Eureka! release: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari Steelbook
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the most known work of German Expressionist cinema, directed by Robert Wiene and released in 1920 it tells the story of Francis (Friedrich Fehler) whose friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) gets murdered after a mysterious man named Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) presents a magic trick involving a man named Cesare (Conrad Veidt).
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT
Most of the plot is presented in flashbacks, but the film concludes in a twist ending where it’s revealed that Francis is in fact an inmate in an asylum which is run by Dr. Caligari.
While Caligari has been widely recognized for its influence on cinema that can be felt up to this day, Siegfried Kracauer’s book From Caligari to Hitler pointed out its political aspects. Kracauer argued that Wiene’s work showcased Germany’s desire for a tyrant who would reestablish an authoritarian/totalitarian order in the country. While the flashbacks make it seem like Wiene is comparing Caligari to the German government of the time and Cesare represented common people conditioned to kill, the final reveal makes it seem like it’s the critics who are insane and need to be restrained. To him, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari predicted Hitler’s rise to power.
A film version of From Caligari to Hitler was released in 2014 and is included in the steelbook release by Eureka.
German Expressionism developed during the beginning of the 19th century in poetry and painting and later on in cinema and other art forms as well. Generally, artists wanted to express their angst and fears in a time of constant change as new technologies radically changed the way of living and people felt like they could not keep up with the progress. Heavily influenced by Nietzsche, poets began exploring themes of ugliness in metropoles (mostly Berlin), death and the all ending apocalypse. Expressionists might not always have a similar style, but their views on society and contemporary issues are quite often the same.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari might have not been directly influenced by –say- the poetry of Georg Heym, but the sentiment that Heym expressed in his writing, Wiene transported to the screen. He paints the image of a bizarre and twisted world, full of violence and manipulation.
The set design adds to Caligari’s atmosphere of constant anxiety as the backgrounds are dominated by sharp forms and landscapes that twist in bizarre angels. The city’s seemingly illogical geography strengthens the feeling of the surroundings oppressing an individual (a theme deeply explored in Döblin’s expressionist novel Berlin Alexanderplatz).
Caligari is often considered the first horror film and is one of the more accessible works of Expressionist cinema, so it should be a good starting point for people getting into film or this movement.
According to letterboxd the first time I saw The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was on May 12th in 2016. Caligari was one of the first silent films I had seen, so obviously it left quite the impression on me. It was one of the first works to actually get me anxious, something about the eerie lighting and characters evoked an actual feeling of fear in me. Since then I have found Expressionist movies that I prefer to Wiene’s, but certain shots and sequences are still stitched into my brain. It’s also rather short at a runtime of 70 minutes.
Now, on the 25th of January in 2017 I decided to watch the Eureka Release which comes with an audio commentary by film historian David Kalat. Kalat barely talks about the on screen events and instead dives into the production history and also debunks Kracauer’s theory by concluding that Caligari might end up as the victor, but the movie never paints him in a positive light, so the framing story does not turn a revolutionary film into a conformist one, it rather strengthens the message. I usually do not watch movies with an audio commentary so I had my troubles trying to note down everything important that Kalat mentioned while also trying to pay attention to the film, but if you have seen Caligari before and want to learn a great deal about the people that created the movie and how the production developed, I wholeheartedly recommend giving the commentary a shot.
As for the film itself, I’ve been left rather disappointed. I still think it is an interesting work of art, but now after having seen movies that were inspired by Caligari but managed to transform the style into something more impressive, I respect it more than I adore it.
As usual, Eureka did a great job with the restoration, the images and tinting look rather crisp. The stills that were sent with the press pack sadly don’t do the actual video quality any justice as they look blurry and lack the great tinting, be assured the actual film looks much better.
STEELBOOK SPECIAL FEATURES:
· New high-definition presentation, from the extensive FWMS restoration
· Option of Stereo and 5.1 surround scores
· Original German intertitles with optional English subtitles
· From Caligari to Hitler: German Cinema in the Age of the Masses (STEELBOOK EXCLUSIVE) — A 2-hour documentary on German Cinema during the Weimar Republic (1918–1933) | New and exclusive audio commentary by film historian David Kalat
· You Must Become Caligari — New video essay by film critic David Cairns
· Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War — 52 minute documentary on the cultural and historical impact of the film
· On The Restoration — three short video pieces on the film’s restoration | Trailer for the release of the new restoration on the film
· 44-PAGE BOOKLET featuring vintage writing on the film by Lotte H. Eisner; an original Variety review of the film; and rare archival imagery
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