Sunday, June 3, 2018

Don't open the Cabinet!!!

Okay! So, old-school movie tiiiiiimmmmmeeee!!!!

This week’s movie is 1920’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. It stars Werner Krauss, Conrad Viedt, Friedrich Feher, Lili Dagover and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski. 

First fun fact! This is a silent film! Gather around little ones. Let me tell you a little story.

Once upon a time, movies were made with no audio tracks. Yes. I know. That’s hard to imagine. But there was a point in time when movies were just visual mediums.

“But Ophelia! How did they talk if there was no audio?” Why, with title cards and gestures, of course!

Okay, okay, admittedly that does sound a little dull, but stay with me.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari begins with Francis (Feher), who’s sitting on a bench telling the story of how his dear fiancée, Jane(Dagover) lost her mind. The movie continues as a flashback of Francis’ story.

The story goes that in Francis’ hometown, a carnival came through town. With the carnival, there came a mysterious hypnotist known as Dr. Caligari(Krauss) with his somnambulist, Cesare(Viedt).

(Pause for a moment. I’ll save you the trip to Google. A somnambulist is a sleepwalker.) 

Okay, so Francis and his buddy Alan (Heinrich von Twardowski ) head to the carnival where Dr. Caligari is displaying Cesare to the crowd from a large cabinet (Cesare is in the cabinet, not Dr. Caligari). He wakes him up…eerily, and asks for a volunteer from the crowd so that Cesare and read some lucky person’s fortune. Alan volunteers and asks Cesare how long he’s going to live. Cesare tells him that he won’t make it to dawn.

And he doesn’t. A mysterious person comes in and stabs him to death making him the first in a series of victims. Francis works to find out who has murdered his friend and soon discovers that Dr. Caligari has hypnotized his somnambulist to go out into the night and murder people at random.

But wait! There’s a twist ending! Yes! An actual twist ending in a 98-year-old movie! I was just as shocked as you.

So, this is where a little film school knowledge comes in handy. Some fun facts:

1) The scenery was made entirely of paper! Which kind of makes sense. At the time, German Expressionist work was a thing, which is why the scenery has a sort of Edvard Munch kind of surreal feel to it.

2) The title cards are stylized to match the expressionist paintings of the time. Most reproductions don’t have those title cards. Luckily, the version I watched (available at the Ferndale Public Library) totally had those title cards. In English, of course.

3) The expressionist style of the set is indicative of a ‘dreamlike’ quality that the director was trying to convey with oddly shaped buildings and jagged edges in the distance and such, BUT some scenes were completely normal. There is much debate about why this is. One early critic noted that those scenes were a ‘fatal error’, but other critics noted that these scenes were still representative of the same dreamlike quality as not everything in dreams are…well…weird.

4) Posters advertised this movie with mysterious phrases such as "Du musst Caligari werden!", or "You must become Caligari!"

5) This film has been the subject of several urban legends. One of which was that the film had to be pulled from theatres because people demanded their money back.


6) When Cesare opens his eyes for the first time, it was reported that women in the audience of the premiere screamed and fainted (exactly the reaction I would hope for if I was premiering a horror movie.)

So, okay, this one gets the jewel not just for the culture, but because it’s the kind of movie that stands the test of time. It’s among the few nearly hundred-year-old movies that should be on your to-do list if you are a horror movie enthusiast.

So, next week is Count Yorba Vampire! The byline reads “Dashing, Dark and Deadly”. Yup. Here's hoping Count Yorba is all of that.

-- O~

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