wise, low-key lighting was most evident throughout the film, and footage was also under-cranked to bring out particular moments of a scene; Areas of some shots were blacked out to isolate what is on screen to facial expressions or a particular action. But most prominent is the film’s use of mis-en-scene, in particular its set designs, costumes and acting.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a silent, black & white horror film that was released in the year 1920, during the ‘silent movies’ era. It was after World War I, that two writers named Hans Janowitz & Carl Mayer, met up in Berlin to work on a Horror film script, which was written based on their own personal experiences. The idea was later then pitched to producer Erich Pommer, who bought it on the spot upon hearing the story and gave directorial duties to Robert Wiene, requesting for the movie to be produced in the expressionistic style.

The German Expressionism is an influential slice of cinema history. It is a creative film movement that took off in the 1920s during a period known as Weimar Germany. This period, which is between World War I and World War II, saw filmmakers exploring juxtaposions of light and shadows to create a new style of filmmaking, that would later inspire such cinematography seen in Film Noir.

Expressionism as an artistic movement was well underway before the outbreak of World War I, but the German film industry hadn’t quite caught on with the idea of this form of art yet. The social post-war culture of Germany itself had its own effect on the expressionist art form. This form of art, described as being an expressive form of communication by the artist, or in this case, a filmmaker, uses abstract forms of color, texture, unnatural depth, modified reality and much more as a way to bring out visually, an internalized depiction of reality.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is among the first of expressionist films and it has almost every element that we would associate with any German expressionist film. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was finally released in Berlin, Germany on February 26, 1920 and was more than just a local hit; it’s success also spread to the rest of Europe and soon later, the rest of the world. The movie was also considered to be the first of German expressionist films and in doing so; it was regarded as somewhat the world’s first horror feature made, one of the greatest in its genre.

Critics have praised the movie for its unique expressionistic style, in so doing; it helped create a particular national film style for Germany. This in turn, created audiences’ expectations for German films from then on. The movie was also said to have pioneered the “twist ending” in cinema narratives. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is filmed in a theatrical manner, where the sets are strange, with distorted, angular buildings and painted on shadows. Through mis-en-scene, Wiene was able to show how set design could put expressionist painting and art to good use in film. The acting styles of the actors also play an important part and works as an element in the expressionist film.

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(Eva Spirova)


One thought on “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

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