The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) Poster

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A Masterpiece of German Expressionism
Gafke1 April 2004
Made in 1919, "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari" was literally years ahead of its time and remains a triumphant accomplishment in the genre of German Expressionism. Remembered mainly for its stunning sets, which featured crooked buildings and twisted landscapes, "Cabinet" also boasts one of the first attempts at a twist ending, something quite new and shocking for its time.

Told mainly from the point of view of Francis, a young man who lives in the small village of Holstenwall, Germany, "Cabinet" tells the tale of murder and madness which seems to accompany the arrival of a carnival. Francis and his best friend Alan go to the carnival and are presented with the sideshow attraction Cesare the Somnambulist, a gaunt and hideous young man who spends his life sleeping in a coffin-like cabinet and seems able to predict the future when awake. Cesare (played by a young Conrad Veidt, who later went on to play the evil Nazi general in Casablanca) informs Alan that he will soon die, and indeed, Alan is found murdered the next morning. Suspicion turns to the eerie somnambulist and his strange keeper, a man called Caligari. As Francis desperately tries to solve the mystery and find his friends killer, it seems that the beautiful young Jane, beloved by both Alan and Francis, has been targeted as the next victim.

This is a genuinely creepy film which delves deep into the mysteries of the abnormal uncomfortable journey to say the least. Everyone is suspect and, in the end, we must ask ourselves: "who is really the mad one here?"

Subtle and ingenious, we see the world the way an insane person might see it; warped and confused, a nightmarish terrain where nothing makes sense and balance is not to be found.

The impact of this film is still being felt and seen today, and for good reason. It is a shocking, disturbing masterpiece. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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Discovering Silent Film...
ninepence27 March 2002
It struck me last night that I've never seen a serious silent film. Everyone's seen a silent comedy: Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, the Keystone Cops... They've all been immortalized in the minds of every film viewer, and I enjoy them as much as anyone. But it seems a strange and almost disrespectful lack to never have seen anything but comedy; so many silent films were created, and the only ones I've seen starred waddling tramps.

It was partially for that reason that I rented this movie. I had read about it on a film review site (the name of which escapes my memory) and decided it was worth the half-hour drive to the video store. The basic premise is that of a man relating a story that happened to him and his friends - their unnerving discovery of a crazed mountebank, Dr. Caligari, and his prophetic sleepwalker. It follows a series of murders and growing madness, keeping you in constant suspense and confusion until the very last scene.

There's a period of adjustment when watching it - unfortunately necessary for a modern audience. The titles seem too slow. The camera seems to hold on scenes too long. The makeup on the actors' faces seem ghostly and horrible - even on the hero.

But before long, the movie has you in its grip. You spend time staring at the architecture - buildings, doors, and windows that would have been funny in a Dr. Seuss book. In the film, they make you uneasy. The whole atmosphere is of a world gone wrong; like a dream worthy of Salvador Dalí. Nothing is square or straight. The buildings loom in on you; windows sweep upward, slanted or curved; doors are obscenely angled holes beckoning you to enter and be trapped inside.

Throughout, the story defies expectations. Small plot twists confuse and mislead you until the final surprise, completely tearing down everything you thought the movie was about. Strange shadows and shots from inside alleys paint the film's world as something terrible, never allowing you a normal look at the village, never allowing you to enjoy the quaintness of it. Through it all, the grinning, hunched figure of Dr. Caligari hangs in your mind, pushing out rational thought.

The movie is well worth your time; there's a certain pleasure in trying to capture the feeling of terror an early audience, unaccustomed to the visual effects we see every day, would have had the first time they saw this movie. It's an intellectual terror in the grand old style, giving you the same thrill you get from reading Frankenstein or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. At the risk of sounding cliché: two thumbs up!
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Caligari: A creepy, distorted gem of the silent era...
clurge-24 April 2000
Like so many of the films from the silent era, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari gets overlooked (if you can even find it!) for big budget duds, and runny romantic comedies. Directors of the period like Griffith, Lang, Eisenstien, and Caligari's Wiene, are never given the credit they deserve. And if credit is given, it is in small cultish circles in various pockets around the world.

The set design here is amazing, not a single right angle can be found in any one of the sets. This may not only apply to the disjointed and distorted characters in the film, but also the state of Germany at the time. After all, the film was made in the dark ages in Germany between WWI and WWII. This point is validated by Siegfried Kracauer, with his notion of how the main character of Dr. Caligari can be easily interpreted to Hitler, and vice versa. Both controlled subjects with a form of "brainwashing", both were upset with current forms of society and government, and both were masters of deception. In a period where Germans were looking for direction, and let's face it, authority as well, Dr. Caligari embodied it fully.

In the area of the players, all the names in the film turn out a literally "speechless" performance. Dagover, Krauß, and especially Veidt as Cesare (pronounced Chez-a-ray) are excellent in the use of gestures and motion to get their point across without using words. The camera, stationary as in most early features, uses the mise-en-scene effectively, letting us identify with characters such as Francis and Jane, and disjointing us from Caligari, and the Criminal.

The use of lines and stripes, not only in the sets but in small places like in the good doctor's hair and on his gloves, adds to the telling of the character. Colour tints of the B&W film also play a special part in bringing the whole film together. An amazing sequence where Caligari reveals his true madness, pits Caligari stumbling through the unequal streets of Germany while being haunted by textual ramblings written in the air. A marvelous achievement for it's time. And it adds so much.

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari has changed the way I look at horror films, and even films in general. I urge anyone reading this to pick up this film. The DVD offering is utterly fantastic with the restored print, an audio essay of the film, and production notes. Bypass the overblown "motion picture events of the year", and pick up Caligari, quite possible the greatest motion picture event in the history of motion pictures.
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Art = Film
wmackey15 October 2004
Dr. Caligari presents the viewer with a frightening vision of the world through the lens of German Expressionism.

I cannot recommend this film highly enough. It's truly fascinating. And, it really (really) is an art film, since it purposefully and strikingly exhibits the new art of the German inter-war milieu. So, be prepared for an other-worldly excursion into the "total work of art," or Gesamtkunstwerk, of this monumental and influential film.

This film is best seen at night, alone, and with the modern soundtrack which is available on the fully restored version. If the DVD you're watching does not have (a) choice of two soundtracks (traditional music and much-scarier modern track), (b) tinted inter-titles set in a surrealistic (actually expressionistic) font, and (3) is fairly high quality, then send it back and get the restored version. The quality and completeness of silent films are a major factor in experiencing the art form as it was meant to be experienced. The modern sound track in Dr. Caligari makes the film much more accessible for modern audiences (the eerie effects in the modern track heighten the feel of the film for the modern viewer) - try both tracks, you'll see.

It's surprising how frightening and impactful this film can be. You will have dreams about it, I promise. These between-the-wars German films are riddled with creepy foreshadowing for us in the present, who know what was about to happen in Germany.

Anyway, I think the film is best viewed with NO NOTICE. You don't really want to know the plot (the meaning of the end of the film can be interpreted in radically different ways - keep that in mind when it happens). Only one note - artistically the German Expressionist movement is worth reading about after you see the film - you'll notice the theme of "death and the maiden" woven into this artwork. Also, this film is the direct ancestor of films like "Nightmare Before Christmas" and a lot more - you'll recognize the Expressionist look in many presentations in television and film.

WARNING - I would NOT show this film to children. It's very subtly and psychologically undermining - you'll be thinking and freaking about this thing for months to come - such a thing shouldn't be experienced by children - it's an adult, art film (no, not that kind) made for adults.
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Twisted, Buckled & Demented...
Xstal10 May 2020
With a story as twisted, buckled and demented as the scenery and set design, and a tortured score to boot, was the lunatic in charge of the asylum? Must have been a moment to remember coming across this cinematic marvel back in 1920. I wonder how many of today's pieces of cinema will stand the test of 100 years, albeit with a lot more competition.
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Masterpiece of German Expressionism !
mistern2@zipmail.com22 October 2002
This picture is a masterpiece ! How could someone think in something like this at that time ? The film has really good casting ! Werner Krauss is excellent playing Doctor Caligari and Conrad Veidt (Cesare) too !

This movie has an obscure and bizarre mood makes the film looks really scary sometimes ... The painted scenario gave the film the touch that it needed ! It puts you in a nightmarish world , gives you the sensation of claustrofobia , depression and madness ! The objects have a strange shape and an irregular geometry that collaborate for the maintenance of the dark mood !

But the most important thing in this motion picture is the open ended story ! You´re never sure about the end ! It has so many ways of interpretation... It´s useless to try to define "one end" to this movie. You´ll be always asking yourself about the legitimacy of the man´s vision of the story.

It´s not scary , just sometimes , as I said. But it´s dark and it uses the shadows and lights effects so well that I was amazed the first time I saw and I still amazed ! German Films of that time were really good !

Congratulations to Robert Wienne and his cast ! It´s a masterpiece of madness and paranoia!

Rating : *****/******
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Expressionism At Its Finest
FlickeringLight6 July 2004
The original message of this film is fairly pedestrian (an outcry against the weak authority in Germany at the time), although the political intrigue surrounding the production led to a fascinating framing story which re-established "the authorities," and in turn made the UFA happy enough to distribute the film. This suggests that in its own time the political message of the film was fairly powerful, but compared to the work done in such films as The Golem, Nosferatu, and Metropolis it is not so far-reaching.

What sets this film apart from its contemporaries is its absolute commitment to the expressionist movement. Mutated sets, heavy dark/light makeup, light and shadow, and a Gothic storyline are classic expressionism. The photography is beautiful and so crisp that it creates an eerie sense that this hellish scene is actually the real world, and that our everyday lives are the delusional Technicolor dream of a madman.

While there are many better movies made in this period, I feel that this one is the pinnacle of the imagery that is characteristic of the expressionist art form. It is an absolute must-see for anyone who is interested in the Expressionist movement.
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I'd say its influence is everywhere
SanTropez_Couch2 March 2003
Warning: Spoilers
Francis (Friedrich Feher) and an old man are sitting and Francis begins to tell him a story, hoping to top the one the man just told him. The story is about a fair that came to his hometown of Hostenwall and a man, Dr. Caligari who was one of the vendors. Caligari's submission to the fair is his somnambulist, Cesare (Conrad Veidt) who has been asleep for 25 years and, under Dr. Caligari's willing, is about to awaken. He does and Dr. Caligari tells the crowd to ask him a question, for he knows the future. Francis is there with his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), and Alan walks up and asks Cesare how long he'll live, to which Cesare replies that he'll be dead by dawn.

Alan and Francis both long for the same woman, Jane (Lil Dagover) and after they all three go home, we see, inside Alan's house, the shadows of he and his killer fighting on his bedroom wall. Francis goes to tell the police after he realizes the somnambulist's prophecy has come true. Back at Dr. Caligari's place, we see him feeding gruel to Cesare as he lay in a coffin. Another attempted murder takes place but turns out to be the work of a common crook not involved with Cesare and Dr. Caligari. More happens that's not really important. Francis goes to an insane asylum to see if the fled Dr. Caligari is a patient there but the worker he speaks with tells him he must go see the head of the institute for patient information, as he's not allowed to divulge that sort of thing. So Francis goes to the head's office (a skeleton stands upright in the corner) and it turns out to be Dr. Caligari himself.

Francis gets the police over there and after looking through his books, they discover a historical book about the mythical Caligari, who did just what Dr. Caligari is doing now, back in 1093. When Dr. Caligaru arrives he goes insane, saying he must become Caligari and doctors in the institute put him in a straight jacket. Then the telling of the story is done. The film adds a framing device, though, in the present with Francis and the man he's told the story to.

The two go back to the institute, Cesare is in the corner and Francis warns the old man not to accept one of his prophesies, for he should surely die. Jane is there also, and when Francis asks her to marry him, she says she cannot marry someone not of royal blood (huh?). Then down the stairs comes Dr. Caligari, whom Francis quickly gets in a scuffle with. He's grabbed by the doctors and taken upstairs. Dr. Caligari comes to the conclusion that Francis is manic and that his mania is caused by his delusion that Dr. Caligari is in fact the mythic Caligari who would wander from town to town with Cesare killing townsfolk. The last scene is of Dr. Caligari saying he has a sure-fire cure for Francis' mania.

So was Francis the real Caligari? Did Francis kill Alan in the hopes of getting Jane to marry him? (After all, we never do see his killer.) With this appended narrative twist, the entire story comes into question. I have a feeling a lot of people would hate this but I found it very interesting, maybe even historic.

The film is very dreamlike. All silent films are sort of spooky, but this one is more otherworldly. Everything is distorted and the camera, with that strange blackening, gives it an unstable touch like our most vivid dreams have. It's like something's been placed over the lens in order to highlight certain characters or visuals and cover up something else. I'm assuming the film used on-set camera tricks.

The expressionist sets consist of slanted walls, crooked doors, weirdly misshapen glasses, paint splashed on stairs that bend. A background that is clearly a wall with painting. Trees that look like wires. The characters' faces are all pale white and the blacks are all stark. Cesare, specifically, looks like a cross between Frankenstein's Monster and Edward Scissorhands. The houses don't look like houses, they look like pieces of wood painted to look like a stage set.

I can see influence from this film in the set designs of Tim Burton especially, and the narrative twist at the end must have influenced David Lynch in "Mulholland Drive."

The print I saw was from 1992 and for a movie that's 83 years old, I was very impressed. There was very little grain and the lighting was fine. The only complaint I had was that some of the handwriting from Dr. Caligari's writings was a bit difficult to read and that has nothing to do with the print. The music is all organ that comes booming in whenever something evil -- usually Dr. Caligari -- is onscreen.

It's hard to judge movies like these, but the visuals are wonderful, the music is spooky, the acting suitable and the pacing fine (it's a little over an hour). I would say this is an essential film, and unlike many "groundbreaking" classics, it's like nothing else you've seen.

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messiah of the terror
francisreidlight15 May 2006
The most important film in horror. Moody and shocking this chiller is the height of German Expressionist cinema and the prototype for whole genres in horror. Using violent contrasts of light and shadow, surreal settings and distorted camera angles to represent madness, chaos and psychosis, its influence is still seen even today in the likes of John Carpenter and the emerging actor and director Stephen Armourae, who has been also influenced by the film in his artwork and as the composer Stephen Armourae-Perry. Its twists towards the end put everyone from Hitchcock to the maker of 'The Village' into pale imitation. This film is now neglected by the public as it is a silent film. It really needs to be seen and appreciated more. Robert Wiene the director clearly inspired by the First World War transferred that shock and terror onto the screen with all its starkness. Hos purpose was to present moral ambiguity of the plot and action as a commentary on the paranoia, imbalance and uncertainty of post was Germany. And another parallel: not only has it influenced Stephen Armourae, he too is a hypnotist and recurring themes in his writings and plays are the moral ambiguities of insanity and culture, and German society of the twentieth century.
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Through the distorting lens of the humankind's feeble grip on sanity
Asa_Nisi_Masa219 September 2006
Having only started discovering silent movies recently, I don't have more than a handful of other non-talkies to compare it to. This however was not only one of the best, most compelling and unique silents I have seen, but also a great flick overall. It's all been said before, I'm sure, but I'll say it again: this is a milestone of German Expressionist cinema. It is also a class-A mind-phuck movie (excuse my French), one of those stories that'll leave you eternally scratching your head trying to figure out what you've seen, what to believe and what can be a plausible explanation for most of the creepy mysteries you've just witnessed. Right from the very opening scene, seemingly suspended in an otherworldly dimension, maybe somewhere in between life and death, in which the first line spoken is: "There are spirits everywhere", you realise you are in for a spooky ride (this is the ultimate Halloween movie, come to think of it!) Having studied theatre set and costume design at Rome's art school for a year before going to university, I was obviously completely fascinated by the set design choices here. Buildings and furniture, props and painted backdrops are elongated and deformed into blocky, savage, expressionistic, perspective-defying and proportion-less forms. Even the intertitles weren't of the traditional sort. The result is obviously one of unsettling the viewer further into believing themselves suspended in a reality where anything could happen - anything horrible or nightmarish, obviously. Nothing is as it seems, right to the very end. Btw, on a more frivolous note, I thought the character of Cesare the Somnambulist looked uncannily like something that might have influenced Tim Burton into creating Edward Scissorhands, or maybe even more, the look of some of the characters in Rocky Horror Picture Show.
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The film that changed my life
Urchin6 December 1998
I saw this film on the same day that I saw Trainspotting, and those two films made me realise what cinema can really do. This is a film that tells it EXACTLY as the film makers see it. The warped visuals say more about its subjects than words ever could. The travelling fair is as twisted and ugly as all travelling fairs seem to be, and the expressionist sets and lighting sum up perfectly the sense of urban alienation in a very unnerving way. It's story is simple enough to be accessible, but don't expect a straightforward film - just let it speak to you.
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dead_but_happy15 February 2001
The psychotic dreamscapes of this movie are so intense it has lost none of it's original power over the years. The scenery alone makes this film a unique experience well beyond what modern film has produced.

I often say, and I will say it again: German films from this period are the best - ever! And this one is the best of them all!
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A visually stunning work of early psychological horror
Oblomov_8128 September 2001
Warning: Spoilers
`The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari' may not be the kind of film that would shock today's audience, but its fascinating and horrific use of surrealistic atmosphere clearly had an influence on modern filmmakers such as David Cronenberg and David Lynch. While the story is not as involving as other German masterworks of the era, such as "Metropolis," it can be appreciated for its unique vision.

The thing that really strikes me about this film is the way the set design reflects the unstable mind of the narrator. The exterior scenes often include painted backgrounds featuring houses with sloped roofs and jutting edges, along with mountains that seem to twist and curl upwards into the sky. Although these backgrounds are not three-dimensionally realistic, they convincingly depict the gothic, surrealistic atmosphere with imagination and verve. The interior scenes have a claustrophobic feeling that generates from the walls, which are often at odd angles and slanting inward as they rise. Much of the design appears to be influenced by cubism; even the sinister Dr. Caligari looks square-shaped. The lighting also reflects the chilling mood, with shadows haunting the nooks and crannies in the background.

The characters in the film sometimes seem equally freakish. All the actors wear makeup that make them appear as pale as a ghost, and the men are decked out in dark suits and capes. Ominous figures approach the camera directly in two haunting sequences early on: in the opening scene, when we see Jane walking towards us in a ghost-like white gown, and in the initial carnival scene, when Ceasre steps out of his box. In the end, we learn that it is really Francis who was insane the whole time; thus, the sets during the story, which is told by Francis himself, reflect his disoriented mind. Not surprisingly, the bookend scenes where he tries to tell his tale to an old man in a garden are the only ones to involve natural surroundings, such as trees and grass.

For a one-hour horror film, "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" requires a lot of concentration on the viewer's part, especially since the story sometimes seems fragmented. Nonetheless, it will no doubt prove fascinating for years to come.
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Thank god this is on the 250 list.
dthink22 October 2006
I am 23 years old and am rapidly becoming extremely bored with modern Hollywood.

I am not a film student, I only came across this because I was going through the top 250 on here and was amazed at the year of this one, so I picked up the DVD.

I would love a time machine to see something like this being made.

It transcends time, and one could argue it has been "borrowed" from throughout this past century.

Well worth a few slow moments, the plot style is years ahead of its time. Its quite graphic in some areas too, this also came as a huge surprise to me.

I can't even explain the feeling you get watching this, its like the deep dark secret of Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter and Tim Burton all rolled into one. As directors they've all made history in their own right, but this movie just reminds me of them in some way, its tough to explain.

My version featured colorization of certain scenes, but it was done with a semi transparent color tint frame I am not sure the original featured this...

Reguardless, if you have some patience and are in the mood for something a little different, try this. You will not soon forget it.

10/10 without question.
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Authoritarian Expressionism, a history of the film
kelarenee23 January 2006
Warning: Spoilers
The original screenplay did not contain the frame that many use in their analysis of the film. As it was intended by the authors,it presents a story in which "Caligari represents the insanity of unlimited power, and his medium is the common man, which the authoritarian state trains to do its killing." The story was written by Hans Janowitz, a Czech, and Carl Mayer, and Austrian. They combined events of their lives to come up with a fantastic tale. Janowitz supposedly saw a pretty girl he wished to speak to but she was being followed by another man. He gave her up as lost but the following day he learned that the girl, whose name was Gertrude, had been murdered the night before. He recalled the suspicious man, who was also at her funeral, but he had no evidence against him and so said nothing. Meyer, whose father committed suicide, had to undergo many psychiatric examinations and grew to hate psychiatrists. They determined to write a script together combining these two things, but had no plot for it until they visited a fair together. There they saw an exhibit entitled "Man or Machine" in which a man performed amazing feats and uttered prophecies while under hypnosis—they had their story. It combined all three experiences into a horrific thriller.

The story, however, was not to be produced as they intended. According to Otto Friedrich, the "authors of Caligari intended it not just as a horror movie but as a kind of revolutionary allegory." As such, the powers that be were bound to find it unacceptable. Producer Erich Pommer bought the script and added and opening and closing scene. In the opening scene Francis is sitting on a bench in some kind of park with another man. They watch Jane walk by, seemingly in a trance. Francis then begins to tell his story. After he is finished explaining everything that happened the audience soon sees Francis in the lobby of the asylum with many other people, including Jane. Francis begs Jane to finally marry him but she responds, "We queens are not permitted to follow the dictates of our hearts." As the much friendlier looking director/Dr. Caligari comes down the stairs, Francis begins screaming that he is Caligari. Francis is put into a straight jacket and put in a cell. The director/Dr. Caligari puts his glasses back on and once again looks fairly creepy. He then says, "At last I understand mania. He thinks I am that mystic Caligari—and now I also know how to cure him." Instead of a story about the triumph over authority, it is simply the babble of a madman.

Simply appreciating the story and the meaning behind it is not enough. Instead of being played in an ordinary world, the entire set is expressionistic. Buildings are painted at angles. Doors and windows are crooked or rounded. Nothing meets at right angles. It appears as a world not entirely in the realm of fantasy nor is it completely on earth. Despite the story and the scenery being fantastic, everything is a reflection of the real world—including the fact that Cesare and Francis both lose in the end. The authorities win—in reality and in the film. Even the props lend themselves to this overblown idea of authority. The town clerk's desk and stool are set very high. In order to get to the police, the characters have to walk up stairs, and even still, their furniture is higher than normal—in case there was a question as to who was in charge. The shadows and lightening also reflect the film's expressionism. The backdrop was painted with extensive shadows to further the eerie quality. In addition, the entire screen is rarely completely illuminated. The audience's attention is focused on the important by using what would be a spotlight in a play. Sometimes only a person's face or the spinning top of a carousel can be seen at all, sometimes they are brightest while the rest of the screen is darker, and sometimes the entire scene is in full view. This gives it a very story-like feel and does much to enhance the movie.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a classical example of expressionism. Ironically, it is an expressionism tempered by authority. Regardless of what the audience of today thinks of the once incredibly popular movie, few would walk away from it feeling as though they had wasted their time. Original audiences may not have realized that it was, indeed, the story of triumph over authority, but those of today are better able to see this.
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Good but more in historical and technical terms
Foux_du_Fafa11 July 2008
"The Cabinet of Dr Caligari" is upheld as one of cinema's greats, and in a number of regards, I can understand why. It is hauntingly beautiful and wonderfully stylised. It's Expressionistic cinematography is wonderful and suspenseful; it's no wonder that this film has influenced many subsequent directors and producers many years later.

However, whilst it surely wouldn't have seemed like this back in 1920, it is rather boring through contemporary eyes. I'm sorry if this makes me sound ignorant, but today it plays rather slow-paced and un-scary, even compared to some of the other greats of Weimar cinema (such as "Nosferatu").

Not a bad film by any means (I would recommend it), but "Caligari" seems more something of historical value and academic study to me.
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A mind-bending introduction to German Cinema
Agent109 May 2002
I've always been a fan of Edward Scissorhands, but after watching this film, I realized where Tim Burton may have gotten the idea for his film. One of the great displays of German Expressionism, I especially felt the score (though added years later) was quite moody, bringing out all of the emotions one should experience in a film like this. The sets were so unusual, so strange, that the film felt more like a stage production coming to life on the screen. A milestone in film, and one which should be continued to examined even after all of these years.
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Complex, deep and unnerving
fjhuerta-25 November 2000
This is the way movies should have always been done, right from the start until now.

I first saw this film 1 year ago. I bought it on DVD based on recommendations of a respected A/V magazine, since they said it represented "the best transfer to DVD from a B/W movie we have ever seen". So I expected to calibrate my tv set with it, and to stash it with the other DVDs I never watch.

But from the beginning, I was hooked. Why was everything so normal, then imagery became so... astounding? The first minutes of the film were crucial, since I really began to see that these movie was trying so hard to convey a meaning far beyond that of being an expressionist film. So I followed, and followed. And marveled at the weird angles, incredible set design, and at the story that was unfurling on screen. A feeling of nervousness began by the second half of the movie, since (I think) the sets had worked their magic on my imagination, and I was sucked deep into the movie. And when I thought the movie was over.... there was an ending any modern movie would love to achieve. Terrific!

Watching the running commentary only made things even better, since every detail and nuisance was explained, tracing paralels with Germany of the 1920's, and exploring the motivation and inner workings of every character. What a movie!

Highly recommended for late night viewing. Not a movie for watching with friends, though. This movie is like the finest of the fine wines: sip it alone, at your own pace, and you will find it well worth the price of admission.
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"Caligari": A Jewel of Early Cinema
erhembayarb26 November 2017
In 1995, humankind celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of motion pictures; the newest medium of art proclaimed its reign of the world of art. Since its beginning, films thoroughly revolutionized the way people watch, think, and get entertained. Now, the time for us to mark a centenary of one of the earliest classics is on the verge. A timeless classic, visual perfection from the silent film period in the Weimar Republic, a century old Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) still mesmerizes the audience with its sensational visual and historical significance. The stylized sets and grotesque atmosphere of the film are remarkable as ever growing prestige and everlasting impact of the film makes it to an extraordinary level.

Extreme distortions, jagged lines, discordant angles make the world of "Caligari" unusually bizarre place to live in. Anyone who watched "Caligari" at night, all alone, will say that "Caligari" is a creepy old movie with an eerie atmosphere and series of vivid imagery. To build a sense of psychological horror, production designer Walter Reimann utilized this unconventionally eccentric sets and disharmonious angles and lights to display the mental state of the protagonist. A critic at Variety claims that "Robert Wiene has made perfect use of settings that squeeze and turn and adjust the eye and through the eye the mentality."

The film is recognized as one of the most important works from the post-World War I era. Veering away from conventional cinema and its methods, Expressionist movement in Germany, German Expressionism, sought a different approach to the cinema, exploring and expressing subjectivity through its images, acting, and lighting. A number of film experts believe that "Caligari" was one of the pioneers to both capture extreme imagery and tell subjective perception through rolling films, giving birth to Expressionist Cinema in Germany. In his book, A Critical History of German Film, Stephen Brockmann maintains that "Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the quintessential example of German Expressionist cinema, was both popular with the public and acclaimed by critics." The significance of "Caligari" lies not only in laying the groundwork of German Expressionist cinema but also in mirroring the society of Germany after the outrageous war. As mentioned above, sets and techniques used by Walter Reimann not only reflect the insanity of a character, but also communicate the tense anxiety in Germany after World War I. Through its theme, set, and story, "Caligari" works as a visual portrayal of German people's feelings toward the aftermath of WWI. In discussions of "Caligari", one controversial issue has been raised about the relationship between the film itself and the rise of Nazi. German film theorist and sociologist Siegfried Kracauer argues that the success and expansion of the film were a reflection of premonition of Hitler's rise. Kracauer's point is that the film, dealing extensively with the themes of control and obedience, has allegories that "expressed German people's fear of chaos and a desire for order, even at the price of authoritarian rule". Taking Kracauer's interpretation into consideration is useful because it sheds insight on the difficulty of envisioning the society during the Weimar era.

Most film experts will tell you that you can see the elements of "Caligari" in the works of Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, Edward Lynch and many more. Indeed, "Caligari" was the cinema's first masterpiece.
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Fall Apart
kurosawakira21 December 2013
Warning: Spoilers
I will spoil everything in this review, so if you haven't seen the film and wouldn't like to know something rather essential about the plot, please don't read further. I'm writing this in case, ironically, you haven't read so far and have ignored the spoiler tag.

The new restoration of this film, seen through by the great people at Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung, will be shown at next year's Berlinale in February, and we know that the Masters of Cinema series will release it on Blu-ray. eventually Should a treat, since this film deserves such meticulous attention, and more.

I'm not in the business to say which film does something first, and it hardly matters in my books. But "Caligari" most certainly is masterful in what it does, and in some ways it's still so modern and so revolutionary it's quite impossible not to be enthralled by it.

I am talking about the infamous "twist ending", sure. But in an age where every story seems to implement a twist or two every five minutes, this term has lost its power to me to fully describe to full effect of what was done in this film. So, the film is framed as a story narrated by Francis, himself a central character in the story being told. The shock twist, of course, reveals to us that Francis, Jane and Cesare are actually mentally unstable and locked in an asylum. In other words, what we have seen is actually a fantasy and we realize that the narrator cannot be trusted.

This is very brilliant, and one of the most powerful and successful explorations of the notion of the unreliable narrator in the twentieth century. But the film goes further. What I speak of now is the use of architecture. The most beautiful visual clue in the narrative is actually planted in what we see, in the wildly imaginative sets and production art. This is one example where its reputation as a German Expressionist film actually stands in the way of us being able to enjoy it for what it is – at least it did for me – since it's easy to write off the set design just as "German Expressionist". But the reason why the film world looks the way it does is because this is a fantasy, this is a world created by Francis, who sees the world differently from us, hence he's labelled insane. But the most shocking revelation that the end brings is that what we've witnessed is not only a tale of a madman, it's actually what we've seen that has been, in reality, a film seen through a madman's lens.

And indeed, doesn't the whole world seem to be about to fall apart, the houses crumbling onto themselves? And isn't that the point?
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This is where the good stuff begins...
Red-Barracuda27 August 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The influence of this film simply cannot be over-stated. It is not only a picture that exemplifies German Expressionist cinema but it also arguably invented the horror film too. Sure, there were movies with horror elements before Caligari, but this is surely the one that formulated it into a full-length feature. Not only that but this is also where the art film began too. Films would simply never be the same again after The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Of course the first thing that is immediately obvious is the bizarre visual aesthetic and bold set design. Everything is at uncomfortable angles. Trees and grass look like blades. Doors and windows are never symmetrical. Buildings are shaped in impossible angular styles. Everything is awash with extreme lighting, while the sets are painted with abstract and expressionistic designs. The crazed look of the film is of course meant to represent the insanity of the central character's mind. This must surely be the first time that cinema had tried to visually represent the subjective inner workings of a psychologically damaged mind. It also was pioneering in that the framing story where we meet the troubled protagonist also allowed for a flashback narrative and twist ending – both revolutionary ideas at the time.

Needless to say that the film features extreme melodramatic acting that was prevalent at the time in the silent era. However, despite all this, Conrad Veidt is terrific as Casare the somnambulist. This is a character that remains very compelling to this day. His combination of darkness with a ballet dancer's graceful movements is one that will never get old. Cesare remains iconic and always will be. Which is something which can be said for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in general. This ancient film remains mysterious, evocative and bold. It's one of the most important films ever made and its dream-like ambiance is something that should be seen by anyone at all interested in the formation of cinema as an art form.
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the foundation for modern horror
Cannibully24 September 2006
Any fan of horror or German expressionism needs to see this 1920 classic. Considered by many to be the first true horror movie, this is a story that doesn't need sound to get under your skin. Francis (Friedrich Feher) tells the story of Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), who hosts a sideshow exhibit at a local carnival featuring Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a somnambulist who has been asleep for 23 years. Dr. Caligari is able to awaken Cesare through hypnotic suggestion for the entertainment of the onlookers. It seems that Dr. Caligari might have other uses for Cesare as well. Shortly after their arrival, town-folk start turning up dead. It isn't long before suspicion falls upon the tragic Cesare. But things are not entirely as they seem. Francis may not be the hero we are led to believe he is. Any review of this movie would be remiss without mentioning the set design. With nary a right angle in sight, the sets are as much a part of the story as the actors. The strange design certainly contributes to the madness the film means to convey and sets the mood for a truly creepy story. Don't pass this one up just because it is a very old and very silent film. It is a memorable story that is well acted and masterfully executed by director, Robert Wiene.
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And When Dr. Caligari Went To The Cabinet, The Cabinet Was Bare
strong-122-4788854 August 2014
Because this somewhat weird, German-Expressionist film (with its original colour tinting) is now 94 years old, I really did try to be lenient and cut it some slack with my overall rating of it.

But, with that said, I'm sorry to have to tell you ('cause I'm not going to lie), the best that I could ever possibly give as a score for this silent-era freak-show would only be a measly 3 stars, and that's all. Regardless of its old age, it just doesn't deserve more than that.

For one thing, at 75 minutes, this picture was about 20 minutes too long. And, when it came to its rather bizarre and deliberately distorted set designs, I found them, before long, to be quite boring, and literally under-whelming.

You can be sure, had this fantasy film been made in the USA (circa. 1920), I highly doubt that all the snobs-of-early-cinema would still be falling all over themselves with absolute, undying praise for it, right to this very day.

From my point of view, this vintage film's story was so simple that it came across as being downright simple-minded in nature. And, as far as the Dr. Caligari character goes, he was far from being convincingly sinister and treacherous. On the contrary, this dumpy, old fart struck me as being nothing but a stupid, senile, windbag who couldn't even scare a child.
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A Landmark of World Cinema
gftbiloxi24 March 2005
World War One sent a shockwave through the arts and one of the results was expressionism. The term is difficult to define; in a general sense, however, it refers to a type of art that makes a statement about internal emotion and psychology. Often linked to surrealism and cubism, in the 1920s expressionism became one of the dominate styles in visual and performing arts and was particularly associated with Germany.

The 1919 THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI is perhaps the only film made in a purely expressionist style. As directed by Robert Wiene and designed by Herman Warm, Walter Reimann, and Walter Rohrig, everything about the film is exaggerated, off-center, and disorienting. The sets are strange, deliberately artificial constructions of flat surfaces in odd angles and broad strokes of paint; the make-up and costumes are equally exaggerated. The result is a unique look that has the paranoid essence of nightmare, and the story links with the visuals to remarkable effect.

A carnival has come to a small German town, and among its attractions is Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and "sonambulist" Cesare (Conrad Veidt). When awakened from his sleep, Cesarea makes predictions of the future--predictions of death! And through his power over the sleepwalker, Caligari ensures that the predictions come true. It is frequently described as the first true horror film. But while the story was shocking by 1919 standards, it was really the visual style of the film that outraged critics and the public alike; many described it as "degenerate," and it proved extremely controversial where ever shown.

It also proved incredibly influential--so much so that it is virtually impossible for any one serious about film as art to avoid it. But there are quite a few releases that you should avoid: the film is in public domain, and the result has been a series of DVD and VHS "budget" releases that are dire to the nth degree. It is a matter of getting what you pay for, and while the KINO release is the most expensive print available, it is also the only one worth having. The picture quality is as good as it can be short of digital restoration and the film has been restored to its original tints as well.

Gary F. Taylor, aka GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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An Atmosphere of Lunatics and Tilted Walls
romanorum122 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
As Francis (Friedrich Feher) sits on a garden bench with an older and skeptical man, a woman named Jane (Lil Dagover), wearing outlandish make-up, sleepwalks in a nightgown as she passes them. Francis explains that she is his fiancée and that they have suffered a great ordeal. This bizarre opening begins a flashback of Francis' story, which covers much of the movie.

Francis recalls that he and his friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), who have a friendly rivalry for Jane's affections, had planned on visiting the local town fair at Holstenwall, Germany. The painted set of the town hall shows all the buildings cramped together at odd angles with narrow passages, weird window shapes, peculiar furniture, uneven stairs, and gray and black shadows covering the white walls. To us these distorted images convey the madness of twisted brains that belong to a different ethos. Now an ominous-looking man named Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) seeks a permit from the town clerk to open a booth and present a somnambulist act at the fair (NOTE: somnambulism relates to sleepwalking, a disorder). Although the clerk harangues Dr. Caligari, he approves the permit. But the clerk is found stabbed to death in his bed late that night. Then, at the fair, Francis, Alan, and Jane enter Dr. Caligari's tent. Caligari summons awake the ashen somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt) after he has supposedly been sleeping for 25 years (!) in a cabinet which looks like a casket. Prompted by Caligari to ask Cesare a question, Alan says, "How long do I have to live?" "Until dawn," responds Cesare, shocking Alan. Their fun over, the trio quickly depart.

Just before the next day begins, Alan is seen through the shadows being murdered. Francis goes to the police with his suspicions that Dr. Caligari is behind the murders. At his wagon abode, Caligari tells the police that Cesare never leaves his cabinet without permission. The police soon pick up a common criminal who is about to knife an older woman. He is charged with the murders, even though he admits only to the attempted murder and not the previous two killings. As Francis and Jane continue to investigate Caligari, the doctor orders Cesare to kill Jane. Cesare creeps into Jane's bedroom and as he attempts to murder her, she screams and faints. Obviously attracted to Jane physically, Cesare carries her away and leads the aroused townsfolk on a lengthy chase across a crooked trail. Finally placing Jane down, Cesare falls from a height to his death. The townsfolk go to Caligari's wagon only to find the doctor gone and a dummy in Cesare's cabinet.

Francis travels to a nearby insane asylum to inquire whether Caligari might be an escaped patient. An employee tells Francis that he must personally see the director of the institute as he is not allowed to discuss patients. At the director's office it turns out that the director and Dr. Caligari are one and the same. So Francis is certain that he was correct all along: Caligari must be doing the killings, and he just happens to be a lunatic asylum director.

Francis summons the police, who head to the director's office, which is temporarily unoccupied. Rummaging through the director's books, Francis discovers that in eighteenth century northern Italy there was a huckster named Caligari who had a hypnotized somnambulist that he trained to commit murder. As he kept the book, the asylum director must have liked what he read. When the director returns to his office he is confronted with the dead Cesare and goes berserk. He states he must become the new Caligari. The staff in the institute put him in a strait-jacket and he is confined in his own asylum. Here the narrative ends, but the story is not over.

SPOILERS: There is a major twist at the end. Francis, now through telling his tale in the garden, goes to the courtyard of the asylum with the old man. Shapes are now normal, and the tilted walls of the next sets are at right angles. Both men see that Cesare is alive and stands in a corner of the yard. Jane, thinking that she is a noble, rejects Francis by telling him that he does not have royal blood. Dr. Caligari comes down the stairs, and when Francis accuses the doctor of being the killer and scuffles with him, the orderlies restrain Francis in a strait-jacket. The doctor says that he has a cure for Francis. IT WAS FRANCIS WHO WAS DERANGED ALL ALONG; HE MADE UP THE TALE! And Jane, Cesare, and the old man are all lunatics in the insane asylum! That is why the buildings and landscapes are all distorted! Pretty heavy stuff for 1919/1920!

This Gothic murder plot of a crazed doctor ordering a somnambulist to kill is more complicated. The ending (and story) is open for more than one interpretation. For instance, who really killed Alan? Could it have been jealous Francis? The movie does not tell us. And could the asylum stand for the corruption of the world? The film seems to serve as an example of what happened to the German animus after the shocking defeat in World War I and the subsequent breakup of the former German Empire. Furthermore, the humiliating Versailles Treaty of 1919 that was imposed by the Allies was appalling to Germans (only President Wilson of the USA tried to moderate). Those are incorrect who equate this artsy film with the rise of Nazism; it is too early in its base history. Another element is that the director and screenwriters had intended to employ an entirely different ending, but had to change their thought processes as they conflicted with those of the German authorities. "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" is captivating – one of the first horror films – and is a significant breakthrough in style and in German expressionism. It continues to mesmerize.
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