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Writer Hans Janowitz claims to have gotten the idea for the film when he was at a carnival one day. He saw a strange man lurking in the shadows. The next day he heard that a girl was brutally murdered there. He went to the funeral and saw the same man lurking around. He had no proof that the strange man was the murderer, but he fleshed the whole idea out into his film.
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The sets were made out of paper, with the shadows painted on the walls.
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Played at one Paris theater for seven years.
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The final look and feel of the film was based as much on low-budget practicalities as it was on creative inspiration and expressionism. Electricity was strictly rationed in post-WWI Germany at the time the film was being shot, so director Robert Wiene ended up simply painting light beams on backdrops. Shooting on severely confined sets forced him to use unusual camera angles.
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Made before "horror" was a designated genre, this is sometimes cited as the first true horror film (although films with elements of the macabre were certainly made earlier).
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Weeks before the initial release of the film, posters with the tag line "Du mußt Caligari werden!" ("You have to become Caligari!") were put up in Berlin without the slightest hint that they were promotion for the upcoming movie.
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Sets were constructed for less than $800 and the leading actors were paid $30 a day.
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The physical appearance of Caligari was inspired by portraits of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer.
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In the May 12, 1921, edition of the "Chicago Daily News", Carl Sandburg wrote of the film: "It is a healthy thing for Hollywood, Culver City, Universal City, and all other places where movie film is being produced that this photoplay has come along at this time. It is sure to have healthy hunches and show new possibilities in style and method to our American producers."
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Carl Mayer feigned madness to avoid military service, which led him to intense examinations from a military psychiatrist. The experience left them distrustful of authority, and that psychiatrist served as a model for the Caligari character.
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When the film opened at the Capitol Theater in New York in April 1921, some audience members reportedly booed and demanded their money back.
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In 1958, under the auspices of French Cinematheque curator Henri Langlois and historian Lotte Eisner, the set design of the film was recreated by its original art director Hermann Warm, and put on display in both Munich and East Berlin.
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No surviving copies of the script were believed to exist until the early 1950s when actor Werner Krauss revealed he still had his copy. That copy was purchased, after his death, by the German film archive Deutsche Kinemathek. It remained unavailable for public consumption until 1995, when a full transcript was published.
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When it premiered, the film was jeered and then withdrawn. Decla-Bioskop worked up a new promotional campaign and reopened it at Marmorhaus, another Berlin theater, and was a success.
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Hans Janowitz visited a fortune teller who predicted that he would survive the First World War. This inspired him to write the scene in which Cesare predicts Alan's death at the fair.
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Producer Erich Pommer wanted to have Fritz Lang as the film's director. Lang was interested, but then decided to work on another film, The Spiders - Episode 1: The Golden Sea (1919).
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Hermann Warm brought to the project his two friends, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig. They spent a full day and part of the night reading the script after which Reimann suggested an Expressionist style. According to Warm, they approached Wiene with the idea and he immediately agreed. Meinert agreed to the idea after one day's thinking about the commercial benefits of doing so, telling them to make the sets as "crazy" and "eccentrically" as possible.
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The film is included on Roger Ebert's "Great Movies" list.
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The film was entitled "Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari", using the English spelling "Cabinet" rather than the German "Kabinett".
The story was partially inspired by a circus sideshow the two writers visited on Kantstrasse in Berlin, called "Man or Machine", in which a man performed feats of great strength after becoming hypnotized.
Hans Janowitz has claimed the name Caligari was inspired by a rare book called "Unknown Letters of Stendhal", which featured a letter from the French novelist Stendhal referring to a French officer named Caligari. However, no record of any such letter exists, and film historian John D. Barlow suggested Janowitz may have fabricated the story.
The movie script was changed with the addition of an opening scene, which would lead the public into the rest of the film. Hans Janowitz has claimed he and Carl Mayer were not privy to discussions about adding the frame story and strongly opposed its inclusion. They had to be persuaded not to publicly protest against the film.
Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer wrote the script in six weeks in February and March 1919 and sold it to Erich Pommer for $200.
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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, both of whom were pacifists by the time they met following World War I.
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Writer Hans Janowitz wrote the female lead character for his girlfriend Gilda Langer, an actress at the "Residenz-Theater" in Berlin, but it was Lil Dagover who finally got the role.
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Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer were introduced in June 1918 and both were penniless. Gilda Langer, an actress with whom Mayer was in love, encouraged Janowitz and Mayer to write a film together. She later became the basis for the Jane character.
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Many details about the making of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are in dispute and will remain unsettled due to the large number of people involved in the making of the film, many of whom have recalled it differently, or dramatized their own contributions to its production.
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Producer Rudolf Meinert introduced Hermann Warm to Robert Wiene, and he asked him to come up with proposals for the design. Warm felt a naturalistic set was wrong for the subject of the film, instead recommending a fantastic, graphic style, in which the images would be visionary, nightmarish and out of the ordinary.
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The earliest German film included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
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Producer Erich Pommer originally chose Fritz Lang as the director, but Lang became unavailable due to his involvement with the filming of "Die Spinnen", so Robert Wiene was selected instead.
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This film has a 100% rating based on 53 critic reviews on Rotten Tomatoes.
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Original German censorship certificate 'Jugendverbot' delivered in March 1920.
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New German censorship certificate # 32202 delivered on 10-6-1964, renewed on 3-2-1995.
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Finnish censorship certificate T-11308 (video) delivered on 9-9-1993.
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Director Robert Wiene added the opening and closing scenes to Hans Janowitz's and Carl Mayer's original script in order to make the film more commercially viable (it is often speculated that the "all a delusion" twist was to deflect suspicion that the film painted authority as insane). Fritz Lang, however, claims to have suggested the introductory scene when first presented with the script.
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