Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari
Director: Robert Wiene
Germany 1920
71 min
Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, among others.

I've been in something of a psychological rot lately, something that often happens when the seasons are changing. Or when I haven't slept or eaten enough. Or if I have forgotten my medication. Or if I'm hung over. Hell, about seventy eleven times a year, so it's nothing special. But Jesus, is it hard to find energy to write something here, and much less the energy to visit other blogs. I beg of forgiveness for my negligence.

But what can cheer one up if not a weird expressionistic German film? Sadly enough I missed the chance to watch Caligari on the big screen. Well, I didn't miss it as much as I frustrated left the theater when I realized that the copy shown was neither tinted nor had any musical accompaniment at all. That is to take the silent bit a little too far. An artistic catastrophe, in my book.

Instead I watched the film the other day with a glass of rosé wine and a tired boyfriend. I have seen it before, but certain films demand regular re-visits. It also happens that German expressionism is a subject we currently talk about in school. (I still can't believe the amazingness of studying film! And I can't believe that "amazingness" isn't a word accepted by the spell check.)

The beauty and the beast.

Caligari is however one heck of an awesome film. I haven't any base for the following statement, but I believe it must be one of the earliest films with a twist ending. For those who haven't seen it yet, I will say no more than that there is an explanation for the theatrical acting and weird surroundings more than a poor inflation struck German film industry. (The acting was in fact the thing that bother my co-viewer most, while I calmly thought "Just wait and see, love...") But I must add that the Germans were pretty clever handling the bad economy - making an entire film style based on cardboard exteriors scribbled with graffiti.

I might also add that the film industry was the one thing that never suffered greatly from the inflation: the Germans had no need to put money in the bank since the value of the currency sank for every day, so they instead spent the money immediately by for instance going to the movies. Again: smart Germans.

Conrad Veidt - the emo guy.

It's noteworthy that Conrad Veidt, playing the somnambulist Cesare, probably is most known as Major Strasse in Casablanca (1942). (The actor playing Alan, with the glorious name of Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, also appears in Casablanca as the German officer with Yvonne. I have no idea if this was a clever thing or a coincidence, though.) My point with this paragraph is however that this is an example of why the first 50 or so years of film industry is so fascinating: the fact that the same actor can appear in both Caligari and Casablanca, two films that stylistically are light years from each other, shows how much happened with the art of cinema in that relatively short amount of time. One can't see that great of an evolution if one would compare a 1987 film with one from last year.

I created a Dr. Caligari character in Sims yesterday.
My computer screwed up and now he's lost forever.

I realized something beautiful with being a film student recently. Films I have wanted to see for a long time but for some reason never got around to yet, am I finally being push toward viewing. I will for example soon watch Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), The Crowd (1928) and The Wind (1928) - all of them films I haven't yet seen. And The Wind is even directed by Swedish Victor Sjöström! Sometimes I feel like a bad person.

Speaking of Victor Sjöström I had wanted to write something about his masterpiece The Phantom Carriage (1921), that I delightfully and emotionally experienced on the big screen last week. But as I said - the mental rot wanted me to play Nintendo DS 24/7 instead. Perhaps I will write something about that film further on, because it certainly deserves to be highlighted.

I now own it on DVD, in a box set with five other Swedish silent classics. Neat!

Tomorrow I will visit the cinema with my dear mother to watch Shutter Island (2010). I read the book and found it irresistible (but Gone, Baby, Gone by the same author sucked really hard), so I'm pretty excited. I did however watch Alice in Wonderland (2010) in 3D last week - finally! A truly magical and somewhat uncomfortable experience. No, the 3D technique isn't yet perfected, but bring out your inner child and try to imagine watching The Creature from the Black Lagoon in the 1950's. It's a pretty retro experience, and I do recommend watching the latest Tim Burton creation during those circumstances.

Soon I will watch you. Very soon...


Kendra said...

Amazing movie!

Diana. said...

WEll, i have the poster of this movie in my living room. What more can i say...

Christopher said...

People who haven't seen Cabinet of Dr. Caligari all the way thru,really owe it to themselves to get a good copy(like the Kino dvd)and give it the full whirl to see that its not just a bunch of pretty pictures,that theres a method to all the madness.very clever film..
You should love Sunrise..Its always in my top 10 favorites..Janet Gaynor will break your heart!

Kim said...

I really need to watch this film. I am fascinated by German Expressionism especially since all these cool things came about because they didn't have big budgets. That's what I call creativity.

However I have seen the other three silent films on your to watch list and they are excellent. I will look forward to your thoughts on these films.

Lolita said...


Give it to me. Now. No, seriously - that's just too awesome!

I agree! The first thing I prepared for the re-watch was to get ahold of a full version - 71 minutes and tinted frames. I am starting to become a real nerd when it comes to consuming films!
Well, she did get the first Best Actress Oscar, so I am thrilled to see it!

I envy you not having seen it yet! It will be worth your while, promise. And I agree that creativity born out of economic difficulties is fascinating! I have a Swedish expression for it that I use a lot, but I have no damn idea how to translate it :)

Darsh said...

Make sure your teacher tells you about the actor's shoes in the boat scene in SUNRISE. Also you have no idea how jealous you made me when you mentioned watch THE CROWD. All I have is a shitty old VHS tape that I've nearly worn out.

Millie said...

Now, I REALLY want to see this. This review was HYSTERICAL. Seriously, I was literally sitting on the couch laughing out loud! In the old days, my family would all stare at they pay no attention! ;-D

Hahaa, I love how we both did posts about watching weird movies to cure depression!

"Amazingness" is one of my absolute favorite words. It should be accepted by spellcheck.

A Sims character??! You are WAAAY too cool!

Okay, I'm getting a hold of a copy of this some how!

Great post!

Chris Edwards said...

Cabinet is a classic, for sure, as is The Crowd. In fact, The Crowd is better than almost everything. Sunrise I don't love so much, although the camerawork is astonishing, especially for the time. I just couldn't behind the leads. Journey Into the Night is a lesser known work by the same director, and well worth your trouble to find.

Lolita, do you know if that Swedish boxset is available in North America?

Jennythenipper said...

I saw it in film class ages ago and it blew my little mind. Very freaky movie.

I love Sunrise.

Christopher said...

I liked SUNRISE better the second time I saw it..I'd like to hear a woman's perspective on it for once..All the reviews I've read have been guys..and the one lady I asked to watch it,liked it ok,but couldn't help injecting(trying not to give spoilers)a modern feminist slant on it..I distance myself from being the characters myself,and enjoy it as a couple of characters being who they are..

Matthew Coniam said...

I always think it's weird how both Krauss and Veidt ended up playing the enemy in movies during WW2 - Veidt by playing a Nazi for the Americans, Krauss by playing a Jew for the Nazis (in Jud Suss).

Amazingness is a great word, along with amazingality and amazingositude. My spellcheck doesn't allow Groucho either.

Lolita said...

I read that he supposedly had to wear lead boots in order for his burden of guilt would show more easily - was that what you were after? :) I missed the lesson where the teacher spoke about these films, so I will have to settle with the trivia thread on IMDb!

Haha, it sounds like we behave the same way to each other's blog posts!
Do get ahold of it - it will blow your mind!

Chris Edwards:
Thanks for the Murnau tip! I have seen Sunrise now and will write something about it soon ;)
I looked for the Swedish Silent Box Set, but couldn't find it anywhere. It's pretty new, so hopefully it will find it's way to the American market. I did however find the films contained in the box in other releases. Kino has released (I link): Erotikon: A Daring Fable of Modern Love (1920), Sir Arne's Treasure (1921), The Saga of Gosta Berling (1928). Criterion has released a beautiful print of Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages (1921), but a cheaper version is to be found here. I found a double Victor Sjostrom DVD with Terje Vigen (or: A Man There Was, 1917) and his social criticism of how Sweden treated poor women, Ingeborg Holm (1913). AND I found a DVD version of The Phantom Carriage (aka Körkarlen, 1921). Just follow the links and long for the box set!

It certainly has an effect on you! I just watched Sunrise - I will be back with my opinions!

Isn't it frustrating, trying to pull out some opinions from a person and not gain anything? I will try to satisfy your need for female opinions on Sunrise!

Matthew Coniam:
Fun to hear that we think about similar things about actors! I thought maybe I was just crazy. But perhaps you are, too.
Amazingositude? Hard to pronounce, but I will try to remember it for future use.
If spell check doesn't accept Groucho I will from now on ignore it completely.

Chris Edwards said...

Thanks for the links, Lolita. I've seen Erotikon and Saga (even wrote about the latter) so they're definitely available here.

Mykal said...

Lolita: I've always thought The Crowd was one of the saddest, most unsentimental films ever made. See what you think. -- Mykal

Anonymous said...

i definitely adore your own posting style, very interesting.
don't quit and keep penning considering the fact that it just simply worth to read it.
looking forward to looked over more of your current content pieces, cheers!

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

I know you're busy with film school, but next time you're in class, ask the professor--with an earnest expression, of course--where William Wyler and John Ford went to film school; it's guaranteed to cause a ruckus! ;)

rahul m said...

very good movie and a nice review ,seems like u a true movie buff like me ,try to write about french classics

Lolita said...

C. K. Dexter Haven:
Ey, now you have to tell me! John Ford was one of the Klansmen in The Birth of a Nation, that much I managed to google. Yeah, pretty busy: I just wrapped up an eight page analysis of Cecil B. De Mille's "Don't Change Your HUsband" - having fever and a veeery runny nose, on top of that. Please adore me.

rahul m:

7tavern admin said...


We've browsed through your reviews and thought that they are really original and interesting! We would like to invite you to publish your reviews on, which provides an alternative platform for promising movie reviewers to showcase their talents. In addition, you'll find a growing community of bloggers who share the same passion for excellent movies! Based on the merit of your reviews, we intend to offer you exclusive publishing privileges on our website!

7tavern Team

Anonymous said...

This is one of my favorite films. I recently composed a new soundtrack for the film on my blog.
Thanks for the great post.
Danny Hahn