Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) (German: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) is a German silent horror film directed by Robert Wiene from a screenplay written by first-time screenwriters Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer.

Shortly after World War I Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer met in Berlin, Germany and found that they shared a common interest in film. They both share in the belief that the film medium was the perfect medium to call attention to the rising pacifism in postwar Germany.

Hans Janowitz drew from an experience he had while attending a fair during 1913 in Hamburg. He spotted a young woman as she disappeared in to a hedge followed by a man. He then heard what he thought was the woman laughing and then saw the man emerge from the hedge alone. The next day the newspapers reported that a woman's body had been discovered at the fair and was apparently the victium of a brutal attack. Janowitz, remembering the incident the night before, attended the woman's funeral. There he recognized one of the mourners as the man he had seen in the park and the man, it seemed to Janowitz, recognized him. These events would haunt Janowitz for years to come.

Mayer had just as disturbing experiences with a sadistic Army psychologist and a father who gambled away the family’s money. His father then penniless, turned16-year-old Carl is three younger brothers out of the house and then committed suicide.

Drawing from these disturbing experiences and their mistrust of authority figures, the two young men weaved an eerie tale of a mysterious stranger who enslaves an allegedly psychic somnambulist (sleepwalker) in a coffin as a carnival attraction. Unconsciously the two riders managed to create the character, Dr. Caligari, as a symbol of the authoritarian repression they had both experienced.

Janowitz would later write:

"It was years after the completion of the screenplay that I realized our subconscious intention, and this explanation of our characters, Doctor Caligari and Cesare, his medium, that is: The corresponding connection between Doctor Caligari, and the great authoritative power of a Government that we hated, and which had subdued us into an oath, forcing conscription on those in opposition to its official war aims, compelling us to murder and to be murdered."
It is rumored that German movie producer Erich Pommel tried to have Janowitz and Mayer thrown out of his studio before the writers sold him on the concept of their story. They managed to persuade Pommel to consider their story. The producer relented and agreed to produce their film.  Pommel later explained his reason behind making The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The German film industry made 'stylized film' to make money. Let me explain .At the end of World War I the Hollywood industry moved toward world supremacy. The Danes had a film industry. The French had a very active film industry, which suffered an eclipse at the end of the war. Germany was defeated: how could she make films that would compete with the others? It would have been impossible to try and imitate Hollywood or the French. So we tried something new: the Expressionist or stylized films. This was possible because Germany had an overflow of good artists and writers, a strong literary tradition and a great tradition of theater. This provided a basis of good, trained actors. World War I finished the French film industry; the problem for Germany was to compete with Hollywood.

The film was first offered to director Fritz Lang, in the early part of his career, who is best known for directing Metropolis (1927) but for uncertain reasons Lang left the project to direct another film and Wiene was then hired to direct the film.  Robert Wiene (27 April 1873 – 17 July 1938) was hired to direct the film. Wiene would later become an important film director of the German silent cinema.

Hermann Warm and painters Walter Reimann and Walter Rƶhrigto were hired to create the set design. The trio of designers managed to convince Pommel that the lights and shadows should be painted directly on the sets walls, floors and that the background canvases should the placed flat behind the actors.  This not only saved money but produced an eerie effect that seemed to appropriate for the film.

The film premiered at the Marmorhaus in Berlin on February 26, 1920 for a four week run but the film proved so popular that it was held over for an extra week. Kenneth MacGown, a New York film critic called The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) “The most extraordinary production yet seen.” While the film did receive rave reviews in Europe and on the east coast of the United States, it had a less than warm reception in Los Angeles. When Miller’s theater attempted to open the movie on May 15, 1921 approximate 2000 protesters demonstrated from noon and to 8 PM, the mob made up of members of the Hollywood post of the American Legion, sailors from the Pacific Fleet, members of the Motion Picture Directors Association and scores of wounded veterans and outraged citizens carried signs that read “Why Pay War Taxes To See German-Made Pictures?

By nightfall the demonstration had turned into a riot and local police and MPs attempted to subdue the protesters but they were unsuccessful. Finally Roy H. Marshall, adjunct of the Hollywood post of American Legion, announced to the crowd the theater owner Fred Miller removed them from his program. He replaced The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) with an American-made drama titled The Money Changers (1920). To show their support the protesters swamped the theater to see the new feature.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was ultimately an international sensation. No other movie since D.W. Griffith's Birth of a Nation (1915) had caused such excitement and controversy. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) helped legitimize film as an art form.   It is undoubtedly one of the most influential films of the German Expressionist movement and is considered by many to be one of the greatest horror films ever made. Its impact in set design, lighting, and camerawork can still be seen in films nearly 100 years after its release and is noted for introducing the concept of the twist ending.

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