Werner Krauß als Dr. Caligari
Der Hypnotiseur und Schausteller Caligari läßt durch sein somnambules Medium mehrere Menschen töten. Nachdem ein Student ihn entlarvt hat, erweist er sich als Insasse der Irrenanstalt, deren Direktor Caligari ist. Der berühmteste deutsche Stummfilm, ein Meisterwerk der provokativen Bildsprache des Expressionismus, ist einer der wichtigsten Psychiatriefilme. Seine Thematik der erzählerischen Vermischung von Normalität und Wahnsinn und der Folgeerscheinungen von Autorität, Macht, Tyrannei, Despotismus und Massenbeeinflussung durch Hypnose sowie seine stilistische Verbindung von moderner Kunst mit Formen des Wahnsinns lassen ihn auch heute noch aktuell und brisant erscheinen.
Lexikon des Internationalen Films
The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, about which more has been written probably than any other film, blends fantasy, romanticism, medieval stories and philosophic fable into a story of mind-control, murder, and insanity. Its painted backgrounds, sets and costumes were in the style of the Der Sturm expressionist group, which included the painters Röhrig and Reimann and the designer Hermann Warm, all three of whom contributed to the art direction of the film. It is in many respects still filmed theater, a series of tableaux or "living drawings" (Der Sturm). In the ongoing controversy over definitions of German Expressionist Cinema, Caligari has long been the key work by which other films have been measured. For some critics, however, it can only be considered a precursor of "expressionism" in cinema, even German cinema; rather it is the instigator of a much narrower cinematic style, its own "Caligarism."
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari probably remains the ultimate expression of narrative through set design; even the exquisitely chiseled face of Conrad Veidt seems cut to reflect the angled shadows and interiors through which he sonambulistically slips, under the control of the evil Caligari. The film's tableaux-like backgrounds emerged from the Der Sturm expressionist group which included painters Röhrig and Reimann and the designer Hermann Warm, all of whom contributed to the design. With roots in fantasy, romanticism, and medieval stories, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is also intensely modern, and like the best science fiction carries a warning for the future. Its chilling tale of mind control and murder was written by two men, Janowitz and Mayer, who shared a hatred for militarism and authoritarianism. A decade before Hitler's rise, the fictional Caligari wrote in his diary, "Now I shall be able to prove whether a sonambulist can be compelled to do things...he would never do himself and would abhor doing--whether it is true that one in a trance can be driven to murder." A prologue and epilogue attached at the insistence of producer Erich Pommer helped to re-route Janowitz and Mayer's charged political themes into a psychological (and pseudo-scientific) tale of personal madness.
William Nestrick's writing on Caligari was some of his earliest writing on film and widely respected. Here we reprint an excerpt from his notes and analysis for a Film Study Extract: "Much of Caligari's power comes from the designers' willingness to let their work be seen. The horror that one experiences is almost intellectual and abstract because the realities of existence in the film have been visually analyzed. Most horror and fantasy films of the period would have indulged in camera trickery and special effects. In Caligari, however, such technology is not used for the miraculous transformation of reality; the writers wanted us to see the political world as it is. The absurdly high chairs in the town clerk's office are a valid expression of what we feel in bureaucracies.The [meaningless] numbers and other mathematical figures on the desks belong to a system touted as rational, yet they appear as cabalistic, mystical-yet another aspect of the system which Everyman confronts from the outside without comprehension even though he only exists through its permission."
Like A Page of Madness, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari exteriorizes internal mental states. Remarkable sets, designed by followers of Der Sturm expressionist group, use painted shadows, oblique angles and flattened perspective to create a sense of distortion and instability, suggesting both a madman's perspective and a world gone awry. In the chilling, nightmarish story, Dr. Caligari, the head of a mental institution, compels a somnambulist to murder. The film was conceived of as a critique of authoritarianism, with the official representatives of rationality insane. But at the insistence of the producer, a framing story was added which "explains" away the biting portrait of a state gone mad with a chronicle of personal madness.
Delving deeply into the morass of human insanity, this landmark film achieves a stunning balance between art, story and characterisation. The story of Dr.Caligari is related by a young man, Francis (Friedrich Feher), to an older one, as they sit together on a park bench. Transporting us into the past, the small, German town of Holstenwall is playing host to a travelling fair. Among their number is the sinister Dr.Caligari (Werner Krauß), who proclaims that he exhibits a somnambulist. The city bureaucrats can barely restrain their laughter as they grant him permission to parade Cesare (Conrad Veidt) before the townspeople. However, when the town clerk is stabbed to death, in his bed, that very night, their laughter soon turns to sorrow. As a counterpoint to this tragedy, the friendly rivalry of Francis and his friend Alan (Hans Heinz von Twardowski) over the beautiful maiden Jane (Lil Dagover) is like a sweet dose of innocence.
The following day, Francis and Alan visit the carnival and find themselves drawn to the tent of Dr.Caligari. Inside, the hushed crowd are shown Cesare as he drifts in eternal sleep, only waking up to the command of Caligari. With a few words, the darkened eyelids of the somnambulist flutter open, as he slowly emerges from his trance, and he awkwardly takes a few steps away from his coffin. His appearance, tall, painfully thin and desperately pallid, fascinates the assembly, as does the remark that Cesare can predict the future. Alan boldly steps forward and enquires, "How long have I to live?", to which Cesare immediately replies, "Until dawn". The prophecy becomes reality later that evening as a shadow stands over Alan's bed, plunging a wicked knife through his feeble defense.
Francis obviously suspects Dr.Caligari and his associate and determines to investigate the murder, although the police are less convinced. They agree to consider the matter but before they have time to act another murder is committed, with the culprit caught after the slaying. It appears that the mystery has been solved, yet the next morning the criminal claims that he knows nothing of the first two murders. He simply hoped that his would be blamed on the unknown killer as well. As fearful uncertainty runs through the town, Cesare strikes again when he ventures into Jane's night-chamber. Fortunately the monster is overcome by her beauty and, instead, carries her off into the night. Simultaneously Francis is keeping watch over Caligari and Cesare, in their tent, convinced that neither have left their abode. The resolution of this contradiction provides the key to the entire episode, yet there are further (more horrific) levels to the tale.
Throughout this story the imagery of instability parades forth with twisted streets, over-hanging buildings, crazily squeezed rooms and contorted scenery. Using Expressionistic themes the connection with reality is both non-existent, in parallel with the unhinged mind of either Francis or Caligari, and incredibly unsettling. The inhabitants of this skewed world, especially the ghost-like Cesare, fit right in, twisting themselves terribly (both internally and externally) to accommodate their surroundings. The result is alien, unique and powerfully oblivious to the usual movie techniques - an impressive statement given the devastation of post-war Germany. It's also interesting that many of the standard horror conventions have their genesis in this movie yet it has had no successful direct imitators. Hence, while it's true that the acting is rather stagey (in accordance with the picture's feel), The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari is simply one of the corner-stone films of this century.
Damian Cannon, Movie Reviews UK
A seminal horror movie, THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI was hailed upon its initial release as the first film to elevate the cinema from the realm of popular entertainment to that of high art.
Inspired by a real-life fairground sex murder and an unpleasant experience that one of the writers had undergone at the hands of a military psychiatrist, the script for CALIGARI was written in six weeks. Fritz Lang was assigned to direct but a previous commitment forced him to depart the project while it was in preproduction. Before he left he suggested adding a framing story to CALIGARI's basic scenario. His successor, Robert Wiene, picked up on the idea. Having intended their story as a metaphoric attack on militarists (Caligari) who conscript ordinary men (Cesare) into war to kill and be killed, the screenwriters vehemently objected to the story-within-a-story device which they felt reversed and betrayed their social message, but their protests were unsuccessful. Nonetheless, CALIGARI, which was released in Germany in 1919 and in the US a year later, opened to enormous acclaim.
Today, one can appreciate the outrage of CALIGARI's writers, Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz, without lamenting their failure to prevail. The shift of thematic emphasis from social oppression to personal paranoia invests the film with an additional level of disquieting instability and helps keep it fresh for succeeding generations of moviegoers. Whereas the average viewer can merely sympathize with the oppressed, practically anyone can identify with the paranoid, and identification is a more potent cinematic hook than sympathy.
CALIGARI's most important qualityan element many critics neglect to mentionis its power to scare the viewer. It was and remains a very frightening movie, from the aghast faces in the very first shot to the final chilling irony. Nothing is more horrifying than insanity, and virtually every major character in the film is insane at one time or another, in one way or another. Even those who aren't certifiable, such as Alan, are downright weird. And like certain old photographs that take on an eerie quality with the passage of time, CALIGARI might be scarier today than it was in its own time.
It has often been pointed out that THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is not, strictly speaking, a very "cinematic" work: there is nothing at all unusual about its photography or editing. Its avant-garde reputation is based largely on its audaciously expressionistic sets which the players perambulate like live actors trapped in an animated cartoon.
Dale Thomajan, TV Guide Online
Director: Robert Wiene
Screenplay: Carl Mayer, Hans Janowitz
Producer: Rudolf Meinert, Erich Pommer
Director of Photography: Willy Hameister (b/w)
Original Music: Giuseppe Becce (Uraufführung 1920) / Timothy Brock (new score), Richard Marriott (1987 score), Peter Schirmann (new score)
Assistant Director: Rochus Gliese
Art Direction: Walter Röhrig, Walter Reimann, Hermann Warm
Set Decoration: Hermann Warm
Costume Design: Walter Reimann
Production Companies: Decla-Bioscop AG
Distributor: Goldwyn (1921, USA) / Decla-Bioscop (1921); Deutsches Institut für Filmkunde (Deutschland)
Runtime: Zensurfassung 1921 (1703m, 6 reels = 71 min / 18 fps) / ZDF-Fassung (Deutschland) 1983, vom Fernsehsender ZDF ausgestrahlte Fassung von 1923 (Schwarzweiß-Kopie, 72 min.) / Bundesarchiv-Fassung 1984, Farbrekonstruktion des Bundesarchivs-Filmarchivs Koblenz (73 min.), Uraufführung: 11.02.1984 / Arte-Fassung 1994 (Deutschland / Frankreich): vom Fernsehsender Arte ausgestrahlte Fassung, identisch mit Bundesarchiv-Fassung, aber mit anderer Musik (73 min.), Erstsendung: 01.06.1994 / An einer neuen Farbrekonstruktion arbeitet derzeit Enno Patalas vom Münchner Filmmuseum im Rahmen des von der EU betriebenen internationalen "Lumière"-Projekts zur Rekonstruktion von Filmen
Cinematographic process: 35 mm Spherical, Black and White (tinted), Aspect ratio 1.33:1
Sound Mix: Silent
Production time: December 1919 January 1920
Filming Locations: Lixie-Atelier, Berlin-Weißensee / Produktionszeit: December 1919 January 1920
Release dates: 27 February 1920, Marmorhaus, Berlin / 19 March 1921 (USA)