Exploring ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ (1920) by Robert Wiene

A while ago, I talked about my love for the silent film era by talking about Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage dans la Lune/A Trip to the Moon (France, 1902). In the comments, one of our readers named Night Train Books mentioned the German expressionist movie The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari from 1920.

Considered to be the first modern horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari starts with a man named Francis retelling his fateful encounter with the mysterious man named Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist, Cesare.

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Warped in all senses, fascinating and bizarre: this is the 1920 silent movie by Robert Wiene […] that lay down a template for today’s scary movies, noirs and psychological thrillers. And it is topped off with a surprise ending that still gets used all the time now. With all the weird gaping and gurning, and the distorted perspective of its expressionist sets, Caligari is a nightmarish cinematic extension of Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic Dracula, combining as it does romantic superstition with the supposedly rational world of psychiatric surveillance and control. Source: theguardian.com.

There are several versions of this film available for free online. The version I watched, however, is very similar to the original color tinting of the film, using primarily blue and orange as colors. Sure, the pace of the movie is much slower than your average contemporary horror film, but the film is by no means less bizarre.

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As many other films from the era of German expressionism, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari makes use of clashing light and color and abstract set designs, imitating expressionist paintings, to evoke powerful emotional reactions.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a fantastic choice to remember that film can be an artform, and not just a cheap popcorn entertainment. If you’re interested to watch the film yourself, you can do it over here on Youtube legally.

What do you think of ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’? Surprised about the ending? Any other film from the silent film era you’d recommend me to watch? Leave a comment down below!

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