THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (1920)

PrintE-mail Written by John Knott


BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE CABINET OF DR. CALGARI (1920) / DIRECTOR: ROBERT WIENE / SCREENPLAY: CARL MAYER, HANS JANOWITZ / STARRING: WERNER KRAUSS, CONRAD VEIDT, FRIEDRICH FEHER, LIL DAGOVER, HANS HEINRICH VON TWARDOWSKI, RUDOLF LETTINGER / RELEASE DATE: SEPTEMBER 29TH

JK: Yes, Phil?

Phil: Can you do the honours on this one mate?

JK: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)?

Phil: Yep. On Blu-ray too.

JK: What? You want me to review it?

Phil: That’s the usual thing.

JK: Then what? I do some soot juggling? Resolve the West Lothian question?

Phil: What’s so hard?

JK: Well it’s only one of the most important and influential movies of all time. It’s a film studies standard. You don’t think there’s the teensy danger that everything that could possibly be said about it has already been said, do you?

Phil: Why’s it so important?

JK: Why?! Some people only claim it’s the first proper horror movie.

Phil: Blimey.

JK: Blimey, indeed. Made the actual rules, it did. That bit where Conrad Veidt goes through the heroine’s bedroom window turns up in nearly every Hammer movie.

Phil: Wasn’t he in Casablanca (1942)?

JK: Yes, I know that.

Phil: Of course you do.

JK: You know it’s the film that invented the twist-ending?

Phil: What, the “this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship…” bit? Oh right, Caligari. That’s fascinating; say that in the review.

JK: I can’t tell them about the twist!

Phil: What’s it about up until then?

JK: Well, there’s this somnambulist...

Phil: Somnamby-wot?

JK: Somnambulist. A sleepwalker. Sleeps in a cabinet at the carnival but he can apparently predict the future.

Phil: Like you do...

JK: Anyway, there’s a few murders and he’s numero uno suspect.

Phil: Was it him!? I thought he was asleep!

JK: I’m not telling you or the readers that.

Phil: Well tell them about all those weird sets with the crooked lines.

JK: Surely every STARBURST reader knows about the German Expressionist movement that peaked in the twenties. After all, they’ve all seen Nosferatu (1922) and Metropolis (1927). Mind you, the dream-like quality of the sets is particularly appropriate to Caligari’s story.

Phil: You know that giving the year in brackets after each first mention of a film is weird when we’re supposed to be talking.

JK: Yeah, well. Film Studies habits die hard... Anyway, Expressionism wasn’t a proper movement as such.

Phil: Really? Learn that in Film Studies?

JK: No. It was on the disc’s commentary.

Phil: So you’ve watched it? Well that blows this whole “review as conversation about doing the review” conceit out of the water. Well tell us about the disc. Transfer any good?

JK: Yeah sorry about that; looking for a way into a review of a film that’s hard to review. Worth a shot. Yeah the transfer is good, as is the commentary. Tells us all about how the film came about and the debate that’s gone on regarding what Janowitz and Mayer were really trying to say with their story. Interesting stuff.

Phil: Anything else?

JK: It’s tinted.

Phil: That good?

JK: God, yes. If you’re watching a silent movie and it’s actual monochrome you’re probably not seeing it as it was. Tints were used to convey mood or, more likely, time of day: blue for night; sepia for day and so on. You’ll be amazed how this brings the film to life...

Phil: So, the rating?

JK: ...and the inter-titles are different to versions I’ve previously seen. They’re actually in an Expressionist style, I think. Gives the film so much... well I’m not sure what the word is...

Phil: I’ll take that as a “10” then. Right, things to do...

JK: Wait, come back. I haven’t told you about it being regarded by some as the first arthouse movie. Although I’m not sure that the term is strictly correct in this particular... Oh. He’s gone.

Extras: Brand new and exclusive audio commentary by historian David Kalat, "Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War" - a new 52-minute documentary on the cultural and historical context of the film, "You Must Become Caligari" - a new video essay by David Cairns, On The Restoration - three short video pieces on the film's restoration, Theatrical trailer for 2014 reissue, 44-page booklet with new writing, reprints and rare archival imagery.


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