Thursday, 25 September 2014

Film Review: "Robert Wiene" The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920)

Figure 1: Film Poster

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920) seemed as though it would be difficult to sit through after hearing it was to be a black and white silent film. However being one of the most influential and iconic films in history after viewing this film one can clearly see the effective directing of Robert Wiene and what he is trying to convey throughout the film. 'The Cabinet of Dr Caligari' is set in a small German village called Hostenwall, where Francis (Friedrich Fehér) the films protagonist, talks to an old man and revisits the bad experiences he had in the past. He and his close friend Alan then visit a fair in the town where they then visit an exhibition of Dr Caligari (Conrad Veidt) the antagonist, who presents a man who is a somnambulist by the name of Cesare, being awoken from a state of unconsciousness by Dr Caligari, Cesare was asked by Alan how long he had to live and receives an unpleasant answer, it is from this point is where the plot twists and turns and things are not what they seem.

Figure 2: Francis Room Still

Phelim O'Neil from the guardian said in his review 'sets that revel in artifice, painted backdrops and scenery with off-kilter lines and skewed perspectives' this quote describes the set design in all its weirdness and horror, it is as though Robert Weine wanted the audience never to feel secure as the set itself is menacing throughout the film and only intensify's the impact of the horror scenes, in figure 2 you see Francis at the start of the film and even though nothing significant has yet happened you are already uneasy as the room in which he sits is foreboding.

Figure 3: Cesare Kidnap Still

Figure 3 is what could be one of the most influential and famous scenes of the film, it shows Cesare kidnapping Jane and taking her across the roofs. The interesting features are the sharp jagged and scary design of the scene as said by Roger Ebert 'The sets are presented, as they must be, in mostly longer shots, establishing their spiky and ragged points and edges.' the set design in this scene not only gives emphasis of the terror of the kidnapping but is designed in such a way to draw all your attention the Cesare and Jane.

Figure 4: Mental Asylum Still

figure 4 shows the biggest twist in the movies plot, it shows that the whole film could have just been a story from the mind of Francis who is in fact himself in a mental asylum. it then leaves you wondering what is real and what is not. Tim Eaton in his review said 'Throughout, the story defies expectations. Small plot twists confuse and mislead you until the final surprise, completely tearing down everything you thought the movie was about.' which again only makes the audience confused about what they have seen.

Some say that The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is one of the most influential films of the silent film era. and its use of cubism and expressionism in the set design and the iconic script and plot could make it one of the most influential films in history.

Illustration list

Figure 1: Film Poster

Figure 2: Francis Room Still

Figure 3: Cesare Kidnap Still

Figure 4: Mental Asylum Still


(Phelim O'Neil, 2010)

(Roger Ebert, 2009)

(Tim Eaton, 2002)