Mario Bava's Black Sunday (1960)

Mario Bava's Black Sabbath (1963)

Mario Bava's The Girl Who Knew Too Much (1963)

Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace (1964)

Mario Bava's Kill Baby, Kill (1966)

Sergio Martino's The Case of the Scorpion's Tail (1971)

Luciano Ercoli's Death Walks on High Heels (1971)

Duccio Tessari's The Bloodstained Butterfly (1971)

Emilio Miraglia's The Night Evelyn Came Out of the Grave (1971)

Peter Newbrook's The Asphyx (1972)

Luciano Ercoli's Death Walks at Midnight (1972)

Richard Friedman's Doom Asylum (1972)

Wes Craven's The Last House on the Left (1972)

Emilio Miraglia's The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)

Sergio Martino's Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key (1972)

Sergio Martino's Torso (1973)

Alfred Sole's Alice, Sweet Alice (1976)

Lucio Fulci's Zombie Flesh Eaters (1979)

Lucio Fulci's The Black Cat (1981)

Juan Piquer Simón's Pieces (1982)

Harry Bromley Davenport's Xtro (1982)

Wayne Berwick's Microwave Massacre (1983)

Joseph S. Cardone's The Slayer (1982)

Stephen King's Firestarter (1984)

Buddy Cooper's The Mutilator (1984)

Larry Stewart's The Initiation (1984)

Steve Miner's House (1985)

Tibor Takacs The Gate (1987)

Ethan Wiley's House II: The Second Story (1987)

Frank Henenlotter's Brain Damage (1988)

Ken Russell’s The Lair of the White Worm (1988)

Juan Piquer Simon's Slugs (1988)

James Isaac's The Horror Show (1989)

Wes Craven's The People Under the Stairs (1991)

Lewis Abernathy's House IV The Repossession (1992)

Anders Jacobsson's Evil Ed (1995)

Wes Craven's Mind Ripper (1995)

Robert Kurtzman’s Wishmaster (1997)

Robert Wiene's Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari (1922) Retrospective

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) on IMDb

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is a film that needs little introduction and remains as influential a picture today as it did back in February 1920, when it premiered at the Marmorhaus theatre, in Berlin, and in that respect, the film opened the floodgates to the International market for German silent cinema, which was severely lagging behind its European counterparts; in the Pre-War era, German theatres relied heavily on pictures from the United States of America, France, Italy and Denmark. Silent prints from the latter were proving to be extremely popular, due mainly to a lack of language boundaries. Often described as the quintessential work of German Expressionist cinema, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari remains incredibly effective, with its cubist inspired décor, twisted and oblique visuals, curved structures and painted stages, designed in principal by Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig, the likes of which hadn’t been seen before in a motion picture and the chilling performances of Werner Krauss, as the delightfully mad hypnotist and the title character, Dr. Caligari, and Conrad Veidt as the somnambulist, Cesare, who unwittingly commits heinous murders, on behalf of the mysterious showman. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari changed the way German films were made, and inspired a plethora of imitations, which ultimately helped to inaugurate the popular genres of both Horror and Science Fiction; these aesthetic visuals, expressionist in both style and fabric, continued to inspire impersonators and copycats for generations to come, and would be a key aspect to the development and understanding of film noir in the United States of America....

Today, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is considered to be one of the most important films ever produced, it bears the unenviable title of the very first true, “horror movie”, and helped to create the entire concept of the art-house movie, which were often experimental films made aesthetically, rather than for commercial gain or mass-market appeal. When Robert Wiene’s film premiered on the 26th of February, 1920, it was an instant success amongst both audience members and critics of the day, and within a few short years, German cinema had a formidable reputation, both in Europe and worldwide; it encapsulated the trends and moods of the era, in a period of unsettlement in Germany after the First World War. It marked the beginning of a golden age of cinema for Germany, and saw a vast production of films that could compete with Hollywood on the world stage, with movies such as Nosferatu (1922), Waxworks (1924), Faust (1926), Metropolis (1927), M (1931) and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) all helping to shine an expressionist spotlight on the cinema of Germany.

As was customary in German cinema throughout the 1920s, films were separated into acts, with each act being announced through an intertitle, commonly known as a title card; these title cards usually appeared at the beginning of a film, and then, depending upon how many acts were incorporated into the finished picture, would appear to introduce the next act of the film. Intertitles were either printed or filmed pieces of text that were then edited into the final picture and were used primarily to convey character dialogue or to describe a series of events in the movie; these titles were a mainstay of the silent era but were deemed redundant with the advent of the talking picture. In the respect of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, the film consists of six acts, and opens with a Rahmenerzählung, a framing device, which was an innovative technique for the era; also known as a frame story, this literary technique, was devised as a companion piece to introduce a story within a story, where a narrative sets the scene for the main presentation. In the case of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari’s framing device, which has been the subject of much confusion, controversy and debate over several years, it acted as a prologue and epilogue, established to devise the main body of the story as a flashback, reduced to the ravings of a deluded madman, much to the anger and contemptment of the films’ writers, Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, with Janowitz, in particular, stating that it was, “an illicit violation, a raping of our work”, he believed that the film had ultimately been turned into a cliché, in which the symbolism of the picture would be lost.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari opens with Franzis (Friedrich Fehér) and an elderly gentleman (Hans Lanser-Rudolf) sat on a bench, a carpet of leaves and twigs beneath their feet. The old man, a decidedly crazed expression riddled across his face, complains that, “Everywhere, there are spirits; they have driven me from hearth and home, from my wife and children”. A noticeably confused and wraith-like young woman, Jane (Lil Dagover) emerges from the shadows and walks by the pair, her face expressionless; Franzis shifts somewhat in his seat, he points to the young woman and proudly exclaims that she is his ‘fiancée’, and that together, they have lived through a strange and disturbing nightmare, and with that, Franzis begins his bizarre account. He explains that his story has its origins in “Holstenwall, the town where I was born”, and introduces “him”, a mysterious and instantly fascinating character comes into focus, his name is Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), he hobbles and grimaces as he leans on his walking cane; a large cylinder hat sits atop his head, straggles of thin white hair protrude from within. Caligari is shrouded within a tightly wrapped dark cloak, whilst he carries a large book underneath his arm. Franzis introduces Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski), an aesthetic young man who is reading in a sparsely draped room, he is distracted by the distinct sounds of a fair, and decides to search for his good friend, Franzis.

On the way, Alan is handed a flyer, which reads, “Special Edition: Fair in Holstenwall, for the first time ever, entertainments of every variety,” an excited Alan finds Franzis and together, they set off for the fair. Meanwhile, the mysterious Dr. Caligari makes his way to the offices of the town clerk, seeking a permit for his attraction at the fair; however, an office clerk warns, “Don’t go inside, the Town Clerk is in a vile temper today.” Undeterred, Caligari bribes the clerk and gains admission to the office of the town clerk, who rudely tells him to “Wait”, which only seems to infuriate Caligari, who visibly fumes with anger, but eventually the town clerk administers the permit and he is free to go about his business. Arriving at a thriving and bustling fair, Dr. Caligari joins the throng of onlookers, he appears mystified by the fairgoers, and in particular, his attention is drawn to a dwarf in a tall hat. Deep amongst the horde of onlookers, the enigmatic Caligari emerges from a tent; he unfurls a banner, which advertises a rather withdrawn looking individual, Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a somnambulist. The Doctor rings a bell in an attempt to capture the attention of the ensuing public, “Step right up”, Caligari bellows, “Presenting here for the first time, Cesare, the Somnambulist”, he continues his theatrics and invites a captivated audience inside. Later that night, the first of a series of mysterious crimes occur, with the death of the rude town clerk, who has been “stabbed in the side with a strange pointed instrument”, the local police appear mystified. The following morning, Alan and Franzis arrive at the fair, which appears to be in full swing and once again, Dr. Caligari is mesmerising a crowd of onlookers, again he booms, “The miraculous Cesare, twenty-three years old, he has slept for twenty-three years, continuously, day and night, and right before your eyes, Cesare will awaken from his death-like trance”, and with that, the stunned onlookers are invited inside, amongst them are Alan and Franzis.

Once inside, Caligari continues to be the showman, swinging his bell and doffing his hat, he removes a flap and reveals a strange upright box; the magician waves his arms with wild gesticulations, which he then opens with great delight. Inside, Cesare, motionless, he appears to be in a deep sleep, his eyes tightly shut, “Cesare! Can you hear me? Cesare, I am calling you”, Caligari asks, “I, Dr. Caligari, your master, awaken for a moment from your dark night”. At first, the sleeping Cesare struggles to open his eyes, but eventually, he opens them wide, a haunting expression rides across his anguished face, as Caligari stands tall and proud. Cesare steps out of the confines of his box, gently guided by his master’s pointed stick, he appears robotic in stance. Alan looks on in amazement whilst Franzis appears less enthusiastic, “Ladies and Gentlemen”, Caligari starts, “Cesare the Somnambulist will answer all of your questions, Cesare knows every secret, Cesare knows the past and sees the future, judge for yourselves, don’t hold back! Ask away.”

A great commotion in the centre of the audience, a mortified Franzis fails to contain Alan, who bursts towards the stage, “How long will I live?” he asks; Cesare, turning slowly towards Alan, whose face is riddled with anticipation, gives a chilling answer, “Until the break of dawn.” Alan appears to laugh at this bizarre assumption, but Franzis is less humoured, and the pair quickly exit the tent, leave the fair and walk home.

Walking through the streets of Holstenwall, Alan and Franzis discover a flyer on a nearby wall, “Murder in Holstenwall, 1000 marks reward”; this visibly seems to unnerve Alan, especially with Cesare’s distressing words still ringing in his ears. Continuing their journey home, they come across Jane and flanking her side, they walk her home. Meanwhile, Caligari steps out of his caravan, looks around with an intensity; once he is satisfied the coast is clear, he re-enters his caravan. On “the way home”, Alan and Franzis, having parted company with Jane, arrive at their first destination, Franzis’ home, “Alan, we both love her”, Franzis states, “We’ll leave the choice up to her, but whomever she chooses, we shall remain friends”, Alan agrees and makes his way home. Later that “night”, Alan is asleep in his bed; he is suddenly awoken by the sudden appearance of a shadowy figure, the pair grapple, the intruder produces a knife and plunges it deep into his body. The following morning, Alan’s landlady (Elsa Wagner) appears distressed as she wanders through the narrow streets of Holstenwall, she finds Franzis and anxiously reveals her news, “Mr Franzis, Mr Franzis”, she bellows, “Mr Alan is dead, murdered.” Barely able to comprehend this astonishing news, Franzis, with the landlady in tow, visit the scene, and again, he becomes visibly distraught but begins to put things together in his mind, “The somnambulist’s prophecy!” he exclaims, and immediately sets off to report the crime to the local police.

At the local police station, a dishevelled Franzis reports the murder, declaring “I won’t rest until I get to the bottom of these dreadful deeds”, he remains visibly confused as the police decide on their next move; in a continuous state of shock, he leaves the police station, and decides he must inform Jane of this ghastly news, who is horrified at the thought of Alan’s demise. Grief-stricken, Franzis and Jane seek the help of Jane’s father, Dr. Olfen (Rudolf Lettinger), and after being told the story behind Alan’s death, he suggests that he will “obtain police authorisation to examine the somnambulist”, and the pair leave immediately. Meanwhile, on the dark and twisting oblique streets of Holstenwall, a criminal (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) is apprehended, after being discovered with a large ‘pointed’ instrument, he is quickly taken to the police station.

At the caravan, Dr. Caligari feeds the sleeping somnambulist, however, he is interrupted by Dr. Olfen and Franzis, who appear eager to question him regarding Cesare’s premonition; Caligari is visibly enraged, “Nein”, he professes and refuses to allow the two men into the caravan, but he is forced to change tact when Dr. Olfen produces a piece of paper, and allows the two men inside. Returning to the local police station, the criminal that was captured during the ensuing melee is marched up the steps, and interrogated, a long pointed knife is produced as evidence of his crimes and he is quickly led away by a troop of policemen. Caligari, meanwhile, a pained expression on his face, can only stand and watch as Dr. Olfen and Franzis inspect Cesare, “Wake him up”, the Doctor asks, but the clearly irked magician refuses to acknowledge the demand. Franzis is aware of an approaching man, who delivers a Special Edition handbill, “Holstenwall Mystery Solved”, it reads, “Two Time Murderer Caught In Third Attempt”, the Doctor joins Franzis outside the caravan and together the pair head for the local police station, leaving behind an amused Dr. Caligari, who disappears into the confines of his caravan.

At the Olfen residence, Jane, clearly agitated, is worried at the length of time her father and Franzis have been gone, she sets her book on the table and sets off in search of the pair. Meanwhile, the criminal is being questioned by the Doctor and his younger companion, “I had nothing to do with the two murders, so help me God”, the dishevelled criminal bellows, “The old woman, it’s true, I tried to kill her by stabbing her in the side with a similar knife, to throw suspicion on the mysterious murderer”, Franzis and Dr. Olfen appear bewildered, not knowing what to think of these latest revelations. As her father and Franzis try to make sense of everything at the local police station, Jane arrives at the fair, and quickly finds herself outside Dr. Caligari’s tent, which is pulled aside to reveal the man himself, “Is my father, Dr. Olfen here”, Jane asks, Caligari shakes his head but ushers the terrified woman inside, where he introduces her to Cesare. Caligari beckons the somnambulist awake, which results in a horrified Jane fleeing the tent. After the funeral of Alan has been held, Franzis takes it upon himself to spy on Dr. Caligari, in an attempt to get to the bottom of this bizarre mystery, he again makes his way to the caravan and looks through the window, discovering Dr. Caligari and Cesare both asleep. Meanwhile, Jane is also asleep, outside, a figure lurks in the darkness, the figure is revealed to be Cesare, he silently makes his way to Jane’s open window and creeps through, a bladed weapon in his hand; the somnambulist makes his way to the sleeping Jane, stops and raises his dagger. Cesare freezes, his face calm as he lowers an adoring hand towards his unknowing victim’s hair; suddenly Jane springs upwards and is immediately in a battle with Cesare, who grips her hands tightly, a menacing grin arches across his contorted face.

Jane struggles with her assailant but is quickly overpowered and taken through the window but not before her screams have awoken the slumbering residents, including Dr. Olfen, who collapses onto the bed, horrified at the sudden kidnapping of his daughter.  With Jane underneath his arm, Cesare quickly makes his escape across a balustrade, with an angry mob in close proximity, but can go no further; he becomes tired, and leaves a startled Jane to the safety of her father, he manages to make a few steps but his fate is sealed, and he dies of exhaustion. Back at the caravan, Franzis, having spent the majority of the night watching Dr. Caligari and the sleeping somnambulist, heads back to Dr. Olfen, but is horrified to discover Jane slumped in a chair, “Cesare”, she screams, adamant that the somnambulist was her abductor, but Franzis disagrees, “It couldn’t have been Cesare, he was asleep at the time, I watched him for hours”, again, Jane remains steadfast in her statement, leaving a mystified Franzis to flee, his destination being the local police. Franzis arrives at the police station in a state of utter bewilderment, “Is the prisoner secure in his cell?” he asks, and insists upon seeing the criminal, he is led down to the holding cells by the two constables and sure enough, the incarcerated criminal is sat in chains. Accompanied by the policemen, Franzis heads back to Caligari’s caravan, and watches apprehensively as the ‘box’, containing the sleeping somnambulist is removed, once opened, it is revealed to be a dummy. In the ensuing melee, Dr. Caligari quickly slips away, pursued by an angry Franzis along an inclination of paths; the Doctor disappears through a doorway, marked “Lunatic Asylum”, he is quickly followed by Franzis, who finds himself standing in a large courtyard. He approaches a Doctor, “Do you have a patient by the name of Dr. Caligari?” he asks, but is informed that nobody of that name resides at the Asylum, “The Director returned earlier today, perhaps you should speak to him personally”, a doctor confidently states; Franzis agrees and is taken to the Director’s office, but is horrified to find a familiar face, the Director of the Asylum is none other than Dr. Caligari himself. Overcome with indescribable horror and panic, Franzis flees to the courtyard of the Asylum, where he collapses with shock, a gaggle of doctors scoop him up, “He, himself and none other, is Caligari”, he enthuses, his face contorted with fear and rage.

With the Director being placed under observation in his villa, Franzis, with the help of staff from the Asylum go in search of answers; they enter the Director’s office and immediately begin to scan through books and other materials of interest, including a large book, entitled, ‘Somnambulism: A Collected Edition by the University of Upsala’, which Franzis opens with anticipation, “His speciality”, he mutters to the surrounding doctors; passages from the book read, ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, in the year 1783, a mystic by the name of Caligari toured the fairs of numerous villages in Northern Italy, accompanied by a somnambulist, named Cesare’, Franzis continues to leaf through the pages of the book, ‘For months, he sowed panic amongst village folks through a series of foul murders committed under almost identical circumstances’, intrigued, Franzis and the mesmerised doctors continue to read, ‘…he had entirely subjugated to his a will, a somnambulist named Cesare, whom he did compel to carry out his nefarious schemes. A puppet, the exact likeness of Cesare, and which took his place in a cabinet, allowed him to divert any suspicion that might fall on the somnambulist’. Franzis begins to search through more books and finds a diary, ’12th March, finally, finally, a somnambulist has been brought to the asylum for admission…’, the author of the diary is revealed to be Dr. Caligari, who, in a flashback, is seen inspecting a recent arrival at the asylum; Caligari instantly dismisses the attending physicians and gleefully embraces the somnambulist, tearing up his book in the process. Franzis, surrounded by eager doctors, continue to read Caligari’s diary, ‘Afternoon, my desire, I shall be able to satisfy my life’s unwavering wish! Now I shall unravel the psychiatric secrets of this Caligari! Now I shall discover if it’s true, that a somnambulist can be compelled to perform acts that in a walking state he would never commit and would be repugnant to him; whether it is true that a sleepwalker can be led to commit even murder.’ Another flashback shows Caligari scanning the pages of a book, “An obsession”, again, he scans the book, showing signs of a developing madness, “I must know everything”, he devises, “I must penetrate his secrets, I must become Caligari”, with delusions mustering his every thought, the Director steps outside but is consumed by crushing thoughts, “You Must Become Caligari”, every turn he takes, he is beaten back by these words, he attempts to catch the words but fails, finally he turns back.

Back at the Director’s office, Franzis and the group of physicians are pouring over a large book, satisfied that they have the answers to solve the mystery; a messenger arrives and informs them that the “sleepwalker” has been found in a field; the corpse is collected and brought on a stretcher to the asylum. Franzis heads to the Director’s office, who he finds stood behind his desk, “Mr Director”, he boldly shouts, “Unmask yourself, you are Dr. Caligari!” a belligerent Caligari glares at Franzis, who orders the corpse of Cesare be brought in, he quickly snatches off the cover, revealing the Doctor’s most prized possession underneath, which results in Caligari throwing himself onto Cesare’s corpse, a look of total bewilderment on his face, which in an instant turns to hostility as he attacks the lead physician, who orders Caligari’s incarceration into a strait-jacket, he is then marched off to another room, still struggling before acceding to exhaustion; Franzis can only stand and watch as Dr. Caligari’s fate is sealed.

With his remarkable story at an end, Franzis informs his elder companion, “…and since that day, the madman never again left his cell”, a chill sweeps across the old man and together, the pair leave their seats and head into a larger courtyard, which is instantly recognisable as the very same courtyard from the Asylum; several inmates are walking around, each with a varying condition, all appear disturbed. Two of the inmates are recognisable as Jane, who sits on a large throne, the other being Cesare, who is caressing a bunch of flowers; Franzis and the old man enter the courtyard, and the younger man freezes when he sees Cesare, he pulls his elderly companion to one side, “Look, there’s Cesare”, he whispers, “Never allow him to tell your fortune or you’re dead”, the horrified old man quickly wanders away as Franzis sees Jane, “Jane, I love you, won’t you be my wife at last?” he asks, but Jane, a distant look flagging across her face, “We Queens are not free to answer the call of our heart.” As a confused Franzis wanders off, the Asylum Director enters the courtyard, his appearance respectable; he no longer has the inane grin of the fiendish Dr. Caligari, or the straggled hair, his clothing is pristine. Horrified, Franzis attacks the Director, “You all think that I’m insane!” he yells, “It isn’t true; it’s the Director who is insane, he is Caligari, Caligari, Caligari!” With this outburst reverberating around the Asylum, Franzis is quickly subdued, placed into a strait-jacket and dragged into the very same cell where Dr. Caligari met his fate; following the commotion, the Director examines his patient, puts his round spectacles on and declares, “At last, I think I understand his delusion; he thinks that I am that mystic, Caligari. Now I know exactly how to cure him”, the Director looks pleased with his diagnosis and gives a wry smile.  

The Origins of Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari

When Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer first sat down and wrote the screenplay for “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari”, in the December of 1918, it is inconceivable to suggest that they could have had an inclination of what lay ahead in the coming weeks and months, as neither man had sold a movie script and they had absolutely no reason to believe that anything would come of it, let alone the script that they had both been working on for the past six weeks would actually bear fruit. Most certainly, the road ahead wasn’t an easy journey; both writers were penniless and had to sell a number of possessions, including silver cigarette cases, in order to eat. A route full of twists and turns, frustration and anger and feelings of betrayal encapsulated what has often been described as “one of the greatest movies ever made”, and in our opinion, it is a movie that fully deserves this unwavering adulation and much more besides.

Hans Janowitz was born in Podebrady, in the Central Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic, on December 2nd, 1890, and spent his childhood in comfortable bourgeois surroundings; around the turn of the century, Janowitz was schooled in Prague and it was here that he met childhood friends Franz Werfel, Willy Haas, Paul Kornfeld and Ernst Deutsch. Later, he was introduced to Frank Kafka and Max Brod, who, alongside Felix Weltsch, would constitute the Close Prague Circle, an influential group of literary critics and linguists. Towards the end of 1910, Janowitz left Prague and travelled to Munich, finding employment at a vegetable oil mill, owned by his father, Gustav, and a career in the grain trade beckoned, however, whilst studying history and sociology in Munich, he discovered that a bohemian lifestyle, with artistic and intellectual trappings, was much more enjoyable than a career in commerce. Janowitz found that he had a talent for writing, and by 1912, he was a published author, his poetry, literacy, reviews and art appearing in several editions of the journal, Herderblätter, founded in 1911 by Willy Haas; it featured contributions from Werfel, Kornfeld and Franz Kafka, although it would appear to be a doomed venture for Haas.

In 1913, Hans Janowitz relocated to Hamburg where he worked as an assistant director, an occasional actor, writer, and dramaturge at the Deutsches Schauspielhaus, established in 1901 by stage actress Franziska Ellmenreich. It was during this period that Janowitz had his first brush with Expressionism, with articles appearing in Austrian literary magazine, Der Brenner, an Avant-garde mouthpiece for literature, founded in 1910 by writer and publisher Ludwig von Ficker, and he also contributed to Max Brod's Arkadia, a literacy yearbook for poetry, published by Leipzig: Kurt Wolff, with An Outbreak and Scene of Accomplishment appearing in print.

In November, 1913, Janowitz tells of a very unusual event that he had experienced in Hamburg, at an Amusement Park, on the Planten un Blomen, at the Holstenwall, as he states in his 1941 novella, Caligari: The Story of a Famous Story, "...a vision of horror, which i endured and moulded as a poet, as phantast, as a kind of soul-reporter, with the consuming fire of a very young burning heart. A girl, young, beloved and drunken with the happiness of life, was murdered". The 'vision of horror' that he speaks of, was the vicious rape, strangulation and mutilation of Gertrud Siefert. As Siegfried Kracauer writes, in his book "From Caligari to Hitler", published in 1947, "...this young poet was strolling through a fair at Hamburg, trying to find a girl whose beauty and manner had attracted him. The tents of the fair covered the Reeperbahn, known to any sailor as one of the world's chief pleasure spots. Nearby, on the Holstenwall, Lederer's gigantic Bismarck monument stood sentinel over the ships in the harbour. In search of the girl, Janowitz followed the fragile trail of a laugh, which he thought hers, into a dim park bordering the Holstenwall. The laugh, which apparently served to lure a young man, vanished somewhere in the shrubbery. When, a short time later, the young man departed, another shadow, hidden until then in the bushes, suddenly emerged and moved along, as if on the scent of that laugh. Passing this uncanny shadow, Janowitz caught a glimpse of him: he looked like an average bourgeois. Darkness reabsorbed the man, and made further pursuit impossible. The following day, big headlines in the local press announced, "Horrible sex crime on the Holstenwall! Young Gertrude...murdered". An obscure feeling that Gertrude might have been the girl of the fair impelled Janowitz to attend the victim's funeral. During the ceremony, he suddenly had the sensation of discovering the murderer, who had not yet been captured. The man he suspected seemed to recognise him, too. It was the bourgeois, the shadow in the bushes".

In the summer of 1914, Hans Janowitz's theatrical career was temporarily interrupted, following the outbreak of World War One, in July 1914, triggered by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by Yugoslav nationalist Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, setting of a worldwide chain of events, which culminated in the deaths of over sixteen million people, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in history. As the events of the First World War were beginning to unfold, Hans Janowitz volunteered for the Austrian army, alongside his younger brother, Franz, and quickly rose to the rank of Captain. It is highly likely that both brothers' experienced the horrors of war at the battle of Grodeck; it was during an attack on Monte Rombon, on October 24th, 1917, that Janowitz learned that his younger brother had suffered a grave chest wound. Franz Janowitz succumbed to the injury and died several days later, on November 4th, in a nearby field hospital. There is little doubt that these experiences left Hans Janowitz with a fierce detestation of war, as he indicated in letters delivered to the much-admired Viennese satirist Karl Kraus, author of Die Fackel; in 1919, Janowitz enthusiastically committed himself to the German Revolution, the roots of which lay in the German Empire's fate in the aftermath of the First World War and the social tensions which followed shortly afterwards.  Janowitz began writing for several left-wing and revolutionary cultural magazines that thrived at that particular time, including Peace, The Revolutionary and The Young Germany.

With the First World War at an end, Hans Janowitz relocated to Berlin, where he was reunited with childhood friend, Ernst Deutsch, whilst working at the Berliner Residenztheater, and he was introduced to Carl Mayer, an Austrian screenplay writer from Graz. According to Siegfried Kracauer's "From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film", Mayer was the son of a wealthy businessman, who would have prospered, had he not been obsessed by the idea of becoming a scientific gambler, who, in the prime of his life, sold his property and left for the French resort of Monte Carlo, armed with an infallible system; he returned to Graz a few months later, penniless and broke. Under the stress of this catastrophe, the monomaniac father turned the sixteen year old Carl, and his three younger brothers, out onto the streets; he committed suicide soon thereafter, leaving the young Carl to take responsibility for the three children. To make ends meet, Mayer found employment as a secretary, and undertook a variety of odd-jobs, including peddling barometers, singing in choirs and playing extras in peasant theatres. After discovering a thirst for the stage, Mayer moved to Vienna, and worked his way up the theatre ladder, finding his way into Dramaturgy and adapting screenplays for the stage, which incorporated both direction and design; there was no branch of theatrical production that Carl Mayer did not explore during those years of nomadic life, and these experiences would prove invaluable in his future career as a film poet. Whilst in Vienna, Carl Mayer met and fell in love with German actress Gilda Langer, and together, the pair relocated to Berlin, finding employment at the Berliner Residenztheater, with Langer, in particular, proving fruitful, as she was offered roles in several movies, working with directors such as Otto Rippert and Fritz Lang.

Hans Janowitz claimed in his 1941 booklet, "Caligari: The Story of a Famous Story", that during the raging battles of the First World War, Carl Mayer spent a great deal of time in a 'strategic battle of wits' with an army psychiatrist, where the screenwriter successfully managed to feign madness, that he was deemed 'mentally deranged', and unfit to participate in a war that Mayer himself had termed "criminally insane." In 1918, Janowitz was introduced to Gilda Langer, through his mutual acquaintance with Carl Mayer, and instantly bore a connection with the actress; she was mourning the death of her fiancée on the Western Front, and he was struggling to come to terms with the death of his younger brother, Franz, at Monte Rombom, so much so, he wrote at the time that his brother, "had uselessly bled to death for the benefit of a shameful government for which he felt nothing but contempt, I have never been able since to trust the authoritative power of an inhuman state gone mad" When Hans Janowitz met Gilda Langer, he was on leave from the Italian frontline, and when she suggested that they visit a fortune teller, he readily agreed; the clairvoyant made an ominous prediction, she stated that Janowitz would survive the war and return home safe and well, but she predicted that Gilda would die, and in both cases, the fortune teller's predictions proved to be true. Before her untimely death in January, 1920, Gilda Langer suggested that both Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer collaborate on a screenplay together, stating, "You are a poet and he is a dramaturge, you should write a film story together.” 

In December, 1918, Janowitz and Mayer, excited by the thought of collaborating on a film together, began work on the film screenplay; although neither had any associations within the film industry, both men were confident writers, and over the next six weeks, "Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari" was completed, with Janowitz boldly stating that he was "the father who planted the seed, and Mayer the mother who conceived and ripened it". In constructing the screenplay, Janowitz and Mayer used several influences when writing the screenplay, and these included, most notably, both authors' experiences during the First World War, with Janowitz, in particular, setting out to write a story that denounced the authoritive power of an inhumane state gone mad, deeming it as brutal and insane.

Carl Mayer's experiences with the army psychiatrist provided the inspiration for the fearsome Dr. Caligari, as Janowitz stated, "He represented the authoritative pressure that was brought to bear upon the powerless young man", whilst Caligari's dishevelled appearance was inspired by portraits of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who claimed that the world is driven by a continually dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction; he is perhaps best known for his 1918 book, The World as Will and Representation. According to Janowitz, the name "Caligari" was inspired by a rare volume, entitled, "Unknown Letters of Stendhal", which featured a letter from the French novelist, Marie-Henri Beyle, better known by his pen name of Stendhal, and referred to a French officer that he met at the La Scala Theatre in Milan, whose name was Caligari; both writers felt that the name 'clicked' with them. Hans Janowitz also drew on his experiences in Hamburg in 1913, at Planten un Blomen, beside the Holstenwall, which became the name of Franzis' home town. The decision to set part of the story at a fair consists of an event that took place at a "dazzling and clamorous" fair at the Kantstrasse, Charlottenburg, in Berlin. After working on the script during daylight hours, Carl Mayer would suggest a walk through the colourful "bright jungle" of the fair, and on this particular evening, Mayer took his companion to a side-show, entitled "Man or Machine", which presented a strong man who was able to achieve miracles of strength, whilst in an apparent stupor, acting as though he was hypnotised, all accompanied with strange utterances, which seemed to spellbound the spectators as pregnant forebodings; it was during this performance that Janowitz and Mayer began to visualise the story of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, and in particular, the role of Cesare. Janowitz also recalled his meeting with the fortune teller, who predicted the death of Gilda Langer, and this inspired the scene where the somnambulist foretells Alan's death. 

With the script for Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari practically complete, Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, who were suffering severe financial hardship, were eager to sell their script as quickly as possible; in 1919, the penniless writers were handed a break when up-and-coming director, Fritz Lang suggested that the pair meet with Erich Pommer, the head of production at the Decla-Bioscop film studios, to discuss the sale of the screenplay, and on April 19th, Hans Janowitz telephoned Pommer, making an appointment for 4pm, on that very same day. When Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer arrived for their meeting with Erich Pommer, he wasn't exactly forthcoming and attempted to get rid of them by asking the writers to leave the script with him but they refused; Mayer insisted on reading the script aloud, and eventually, Pommer gave in to their demands, and he and his assistant, Julius Sternheim, sat and listened with a purposeful intent, as Janowitz recalls, "The four of us smoked steadily, not, as might be suspected, the cigarettes of the Decla Picture Corporation, oh no, but our own, and that hurt!" When Carl Mayer had finished his recital of the script, Erich Pommer and his assistant were very much impressed with what they had both heard, so much so, they refused to allow Janowitz and Mayer to leave their offices, until a contract was signed, which was purchased by Decla that very same night; Erich Pommer admitted that he was attracted to the script as he felt it was a picture that could be filmed inexpensively, "The mysterious and macabre atmosphere of Grand Guignol was, at the time, in vogue in German films and this story was perfectly full of it. They saw in their script an 'Experiment', whereas I saw a comparatively inexpensive production".

When Janowitz and Mayer first originally walked into the offices of Erich Pommer, they had a set price in mind, both men agreeing to accept no less than 10,000 Marks, the signed contract, dated April 19th, 1919 is today preserved at Berlin's Bundesfilmarchiv, and shows that the writers ultimately settled for 4,000 Marks; Janowitz states, in "Caligari: The Story of a Famous Story", that the writers were in fact offered 6,500 Marks, with the promise of a further 2,000 Marks if and when the film went into production, and an extra 1,000 Marks if in the unlikely event the film ever saw a foreign release. The contract also gave Erich Pommer the definitive right to make any changes to the script that he so desired; Janowitz and Mayer were also expected to help with any alterations and to provide written materials for promotional purposes that the studio may have, without incurring any further charges. Finally, it was specified that the authors' names were to be mentioned on the picture itself and on any promotional material, such as advertising.

Initially, production on Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari was delayed for around four or five months, whilst Erich Pommer worked on the production of The Plague of Florence (1919), which, incidentally also featured a character called Cesare, played by Otto Mannstaedt, who falls in love with an evil seductress, who plans to torture the women of Florence, turning the city's churches into dens of sexual debauchery. Originally, Erich Pommer wanted Fitz Lang, with whom he had developed a close working relationship, to direct Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari but he was removed from the project to prepare for the second part of Die Spinnen: Das Brillantenschiff, released in February 1920; Pommer then turned to prominent director Robert Wiene, whose previous picture, Die Nacht der Königin Isabeau (1920) had also been produced by Decla, however, this film is now presumed lost, but the contemporary reviews of the era praised Wiene's direction. Hans Janowitz also thought Robert Wiene would be able to bring an "intimate understanding" to the project, and believed that he had the experience to do so, after suggesting that Wiene's father, Carl Wiene, a successful theatre actor, had "gone slightly mad when he could no longer appear on the stage.”

When Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer started to write the screenplay for Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, the pair had a selection of actors in mind to portray the characters that would be brought to life; initially, Janowitz wrote the part of Cesare for his childhood friend, Ernst Deutsch, whilst the role of Jane was written by Carl Mayer for Gilda Langer; now would be an excellent opportunity to extinguish a myth regarding Langer. When Janowitz and Mayer first wrote Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, originally she was to portray Jane, but when production on the picture started, the role went to German actress Lil Dagover, whose career was about to take off, due to a successful performance in Fritz Lang's erotic drama, Harakiri (1919), however, it is often suggested that Gilda Langer didn't appear in the movie because she had died, and this simply isn't true, as the actress lived up until January 31st, 1920, where she succumbed to the Spanish Flu, leading to a lung infection; throughout the entire production of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, Gilda Langer was alive. Indeed, a much more feasible explanation exists, as Gilda Langer became engaged to an up-and-coming writer, director and producer named Paul Czinner, and simply took the chance to "trade-up" from a pair of starving writers, but unfortunately, Gilda died before she could get married. Janowitz claimed that he wrote the character of Dr. Caligari specifically for Werner Krauss, after being introduced to the actor by Ernst Deutsch, during rehearsals for a Max Reinhardt play at the Deutsches Theatre in Berlin, where he featured in minor and secondary roles, such as King Claudius in Shakespeare's Hamlet or Mephistopheles in Goethe's Faust; in 1918, Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt appeared on stage together in Reinhold Goering's Seeschlacht, an Expressionist drama produced by Max Reinhardt, which also featured Paul Wegener and Emil Jannings. Both Krauss and Veidt were enthusiastic regarding the production of Caligari and Krauss recalls that he, Lil Dagover and Conrad Veidt got together on the first day of filming and said, "We have to use quite different make-up; look at the settings, Conny, you make yourself a broad line under each eye, I disguised my nose and hair. There was a shop in the city, in a cellar, where they sold old clothes. I needed a Havelock and a top hat and a stick with an ivory handle, all very old fashioned, and a cape; an assistant director got the things, all without any artistic advice, thus the film was played."

Janowitz stated that when both he and Carl Mayer wrote their script, they believed that it should have been a “straitjacket” for the director, with specifications that were to be so specific, there would simply be no room for them to deviate from their written intentions; as we’ve already stated, originally Fritz Lang was intended to direct Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, but he was removed to prepare for the second part of Die Spinnen, however, Lang recalls that, “in the fall of 1919, Erich Pommer offered me the script of Caligari and attached to the script were cubistic sketches for the sets by Walter Reimann, Walter Röhrig and Hermann Warm. As I was of the opinion that a film audience in 1919 would not understand and therefore could not accept the cubistic sets, and the whole story plays in an insane asylum, I suggested to Erich Pommer that the story should be framed by a normal prologue and epilogue scene”. Lang believed that audiences would be put off by the aggressive imagery, and thus proposed a “dream sequence”, something that an audience could be gently eased into, so that it would be much more acceptable and easier to swallow. Now, there are a few discrepancies in Fritz Lang’s account of the production of Caligari, as Hermann Warm, the chief production designer, suggests that the Expressionist designs were first drawn up under the direction of Robert Wiene and producer Robert Meinert, and considering Lang had been assigned to direct Die Spinnen, part two, it seems implausible for the director to have witnessed these “cubistic” designs, however, it wouldn’t have been impossible, as Lang was very much one of Decla’s favourable sons; he was also a great ally of Erich Pommer. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that either Pommer or Wiene to have consulted Lang, since he wouldn’t have had any formal responsibilities on the production, and furthermore, we also know that Lang didn’t invent the Rahmenerzählung, or framing story, as Janowitz and Mayer’s script already had a frame prewritten. However, what is certain, both Janowitz and Mayer raged at the “rape” of their work, that neither author were not in discussions with director Robert Wiene or producer, Erich Pommer, regarding the framing and both strongly opposed its inclusion, believing that it turned what Janowitz described as, “our symbolic story was to be explained as being a tale told by a mentally deranged person, thus dishonouring our drama, the tragedy of a man, gone mad by the misuse of his mental powers”, Janowitz believed that the film would ultimately be deprived of its revolutionary and political significance, “an illicit violation, a raping of our work” he believed that the film would become a cliché in which the “symbolism was to be lost”.   

Hans Janowitz laid the blame of this “illicit violation” squarely at the feet of director Robert Wiene, who was supportive of the changes to the script, as Siegfried Kracauer explains in “From Caligari to Hitler”, “Janowitz and Mayer knew why they raged against the framing story, it perverted, if not reversed their intrinsic intentions. While the original story exposed the madness inherent in authority, Wiene’s glorified authority and convicted its antagonist of madness. A revolutionary film was thus turned into a conformist one, following the much-used pattern of declaring some normal but troublesome individual insane and sending him into a lunatic asylum. This change undoubtedly resulted not so much from Wiene’s personal predilections as from his instinctive submission to the necessities of the screen; films, at least commercial films, are forced to answer to mass desires. In its changed form, Caligari was no longer a product expressing, at best, sentiments characteristic of the intelligentsia, but a film supposed equally to be in harmony with what the less educated felt and liked”. After meeting Siegfried Kracauer in the United States of America, as both men had arrived in the Land of the Free in 1941, Hans Janowitz came to a similar conclusion, stating, “It was years after the completion of the screenplay that we realised our subconscious intention, and this explanation of our characters, Doctor Caligari and Cesare, his medium, that is the corresponding connection between our 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’s also interesting to note that Siegfried Kracauer makes no mention whatsoever of a framing story in “From Caligari to Hitler”, in Kracauer’s vision, the story begins with a fair moving into a fictitious German town, Holstenwall, with the bespectacled Dr. Caligari advertising the somnambulist, Cesare, and the story ends with the “monster” raving at the death of the medium, where trained attendants put him into a strait jacket. Up until the early 1950’s, no copies of the screenplay were thought to have survived, but we know that one did indeed survive, it was in the possession of Werner Krauss, he informed renowned film critic and author, Lotte Eisner that he still had his copy of the screenplay; unfortunately, he refused to allow the document out of his sight. In 1976, following a suggestion by Eisner, Gero Gandert purchased the screenplay from Krauss’s reluctant widow, Liselotte Graf, on behalf of the Deutsche Kinemathek, in Berlin; the screenplay remained unavailable to the public until the 30th November, 1994, when it was published in a full transcript. Janowitz and Mayer’s screenplay reveals that a Rahmenerzählung, a framing story was incorporated into the original story, and is set:

“…on the terrace of a large country house, Francis and his wife, Jane, are busily entertaining three Gentlemen and four Ladies; on a distant road, a procession of gypsy caravans pass by, causing Francis to stare reflectively into the distance, he is immediately comforted by Jane. At the behest of their guests, the depressed Francis begins to recite his dreadful tale, which occurred in Holstenwall some twenty years previous, “an idyllic old small town”, amongst the gypsy caravans is a “jener geheimnisvolle mann”, a mysterious man; Dr. Caligari, dressed in a flowing cloak and tall hat, appears, leafing through the pages of a large book…”

To bring Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer’s visions to life, Decla producer Rudolf Meinert introduced director Robert Wiene to production designer Hermann Warm, and he was provided with the screenplay and asked to come up with proposals for the design of the sets. Hermann Warm, who believed that “films must be drawings brought to life”, thought that a figurative set would have the wrong effect, he immediately brought his close friends, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig, on board, and the three worked through the best part of the night, before finally settling on a nightmarish design, something out of the ordinary and Warm remembers, “We started work furiously, even the set designers had fun being involved. We three painters always worked until the middle of the night, as if in ecstasy. It was the new wave of the time, whirling all participants around and holding them up”. Hermann Warm admits that it was Walter Reimann, who conceived the idea of an Expressionist set, when the three of them were “sitting over the script during the first exhilarated night of planning”, as Reimann was something of an Expressionist painter, his studio was full of impressive canvases, all with angular zigzags that were Caligariesque in design; between them, Warm, Reimann and Röhrig drafted up some preliminary sketches and took them back to Rudolf Meinert and Robert Wiene, with the director becoming immediately excited by the sketches, but Meinert needed a day or so of convincing but eventually, he finally agreed, throwing his support behind the vision, telling his designers to make the sets “as crazy and eccentric” as they possibly could; Meinert wanted to promote the film as an “artistic experiment”, as he felt that in a way, the film could become somewhat critic proof, if the audience responded in a positive manner to what they were seeing then it would become a sensational, and if the reaction was negative, then the inevitable criticism could easily be isolated, “at least we tried something new, and either way, the experiment would be in profit”.

Initially, Hans Janowitz asserted that “the innovation of having the sets painted on to the canvas, instead of using customary scenery, may be found in the direction of the shooting script, as a matter of fact, I myself wrote them into the original script, in the following words, ‘The scenery is to be designed in the style of Kubin’s paintings’”, however, since we can now view the screenplay, we can see that no such wording exists; Decla producer Erich Pommer’s recollection of the screenplay was that the film had to be done in “a distinctive style”. Janowitz was a huge admirer of Alfred Kubin, an Austrian illustrator, considered an important representative of Symbolism and Expressionism; he was known for his usage of lightness and darkness to create gloom laden shadows, however, his style of Expressionism was more surrealist, his landscapes have been labelled as ‘pornographic’, without actually being erotic. Kubin’s Goyaesque landscapes would have, in many ways, been appropriate for a film like Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari; however, F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) is perhaps closer in style.

With Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig committed to working on the picture, director Robert Wiene filmed test scenes to put the minds of the Decla executives at ease, as concerns were voiced at possible production costs, but Wiene proceeded, impressing the Decla executives, so much so that free reign was handed to Warm and his art department. The need to complete Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari in four weeks, whilst keeping costs to a minimum, led Hermann Warm to opt for painted sets, allowing the designers to produce Flächenkunst style abstract canvases, in the manner of Expressionism, resembling the pointed shapes that were often displayed on Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Metropole pictures, showing the streets of Berlin, whereas the zigzag patterns on Cesare’s path gives credence to his 1910 African Nude, whilst Lyonel Feininger’s Pink Sky, from 1909 and Johannes Itten’s Houses in Spring must also be considered influential, whilst representations from Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger, both of whom developed the theoretical foundations of Cubism, can be seen in the asymmetrical windows, walls and roofs, allowing the designers to paint light and shadows, permitting the cameraman, Willy Hameister to use diffuse light, which again saved the production team valuable time and expenses, reducing the need to electricity from the severely rationed facilities that existed in post-war Berlin.

Before filming on Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari could begin in earnest, the sets had to be painted, costumes designed and props inaugurated into the production, and this took around two weeks to prepare; Hermann Warm worked on the design of the sets, whilst Röhrig and Reimann worked on the painting and costumes respectively, with many of the costumes resembling a wide variety of time periods, including Romanticism and the Biedermeier era, in particular, the Holstenwall fair represents a good example of the clothing style of the Biedermeier era, which is primarily used to represent the artistic styles that thrived in the fields of literature, music, the visual arts and interior design. In December 1919, filming began on Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari and lasted around four weeks in total, concluding at the end of January, 1920; it was shot entirely at the Lixie-Atelier Glass House film studio at Weissensee, a studio, as the name implies, that was a stage with a glass ceiling and glass walls, which allowed it capture as much sunlight as possible, although in the December of 1919, sunlight would have almost certainly been at a premium, although the Lexie-Atelier was augmented with electric lighting, and at the time of filming, producer Erich Pommer was presiding over a cash strapped organisation in Decla, who were operating under a strict electricity quota, and so, money saving techniques were essential. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari was filmed in its entirety in a studio, and this is significant; its influence was almost instantaneous, as German filmmakers usually shot the majority of their films in outdoor locations, and practically every movie after Caligari was shot in a studio, with Nosferatu (1922) being a notable exception.

With filming underway, certain changes had to be made to the screenplay, and Hans Janowitz claimed that both he and Carl Mayer refused to allow any such changes to be made during the production, without their prior knowledge, and Erich Pommer, head of production at Decla, also claimed that Mayer would regularly visit the set to oversee any changes, however, set designer Hermann Warm remembers things slightly differently, claiming that neither Janowitz or Mayer actually appeared on set, due to their immense distrust of director Robert Wiene; he also claimed that neither writer was involved in any discussions whatsoever during the four week schedule, stating in Caligari und Caligarismus, “The daring execution of the film, which Meinert supervised as head of production, should not be kept a secret or be forgotten; the scriptwriters Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz have never participated in preproduction work or been present during shooting, either in the studio or during meetings. My surprise that these men did not show any interest in this film, especially with respect to its unusual and innovative form, was countered by Meinert with the words that this style of realising the film was not sanctioned by them”. Initially, the fact that Rudolf Meinert was the main authority in the production of the film was substantiated by Film-Kurier, who, in a full page spread credited the execution of the film, in its entirety, to Meinert, and the film’s conception to director Robert Wiene, however, several days had passed before this information had changed again, “Production head Rudolf Meinert of the Decla-Film-Gesellschaft has asked us to announce that the notice in our journal about the third Decla world class film, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, does not correspond to the truth. He is not in charge of the artistic supervision of this film, but Robert Wiene, who is working independently in every respect on this extraordinary film; the claim for the artistic execution of this film has to be his alone”.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari was the fourth film to be shot at the Lixie-Atelier Glass House film studio, founded in 1911 by Max Rittberger and Walter Schmidthässler, alongside The Plague of Florence (1919) and Fritz Lang’s Die Spinnen and its sequel; originally, the Lixie-Atelier was constructed for Production Company and distributer, Vitascope GmbH, and was extremely limiting in scale, and Decla had to improvise with a lot of the sets, which were, in many circumstances, no more than six meters in diameter. We can also begin to understand that these ‘limitations’ at the Lixie-Atelier would have seen elements of the screenplay reduced or removed altogether, further infuriating Messer’s Janowitz and Mayer, who were already irate at the “raping” of their work. Out went a procession of gypsies, a handcart pushed along by the mysterious Dr. Caligari, Jane’s ornate carriage, telephones, telegrams, electric lights and a scene involving horse-drawn cabs; director Robert Wiene also saw the impracticality of having a majestic fairground scene, with roundabouts, barrel organs, sideshow barkers, performers and menageries, all of which would be removed due to the restrictive nature of the sets. Instead, the designers create the impression of a majestic fairground, using the painting of Holstenwall as a backdrop, carnival goers’ mill around in fashionable Biedermeier clothing, whilst two merry-go-round props, in reality, nothing more than painted umbrella shaped canvas’, graciously spin in a similar fashion; ultimately, Wiene’s changes to the screenplay left the film with no suggestion of a precise time period or era, whereas Janowitz and Mayer had purposely foreseen a contemporary setting for their story.

It wasn’t just majestic fairgrounds, telegrams and telephone poles that became impractical for director Robert Wiene to film, many scenes from the screenplay were cut in their entirety or trimmed to tidy them up, the removal of unnecessary titles and scenes that linked to others; simple dramaturgical adjustments between scenes that featured the same character or characters. One such scene that was removed in its entirety involved the ghost of Alan, who appeared at a cemetery; in the finished movie, we see Franzis and Jane, with her father, leaving the cemetery, following Alan’s service. In Janowitz and Mayer’s screenplay, a title explains that Jane and Francis “were accompanying our poor friend on his last journey”, and following the service, Alan and Jane are joined by a “bright, hazy shadow”, slowly approaching, the ghost of the departed Alan, it stops besides the pair and affectionately gapes at them; eventually, Francis leads Jane from the cemetery. One such dramaturgical adjustment that occurred in the film, and, in our opinion, creating a more natural and simplified transition, is the scene where Franzis and Alan first witness the awakening of Cesare, which, quite frankly, remains one of the most visual and unforgettable sequences in cinematic history, it remains just as effective today as it did back in 1920, when it opened at the Marmorhaus, the most prestigious theatre in Kurfürstendamm; in Janowitz and Mayer’s screenplay, “Ceasare, lit by a shaft of light, stands motionless on the stage, Caligaris orders the somnambulist to awaken; his face, once static, becomes tender, his eyes blink and with great physical effort, he awakens, and immediately struggles for air, gasping again and again, his rigid body begins to shake, arms raised, constrained, as though embracement is near. A gradual and physical awakening becomes suddenly helpless, as Ceasare topples forward, caught by a grinning Caligaris, and continues his struggle for air”. As we can see, director Robert Wiene follows the majority of the screenplay in a faithful manner, albeit with a notable exception, and this is significant in adding ambience and disposition to the scene, Wiene simply enhances what Janowitz and Mayer had described in their screenplay; the camera is no longer focused on Cesare’s inability to catch his breath, but instead, we are focused on his struggle to open his eyes, and when he eventually does open his eyes, an anguished expression, dark circled eyes, piercing the atmosphere surrounding him, the scene is set, history written, as the somnambulist is slowly guided by Caligari, the rest of the scene generally follows the screenplay set by the writers, word for word.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari’s original title cards featured stylised and ancient lettering, often misshapen, containing excessive underlinings and exclamation points; this often bizarre and unusual style perfectly matched the finished picture and could also be found on many Expressionistic artworks of the period. Originally, these intertitles were highlighted in green, light blue and brown; many of the prints that are available today fail to use the original lettering, and their contribution to the artistic design of the film is significant. As Dietrich Scheunemann explains in Expressionist Film: New Perspectives (2006) “Carried out in bold, irregular, hand painted characters on a zigzag shaped background the titles indicate from the very beginning that this film departs from the usual realist or naturalist mode of filmmaking and employs unconventional artistic means to convey its theme. Their presence from the very beginning to the end challenges every distinction between a “normal” style of the frame and the “expressionist” style of the rest of the film. Through their jittery shape and the erratic design of their background the titles contribute to heightening the uncanny atmosphere of Dr. Caligari and creating an uneasy mode of perception. At the same time the titles also support the film’s claim of advancing the medium to a recognised art form, by importing stylised letters into the titles and by achieving a unity of composition through the application of the same expressible principles to titles and images alike”.

Dietrich Scheunemann suggests another characteristic feature of these intertitles in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is their astonishing brevity, as German writer, Walter Bloem, explains, singling out the title that consists of the singular word, “Nacht” for particular praise, insisting that it is “…the best title ever created”, as Scheunemann explains, “It appears twice in Dr. Caligari, first introducing the scene of Alan’s murder and then at the start of the scene of Jane’s abduction. Its “absolute brevity,” Bloem remarks, and the fact that it “wraps whole scenes up in its magic” instead of repeating in a descriptive style what the scene shows anyway makes it in his view a model for effective captions. The use of extremely short titles in succinct staccato style in several other instances shows that this was indeed a conscious element of stylization. The first appearance of Dr. Caligari is accompanied by a laconic “Er,” which in combination with the dark image of Caligari emerging from the portrayal of the huddled medieval town creates a mysterious aura around the main character from the onset. The following scene in which Dr. Caligari encounters the authoritarian town clerk is twice interrupted by the sharp command “Wait” to which Reimann has added three exclamation marks. Brevity, repetition and the exclamation marks clearly accentuate the clerk’s authoritarian attitude to which Caligari will respond in a horrific form. “Brevity, force and conciseness of expression” have been identified by Walter Sokel as the characteristics of expressionist prose style. In the film, the intertitles thus adopt expressionist principles not only in their graphic design, but also in their literary style.”

By the time Cinematographer Willy Hameister came to photograph Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, he had a number of pictures behind him, for both Continental Kunstfilm GmbH and Decla-Bioscop AG, including The Plague in Florence (1919); Hameister would go on to work with director Robert Wiene on several other films, such as Genuine (1920) and The Night of Queen Isabeau (1920), but it would be Caligari that he would perhaps be best remembered for. It is probably fair to suggest that the picture actually plays more like a theatrical performance than cinematic, and this isn’t at all unusual, as the camera doesn’t play a huge role in this picture, it is used to primarily to illustrate Hermann Warm’s sets, heightening the tension between lightness and darkness, which is needed to present a sense of shock, abrupt and unexpected close-ups, and alternating between medium and short shots, with bizarre angular scenes with very little editing in between. Shadows of light and dark are also ubiquitous to the story of Caligari, used in abundance to create a feeling of uneasiness, and this is nowhere more omnipresent in the scene where Cesare is first awoken by the showman, Caligari, at the Holstenwall fair, a circular light, creating an disconcerting radiance, beams directly across the expressionless face of Cesare, shadows of lightness and darkness are clearly at play here. Again, in a similar fashion, these shadows can be seen in the powerful scene where a shocked Alan meets his end at the hands of Cesare, with shadows cast against the wall; these lighting methods would later become a staple in not only films from Germany, they would be used by Universal in crafting their “Universal Monsters” series, and can especially be seen in Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931).

Visually, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is often described as dark and brooding, with elements of Expressionism, and it’s true, this movie doesn’t look or feel like most movies, the exaggerated and stylised abstracted sets make no attempt whatsoever to realistically depict any actual locations but rather, it’s something more of a dreamscape, dominated by twisted and oblique distorted lines, that often create a bizarre and unhinged appearance, structured landscapes that tend to curve and break from reality, creating a deliberate and distorted perspective. Expressionism is a movement that is extremely difficult to describe, and that is because it wasn’t a proper art movement, and in the early twentieth century, there tended to be an outbreak of art movements; Fauvism, which emphasises painterly qualities and strong colours over the representational or realistic; Cubism, which revolutionised European paintings and sculptures, inspiring movements in music, literature and architecture; Futurism, which emphasised speed, technology, youth and violence, it originated in Italy in the early twentieth century, and stayed largely in Italy; Romanticism was an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the eighteenth century and was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, it peaked from 1800 to 1850; Cloisonnism, a style of post-Impressionist painting with bold and flat forms separated by dark contours;  Impressionism, a nineteenth century art movement that originated with a group of Paris based artists. We know that these were movements because they were organised, they had leaders, manifestos, memberships, and were run internally by politics; Expressionism, by contrast, had no such formal organisation, however, Expressionism as a movement in cinematic terms was largely confined to Germany, due, in part, to the isolation that fell across the country during the First World War, and with the prohibiting of foreign movies, with the exception of Danish pictures, a flood of pictures, produced from within Germany, played at a variety of theatres; with the founding of Universum Film AG (UFA), film producers, such as Decla head, Erich Pommer, began experimenting with bold and fresh new ideas, and although these films were constrained by budgetary restrictions, they appeared artistic in style, sets were designed with non-realistic and geometrically incongruous angles; designs were painted on the walls and floors, representing lightness and darkness, shadows and other such entities. Within the plots of these Expressionist films, madness, insanity and betrayal were often at the forefront, a direct reaction against realism, as jagged landscapes, tilted walls and windows with cubist-like architecture, leap out at every turn; Expressionism allowed filmmakers, such as Robert Wiene and Fritz Lang, to experiment with photographic technology, creating vast landscapes and enormous metropolises, directors were able to explore their darkest fears to convey a twisted and deranged reality, in a more effective way than realistic localities or predictable design conceptions ever could. As Siegfried Kracauer wrote, “…the canvases and draperies of ‘Caligari’ abounded in complexes of jagged, sharp pointed forms strongly reminiscent of gothic patterns.  Products of a style which by then had become almost a mannerism, these complexes suggested houses, walls, landscapes. Except for a few slips or concessions, some backgrounds opposed the pictorial convention in too direct a manner, while others all but preserved them; the settings amounted to a perfect transformation of material objects into emotional ornaments. With its oblique chimneys on pell-mell roofs, its windows in the form of arrows or kites and its treelike arabesques that were threats rather than trees, Holstenwall resembled those visions of unheard-of cities which the painter Lyonel Feininger evoked through his edgy, crystalline compositions.

Although German Expressionism wasn’t generally appreciated by an unsuspecting public until after 1918, it wasn’t seen as a “true” movement, not in the same way that perhaps Fauvism or Cubism or Impressionism was seen, however, you could paint or sculpt in these fashions, and not belong to an “exclusive” movement, being a Cubist or a Fauvist or an Impressionist wasn’t about painting or sculpting in that particular style, it was about being seen to be a member of that particular movement, and this is where Expressionism ascended, it was seen as a conglobation of artistic movements, where one particular style meets another. We can draw another distinction, which is between Avant-garde art and modern art, aesthetics and ethics; the difference between Avant-garde art and modern art is aesthetics, modern art is an aesthetic retort to what has gone before it; it’s an endeavour to drive out into new boundaries, whereas Avant-garde already has those aesthetics, in the hopes of creating social perceptions. Within these constraints, we realise that Expressionism may not be a movement, such as Fauvism or Cubism or Impressionism; we can see that it is Avant-garde, since it employs both aesthetics and ethics, and these were mostly driven by a reaction against Impressionism, in which abstraction and other stylistic devices were used to render the real world in an evocative way. Expressionism doesn’t use stylised tricks to render a world set in realism; instead it uses precise techniques to render an unreal world, creating jagged lines and distorted angles. By 1920, Expressionist art was virtually on its knees, with the peak being the period before the First World War, where we had Expressionist literature, paintings, drama, sculpture and poetry, all flourishing in the months and years leading up to the War, it emphasised the strange and mysterious, implicit in the idea that the world that we lived in was a flawed identity, that change was needed and indeed, that change was afoot, inaugurated within these ideals would be a new world order, a better world, and when the First World War arrived, many Expressionist artists became disillusioned, as the world changed, not for the better, but for the worse, and by the end of 1920, a lot of the energy that had been attained with Expressionism had simply been sucked out, it’s life-force had been torn out, it was no longer confrontational, without that guiding moral force behind it, and a new Avant garde appeared, turning away from the extravagance of Expressionism and its discredited ideals, it was heading towards a new temperance, a return to conventional forms and realism. Although Expressionism continued to exist, it was used for more appropriate and commercial practices, such as appearing in picture houses and movie posters, but to see these insane zigzags and vertiginous swirls of Expressionist art invade the movie screen itself, well, this was something entirely different.  

Since fragments of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari takes place in a mental asylum, we can suggest that the narrative, told throughout the picture by Franzis, comes from a warped and distorted mind, and the viewer is taken along, as the character suffers from a mental breakdown; we are neatly placed inside the mind of a madman. As we previously discussed, visually, the film plays on reactions to the real world, and this is similar to art of an Expressionist nature, everything that we see and react to in the real world is vastly disorientated in the visual style of Caligari; for example, when the showman, Caligari, wishes to claim a permit for his booth at the Holstenwall fair, the town clerk sits atop an absurdly high stool, this represents authority, the German Empire, bearing down on the little man. We can also see representations of Expressionism in the courtyard of the insane asylum, with large, bold patterns spread across the floor, similarly, the scene where Franzis visits the criminal, known as Jakob Straat in Janowitz and Mayer’s screenplay, in his cell, we find vast vertical shadows, these resemble painted arrowheads, symbolising a broken society. The fact that Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari was entirely shot in a studio simply enhances these facts, the madness portrayed by the film's visuals can be seen over and over again in Hermann Warm’s wildly exaggerated sets, which feature patterns that represent the chaos that the film inscribes to, these images can be seen at the fairground, especially with the merry-go-round and the insane asylum; these elements are also at play with Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist Cesare, specifically in their costumes and make-up, which have elements of Expressionism, predominantly with Cesare’s cosmetics, and yet, if we compare these two characters with Franzis, Alan and Jane, we see that their costumes and make-up remain relatively native to 1920’s Germany, so we can safely say that only Dr. Caligari and Cesare belong to this unnaturally distorted world, however, not every scene in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari has an Expressionist design, we can see this in Jane’s residence, which has a standard background and bourgeois furniture, which offers a sense of normality which is observably absent from the majority of the production, and this is a common factor in films that incorporate a “dreamscape” reality, and continues to be popular in many of today’s productions.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, like a number of Weimar films that followed after it, introduces us to a world proceeded by a cruel and irrational authority by taking that authority and turning it into a violent and insane adversary, and Siegfried Kracauer believed that the showman was, “…an outspoken revolutionary story, stigmatising the omnipotence of a state authority manifesting itself in universal conscription and declarations of war. The German war government seemed to the authors to be the prototype of such voracious authority; they were in a better position than most citizens of the Reich to penetrate the fatal tendencies inherent in the German system. The character of Caligari embodies these tendencies; he stands for an unlimited authority that idolizes power as such, and, to satisfy its lust for domination, ruthlessly violates all human rights and values. Functioning as a mere instrument, Cesare is not so much a guilty murderer as Caligari’s innocent victim, and this is how the authors themselves understood him; According to the pacifist-minded Janowitz, they had created Cesare with the dim design of portraying the common man who, under the pressure of compulsory military service, is drilled to kill and to be killed. The revolutionary meaning of the story reveals itself unmistakably at the end, with the disclosure of the psychiatrist as Caligari, and reason overpowers unreasonable power, insane authority is symbolically abolished. Similar ideas were also being expressed on the contemporary stage, but the authors of Caligari transferred them to the screen without including any of those eulogies of the authority-freed “New Man” in which many expressionist plays indulged”. We can see the powerful control that Dr. Caligari wields over the head of Cesare, he becomes a tool, lacking any individuality whatsoever, dependant on the words of his master and without Caligari’s words for guidance, the weak-minded somnambulist simply ceases to exist. Again, Siegfried Kracauer argues that the character of Caligari, “…exposes the soul wavering between tyranny and chaos, and facing a desperate situation; any escape from tyranny seems to throw it into a state of utter confusion. Quite logically, the film spreads an all-pervading atmosphere of horror. Like the Nazi world, that of Caligari overflows with sinister portents, acts of terror and outbursts of panic, the equation of horror and hopelessness comes to a climax in the final episode which pretends to re-establish normal life. Except for the ambiguous figure of the director and the shadowy members of his staff, normality realizes itself through the crowd of insane moving in their bizarre surroundings; the normal as a madhouse: frustration could not be pictured more finally, and in this film, as well as in mankind, is unleashed a strong sadism and an appetite for destruction; the reappearance of these traits on the screen once more testifies to their prominence in the German collective soul”. Kracauer also argued that “Caligari is a very specific premonition in the sense that he uses hypnotic power to force his will upon his tool, a technique foreshadowing, in content and purpose, that manipulation of the soul which Hitler was the first to practice on a gigantic scale”. Kracauer went on to describe the picture as “an example of Germany's obedience to authority and failure or unwillingness to rebel against deranged authority”, symbolising those who have no mind of their own and must follow the paths of others, in which “self-appointed Caligaris hypnotized innumerable Cesares’ into murder”.

Nowhere is this “authority” more prominent in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari than with the town clerk, sat on his high stool, he is dismissive of the showman, arrogant and ignoring, he focuses on his paperwork, he humiliates Dr. Caligari in the process, with shrieks of “Wait!”, forcing him to use the somnambulist to take revenge; in many aspects, this scene, in particular, represents a difference between class and status, and this is a theme that seems to run throughout the picture. It is also fair to suggest that Franzis feels this resentment of authority too, specifically towards the end of the film, where he is estimated to be mad, wrapped inside a strait-jacket and committed to the insane asylum, his desperate screams reverberating around the chamber, “You all think that I’m insane, It isn’t true; it’s the Director who is insane, he is Caligari, Caligari, Caligari”, he is left to the devices of the Director, who believes that he can now cure him of his ailments. However, if we remove the ideology of the framing story, what remains is a representation of right and wrong, good and evil; Franzis represents humanity overcoming the tyrannical thoughts of a madman. If, as Siegfried Kracauer stipulates, we reinsert the framing story, we find that the premise of that ideology has been undermined; Kracauer argues that the frame device modifies and falsifies the story, turning it into the ravings of a lunatic, “While the original story exposed the madness inherent in authority, Wiene’s Caligari glorified and convicted its antagonist of madness. A revolutionary film was thus turned into a conformist one, following the much used pattern of declaring some normal but troublesome individual insane and sending him to a lunatic asylum”, Kracauer continues, “This change undoubtedly resulted not so much from Wiene's personal predilections as from his instinctive submission to the necessities of the screen; films, at least commercial films, are forced to answer to mass desires. In its changed form, Caligari was no longer a product expressing, at best, sentiments characteristic of the intelligentsia, but a film supposed equally to be in harmony with what the less educated felt and liked”.  

One of the many themes that runs through Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is the notion of insanity and sanity, of irrationality and illogicality; although the film’s visuals, namely the Expressionistic sets, were constructed and designed to save the production team money, we can also see that these sets only add to the confusion that we witness playing out on the screen. It’s only once the movie has ended that we are left with several questions, such as, “Do we trust and believe in Franzis’s perception of the events that he has narrated to us”, after all, he is deemed to be insane; can we accept what he says is reliable, given the fact that the Director of the Asylum has had Franzis placed into a strait-jacket, but we must also incorporate the framing device into this narrative, this is especially important if you are viewing the movie for the very first time, as it may not be obvious to a first-time viewer that the opening scenes are set within the walls of an asylum; Franzis and the elderly gentleman don’t appear “insane”, they could easily pass as two friends having a leisurely conversation; in fact, nothing about this particular scene represents insanity, sure, the old man has a certain “look” about him, but at first glance, it is perhaps fair to suggest that there is nothing in these opening scenes to warrant a claim of “insanity”, on the contrary, this scene could be described as tranquil; as we look at this opening frame, we are aware that there is nothing remotely Expressionist about it, there are leaves spread across the ground, hanging branches, a cluster of bushes and a high wall running in a circular motion, nothing about this opening frame suggests insanity, madness or lunacy, in fact, it’s probably safe to say this type of event, two old friends sat on a bench, occurs almost anywhere in the entire world, however, when Franzis begins his tale, “Holstenwall, the little town where I was born”, we are immediately transported into the main body of the picture, a story within a story, and the reliability issues begin. What we, the audience, see throughout the majority of the picture is perhaps not a “reliable truth”, we are watching the movie through the eyes of a madman; the world in which Franzis surrounds himself suggests an unstable mind, we can see this with the Expressionist style, everything in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari appears to be unreal, there doesn’t seem to be anything normal about it. Are these strictly the delusions of an unbalanced mind, or can we be equivocal in suggesting that both Franzis and the Director are both suffering from certain misbeliefs; as we’ve already discussed, the Expressionist sets not only represent a world seen from the perspective of an insane individual, it also portrays a fundamentally unstable world, in which the characters are based. Everything that we have seen, from both Franzis and Caligari’s point of view, is suddenly thrown into doubt, and this all comes to pass with the final scene of the film, an iris fades into the face of the Director, and his expression, creates a further doubt into the mind of the viewer, in the end, it remains unclear as to who is insane and who is sane, perhaps both are insane in a world that is perfectly out of balance.  

Another collective theme that runs throughout Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is Dualism; if, for example, we remove the framing device, and just concentrate on the main body of the story, we see that the mysterious Dr. Caligari is generally portrayed as an insane tormenter, a controlling dictator, holding the power of wills over the weak minded, and yet, let us add the framing device once again, and immediately, the notorious Caligari has become the respectable Director, reputed to be a kind and caring individual, he believes that he alone can “cure” Franzis of his delusions. Again, duality plays a major role in the unmasking of Dr. Caligari and his alter ego, the Director of the insane asylum, and we can also add another character into this duality, and that is the “real” Caligari, who existed in the eighteenth century, we discover this “mystic” in a large book, entitled, “Somnambulism: A Collected Edition by the University of Upsala”, ultimately, Caligari becomes obsessed with his Italian namesake, his goal is to learn his deepest secrets and to actually become “Caligari”, and this theme of duality also reaches Franzis, who, in turn, becomes a well-respected gentleman, judging by his attire, and an impatient at the insane asylum; our protagonist defeats Caligari, which results in the showman being put into a strait jacket, and in a reversal of fortunes, Franzis is also placed into a strait jacket, both represent authority, an aspect of German life during the First World War, this is essentially the calm before the storm. For an example of this, we can look at the scene that takes place in the Director’s office, where Franzis discovers Dr. Caligari’s diary, contained within are the ramblings of a madman; this occurs at the very same time that the Director is quietly sleeping, he has no knowledge of the ensuing events that are about to come to a head. We can find another example of this calm and chaos quite early in the film, at the fairground, a place usually associated with laughter and merriment, however, on this occasion, given the circumstances that lead up to the death of Alan, at the hands of Dr. Caligari and Cesare, but we must also recognise the somnambulist is a victim of duality, for he is both a murderer and an unwilling participant, manipulated by Caligari, this is a theme that again runs through the kidnapping and attempted murder of Jane. We find Franzis standing outside Caligari’s caravan, Cesare remains asleep in his “cabinet”, simultaneously, the somnambulist creeps up on Jane and attempts to end her life; this daring attempt occurs whilst Franzis remains outside Caligari’s caravan, inside, Cesare sleeps but we know that this is a “puppet”, another duality in play. These “duality” themes can be seen throughout the movie, in a variety of scenes, as we’ve seen, but we know that they can also be seen in Hermann Warm’s Expressionist sets, and with Walter Reimann’s costumes and make-up.

With the shadow of the First World War looming large, it is often thought that Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari centres on the many psychoses that would have been widespread at the time, as the German Empire was a technically advanced yet culturally and socially reactionary authoritarian society, whose supremacy even then appeared to other nations to be archaic and out-dated. At a time when extremism was rampant, there was a period of high imperialism, and people were ruled by a unilateral discipline, which permeated everything in this society. When Caligari arrived, a few years later, a sharp contrast was presented; Caligari presented a world where its inhabitants appeared as artists and bohemians, they were undisciplined, civilised and unconventional. Siegfried Kracauer believed that the paranoia and distrust that ran throughout the picture was a portent of things to come in a future Germany, and suggests that this was reflected in the peoples’ ability to “retreat into themselves”, shying away from political commitments following the war, with Germany witnessing a moral and physical breakdown of an off-balanced society, representing a country in chaos, and this “chaos” is none more reflected in Alan’s question to the somnambulist, Cesare, “How long will I live?”, a question that often went unanswered during the First World War, thousands of volunteers enthusiastically joined the war, hoping to be heroes, however, most of them died miserable and harrowing deaths, all in the name of their Fatherland; women became widows, men returned home crippled and maimed, whilst all across Europe, moral concepts collapsed as world views changed.

Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari has often been described as “Cinema’s Modern Art”, although this statement may have a ring of truth about it, the picture was promoted in a similar fashion to many of today’s blockbuster movies; advertising billboards suddenly appeared in every major German city, “You Must Become Caligari”, at first, nobody knew what it was about. Many of these advertisements appeared before the film was finished, but this was how the promoters of 1920’s Germany unnerved, terrified and enticed excited cinemagoers into their theatres, hoping they will show an interest in this sensational new film, “Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari”. Robert Wiene’s film premiered at the Marmorhaus, in Berlin, the most prestigious theatre in the Kurfurstendamm, on February 26th, 1920, however, both Erich Pommer, the head of Decla, and the filmmakers were nervous about the premiere and how their movie would be perceived by an unsuspecting public; the writers, Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, and the rest of the production team, were barely on speaking terms, as, alongside Pommer, they arrived at the theatre, “This will be a horrible failure for all of us”, the head of Decla, reportedly whispered; rather solemnly, one by one, they filled into the theatre. It was packed, full of newspaper reporters, V.I.P., as well as an intrigued public; the lights went down and weird angles and sinister shapes began to flicker on the screen. In the orchestra pit, the musicians began to play a haunting soundtrack, composed by Giuseppe Becce, the director of the Berlin Mozartsaal am Nollendorfplatz, and as the movie played, people started to gasp, women in the audience fainted at the sight of the somnambulist, many people screamed, and some 78 minutes later, the Marmorhaus erupted into thunderous applause, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari was an unqualified success; its director, Robert Wiene, soaked in the applause. Hans Janowitz recalls, “When the picture ended, there was a stunned silence, and Mayer and I, standing at the back of the gallery, looked at each other, thinking that it must have been a failure; suddenly this stunned silence was shattered by applause, applause rising to a crescendo that broke into a thunderous outburst of frantic calling and clapping, a raving audience, shouting with joy and acclamation. Again, we looked at each other, “Well, it’s a success!” Robert Wiene, Erich Pommer, the actors, painters and photographers acknowledged the applause, but not we, the authors, we beat a hasty retreat to a nearby liquor-buffet, drank Mampe, half and half, considered our future, and wondered whether our future scripts would also be produced in a crippled form by cowardly directors”.

As with the production of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, many myths and legends can be associated to the premiere of the picture, some of these “legends” have come directly from Decla head of production, Erich Pommer, who wrote about his experiences with the film in “From Caligari to California: Erich Pommer's Life in the International Film Wars”, written by Ursula Hardt, suggests that, “Caligari opened in a Berlin theatre, but the audience demonstrated against it and asked for its money back, and so, after two performances, the theatre threw it out, and I couldn’t get another theatre to show the film”, Pommer went on to claim that he spent a further six months on a publicity campaign, before introducing the picture, at his own risk and suggested that it went on a successful run for three months at the very same theatre where originally it had flopped. Similarly, Roger Manvell, the first director of the British Film Academy, and Heinrich Fraenkel suggested that Caligari was “…shelved after its completion for lack of a suitable outlet. It achieved its screening at the Marmorhaus, in Berlin, only through an accident, when another film had fallen through”. We can patently state that both of these statements are, quite frankly, absurd; first off, we know that the picture was completed at the end of January, 1920, and that it premiered almost a month later, and as we’ve already mentioned, the premiere was held at the Marmorhaus, the most “prestigious” theatre in the Kurfurstendamm, with a carefully planned and inventive advertising campaign to boot, “Du musst Caligari werden!”, appearing across German cities weeks before the movie was completed; I think we can safely come to the conclusion that Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari wasn’t a picture that appeared in theatres by “accident”, far from it, the critics of the day looked upon the picture favourably, as the movie “sold out” for several weeks. At the time of the movie’s release, restrictions were slowly being lifted on foreign films, following the aftermath of World War One, and as a result, the film was picked up for distribution in the United States of America by the Goldwyn Distributing Company, its premiere took place in New York City, on the 3rd April, 1921, at the Capitol Theatre, on 51st street and Broadway, which at the time, was the world’s largest theatre, and broke all record setting sales; Samuel Lionel "Roxy" Rothafel, an American theatrical impresario and entrepreneur, noted for developing extravagant performances of silent films in the luxurious movie palace theatres, hired actors to perform a live framing device that he had added onto the film, a frame around a frame, if you like. This “framing device” was not unusual for lavish film premieres; on this occasion, the film is introduced by a character called "Cranford", who identifies himself as the man that Franzis converses with in the original frame story, he returns in the epilogue to explain that Franzis has fully recovered from his madness. Rothafel also commissioned conductor Ernö Rapée to compile a musical accompaniment that included portions of songs by composers Johann Strauss III, Arnold Schoenberg, Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky and Sergei Prokofiev; the Capitol Theatre supremo wanted the score to match the dark mood of the film, saying: "The music had, as it were, to be made eligible for citizenship in a nightmare country”.

The Los Angeles premiere, which was held at Miller’s Theatre on May 7th, 1921, was less successful, there were public protests and these succeeded in shutting down the screening; however, these protests weren’t based on the film’s Avant-garde visual style, it was a purely an economic complaint, as the Los Angeles Unions, including those from the Hollywood branch of the American Legion, were worried that if German imports were too successful, it would draw business away from Hollywood, and ultimately, jobs may have been lost. After its initial run in the larger, more commercial theatres in the United States, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari began its descent into the much smaller theatres, with conflicting results on whether it was a success or not, however, the reviews of the day were favourable, with the trade magazine, Variety, concluding that…

“…the German-made Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a mystery story told in the Poe manner and fairly prods the interest along at a high pace. But it is morbid. The story is of a young man who is seen first relating to a visitor the peculiar reasons for the trance in which a young lady whom he points out appears to be. And then we are into the major portion of the story. This relates how a faker came to a fair at a small town and proceeded to enliven things by having a somnambulist, Cesare, who had been asleep for 23 years foretell the future. The faker called himself Dr. Caligari. A murder is foretold and a series of them occur. Dr. Caligari is pursued to a neighbouring insane asylum, where he is revealed as Dr. Sonnow, head of the institution. At this point we dissolve back to the young man, Francis, telling the visitor his story. Enter Dr. Sonnow, Francis promptly attacks him, protesting he is Caligari. That is the delusion of Francis, and now that he knows his delusion, the innocent Dr. Sonnow can cure him. The rest was a tale told by a madman. Of first importance is the direction and cutting. This has resulted in a series of actions so perfectly dovetailed as to carry the story through at a perfect tempo. Robert Wiene has made perfect use of settings designed by Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig, settings that squeeze and turn and adjust the eye and through the eye the mentality. The best performance unquestionably is that given by Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari. The unpleasant somnambulist, Cesare, is ghoulishly made evident by Conrad Veidt. Lesser roles are compently taken”.  

Although Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari performed admirably in theatres, both in its native Germany and around the world, critically, the reviews for the picture were mixed, and ranged from extremely favourable to downright ecstatic; Siegfried Kracauer stated that “…they were unanimous in praising Caligari, as the first work of art on the screen, that of Vorwaerts, the leading Social Democratic Party organ, distinguished itself by utter absurdity. It commented upon the film's final scene, in which the director of the asylum promises to heal Francis, with the words, “This film is also morally invulnerable inasmuch as it evokes sympathy for the mentally diseased and comprehension for the self-sacrificing activity of the psychiatrists and attendants”. Instead of recognizing that Francis' attack against an odious authority harmonized with the Party's own antiauthoritarian doctrine, Vorwaerts preferred to pass off authority itself as a paragon of progressive virtues. It was always the same psychological mechanism, the rationalized middle-class propensities of the Social Democrats interfering with their rational socialist designs. While the Germans were too close to Caligari, to appraise its symptomatic value, the French realized that this film was more than just an exceptional film”. Kracauer continues, “They coined the term "Caligarisme" and applied it to a post-war world seemingly all upside down; which, at any rate, proves that they sensed the film's bearing on the structure of society. The New York premiere of Caligari, in April 1921, firmly established its world fame, but apart from giving rise to stray imitations and serving as a yardstick for artistic endeavours, this "most widely discussed film of the time" never seriously influenced the course of the American or French cinema. It stood out lonely, like a monolith”.

American reviews of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari were largely enthusiastic, with the New York Times stating, “…the story is coherent, logical, a genuine and legitimate thriller, and after one has followed it through several scenes, the weird settings seem to be of substance and no longer call disturbing attention to themselves”, labelling it as “a fantastic story of murder and madness such as Edgar Allen Poe might of written”, whilst Motion Picture News heralded a similar statement, “It’s like a page from Poe.” Albert Lewin, writing in Motion Picture Classic, hailed the picture, believing it to be, “…the only serious picture, exhibited in America so far, that in anything like the same degree has the authentic thrills and shock of art. The tale of a madman unfolded thru mad scenery by mad characters has greater intrinsic reality than any of our flat photographic pictures. It ceases to be merely a succession of photographs and becomes alive, a creation, spiritually real and vital in a way peculiar to the screen, as unthinkable in any other form as are the poems of Heine”.  Lewin continues his analysis of the film, “This expressive explosiveness, this dynamic reality, has been achieved in pictures only by Chaplin and the creators of Caligari, Charlie Chaplin and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, in divergent and equally convincing ways, have established beyond cavil the integrity of the motion picture as an art. There is no longer any need for doubt or discouragement”. Other critics were indifferent to the picture, and had trouble “accepting the bizarre and unusual elements of Caligari”, theatre critic Herbert Ihering believed that the actors “are acting without energy and are playing within landscapes and rooms which are formally 'excessive', the continuity of the principle is missing”. Similarly, Helmut Grosse derived the film’s visuals as “clichéd and derivative”, stating that the visual design seemed cartoonish, “…a reproduction of designs rather than from what actually took place on stage”, whilst Blaise Cendrars, a writer of considerable influence in the European modernist movement, thought that by using real-life actors in front of artificially-painted sets created an inconsistent level of stylization; Herbert Jhering felt that the story, relating to the delusions of a madman, belittled Expressionism as an art form.

Worldwide, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari was generally seen as a success, theatrically and critically, and although it didn’t receive an immediate distribution, mainly because Germany was very much a country in turmoil in the aftermath of World War One and imports from the Weimar Republic were looked upon with suspicion, and this was the case in France, however, Louis Delluc, an Impressionist film director, screen writer and film critic, organised a single screening of the picture on November 14th, 1921, at the Colisée cinema, in Paris, for the benefit of the Spanish Red Cross. The film’s actual premiere was at the Ciné-Opéra, on March 2nd, 1922, after Le Films Cosmograph acquired the distribution rights; many French filmmakers were divided following the premiere, with director, producer, writer and actor, Abel Gance stating “The film is superb! What a lesson to all directors”, whilst others, such as Jean Epstein, were harshly critical of Caligari, “If you have to say that a film has fine décors, I think it is better not to speak of it at all, the film is bad. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is the prize example of the abuse of décor in the cinema. Caligari represents a grave sickness of cinema, everything in Caligari is décor, the décor itself first of all, then the actor who is painted and tricked out like the décor, finally the light, unpardonable sacrilege in the cinema, which is also painted, with lights and shadows mendaciously distributed in advance. So the film is nothing but a still life, all the living elements killed by a brush…” Louis Delluc felt that the film had a compelling rhythm, “At first slow, deliberately laborious, it attempts to irritate, then when the zigzag motifs of the fairground start turning, the pace leaps forward, agitato, accelerando, and only leaves off at the word 'End', as abruptly as a slap in the face”, whilst Jean Cocteau suggested that the film was “the first step towards a grave error which consists of flat photographic of eccentric décors, instead of obtaining surprised by means of the camera”. Russian director and film theorist, Sergei Eisenstein, was especially condescending when it came to Caligari, describing it as a “…combination of silent hysteria, particolored canvases, daubed flats, painted faces, and the unnatural broken gestures and action of monstrous chimaeras”.  

With the release of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, a handful of pictures attempted to follow in its quintessential footsteps, indeed, its director, Robert Wiene, sought to emulate his success, and followed it up with Genuine (1920) which was also written by Carl Mayer, and had Expressionist-styled sets, dressed by César Klein, an Expressionist painter and member of the November Group and the Arbeitsrat für Kunst, the film was produced by Rudolf Meinert and Erich Pommer, and was considered a “complete failure”, however, Wiene would have greater success with Raskolnikow (1923) based on the novel, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which theorises the act of murder being justifiable; the film’s set designer, André Andrejew, studied architecture at the Moscow Fine Arts Academy, and although he held little regard for Expressionism, he did understand the many ways in which it could be conceptually used within film, and soon became the foremost art director in Germany, leading Rudolf Kurtz, in his Expressionismus und Film (1926) to state that he was a “…typical Moscow mixture, distinction of the streaked folk art, his décors dissolves the rhythm of images, creates gentle forms, establishes balance even when everything is broken and torn”. Andrejew would later use these “rhythm of images” to great effect on Die Büchse der Pandora (1929) and   Die Drei Groschen-Ope (1931).

Other notable Expressionist pictures that embraced the style were Karl Heinz Martin’s Von morgens bis Mitternacht (1920), Hanns Kobe’s Verlogene Moral (1921), Das Haus zum Mond (1921), Friedrich Fehér’s Haus ohne Tür und ohne Fenster (1921) and Paul Leni’s Das Wachsfigurenkabinett (1924). Whilst few Expressionistic style pictures were produced, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari influenced several directors, most noticeably Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, Georg Wilhelm Pabst and Fritz Lang, we can find many elements of Expressionism, especially with the lighting and shadow effects, in movies such as Nosferatu (1922), Secrets of the Soul (1926), Metropolis (1927) and M (1931). Because of Caligari’s instantaneous success, many German films were “studio produced”, moving away from the location shoot; for example, Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen (1924), based on the epic-poem, Nibelungenlied, saw an entire forest built upon the stages of Babelsberg Studios, designed by Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut and Karl Vollbrecht, which saw the set designers or “architects” as an important aspect in German cinema, as this “importance” grew, so did the set designers, artists such as Hans Dreier, Rochus Gliese, Albin Grau and Alfred Junge became prominent in Germany, and later, this prominence would also be felt abroad, as many of these artists left the Motherland, escaping persecution with the rise of Nazi Germany, and as a consequence, many productions, especially in Great Britain and the United States of America became invigorated, leading the way for many film noir pictures of the forties and fifties. 

Today, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is rightfully considered a classic, and often appears in film studies as an introduction to cinema, as well as regularly charting on horror and science fiction polls, the picture is held in the highest regard by film scholars around the globe; in his 1930 book, The Film Till Now, British documentary film-maker, historian and critic, Paul Rotha, was suitably impressed by Caligari, stating, “Like a drop of wine in an ocean of salt water, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari appeared in the profusion of films during the year 1920. Almost immediately, it created a sensation by nature of its complete dissimilarity to any other film yet made. It was, once and for all, the first attempt at the expression of a creative mind in the new medium of cinematography. Griffith may have his place as the first employer of the close-up, the dissolve, and the fade, but Griffith’s contribution to the advance of the film is negligible when compared with the possibilities laid bare by The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Griffith and his super-spectacles will disappear under the dust of time, if they have not already done so, but Wiene’s picture will be revived, again and again, until the copies wear out. In ten years, this film has risen to the greatest heights, as fresh now as when first produced, a masterpiece of dramatic form and content. It is destined to go down to posterity as one of the two most momentous advances achieved by any one film in the history of the development of cinema till now. The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Battleship Potemkin are pre-eminent”, Rotha continued his praise of the film, “In 1919, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari put forward these dominating facts, which have lain at the back of every intelligent director’s mind to this day, for the first time in the history of the cinema, the director had worked through the camera and broken with realism on the screen; that a film, instead of being realistic, might be a possible reality, both imaginative and creative; that a film could be effective dramatically when not photographic; and finally, of the greatest possible importance, that the mind of the audience was brought into play psychologically.

As a film, The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari asked everything of its audience, they were to take part and believe in the wild imaginings of a madman. They were to share his distorted idea of the professor of the lunatic asylum in which he (the lunatic) and they (the audience) were confined. The theme and the conception were absolutely remarkable”. American scholar Lewis Jacobs, in his influential book, Rise of the American Film (1939) states that Caligari was “the most widely discussed film of the time”, and quotes a 1921 trade publication that states, “It is a matter of record that no picture, not even The Birth of a Nation, ever created quite as much comment, argument and speculation in one month’s time as did The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”.

Up until Hans Janowitz’s “Story of a Famous Story” was transcribed in 1941, followed by Siegfried Kracauer’s “From Caligari to Hitler”, in 1947, documentary maker Paul Rotha and scholar Lewis Jacobs were generally at the forefront of expertise in all things Caligari, however, this changed dramatically once Kracauer’s book was released; often associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory, Siegfried Kracauer was a German writer, sociologist, cultural critic, and film theorist. In 1933, with the rise of Nazi Germany, he moved to Paris before emigrating to the United States of America in 1941, where he worked in the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, with support from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Fellowships, allowing him to write a history of German Cinema, which resulted in “From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film”, with “generous” help from Miss Iris Barry, Curator of the Museum of Modern Art, which traces the birth of Nazism from the cinema of the Weimar Republic, helping to lay the foundation of modern film criticism; during this period, Kracauer’s book, with Caligari being extensively covered in the fifth chapter, simply entitled “Caligari”, leans heavily on Hans Janowitz’s reminiscence of the picture. Everything that Kracauer fundamentally states about Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is lifted from Janowitz’s transcribed manuscript, and although the book isn’t held in such high esteem today, it remains the subject of intense criticism from time to time, especially over its flawed methodology and conclusions, however, the fact remains that it was an incredibly influential piece of work and went on to establish the default understanding of the movie. Another book that helped change the perception of not only Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, but German cinema as a whole, was film critic, historian, writer and poet, Lotte Eisner, who released The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the German cinema and the influence of Max Reinhardt in 1952, instead of characterising the history of German cinema, she attempts to “…throw some light on some of the intellectual, artistic and technical developments which the German cinema underwent during these momentous years, the last decade of the silent film”, regarding Robert Wiene’s picture, Eisner states, “In Caligari, the Expressionist treatment was unusually successful in evoking the ‘latent physiognomy’ of a small medieval town, with its dark twisting back alleys, boxed in by crumbling houses whose inclined facades keep out all daylight. Wedge shaped doors with heavy shadows and oblique windows with disordered frames seem to gnaw into the walls. The bizarre exaltation brooding over the synthetic sets of Caligari bring to mind Edschmid’s statement that “Expressionism evolves in a perpetual excitation.” These houses and the well, crudely sketched at an alley-corner, do indeed seem to vibrate with an extraordinary spirituality.”

When we talk about the impact and influence that Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari had on the film industry, both at home and abroad, and this influence is especially evident in the Universal “Monster” movies of the early 1930’s, such as Tod Browning’s Dracula (1931) and James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) both of which featured adversaries similar to Dr. Caligari and Cesare; in Paul Leni’s The Cat and the Canary (1927), Lucien Littlefield is made up to look like Caligari, whilst there are similarities to the movie “within the movie” in Robert Florey’s The Preview Murder Mystery (1936); in Otakar Vávra’s The Magic House (1939), the hypnotist's name is Caligari, Kenneth Anger’s Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) has a character, named Slave, who is based on the somnambulist, in Doctor Who: A Holiday for the Doctor (1966), the Doctor calls himself Doctor Caligari, Jim Sharman’s The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) has a character, Riff-Raff, open a coffin, during “The Time Warp”, which reveals a skeleton; the angle of its body is a direct reference to Dr. Caligari opening his “cabinet” to reveal Cesare; in Constantino Magnatta’s Freakshow (1989), Dr. Borges' first name is Caligari. We can also find the influences of German cinema, and more to the point, German Expressionism, in the American film noir, a term given to a selection of films during the 1940’s and 1950’s, primarily used to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasise cynical attitudes, and is usually associated with a low-key black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography, with Fritz Lang’s M (1931) considered one of the first major crime films to showcase a characteristically noirish visual style with a noir-type plot, where the protagonist is often a criminal; several Expressionistic elements, such as stylised and abstract photography and make-up, are often incorporated into film-noir pictures, we can see these “visual styles” at work in films such as The Maltese Falcon (1941), The Lost Weekend (1945), In a Lonely Place (1950) and The Night of the Hunter (1955) amongst a plethora of other film-noir classics.

In 1934, director Robert Wiene successfully acquired the rights to Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari from Universum Film AG, with the intention of producing a remake of the picture, however, Wiene, who intended to cast Jean Cocteau as Cesare, and photograph the production in the French surrealist style, died four years later and the project fell by the wayside. Over the years, several attempts have been made to produce anything from sequels to remakes of Caligari, including separate attempts by two of the men originally involved in the production of the film, Erich Pommer and Hans Janowitz, both of whom were living in the United States of America; in 1944, both Pommer and Janowitz felt strongly that they were worthy of the rights to the film, both wishing to create a Hollywood remake; Erich Pommer argued that he deserved the rights, as he felt that the primary value of the original film came not from the writing, but in the revolutionary way the picture was produced, whilst Janowitz felt that he too had a claim to the rights, being one of the original authors of the picture, although neither would be successful as there were complications relating to the invalidity of Nazi law in the United States, coupled with uncertainty over the legal rights of sound and silent films.

The same year, Hans Janowitz wrote an “extensive” treatment for a remake, and in the January of the following year, he was offered a “guaranteed” $16,000, against five percent royalties for his rights to the original plus a script to be written by him and directed by Fritz Lang, but again, this project faltered and failed to come to fruition; undeterred, Janowitz set about creating a sequel, which he named Caligari II, but this also came to nothing after he struggled to sell the idea. Janowitz also appears to have been involved in a third attempt to revive Caligari, as in 1947, a screenplay entitled The Return of Caligari, written by German filmmaker Ernst Matray and his wife, Maria Solveg, which would have seen Dr. Caligari as a former Nazi officer and war criminal, but again, this idea fell short of being produced. In 1960, following the death of Hans Janowitz, producer Robert Lippert, who was an uncredited producer on The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), acquired the rights to Caligari from Ernst Matray and Universum Film AG for $50,000, the result was a film called The Cabinet of Caligari (1962), featuring Glynis Johns, Dan O'Herlihy, and Richard Davalos; although the film’s title is similar, it shares very little to the 1920 original, a remake in name only, except for the entire movie being the delusions of an insane woman, who incidentally is called Jane, who believes that she is being held by Caligari, a polite estate owner with a “German” accent, “Caligari” is actually revealed to be her psychiatrist. It was written by Robert Bloch, author of the novel Psycho, who states it was not his intention to write a screenplay based on “Caligari”, and suggest that the title was forced upon his, as then, untitled screenplay, by director Roger Kay, who, in turn, attempted to “rob” Bloch of a writing credit, by having the script completely rewritten without his knowledge. In 1989, Stephen Sayadian released his take on Caligari, entitled Dr. Caligari, starring Madeleine Reynal, Laura Albert, Gene Zerna, David Parry and Jennifer Balgobin; this semi-sequel is something of a cult movie today, and was originally billed as Dr. Caligari 3000 when it debuted at select theatres in 1989, and sees a disturbed doctor, the granddaughter of the original Dr. Caligari, who illegally experiments on her patients at the Caligari Insane Asylum, where she transfers glandular brain fluids from one patient to another. Again, as with The Cabinet of Caligari, this particular film had very little to do with the original, although like the original Caligari, the production was filmed in its entirety inside a large studio, and had a bizarre landscape combination of artificial outdoor and indoor scenes; windows and doors hung in mid-air, situated against a black background, giving the audience an insight into the disturbed minds of both Madeleine Reynal’s character, Dr. Caligari and that of her patients. The film, which was selected as an opening night feature at the Toronto Film Festival, received outstanding reviews, and has the genuine feeling of a David Lynch style film, as well as a touch of David Cronenberg's Videodrome. In 2005, David Lee Fisher released an independent film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, featuring performances from Judson Pearce Morgan, Daamen J. Krall, Doug Jones and Lauren Birkell; it was released in the United States at the ScreamFest Film Festival on October 22, 2005, where it won three prizes, the Audience Choice Award, Best Cinematography and Best Special Effects. It was filmed in its entirety in front of a green screen, in an attempt to recapture the look of the original film; as a result, several shots from the original were superimposed behind the actors to exactly replicate some scenes. Actor Doug Jones, who played the role of the somnambulist, Cesare, states that the entire movie is “…a visual effects movie, because we used the original backdrops from the first Caligari, the director, David Lee Fisher, created matte shots off of the original film that we all acted on green screen in front of, so he's combining us all together with the original film.” Jones continues, “The idea behind the project was to maintain the original German Expressionism style and art direction of the 1920 film, but to expand on the storyline and fill in the plot holes that were a typical pitfall of silent era movies; the actors were dressed in the same costumes and make-up as the 1920 actors were, but this time they got to actually speak their lines, and that's something that the original players of course never had the chance to do.” Jones admits that he felt overwhelmed when playing the role of Cesare, which was originally played by Conrad Veidt, and confesses that it was “…such a treat because there's another film icon, Cesare the somnambulist, one of the first monster-type characters on film, before Frankenstein, before the Mummy, It's like he was this scary guy, but what I liked about him so much was not that he was a scary icon, but that he was another reluctant bad guy, he didn't know he was bad.”

We’ve looked at the history of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, and focused on the many myths and legends that surround Robert Wiene’s classic film, and now, we’ll sit down and watch the movie again, which is always a great pleasure; Eureka Entertainment have released a superb package, as part of their “Masters of Cinema” series, you can read our Blu-ray review of the film here. And so, we are coming to the end of the retrospective look at Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari and what better way to end this particular article with a viewing of the picture, which, for us, will remain a true staple of the horror genre, leading the way for future filmmakers to add their own stamp on a genre that continues to thrive unabated to this very day.

As Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari begins, we have a brief message from the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung foundation, in Wiesbaden, which explains “The 4K restoration was undertaken by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung in Wiesbaden from the original camera negative held at the Bundesarchiv Filmarchiv in Berlin. The first reel of the camera negative is missing and was reconstructed using alternative sources. Jump cuts and missing frames in 67 shots were reinserted from multiple prints. An original German release print does not exist. The basis for the colour tinting were two nitrate prints from Latin America, which represent the earliest surviving prints of the film, now stored at the Filmmuseum Dusseldorf and the Cineteca di Bologna. The intertitles were recreated from the flashtitles in the camera negative and a 16mm print from 1935 from the Deutsche Kinemathek-Museum fur Film und Fernsehen in Berlin. The digital image restoration was carried out by L'immagine Ritrovata, Film Conservation and Restoration in Bologna”, this restoration, which took almost two years of “meticulous work” to complete, looks incredibly beautiful, and Eureka Entertainment have included a “comparison” featurette on the Blu-ray release, where you can see a “before” and “after”, a comparison between the 1984 restoration and its 2014 counterpart, the difference between the two really is quite remarkable.

A series of intertitles or “title cards” introduces the cast and crew, along with the film’s title, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, incidentally, Eureka have very kindly added optional subtitles to go alongside the original German intertitles; we have a wonderful score, recorded under the artistic guidance of Cornelius Schwehr, a member of the Academy of Arts in Berlin, and performed by the Hochschule für Musik, in Freiburg, conducted by Sven Thomas Kiebler. The tone of this new score fits the atmosphere that builds throughout the movie perfectly and adds terrific ambience to the experience of watching the film, especially when listening to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound, although it sounds just as impressive when played through the more linear LPCM 2.0 stereo track. The first images that we see in the movie are of Friedrich Fehér and Hans Lanser-Rudolf, who states that there are spirits all around him, and as a consequence of these spirits, he has been driven from “hearth and home”, from “wife and child”, and in reality, this really should give us an indication of what lies ahead, we can see that Franzis’ elderly friend conveys a decidedly “crazed” expression, whilst he talks of “spirits and hearths and being driven from his wife and child”, and to further express this “indication”, we have Lil Dagover’s character, Jane, who wanders along in a dream-like state, and again, her face is quite the opposite of the elderly gentleman, she appears quite tranquil, like she doesn’t have a care in the world.

Perhaps one of the most significant and lasting influences of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari was a change in attitude by German filmmakers towards studio locations; practically every picture that was produced in Germany, after Caligari, was shot in a studio, even for extensive exteriors, it suddenly became fashionable to have production designers build a variety of indoor stages, and films such as F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) became the notable exception, these pictures relied on real world locations whereas the rest of the German film industry no longer did so, but prior to Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, audiences would have arrived with certain aesthetic expectations, which had ultimately been established by experience, and so we can safely state that German audiences would have presumed that these opening scenes would have been filmed in a real courtyard, but alas not, this was a staged setting, constructed at the Lixie-Atelier Glass House film studio at Weissensee, although it’s by no means as stylised and distorted as the other sets that make an appearance throughout the film. 

We are introduced to the “mystic” Caligari quite early into the picture, and Werner Krauss is simply wonderful in this role; Krauss had been introduced to Messer’s Janowitz and Mayer by childhood friend, Ernst Deutsch, and they were so taken by his abilities that they wrote the role of Dr. Caligari expressly for him; Krauss remembers his first day on the set of “Caligari”, and was incredibly enthusiastic regarding the production, “I disguised my nose and hair. There was a shop in the city, in a cellar, where they sold old clothes. I needed a Havelock and a top hat and a stick with an ivory handle, all very old fashioned, and a cape; an assistant director got the things, all without any artistic advice, thus the film was played.” This “enthusiasm” is clearly evident and continues unabated throughout the film, as Krauss brings a certain “emotional” aspect to the role of Caligari, and he achieves this through movement and the many facial expressions that he brings to the character, this is especially notable where Caligari arrives at the Holstenwall fair, he appears mesmerised by the carnival goers, which includes a “dwarf” in a tall conical hat. It’s all too apparent that Krauss is in his element when he introduces his Somnambulist, Cesare, to a stunned audience, as he walks confidently around the stage, ringing his bell and waving his pointer stick at the “cabinet” that stands to his right; initially, Ernst Deutsch was thought to have been offered the role of Cesare, but ultimately, the role went to Conrad Veidt and he, like Krauss, as Caligari, brings emotion in abundance to the character.

The scene that perhaps stays in the imagination of the audience, long after the film has ended is etched in the history of cinematic horror, and rightly so, as Cesare’s awakening remains one of the most unforgettable sequences seen in a horror movie and today, it retains its ability to unnerve the audience; during the films’ premiere at the most prestigious theatre in Berlin, the Marmorhaus in Kurfürstendamm, as this particular scene began to unfold, people started to gasp, women fainted and some screamed at the sight of the Somnambulist slowly opening his eyes, whilst the mystic Caligari stands proud; this is a scene that will replay over and over again in the annals of the horror and science fiction movie, we can see it in Universal’s Frankenstein (1931) and The Mummy (1932); it makes an appearance in Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein (1957) and again in The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) and with Edward Scissorhands (1990) amongst a plethora of other pictures; it has also been noted that Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari could be considered the very first “zombie” movie, although for us, that accolade goes to Victor Halperin’s 1932 White Zombie, featuring the iconic Béla Lugosi, based on William Seabrook’s The Magic Island and tells the story of a young woman's transformation into a zombie at the hands of an evil voodoo master. Now you have to remember in many of the early “zombie” movies, including White Zombie, and it’s extremely loose sequel, Revolt of the Zombies (1936) as well as King of the Zombies (1941) I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and The Plague of the Zombies (1966), these creatures were often docile and man-made, put to work in the fields or mines, they were nothing like the flesh-eating ghouls that were later introduced by directors like George Romero or Lucio Fulci, and like Cesare, they were at the control of others, ordered to “kill”, or to accomplish some other evil deed, at the bidding of a “voodoo master” or a mystic.  

As Franzis and Alan leave the booth of Caligari, and begin to walk through the empty streets of Holstenwall, they come across Jane, who is quickly flanked on either side by Friedrich Fehér and Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, who portrays the whimsical character, Alan, and later in this particular scene, Franzis states, “Alan, we both love her, we’ll leave the choice up to her, but whomever she chooses, we shall remain friends”, there is something of a hint of truth about this scene, as originally, Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer wrote the role of Jane for their close friend, Gilda Langer, it has also been suggested that both Janowitz and Mayer were both in love with Langer, and what we have here is a classic love triangle, which the writers wrote into the screenplay, they took a private conflict and externalised it, dramatizing it in the process; although the role was written for their “love interest”, eventually, the part went to Lil Dagover, and whenever the tale of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is told, it is often suggested that the reason Langer didn’t appear in the finished film is that she was dead, and of course, this wasn’t the case at all, as Gilda Langer lived throughout the entire production of Caligari, and even found the time to become engaged to an up-and-coming writer, director and producer named Paul Czinner, but succumbed to the Spanish Flu, which led to a lung infection, and died before she could get married.

When Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari was released, on the 26th of February, 1920, it premiered at the most prestigious theatre in Berlin, the Marmorhaus, in Kurfürstendamm, Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, the writers of the screenplay, were barely on speaking terms with Decla Head of Production, Erich Pommer and director, Robert Wiene, and as the Limo pulled up to the theatre, Pommer quietly whispered, “This will be a horrible failure for all of us”, and rather solemnly, they made their way into the theatre, which was crowded with the press and movie goers alike; after the film had played, the Marmorhaus erupted into thunderous applause, the picture was an unqualified success, and one man soaked up this adulation more than any other, and that man was the director, Robert Wiene, for he felt vindicated, after all, it was Wiene who had taken the brunt of the screenwriters’ scathing anger and hostility, with Janowitz in particular denouncing the “rape of their work”, and after the fruitful premiere, both writers left the theatre, refusing to join in the celebration of the film, instead, they strode to a local bar to “lick their wounds”, stating that “…whether our new scripts would also be produced in crippled forms by cowardly directors”, harsh words indeed, in fact, I’d go as far to say that director Robert Wiene is the one man involved in the production of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari that has received the least amount of praise, and with all of the characters involved, Erich Pommer declared that Caligari was produced under “his” supervision; Hans Janowitz stated that it was he and Carl Mayer’s idea to give the film an Expressionist look, and professed that they were on set each and every day to oversee this “look”, however, set designer Hermann Warm seemed to pour scorn on these declarations, stating “The daring execution of the film, which Meinert supervised as head of production, should not be kept a secret or be forgotten; the scriptwriters Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz have never participated in preproduction work or been present during shooting, either in the studio or during meetings. My surprise that these men did not show any interest in this film, especially with respect to its unusual and innovative form, was countered by Meinert with the words that this style of realising the film was not sanctioned by them”.  

In his influential book, “From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film”, Siegfried Kracauer completely dismisses Robert Wiene, and views him as the man who transformed a “revolutionary film into a conformist one by constructing a frame”, a narrative that stigmatised Wiene in the years following Caligari’s release. To arrive at his understanding of the picture, Kracauer borrowed heavily from the memoirs of Hans Janowitz, an unpublished 105-page typescript, entitled “Caligari, The Story of a Famous Story”, which was written from 1939 onwards, when Janowitz resided in New York City, having emigrated from Prague; in the third chapter, the screenwriter explains, “To us, a picture-story-script had to be a strait-jacket for the director, a very tight, precise and balanced strait-jacket, with strong belts and fasteners, so that nothing could escape in any way from our instructions”. Janowitz continues his attack on Wiene, claiming that the director distorted the original script with the addition of a frame, “Dr. Wiene, a man in his early fifties, of an older generation than ours, was afraid to venture in this new form of expressionist art. Therefore, to excuse the story, the oblique angles of the roofs and rooms of the scenery, the stylised masks of the actors, the askew painted world, the “Caligaric World”, the crazy world of “1919”, he intended to change our script on a very important point, at the end of the film our symbolic story was to be explained as being a tale told by a mentally deranged person, thus dishonouring our drama, the tragedy of a man gone mad by the misuse of his mental powers, into a cliché, in which every incident was to be explained in a cheap manner, in which the symbolism was to be lost”. 

When Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer first sat down to write “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” in the December of 1918, both men were not aware of their “subconscious intentions”, however, after Janowitz met Siegfried Kracauer, in 1941, in the United States of America, all became clear, “It was years after the completion of the screenplay that we realised our subconscious intentions, and this explanation of our characters, Doctor Caligari and Cesare, his medium, that is the corresponding connection between our 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.” Now, there are quite a few myths that we have to work through before we can arrive at the true origins of “Caligari”, for example, we know that Carl Mayer’s battle of wits with an army psychiatrist was fictional, he was actually dismissed from the army due to a childhood foot injury, and furthermore, we have to add a touch of scepticism to the tale that Janowitz tells, regarding the “murder” of a young girl on the Holstenwall, as this too is almost certainly fictional; the two writers admit that during the writing of the screenplay that any sub-texts were unintentional, critics of the day failed to pick up on Caligari’s “subconscious intentions.” In 1922, Fritz Lang released Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler, and this was a film that was suffused with the very social criticisms and direct attacks on the corruptions and illegitimacy of the established government, and the critics of the day recognised this point, and commented on it; indeed, Abel Gance’s J'accuse, released in 1920, carried a far more aggressive anti-war message than Caligari. Also, Caligari was redistributed regularly, between the 1920’s and 1930’s, throughout the world, and during this period, the films’ “subversive message” remained unnoticed by contemporary audiences.   

As Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari arrives at its natural conclusion, over the last few minutes, the picture has been patiently explaining how the mystic Caligari, the insane criminal mastermind, and the respectable bourgeois asylum director are one and the same, a kind of flashback within a flashback if you will, but ultimately, it establishes how the director became absorbed and obsessed with understanding the secrets of somnambulism, which literally drove him deep into a world of madness; the director swathes himself in a fictional identity to insulate himself from the obvious suspicion that may begin to cross his path, whilst abusing his position of trust within the walls of the asylum, but as we begin to understand this madness, the film suddenly pulls this analysis from underneath us, and declare Caligari as a real psychiatrist, dictating that Franzis, who moments ago appeared to be a man of authority, is actually a patient at the asylum; we arrive at this point, some seventy or so minutes into the film, in which Franzis has seen the death of his best friend, Alan, struggled to convince the authorities of Caligari’s criminal activities and heard Jane’s account of her kidnapping at the hands of Cesare. Franzis has spent the majority of this time informing us that the mysterious Caligari is a dangerous liar, a master of disguise and manipulation, not to mention the fact that he “mind controls” the somnambulist to perform murderous deeds on his behalf, but now, after seventy or so minutes, our perception of Caligari needs to change, no longer is Caligari a dangerous liar, a master of disguise and manipulation, nor does he control minds, instead, he becomes the respectable director of a well-established lunatic asylum, and Franzis is a patient. We get an explanation of how and why the director turned into the mystical Caligari, but we don’t seem to have an explanation of where Franzis’ supposed delusions originated, after all, his story begins and ends in the asylum; in Janowitz and Mayer’s original screenplay, the “framing story” was set twenty years after the events, everything appeared to be contained in a flashback, which is narrated by Franzis, who lives an apparently sociable life with Jane, who is his wife, whilst the mystic Caligari is defined as an abnormality, a danger to society, who is eventually captured and incarcerated within the walls of his own lunatic asylum, and the screenplay ends with a classic happy ending; however, in the film, it is Caligari who does the capturing and incarcerating, it is he who controls the narrative. Although Caligari is exposed by Franzis, he never pays the ultimate price for his crimes, he remains free, unlike the ending in Janowitz and Mayer’s screenplay, there is no happy ending here, as Franzis is discredited and placed under lock and key.

Let’s just think for a moment, what would “Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari” look like without the framing story, how would a 1920’s audience react to such a film; to gauge something of a reaction, we can compare this with a similar film, Fritz Lang’s Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse, released in 1933, which is inscribed with far more political overtures than Caligari could wish for, and we could read Mabuse as an metaphor of Adolf Hitler, and especially his Mein Kampf, an autobiographical manifesto by the National Socialist leader, in which he outlines his political ideology and future plans for Germany; in 1922, Erich Pommer, head of production at Decla, released Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler, based on the novels of Norbert Jacques, and two years after Mabuse had been committed to an insane asylum, the future Führer wrote his autobiography whilst in prison, following a failed coup in Bavaria, known as the "Beer Hall Putsch", and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment at Landsberg Prison, although he only served just over one year in prison. By 1930, Mein Kampf was already a best seller, and is thought to have been a source of inspiration for “Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse”, famed for its underlying parallels between Mabuse and Hitler. Shortly before his suicide in 1945, Hitler penned his “last will and testament”, and like the testament of Mabuse, it is the thoughts of a dying man, who outlines his plans for the future and leaves a “blueprint” for his many followers, a way to continue these plans in the event of his death. Like Dr. Mabuse, Dr. Caligari’s legitimacy is never questioned, and neither is he presented as a sympathetic character, likewise, Franzis is never presented as an insane and unbalanced individual; however, we are indeed told that Franzis is insane and unbalanced, but we are told by the very man who we have thought to also be insane and unbalanced, although throughout the last seventy or so minutes of the picture, we have been conditioned to view Caligari with suspicion. So, let us imagine for one minute that we are living in 1920’s Germany and we have just left the confines of the prestigious Marmorhaus theatre, would we be thinking, “Franzis was crazy and his story was nonsensical rubbish”, or would we summarise, “The picture would have been so much better without the frame”, in other words, would we believe Caligari to have been crazy, after all, this is what Siegfried Kracauer suggested should have happened, and in a way, with the framing device or without it, it really doesn’t matter, as Robert Wiene also gave us that option, with his use of the iris-in on the director, who leaves us with a wry smile at the end of the film, which leaves us with the thought, is this really the end, or is “Caligari” really insane; in reality, this scene links back to the arrival of Caligari, when Franzis first introduced the mystic as “Him”, ultimately leaving us to make up our own minds.   


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