Aveneu Park, Starling, Australia

To the writers. Several of Janowitz’s past

To
conclude, “Das Cabinet des Doktor Caligari” is a film which many aspects of the
Expressionist style is displayed. Through the innovative use of cinematography
and lighting, as well as the overall set design and costumes, a very alienated
atmosphere is created, and makes the audience think deeper about the inner
world and psychological aspects of the characters. There are arguments against the
movie being solely an Expressionist display, with inputs about there being more
of a “substance” rather than a “style”. Overall this Expressionist film gives a
different perspective in which the audience can interact with, providing a new
platform in German cinema.

Despite
these obvious examples of Expressionism in the film, some still argue that
there is the case of the film being known for its “substance”, rather than its “style”.
The film was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, who both met after World
War I. Janowitz and Mayer are said to have set out
to write a story denouncing arbitrary authority as brutal and insane (Barlow,
1982). Janowitz said it was only years after the film was released that he
realised exposing the “authoritative power of an inhuman state” was
the “subconscious intention” of the writers. Several of Janowitz’s past experiences
influenced his writing, including a mistrust of “the authoritative power
of an inhuman state gone mad” (Robinson, 1997) due to his military service.
They told the story in a very abstract way, including very little details about
the mental and psychological motives of the characters; this is more symbolic
through the visual representation of the film. The original script written by
Janowitz and Mayer displays few indications of an Expressionist influence, both
in the setting of the film and the character’s appearance. In contrast to this,
Siegfried Kracauer argues that the film seems to glorify authority, rather than
opposing it. The original storyline was changed to a “framing story”, completely
reversing the writer’s original intentions with the film. Wiene rewrote the
story, glorifying authority whilst “convicting the antagonist of madness”,
rather than “exposing the madness inherent in authority” (Kracauer 1947). These
points give rise to the fact that “Das Cabinet des Doktor Caligari” can be seen
as a film known for its historical “substance” as opposed to being known for its
“style”.

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Exploring the film’s scenes, it
is appropriate to discuss elements of them in which the Expressionist style is
clear, and captures the attention
of the audience. An interesting example of a scene which demonstrates the
characteristics of the Expressionist style is the “Du musst Caligari werden”
scene. Here, you have elements of distortion, unease and fear, all features which
the Expressionist style conveys. Initially you have the intertitle, which
presents itself in an unsettling font, setting the scene and bringing about the
eeriness. This is soon followed by a medium shot of Caligari, highlighting the
exaggerated gestures and facial expressions. This is symbolic of his compulsive nature
and lust to carry on the real Caligari’s fiendish experiment, also giving a
sense of anxiety for the audience watching. The sinister connotations is
further suggested in the next frame, opening up to a very unsettling setting. It
is clear how the distortional aspect of Expressionism is portrayed here. As
elsewhere in the film, the outside looks just as distorted as the inside, with
the trees of similar design tilting in every way and the pathway appearing very
alienated. However the main focus of the scene is the use of on-screen text, with
Caligari directly confronted by his own unremitting thoughts. What makes this
aspect of the scene so captivating is the fact that we aren’t just seeing the
protagonist’s thoughts on the screen, he himself can see them too, and in turn staggers
towards the letters. This symbolises the madness of Caligari, reinforcing the
audiences feeling of fear and unease. This scene does include many of the
aspects which make for a good portrayal of the Expressionist style produced in the
film.

Furthermore,
the exaggerated use of light and shadows, along with cinematography, are also
contributors in highlighting the film as an Expressionist masterpiece. The
lighting, such as the tinted colours on the camera lens, helps to engage the
audience with these inner worlds of the characters, and enables them to emotionally
connect to the scene. For example, in the scene where Cesare was going to
capture Jane, Wiene presents him as merely a shadow on the wall. The use of
shadow really acknowledges Cesare’s sinister intentions. The audience is able
to see and feel the evilness inside this character, a main result of the
Expressionist style. The cinematography of “Das Cabinet des Doktor Caligari”
also makes a contribution to the Expressionist style. The
visual style of Caligari
conveys a sense of anxiety and terror to the viewer (Eisner, 1974), giving the
impression of a nightmare or deranged sensibility (Barlow, 1982). It has
been argued that because Caligari was filmed all inside a studio, it enhances
the madness conveyed by the film visually, because “there is no access to a
natural world beyond the realm of the tortured human psyche”
(Brockmann, 2010). Additionally, the set often features circular images, which
is seen as a reflection of the chaos of the film, with movements seemingly
going nowhere. An example of this is the merry-go-round at the fair; it is moving
at a tilted angle, appearing as if to collapse at any given moment in time. (Barlow,
1982).

As
well as the character’s input, the set design itself demonstrates many aspects
of the Expressionist style. As I have mentioned, a main characteristic which
portrays Expressionism is the abstract display and distortion of reality. In
terms of set design, it is clear to us that this film does not take place in a
real environment, and in a much more alienated world. With the twisted trees, disproportionate
buildings and even the font of the intertitles, it is clear that we have become
engulfed in a world full of madness and unease. Siegfried Kracauer wrote
that the settings “amounted to a perfect transformation of material
objects into emotional ornaments” (Kracauer, 1947). The
idea of becoming one with the distorted, strange atmosphere is further
highlighted by the idea that we are in fact viewing the film from the
perspective of Francis, the mad man, and in turn we are forced deeper into the
inner thoughts of the characters. This is important and is one main feature in
which Expressionism attempts to convey to the audience.

In
terms of the contents of the film “Das Cabinet des Doktor Caligari”, it is
important to discuss how the different elements of Expressionism are portrayed
throughout the film. Exaggerated gestures and character appearance is an important
aspect of displaying Expressionism. Through these exaggerations, the characters
are as if they are acting as a graphical aspect of the set design. This is
further evident with the character’s appearance. The heavy make-up load on
their faces, the most iconic example being the “somnambulist” Cesare, are very
symbolic of the Expressionist movement. Through this, along with their
costumes, we gain a deeper reflection of the inner world in which they are a
part of, whether it’s the good or evil, the innocent or guilty. Evidence in the
film is clear with the character of Caligari. We first meet him in a black
mantle, with the audience under the impression that he is evil. However, later
on in the film we come to realise that the true mad man is Francis, and we see
Caligari dressed all white in a doctor’s robe, symbolic of the innocence and
purity of his character. We also meet Jane in a bed filled with white pillows
and lace, another aspect which is symbolic of innocence, and the fact that she remains
unaware of the evil that surrounds her. In contrast to this, we have the
character of Cesare, presented with heavy make-up and an overall dark, cynical appearance.
The darkened eyes and black costume is symbolic of an evil entity, and presents
a warning to the audience watching as something evil. It is worth noting that
Caligari and Cesare seem to be the main characters with “Expressionist costumes”,
with the other characters never being disturbed by their madness, and just see
them as part of the already distorted background. (Barlow, 1982). It is clear that
an Expressionist influence is considered with the appearance and acting styles
of the characters in the film.

It
is important to consider what Expressionist cinema is and how its style has an effect
on the telling of a story. The style of German
Expressionism allowed the filmmakers to experiment with filmic technology and
special effects and to explore the twisted realm of repressed desires,
unconscious fears, and deranged fixations (Kaes, 2006). Expressionism in cinema takes a different approach
to produce a story in comparison to most other styles of film. It was a
cultural movement which first came to Germany at the start of the 20th
century. The main characteristics of this movement include the utilisation of
anti-naturalistic, abstract and symbolic devices, such as picture sequences and
distorting the reality. (Thompson and Bordwell, 2009). These traits are the
signifiers of emotions and inner world of the creator rather than reflecting
nature as it is. Expressionism introduced a whole new movement of film, with
its innovative and unusual editing rhythms, distorted sets and exaggerated
gestures performed by the characters. “Das Cabinet des Doktor Caligari”
coincides with these new, innovative filming techniques and methods, and brings
out a whole new chapter in German cinema.

“Personal freedom and
alternative thinking”. These were the conditions in Weimar Republic Germany
during the pinnacle of the movement of Expressionism in film. The link between horror and Expressionism quickly
became a dominant feature, and continued to be acclaimed in contemporary films,
mainly because of the German expressionist masterpiece “Das Cabinet des Doktor
Caligari”. It inspired many horror films in the following
generation, demonstrating a distinguished eeriness throughout, which became a
vital feature of embodying inner mental and emotional states of the
protagonist, in this case Caligari. Robert Wiene’s “Das Cabinet des Doktor
Caligari” is an example of a film which adapts the artistic elements into its
visualisation, in order to create the strange, fictional world the audience
view. The main elements of the “Expressionist” style will be discussed in this
essay to underline the significance it has for this particular film.

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