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Film 50: History of Cinema

Wednesday, February 3, 2010
3:00 p.m. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Robert Wiene Robert Wiene (Germany, 1919)

PFA Collection Print
Lecture by Marilyn Fabe
Bruce Loeb on Piano


(Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari). The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, made in 1919, probably remains the ultimate expression of narrative through set design; even the exquisitely chiseled face of Conrad Veidt seems cut to reflect the angled shadows and interiors through which he somnambulistically slips, under the control of the evil Caligari. The film’s tableau-like backgrounds emerged from the Sturm expressionist group, which included painters Röhrig and Reimann and the designer Hermann Warm, all of whom contributed to the design. With roots in fantasy, romanticism, and medieval stories, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is also intensely modern, and, like the best science fiction, carries a warning for the future. Its chilling tale of mind control and murder was written a decade before Hitler’s rise by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, who shared a hatred for militarism and authoritarianism. A prologue and epilogue attached at the insistence of producer Erich Pommer helped to re-route Janowitz and Mayer’s charged political themes into a psychological (and pseudo-scientific) chronicle of personal madness.

• Written by Carl Mayer, Hans Janowitz. Photographed by Willy Hameister. With Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Lil Dagover, Friedrich Feher. (82 mins, Silent with English intertitles, B&W/Tinted, 35mm, PFA Collection, permission Kino International)