Home > Uncategorized > The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)



“Du musst Caligari werden!”  This quote from the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is one of many delirious phrases uttered by Dr. Caligari in the latter part of the film when his craze for a Somnambulist is revealed.  Throughout the entire film, the audience encounters various forms of lunacy and horror through the characters as well as through the stage like setting and costumes.  The various horrific elements presented throughout this early German Expressionist film are that it truly presents a melancholic film set.  The acting in the film shows signs of being theatrical quality and the costumes worn by the actors fit the nature of the silent film.

The film’s overall design was significant for the time.  This film was considered one of the first films to premiere in a German Expressionist style.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari used a method found in theatrical expressionism called mise-en-scene which created the effect of a rather distorted scene.  The actor who portrayed Cesare in the film briefly explained that “If the décor has been conceived as having the same spiritual state as that which governs the character’s mentality, the actor will find in that decora valuable aid in composing and living his part. He will blend himself into the represented milieu, and both of them will move in the same rhythm.” (Faut-il supprimer les sous-titres?, Comoedia 4297).

The setting used in the film brought out the gloomy plot that the film intended to express to its audience.  The various shapes the buildings in the background take show that the film used theatrical props.  The distinction between the interior and exterior settings dramatically contrast from one another.  Other significant distinctions in the stage scene are subtle details such as the discoloration of different rooms.  For example, there was a beginning scene where Francis and Alan are in a room together and the color of the room appears to be yellowish-brown.  Another scene of color usage was when Jane is in her private parlor and the lens refracts a color of pinkish-red.  Besides the color distinctions, other props used which gave the film its distinction included but were not limited to objects like the clerks chair which was noticeably high and Dr. Caligari’s tent which made the onlookers curious as to what may lie inside the tent.

The costumes and make-up the actors used was conducive to the horror genre.  The clothing worn by the majority of actors was right for the early 1920’s style.  Now the real variation in cinematography came when the costumes and make-up changed to show distraught actors and actresses.  For example, the Somnambulist’s and Jane’s make-up made them look pale and in a sort of deathlike trance.  This film’s various costumes and make-up on its actors gives the viewer a new understanding of how film can bring out emotion in the eyes of the viewer and ultimately show stylization in Expressionist work.  Overall, the silent film exerts a crazed and enigmatic theme throughout which provides the audience with a suspenseful and horrifying movie.

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