Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Space Oddities: Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari Review

What remains in many viewers minds about Robert Wiene’s “Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari” (1920) is that the film can be seen as the foundation for many horror movies yet to come. Explained by Neil Genzlinger (2006) it has“virtually cornered the market on the concept of “disorienting.””A German expressionist feature in which distortion, twisted reality and trauma throbs through the veins of the plot, “Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari” is surely a pioneer in modern film making.
Fig 1: Cabinet of Dr.Caligari
Whilst lacking in vocal sound and colour, the film definitely thrives on the highly stylized set design, lighting and music. As Clayon Dillard (2014) elaborates : “Little effort, however, has been made to align form and content as a means to reveal how Hermann Warm's vertiginous sets, as emblems of non-normative time and space, synthesize with the film's more rudimentary narrative of doubling to achieve radically luminous social ends”,what sets “Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari” apart from many motion pictures of the early 20th century is the mood that is created by uneven, warped cityscape and buildings, tilted windows and walls, spikey trees and chin-scratching stairways as seen in Fig 2: all of which Wiene presented, wanting to push the boundaries of normal film and create a disturbing and unsettling atmosphere. 
Fig 2: Warped and distored street
What seems to stand out is the focus on Cesare: “the murderous somnambulist under Caligari's control”(Dillard, 2014). Although only a few words are spoken by him, his dark and disturbing essance links to the bewildering town and the impact on other characters. Both Cesare and Dr. Caligari have an influence on Francis’ behavior and thought process, as well as the slaughter of his closest friend. Dillard also explains (which can also be seen in Fig 3): “His body (Cesare) isn't simply an extension of the expressionist image, but a corollary to it, his akimbo extremities not as metaphor, but metonymic for the extremes of Wiene's modernist visions. No other character in the film moves in such a manner; Cesare's body is the only object of sustained contemplation.” In agreement to this point, Wiene intended to go beyond the norm and all together change the perception of the horror genre. 

Fig 3: Cesare kidnaps Jane
 All of these elements combine together to provide a clear image of disruption and disorientation, in addition to the slow destruction of Francis' sense of normality. The film starts off in a very typical setting, yet ends in chaos and confusion – which is what is happening inside Francis’ mind. By the end, we truly understand that the entire film is just a fragment of the imagination. 

The association with mental illness by being half set in an insane/mental asylum begins to pick up on why the surroundings are the way they are. It is noticeable as that Francis as cries “You all think I’m insane - ! It isn’t true – it’s the director who’s insane!”and is then placed in a straightjacket (when moments before, Dr. Caligari was in the exact same position) is when the viewers realise the twisting finale. 
Fig 4: Dr.Caligari about to awaken Cesare
 The rift between reality and fantasy, camera angles, character placement, suspence and the feeling of fear, confusion and anxiety really does observe the influence of this timely feature that gave future horror films the very same traits that makes them so successful. 

Illustration List 

Fig 1: Cabinet of Dr.Caligri Film poster (Accessed on 22/09/2015): http://cdn8.openculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/Cabinet-Of-Dr.-Caligari-.jpg
Fig 4: Dr Caligari about to awaken Cesare (Accessed on 22/09/2015): http://reghartt.ca/cineforum/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/THE-CABINET-OF-DR-CALIGARI-2.jpg

Dillard, C. (2014) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Slant Magazine (Accessed on 22/09/2015)  http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-1920
Ebert, R. (2009) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Rogerebert (Accessed on 22/09/2015) http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-1920
Genzlinger, N. (2006) The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - What's That Sound Coming From The Doctors Cabinet? Ny Times (Accessed on 22/09/2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/25/movies/25cali.html?_r=0


  1. Fantastic first review Manisha...'...chin-scratching stairways' sums up the disorientation perfectly!
    A sensible choice and use of images - you have placed them well within the text, which makes it much more reader-friendly. You might want to consider referring directly to the images at various points, so for example, when discussing the warped architecture you could say something like, '..create a disturbing and unsettling atmosphere, as seen in figure 2.' It's just a way of linking the text to the images.
    Also have another look at the Harvard method to make sure that you have all the required elements in your bibliography - http://community.ucreative.ac.uk/Harvard-Referencing

    Looking forward very much to your next review :)

    1. Thank you for the feedback, Jackie! I will take into account the other things you said too :) I was worried I did it all wrong haha, thanks again