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Friday, 6 May 2011

Silent Film Marathon: Film 4

The fourth film of this marathon is the German Expressionist Classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari.
It is one of the earliest examples of the Expressionist movement and is a fascinating film that has been hugely influential.

This is one of the few films included in this marathon that I had seen before, in fact I've seen this one twice before.

Originally, celebrated director Fritz Lang was goin to direct this but he dropped out to film The Spiders, this was a real shame for although the director who eventually took charge of the project is talented, Robert Wiene, he cannot rival the genius of Fritz Lang.

This film is far less impressive in a technical sense than the others previously mentioned in this marathon. It relies on a very limited number of sets which are filmed with the exact same angles for each shot. This becomes repetitious and tedious after a while even if the sets are brilliantly designed.
Instead the film relies entirely on the story to sustain  it throughout its admittedly very short run time, and thankfully the story is a particularly well written one that has influenced many of your favourite films even if you may not be aware of it.
The reason for this is that this is the first film to feature the now common place "twist ending", in which all you thought you knew up until then in undermined, as with such films as Fight Club, Shutter Island, Memento and The Sixth Sense.
This is the element that makes the film worth watching as it was truly ground-breaking from a narrative point of view. As well as being the first film to feature a twist ending, this was also one of the first films the could be said to belong to the Expressionist Movement, a movement characterises by it's moody set design, use of close ups to capture the actors expressions and themes that often features Death, Destiny, Love and Insanity.

The film tells of a calm village which suddenly falls prey to a series of murders, when his beloved is kidnapped by a mysertious figure, a young man decides to get to the bottom of these terrible occurrences. Could it have anythign to do with the creepy old man who has recently been taking part in the loval fair along with his "patient" a sleepwalker he has complete power over ?

You'll have to watch the film to find out, this is a plot that mustn't be spoiled.
But I will assure you that the ending it one
As I said previously the films technical acheivements are unremarkable, and although the font used for the inter-titles (see first image) and the set design are most suitable to the Gothic Horror type aspects of the film they to become repetitive.
Most of the sets were very fake looking but this was obviously done purposefully as they serve more as a conveyor of atmosphere than anything else. And that is what the films main interest is, the atmosphere, as with many of these Expressionist films which abandoned the historical epics or action adventure stories to focus on small, often claustrophobic tales of insanity and destiny with noticeable elements of horror mixed in.

It is interesting to notice the lack of inventive camera angles, which are the same for each set, as the three films I previously watched were extremely opposite, despite being made several years before. But in many ways, The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari and for example Intolerance are very much opposite films. One is a psychological thriller whereas the other can be best described as a historical epic.
But they both succeeds in their own ways, for this film's simple and unambitious design allows for a much finer script which thrilling in the truest sense of the word. Even all these years on it still retains the power to shock during it's final scenes.

I think this is a crucial film for any film buff, even one uninterested in Silent films. It sets the guidelines for so many thrillers that have been made since that it really is one of the most influential films ever made.
And despite the various flaws the technical side of the film has, it still keeps your attention throughout.
Highly recommended to those wishing to see an influential film that is under 2 hours, which is something the previously reviewed films haven't been.

There, I promised a more concise review and here it is! Although there honestly isn't much more to say than: Go and watch this film!

Next up is the Horror Classic Nosferatu which I am greatly looking forward to as I realy enjoyed Herzog's remake.

As always comments are appreciated and will be answered!

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