Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Unit 1 Film Review: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (Dir: Robert Weine)

This is an interesting opportunity for me. To be able to re-review a film like 'Caligari' gives one the pressure of responsibility to do the review justice. I have, since last (and first) viewing this film watched other, more modern titles with opened and educated eyes.

 ‘Wiene's expressionistic masterpiece is required viewing for lovers of the gothic and the weird.’ Vaux R. (2005)

Watching Tim Burton's 'Coraline', is like looking at Weine's vision in colour. Burton's influence and popularity may be naught without Caligari, certainly he would have needed to raid someone else's nest in order to get his 'quintessential' look.

The story is one of power. The blind use of Caligari's science appals all, his selfish quest to further his knowledge leads to death, despondency and madness. However this is not a fable in the Hollywood tradition, but one with a far more sinister 'Grimm' feel. The titular Caligari, despite all his evil, never faces the justice he should. In fact it is his main inquisitor 'Francis' who takes the fall for all of his crimes. When Roger Ebert writes, ‘A case can be made that Caligari was the first true horror film.’  Ebert R., (2011) it is difficult to argue with his critique. Such is the pivotal effect of this film it radiates into every genre of horror, and indeed every production designer both of stage and screen must have marvelled at the expressive use of light and shade to create atmosphere on a shoestring budget.

‘Even if taken as social or Freudian statement, Caligari's real star attraction is in the visuals.Levit D.J (2009)

I have touched on the visual impact and expertise, but as a social statement I find this second critique of Caligari most interesting. During the film there is a reference to the crimes of Caligari being committed in several small towns in Italy..

..Weine (to my mind at least) is Nostradamus like in his pre-cognition of Germany's position as puppet master during WWII. Whether the signs were apparent in 1920 I cannot clearly say. But the fact that the content of this film deals with a power, taking and maintaining power over a helpless and clueless somnambulist (Cesare). Comparisons could be made with the way that Hitler duped the German people using fear and propaganda as Chancellor and Fuhrer. A similar comparison could be levelled at Italy and Germany's relationship in the conflict. Italy in this example are clearly the puppet to Hitlers Master.

Critic Bibliography:

Ebert R. Chicago Sun Times. In: rottentomatoes.com 07.10.11 [online] At: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1003361-cabinet_of_dr_caligari/ (Accessed on 26.09.12)

Levit D.J. In: ReelTalk Movie Reviews 07.02.10 [online] At: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1003361-cabinet_of_dr_caligari/ (Accessed on 26.09.12)

Vaux R. In: Flipside Movie Emporium 02.02.05 [online] At: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1003361-cabinet_of_dr_caligari/ (Accessed on 26.09.12)


  1. fascinating - and yes, as an allegory of the abuse of power and the 'everyman' sleepwalking his way through acts of atrocity, Caligari does indeed seem to resonate with the events which followed it.

    Just a small plea though - do you think you could opt for a slightly more comfy font choice? Having everything in capital letters is a bit like ME TYPING IN CAPITALS, WHICH ALWAYS GIVES THE IMPRESSION OF HAVING SOMEONE SHOUT IN YOUR FACE!

  2. *I typed that last bit in capital letters to make the point, but I can't make the point because even my comment is entirely in capital letters!