The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, and directed by Robert Weine. It was produced in 1919 by Erich Pommer for Decla-Bioscop. 1919 was a year in which the movie industry was transformed into a giant industry. Although the movie was produced in 1919, it was not released in the United States until 1921. A time when film makers were out to prove that film was indeed art. In the year 1921 525 films were released out of those 525, 50 still exist today, one of those 50 is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
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At the time of its release in America, horror films were virtually unheard of because filmakers felt that the subject matter was tasteless or even repulsive, not to mention difficult to adjust to the silent screen. The first horror film on record was Frankenstein in 1910. Elements from Frankenstein are evident in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. When the demonic somnambulist Cesare creeps into Lil Dagover’s bedchamber, director Robert Wiene was exploiting a fear common to us all. Prone and sleeping the woman is uttlerly helpless. She is carried off into the expressionist labyrinth that Wiene used to symbolize the darkest torments of the human mind and soul. A beautiful woman is carried off by evil, a play on the Beauty and the Beast themes that would become so popular in horror films.
Used expressionism, films that explored dream, nightmare and psyche and that found their narrative shape determined less by action than emotion. Used angular sets and heavy shadows to develop a macabre and horrific atmosphere for its tale of murder and madness. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari intentionally uses sets that look artificial. The deliberate distortions were meant to portray what a tormented soul might perceive. German expressionism, known as dada, and surrealism rejected notions of reality, the German expressionist movement, modern art was underway. Used tilted sets, and twisted cardboard trees. Light and shadow were used to create a response, and get the viewer emotionally connected.
Two films imported from Germany named Passion and Sumurun starring a popular actress named Pola Negri opened the door for other German imports. The popularity of Negri and Caligari combined helped to create a small art-house market. The expressionistic style was widely distrusted at the time but even so was copied by American directors looking to add European culture to their films. The style soon became so well known that a spoof was made of Caligari in 1928 called The Life and Death of a Hollywood Extra which is a tale about a Hollywood extra whose dreams of fame and fortune are frustrated. Caligari had a lot of effect on the content of future Hollywood movies. It’s influence can be seen in later films such as The Bells (1925) and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932).
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