The Cabinet of Dr Caligari
This review examines Robert Wiene's The cabinet of Dr. Caligari, in particular it's set design. The film set employs an expressionist design with the sets being very surreal and abstract, the director however specifically wanted this style of set. "The stylized sets, obviously two-dimensional, must have been a lot less expensive than realistic sets and locations, but I doubt that's why the director, Robert Wiene, wanted them." (Ebert, 2007). This argues the point that the scenery was not meant to be intentionally cheap or tacky but rather to set the true feel of the film, to make it feel strange and bizarre. The sets employ abstract shapes and it is difficult to tell where the 2D scenery ends and where the actual 3D begin. It also raises the question of whether or not the narrator is in fact insane as he tells the story and while the story and characters are composed in a lucid story structure the scenery is not. In figure 1 we can see Cesare kidnapping the damsel, he walks up a sloped building presumably to be some kind of house or building, the strange set makes the scene very bizarre yet dramatic at the same time. "The exaggerated, largely cold and sinister look of all subjects and objects is the first hint that we just might be inside someone’s nightmare." (Kaufman, 2014). I agree that the look of the objects and the design of set help to convey to the audience that this is no normal recollection or memory and could in fact be the thoughts from someone who is not really in control of their sanity.
The film's narrative is told at the beginning as a recollection by one of the key characters Francis and his encounter with Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist, at the end of the film Dr. Caligari ends up committed to his own insane asylum and then not long after so does Francis. At this point it becomes difficult to decipher whether or not the film is actually told by Francis or by Dr. Caligari.
A noticable trait of the characters is their makeup and clothes, their faces are white and ghostly as are their eyes. The characters appear quite sinister particularly the somnambulist Cesare and Dr.Caligari who both look almost deathly in appearance. It is also noticeable about how the characters move about on the screen, moving in very shaky and jerky ways. This makes it difficult for the viewer to associate or feel a connection to the characters who all move and appear very strange.
It is possible that the scenery and atmosphere attempt to comment on the practices and cases of psychiatry during the 1920s. "Caligari is a nightmarish cinematic extension of Bram Stoker's 1897 classic Dracula, combining as it does romantic superstition with the supposedly rational world of psychiatric surveillance and control." (Bradshaw, 2014). Bradshaw's quote mentions "psychiatric surveillance and control", this could suggest that the film takes light of psychiatry practices during this period in history, particularly regarding the treatment of insane people.
In figure 3 we can see Dr Caligari being forcefully restrained in a strait jacket by 'the men in white coats', he becomes a patient in his own asylum.
When Francis has been committed and meets Dr.Caligari at the end of the film the doctor rather unnervingly tells his colleagues that he can "cure" Francis. What he does or how he does it remains a mystery though it is possible that rather than cure Francis the Dr has ulterior motives.
Roger Ebert. 2009. great-movie-the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-1920. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-1920. [Accessed 24 September 2014].
Peter Bradshaw. 2014. the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-film-review. [ONLINE] Available at:http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/aug/28/the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-film-review. [Accessed 25th September 2014]
Sophie Monks Kaufman. 2014. the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-27635. [ONLINE]
Available at: http://www.littlewhitelies.co.uk/theatrical-reviews/the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-27635 [Accessed 25th September 2014]
N/A, (1920), dr.-caligari-1.jpg [ONLINE]. Available at: https://d2nh4f9cbhlobh.cloudfront.net/_uploads/galleries/26177/dr.-caligari-1.jpg [Accessed 24 September 2014].
N/A, (1920), gabinetedrcaligari6.jpg [ONLINE]. Available at: http://orangeshow.org/media/files/event/d9299766/gabinetedrcaligari6.jpg [Accessed 24 September 2014]
N/A, (1920), The-Cabinet-of-Dr.-Caligari-460x344.jpg [ONLINE]. Available at:http://www.tribute.ca/news/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/The-Cabinet-of-Dr.-Caligari-460x344.jpg [Accessed 25th September 2014].