From Star Wars to film-noir to the work of Tim Burton, each owes a debt of some kind to the German expressionist classic Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari; originally created by Robert Weine in 1920, its surreal sets, its sinister title character and its use of narrative completely changed the way the world looked at films, and it is now being given a limited edition 2-disc blu-ray release.
The story opens on the recollection of another story from the past; Francis (Friedrich Feher) and his friend Alan (Rudolf Lettinger) are larking about at the annual local fair when they encounter the sinister Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) whose star attraction is the somnambulist Cesare (screen legend Conrad Veidt), who can predict the future of those who dare to seek a glimpse. However, the story takes a murderous twist when Cesare’s prophecy comes true; is Cesare involved, or is a more hypnotic puppet master at work?
Dr. Caligari is a must see for anyone interested in horror, psychological thrillers or extravagant set pieces, the foundations of so many influential films have a route in this film. It is a compelling story told with more plot twists and turns than some modern features can handle; you are left thinking that this was essentially the true original motion picture. In addition, for a film that is nearly a century old, it does not fail to disturb the audience; Caligari is a truly foul character, whilst his victim Cesare has enough power in his eyes alone to make an audience member wince.
Of course, what also makes Dr. Caligari an excellent piece of cinema is the context of its making. In addition to the film, audiences are given the documentary ‘From Caligari to Hitler’, a two-hour chronicle of the German cinema of the interwar years, in which its unintended prophetic nature gives an even more chilling interpretation to this brilliant piece of work.
In order to complete this review, this reviewer stands by their initial claim, anyone interested in the history of cinema, must see this film; it shows first hand the power of film through set design, through performance and through narrative.
THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (DAS CABINET DES DR. CALIGARI) / CERT: U / DIRECTOR: ROBERT WEINE / SCREENPLAY: HANS JANOWITZ, CARL MAYER / STARRING: FRIEDRICH FEHER, WERNER KRAUSS, CONRAD VEIDT / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW