Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari [The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari] (1920)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari</strong> [<strong class="MovieTitle">The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari</strong>] (1920)

(Kanopy Streaming, October 2018) German Expressionism remains a distinctive film style even decades after its heyday, and even today Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is remarkable as much for what it shows than for its innovative narrative. The surprisingly complex story (by silent film standards) has to do with a mad doctor, serial murders, vampires, lost love and hypnotism … or does it? Because the film comes with a twist ending that completely change the meaning of what preceded it, making it an early example of twisted plot movies. Still, as much as the plot can be interesting, the real value of director Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is its gorgeous visual style, quite unlike anything done since then with lights and shadows painted on the floor, highly stylized backdrops, very unusual title cards and conscious decisions to alienate the viewer from any expected realism. It’s quite effective even today, and it does give to the film a moment-to-moment watchability that is often missing from other silent movies of the era. For a near centenarian movie, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari still packs a charge for modern filmgoers, even though it may not be as accessible as (say) the silent comedies of the era. Still, it’s worth tracking down. The film is available from archive.org, but it’s of medium quality at best—do yourself a favour and seek out as high a quality version as possible in order to enjoy the visual gorgeousness of German Expressionism at its finest.

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