Silent Film And How Critical Reception Shifts Over Time
The objective of this study is to examine the film Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari or 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" and to examine silent film and how critical reception shifts over time.
The film Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari or 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" echoed the German psychological warfare that had been waged against the people by Hitler and throughout the film runs the theme of tyranny over such treatment and psychological maneuvers against the human soul. Over time critical reception of the silent film, 'The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' has noticeably experienced shifts in perception and in the reception of critics.
The basis of the story is a fictitious German town in the north near the Dutch border named Holstenwall. The story involves a fair moving into the two and along with the traditional merry-go-round and typical sideshow was Dr. Caligari, described as a "weird bespectacled man advertising a somnambulist Cesare." ( ) Dr. Caligari travels to the town hall where an arrogant official treats him in a condescending manner. The next morning the arrogant official is reported to be located in a room having been murdered. The people of the town go on about having their good time. Two men who are students and who are in love with a girl named Jane whose father is a medical man enter Dr. Caligari's tent. Cesare is seen to be stepping out of a box that looks like a coffin and Caligari informs the audience that the somnambulist will provide answer to questions about the future. One of the students, Alan asks how long he is going to live and Cesare states "Until dawn." Francis learned at dawn that his friend had been murdered in the same way as the arrogant official, or that being death by stabbing. The student becomes suspicious of Caligari and with Jane's father begins investigating the situation. However, they are called to the police station to examine a criminal caught in the act of killing a woman and denied that he is the serial murdered. While Francis is investigating the matter, Cesare broke into Jan's room and stands over her with a dagger then takes Jane and runs with her pursued by her father. Cesare dropped Jane. Jane tells Francis that she recognized Cesare. The story goes on to tell that the coffin box is searched and all that is found is a dummy while Caligari managed to escape. Caligari finds a place to hide in a lunatic asylum and Francis investigating finds out that Cesare and Caligari are the same man. Apparently, there was a man named Cesare and another named Caligari in earlier times and the director's clinical records show that he desired to 'verify the account of Cagliari's hypnotic abilities and that his desire grew into an obsession. The director adopted Caligari's identity. This horror tale is reported to be in the spirit of E.T.A. Hoffman and representative of the horrors of the German system. The character of Caligari is reported to be such that "embodies these tendencies; he stands for an unlimited authority that idolizes power as such, and to satisfy his lust for domination." ( ) but then turns and runs and Jane is left screaming. Dr. Caligari is found in an insane asylum and he finally admits that it is he that has done the killing and that he has taken the identity of a man named Caligari who lived in years earlier and has taken as well the identity of Cesare.
I. Hypnosis Symbolic of Hitler in Germany
The German film theorists Siegfried Kracauer viewed the power of hypnosis possessed by Caligari as symbolic of the "manipulation of the soul which Hitler was the first to practice on a gigantic scale." The entire film is representative of mass hypnosis as the story is told "via a framing device, wherein Francis relates his tale to a nameless stranger. At the end, it turns out that Francis is an inmate in an insane asylum, and the doctor in charge is none other than Caligari himself." (Ebiri, 2002, p.1) The framing device was not approved of by the writers of the film, Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz originally because they believed it suggested that Francis was the madman and Caligari "the noble physician, thereby diluting the anti-authoritarian thrust of their original work." (Ebiri, 2002, p.1)
II. Off-Kilter World
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was such that preceded the beginning of a wave of horror films in Germany over the years that followed the film. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was successful in presenting sustained supernatural terror via use of a film. The sets of the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are described as "wildly surreal and bravely presented for the whole length of the story." ( ) It is reported that the story is not just one of murder and madness but that "everything about it looks psychotic. The whole film takes place on an angular expressionist sets." ( ) As well, the acting is described as "exaggerated." ( )
III. Use of Flashbacks
The film makes use of flashbacks to tell its story and while it is one of the earliest uses of flashbacks it is effective and such that "reveals layer upon layer of German expressionist drama." (Vic's Classics, 2012, p.1) The film is described visually as "nightmarish, bizarre, and disorienting. There are stark angles. There are slanted streets and windows. Characters sit on very high stools and patterns and shadows are deep and trance-inducing. The camera work is of course a bit crude but it is intense and very sublime as we delve deeper and deeper into the madness that Francis reveals to his Doctor." (Vic's Classics, 2012)
The staging of Weine is reported in the work of Ebiri (2002) as such that does not:
"feel like such an unfortunate choice after all. There is something odd about this world. The actors are ostentatious, their movements too deliberate. Cesare might be the only one under hypnosis in the actual story, but all the actors have a somnambulant aura about them. The flat plane of the action contrasts sharply with the angled doors, the painted backdrops and forced perspectives of the setting. These jarring elements, indeed, may well be clues to the unreliability of the narrator, and by extension the cinematic image we are being presented with. What seemed on Wiene's part to initially be some dated and unfortunate directorial choices turns out to be a significantly more complex approach, calling to question the very reliability of the cinematic apparatus itself."
This is reported to be why that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is an ongoing work that represents expressionism and the reason that the film still is effective as a story in its "stylized representation of off-kilter world is actually surprisingly consistent and compelling. It's a reality other than the one we're used to. The later expressionists would create this illusion using more cinematic devices, but Wiene settles for the inconsistency between varying media -- the collision of theatre and cinema." (Ebiri, 2002, p.1)
V. Expressionism in German Film
According to the work of Blakeney (2009) entitled "An Analysis of Film Critic Andre Bazin's Views on Expressionism and Realism in Film," film critic Andre Bazin "had very strong feelings on the subject of montage and realism. In his article 'The Evolution of the Language of Cinema' he explains his theory that montage, although necessary in many cases to make a film work, can be heavily overused. From the start he makes a distinction between 'those directors who put their faith in the image and those who put their faith in reality'." (Blakeney, 2009) In the view of Bazin a film is defined by reality and all that provides support such as "sound, deep focus and invisible editing…" (Blakeney, 2009) Bazin does hold that montage was that which gave birth to film as an art although he is "apprehensive of anything that supports the 'creation of a sense or meaning not proper to the image themselves but derived entirely from juxtaposition." (Blakeney, 2009) Bazin holds that "any manipulation of the image such as the suggestive editing developed by Eisenstein or the dramatic sets and lighting of German Expressionism stands in the way of releasing film's true potential for realism. He claims that the introduction of sound, far from destroying film as an art form, actually enhanced it as an essential element of reality." (Blakeney, 2009)
VI. Two Different Movements in German Film
There was a distinction made by Bazin between "two different movements in silent film, one in which 'montage and the plastic composition of the image are the very essence of cinema' and therefore in no need of support from sound, and another where the 'image is evaluated not according to what it adds to reality but what it reveals of it'." (Blakeney, 2009) Blakeney writes that in the second instance "…the introduction of sound helped…