Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Space Oddities Film Programme - The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)

Figure 1

The film Das Cabinet Des Caligari, 1920 is a great movie to begin with. It is definitely one of the primary sources of inspiration for most movies especially horror related in this current time.  Personally, the movie poster depicted in Figure 1 reminds me of Exorcism of Emily Rose. Perhaps, the illustration of Cesare placing his hand on Jane’s body gives me the impression that he had her under his control. 

Figure 2
Figure 3
As the movie was made post war, the feeling and mood was projected onto the film. It was subtle but impactful. What it means by the feel is that the director is trying to bring the dark, sad and emotional side of this film with dimly litted sets that were shown in the entire film. These were the emotions that the Germans felt during that time experiencing war.

Noticeably, the whole feel of this film was out of the world. With sharp edges of the building, zigzag pathways as seen in Figure 2, distorted proportion and paintings that is used as matte painting in the sets in the entire film does not make sense in the real world. With that being said, the film set was heavily relying on the matte paintings that was used to help create the three dimensional space that was lacking as can been seen from Figure 3. An example of this is the bizarre construction of the town where houses were cluttered together on a steep hill, which made the scene chaotic. I could not agree more with Roger Ebert when he said “The visual environment plays like a wilderness of blades; the effect is to deny the characters any place of safety or rest.” (Ebert, 2009).

Despite all these, the use of this disoriented and different style gave this film its uniqueness.  The use of colour filters in certain scenes is able to create different types of mood that the audience quickly catches on. For example, the use of blue filter in Figure 3 is used during the night scenes to create mystical, suspicious feeling.  It also keeps the audience at the edge of their seats anticipating for something “bad” to happen. On the other hand, sepia filter as seen in Figure 4, is used as a representation of the flashback Francis had while trying to tell the story.

Deep analytical skills are also put forth when this diamond shape filters, as I would call it, were used in some parts of the film which I especially liked. It is simply because the audience will divert their attention by either reading the facial expressions of the character or focusing on the certain actions (depending on the scene) giving a better understanding of what is happening.  In addition to that, a quote from Open North Blog summarises what I am trying to say. It reads “The camera becomes the eyes of the character, which creates an emotional perspective as it navigates an edgy, crystalline city that plays with perspective to stereoscopic effect.” (Open North Blog,  2013)

Figure 4

Figure 5
The first scene was set in a garden where Francis began to tell a story to an old man seated beside him. it could be seen that he was storytelling because a flashback happened the scene after.  During those times, movies were made in a chronological manner so having a flashback was a new element introduced to the film world. This new element is used in many films to date to act as a representation of the character trying to remember what happened previously. As the story progresses, it is let known to the audience that Dr. Caligari wanted a permit to have his exhibition presented at the fair. His exhibition was to awake Cesare, a 23 year old Somnambulist, which is also known as the Sleepwalker.  However, after the awakening of Cesare, strange things begin to happen in town where people were murdered, including Francis’ close friend. Not long after that, his fiancĂ© was abducted. This affected Francis tremendously leading him to investigate the murder and having Caligari in his top list of suspects. 

For 70 minutes, Robert Wiene, the director, had successfully made the audience believe that Dr Caligari was the insane one. With that being said, Julia Merriam emphasized the point of believability was achieved which she said “The effect of Caligari’s character is stunning: the creation of a world in which the lunatic reigns, in which a madman pulls all the strings” (Merriam, 2008). The unexpected twist was good way to end the movie because as audience watches it, there is always a thought of what is going to happen in the next scene and when it happens, it makes the movie uninteresting to further watch it. Who would have expected that Francis is the mental patient and his imagination is what the audience followed through. This unpredictable ending influenced the film industry and can be seen on movies you watch within the last half-century. A twist is always good to have in films as it adds flavour to it and also because having a predictable ending would have been boring. 

In conclusion, the use of colours was very effective in conveying the mood and the feel of the movie. The addition to the sound score was also great to keep you up with the tempo of the story itself. However, it appears to be that the exaggerated acting that was seen throughout the movie were too much. A a silent movie is where actions are the main source to get the message across but the overacting can be seen as a little comical instead at some point of the movie. On the contrary, if audio was being inputted, it will be disastrous to the whole movie because words are not as powerful as actions. Audience in general receives the message put across more effectively through visualizing it than listening and remembering it. This movie has brought together a fresh new style to the film industry especially the German’s as it the first expressionism film made there.

List of Illustrations:

Figure 1 Das Cabinet Des Caligari,1920 [Poster] at accessed on 24 September 2013

Figure 2 Caligari running up the stairs [Still Image] at accessed on 24 September 2013

Figure 3 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) [Full Classic Horror Movie HQ] [Television Programme Online] Classic Movies HQ [1920] 71 minutes at accessed on 24 September 2013

Figure 4 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) [Full Classic Horror Movie HQ] [Television Programme Online] ClassicMoviesHQ [1920] 71 minutes at accessed on 24 September 2013

Figure 5 An Image of Jane afraid of Cesare [Still Image] at accessed on 24 September 2013

List of Bibilography:

Open North Blog
20th Mar 2013
A haunted screen: Martyn Jacques and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1919)
Accessed on 24 September 2013 

Ebert, Roger 
3rd June 2009
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari
Accessed on 24 September 2013

Merriam,  Julia 
13th October 2008
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)
Accessed on 24 September 2013 


  1. This is much better, Ayunie! Well done :)

    Just try and keep it as impersonal as possible, so avoid phrases like 'what I am trying to say.'
    Also, you say 'when it happens, it makes the movie uninteresting to further watch it.' Did you mean 'interesting'?
    Having the required 3 quotes has certainly given your review more 'body' - keep it up! :)

    1. Thank you Jackie. Yup, I meant to say uninteresting. Does it not make sense?