The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari is a science fiction film1920 silent horror film directed by Robert Vienna, considered one of the masterpieces of German Expressionist cinema.
The plot follows the story of a hypnotist named Caligari, who through the sleepwalking of his assistant Cesare, induces him to carry out a series of murders in a German town. The film mainly takes place in a dreamlike and distorted environment, with angular and warped decorations and sets that amplify the atmosphere of alienation and madness.
The film is famous for its whimsical and innovative production design, with hand-painted landscapes against cardboard backgrounds, which give the film a unique and surreal atmosphere. Furthermore, the non-linear storytelling and the use of flashbacks, flash-forwards and dream scenes make the film a pioneering example of avant-garde cinema.
The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari was a great success with critics and audiences at the time of its release and greatly influenced the expressionist cinema and the horror cinema of the years to come.
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The plot of “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” follows the story of a hypnotist named Caligari, who arrives in a small German town with his traveling show, which includes a sleepwalker named Cesare. Caligari introduces himself as a doctor who has discovered the secret of hypnotism and who can use it to cure mental illness.
During the night, Cesare is used by Caligari to carry out a series of murders, on his master’s orders. Among the victims there are some inhabitants of the town, including the young friend of an engaged couple, Francis and Jane. Francis, shocked by the crime, begins to investigate the identity of the killer and is convinced that Caligari and Cesare are involved.
Francis and Jane follow Caligari to an abandoned factory, where they discover Dr. Caligari’s cabinet, a sort of wax museum that collects strange and sinister figures and objects. Here Francis makes a shocking discovery: a wax figure that bears an eerie resemblance to Cesare, the sleepwalking murderer.
The plot of the film is characterized by a strong dreamlike and surreal component, which amplifies the atmosphere of madness and alienation that permeates the entire film. The scenography and costumes are particularly innovative and extravagant, with angular and deformed environments and characters with exaggerated and grotesque make-up.
Here are the main characters featured in “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari”:
Doctor Caligari: itinerant hypnotist who arrives in a German town with his show. He is the real antagonist of the film, who orders Cesare to carry out the murders.
Cesare: sleepwalker used by Caligari to carry out the murders. She is a mysterious and creepy character, with pale makeup and sunken eyes.
Francis: the protagonist of the film, who investigates the identity of the killer together with his girlfriend Jane. At the end of the film it is revealed that he is actually a patient in a mental hospital.
Jane: Francis’ girlfriend, who helps him in the investigation. He is a rather passive character and does not play a central role in the plot.
Jane’s father: one of the first inhabitants of the town to be killed by Cesare. Her death prompts Francis to begin an investigation.
Dr. Olsen: The doctor who treats Francis at the mental hospital. It plays a minor role in the plot.
The director of the psychiatric hospital: he appears only at the end of the film, when he reveals to Francis that he is a patient admitted to the same facility.
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The screenplay was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, who were inspired by a personal experience of Janowitz, who had a disturbing vision of a man who had followed him through the streets of Berlin.
The production of the film was carried out by the German film house Decla-Bioscop, which brought together the best talents of the German expressionist cinema of the time for the project. The scenography was done by Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig, who created a dreamlike and surreal environment through the use of angular and deformed decorations and sets.
The cast of the film consisted of actors not very well known at the time, including Werner Krauss (as Dr. Caligari), Conrad Veidt (as Cesare) and Lil Dagover (as Jane). Krauss and Veidt later became well known abroad for their performances in this film.
The cinematography of the film, by Willy Hameister, used harsh and contrasted lighting, in line with the expressionist aesthetic, which gave the film a dark and eerie atmosphere.
“Doctor Caligari’s Cabinet” was a great success with critics and the public. The film was exported all over the world and became a cornerstone of German Expressionist cinema, greatly influencing the horror and fantasy cinema of the years to come.
Distribution and Reception
“The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” was released in Germany on February 26, 1920 by Decla-Bioscop AG, the manufacturer of the film. It was later released in many other countries, including the United States, where it was presented in March 1921. The film was subjected to various censorships in many countries, especially for the violent scenes and the disturbing psychological content.
The public and critical reception towards the film was very positive. “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” represented a real revolution in the cinema of the time, thanks to its innovative direction and scenography, the disturbing plot and its expressionist style. The film also paved the way for the success of German film directors and actors around the world.
In particular, the film has greatly influenced the horror and fantasy cinema of the years to come, and many directors have been inspired by its aesthetics and atmosphere to make their films. Even today “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” is considered one of the masterpieces of silent cinema and a point of reference for cinema history in general.
“The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” is considered one of the most representative films of the German expressionist movement. The expressionist style is characterized by the use of deformed, angular and unreal shapes, which create a dreamlike and disturbing atmosphere. This style was very popular in post-war Germany, as it expressed the anguish and despair of an entire generation, traumatized by the war and the consequences of defeat.
In the film, the expressionist aesthetic is present in all elements of the production: from the set design to the costumes, from the cinematography to the direction. The scenography is particularly innovative, with angular and deformed decorations and sets that create a surreal and claustrophobic environment. Even the costumes of the characters are designed to create a disturbing effect: Doctor Caligari, for example, has dark and extravagant clothing, with large shoulder pads and wide sleeves.
The cinematography of the film uses harsh and contrasty lighting, which gives the film a dark and foreboding atmosphere. Furthermore, Robert Wiene’s direction is innovative for its time, with the use of close-ups and camera movements that give the film a fast and unsettling pace.
The film also has a strong from component psychological thriller, with the figure of Dr. Caligari representing the power of the mind and of hypnosis. The theme of mental instability is also present in the figure of the protagonist Francis, who turns out to be a patient in a psychiatric hospital.
“The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” is an innovative and experimental film, which introduced a new aesthetic and a new form of narrative in the cinema of the time, greatly influencing the cinema of the years to come.
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The director of “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” is Robert Wiene, born in Wroclaw, Germany, in 1873 and died in Paris in 1938. Wiene has directed numerous films throughout his career, but “The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari” represents his most famous and influential work.
Wiene began his career as a stage actor before moving into film directing. His innovative and experimental style was influenced by his theater training, which allowed him to develop a sensitivity for scenography and staging.
After the success of “Il Gabinetto del Dottor Caligari”, Wiene directed other expressionist films, including “L’Ombra” (1923) and “Genuine” (1920), but he was unable to replicate the success of his first big success.
After the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, Wiene, who was of Jewish origin, had to flee to France, where he continued to direct films. However, his innovative style was soon overshadowed by the growing prominence of realism and neorealism in French cinema. Wiene died in Paris in 1938, aged 65, after a career that had contributed significantly to the history of cinema.