Tuesday, April 8, 2008

6. Das Kabinett Des Doktor Caligari (The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari) - 1919

Director: Robert Wiene

Synopsis: Dr. Caligari visits fairs with his somnambulist that can predict the future. Murders happen at the same time as Caligari's arrival. The townsfolk believe Caligari, or his somnambulist Cesare, are involved.

Review: Early works of any artform tend to focus on realism. Whether it's painting, literature or whatever. Cinema was no exception. Most early works were documenting things as they happened, recreating things that did happen or making things that easily could happen. I'm a big proponent of realism in film, but it's nice to see a film where the real world is absent.

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari is such a picture. It ignores the direction that cinema had and picked up where Méliès, A Trip To The Moon director/writer/actor, stopped. This is a fantastic, in both definitions, movie. See the still above for proof.

That is not a dream sequence. No one is on drugs. That's a shot of Caligari running down a path as if there's a mountain, path or tree that looks anything like that on Earth. The rest of the sets are equally distorted. There are few parallel lines. The size of things seem pretty incongruous with function. Even the intertitles have weird designs (although I saw this once and some of the intertitles looked like a Power Point presentation). Everything looks so out there that I would probably watch whatever was on screen so long as it happened in front of these sets. What happens is fortunately pretty good.

Caligari is considered the first horror movie. Like modern horror movies, it is not particularly scary. Unlike modern horror movies, it's at least creepy. Seriously though, there are a lot of horror cliches begin here. If you see a horror movie where a really creepy looking outsider comes to town and murders start happening until a twist ending, you can trace it back here even with a pretty direct line.

I realized that I never really discussed the Méliès connection and I'm too lazy to go back and rewrite this into a coherent flow. The camera is center stage and never moves. This could easily be a play in that sense. Especially since the sets could easily be reproduced for a stage. Note to anyone in theater: Please make a stage version of this. I will watch it.

Watch this on google video here. I'm completely serious. You need to watch this.

Score: 9/10

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