The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
(Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari)
Director: Robert Wiene, 1920
Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari
Conrad Veidt as Cesare
Friedrich Feher as Francis
Lil Dagover as Jane
Hans Heinrich von Twardowski as Alan
Rudolf Lettinger as Dr. Olsen
I hadn’t read anything about this film before I viewed it so I wasn’t sure what to expect apart from 1hour 11minutes of a 1920 silent movie. The first thought that came to mind after watching it was how much it reminded my of a film I had recently watched called Shutter Island (2010). They both had the same twist at the end.
The basic storyline consists of Francis (Friedrich Feher) sitting on a bench and telling the story of his fiancé Jane (Lil Dagover) and his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) and how they had once gone to a fair. There was an amusement there of Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his amazing somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt) who could predict the future of anybody. Alan’s prophecy was his death before morning.
This was for-filled. The rest of this flashback spoke of 'Murderous mayhem and pursuit ensued in a cock-eyed artificial landscape of over-sized furniture and ill-formed spiky trees where everything tends towards spirals and spider webs' (Nick Hilditch, http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2001/03/01/cabinet_of_dr_caligari_1920_review.shtml, 1/3/2001). They resolved the killer to be Cesare under the trance of Dr. Caligari filling out his murderous fantasies.
However, the ending had a twist, it turned out to be Francis having his own fantasy about himself, Jane and Cesare who were all patients in a mental hospital and Dr. Caligari was the chief Dr of the asylum.
The sets and art design of this film I thought were amazing. I loved the distortion of everything in the image, e.g. the chairs, tables, doors, walls, floors, everything except the actors. My favorite fine artist is Salvador Dali and although this was before Dali it gave me the same mystical satisfaction as looking at one of his paintings.
I think these distorted sets were a very classy look to emphasis a film about mental illness and flashbacks and a twist in the storyline.
There was a lot of average camera shot use such as long and medium shots, but also to emphasis a particular expression or emotion at a critical moment in the film there was use of the close up. This particular shot was used a lot when Dr. Caligari (in the fantasy) would show people his somnambulist and this would give the feeling of a greasy twisted man obviously doing something evil.
'surrealist cinema begins right here' (James Sanford, http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1003361-cabinet_of_dr_caligari/, 26.7/2002)
This movie has been described as '