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Movie Reviews,  Recommendations

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari : Cinema’s first masterpiece

The cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a silent film directed by Robert Wiene in 1920 (yeah 100 years ago). The film is about two friends Alan and Francis who meet Dr. Caligari in his spectacle . The doctor was showing off his somnambulist Cesare to the public claiming that he can predict the future . Shockingly, Cesare then predicts Alan’s death, and by morning his chilling prophecy becomes true — making Cesare the prime suspect . The events that unfold after this forms the story behind “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” .

The film can be attributed to the use of first framed story narrative . This type of narrative includes a character in the movie telling a story ie. story within a story modal . The famous examples of this kind of narrative can be found in movies like Rashomon , Forrest Gump , Life of Pi , Citizen Kane etc

The movie also was the first psychological horror thriller and also a case can be made that it was also the first slasher film ( sub genre of horror movies ) , since there was a body count involved due to the murders happening with the use of knife . A towering 40 years before Alfred Hitchcock made the popular slashing scene in Psycho(1960) . I have forgotten how many times the exact scene in image below represented in films at large , where a murder with a knife is shown with the use of shadows .

Murder Scene in Caligari

The film though wasn’t the first German expressionist film , the film had inspired great many works in this movement after its release . The typical trait of expressionist film is that it presents world solely from a subjective perspective, distorting it radically for emotional effect in order to evoke moods or ideas . In the below image you can see how the distorted architecture or world view used in this film like the weird angle in walls , stairs and the city itself has inspired a similar trend in movies such as Frankenstein and Metropolis .

Films inspired by Caligari

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has also inspired directors like Martin Scorsese , Tim Burton , Fritz Lang etc . Fritz lang have taken up the stylistic inspiration behind the distorted world view of this film into his movies and one can argue that “Shutter Island” by Martin Scorsese is a modern remake of this film . But no one has been more inspired by this movie than Tim Burton himself . As one reddit post points out the inspiration behind Penguin from Batman and Edward Scissorhands , which are strikingly similar to original characters (See below) .

Caeser and Edward scissorhands
Caligari and penguin

The film being regarded as the first true horror film , also had many socio-political meaning behind it but that’s for another day . Also being one of very few films which got 100 % rating on rotten tomatoes , the film providing inspiration to its successors and a great thrill to watch even today , makes “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” Cinema’s first masterpiece .

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