Upon re-watching “Caligari” I as struck by a few items. Firstly, how ‘modern’ the whole concept seems to be—especially when compared to what was happening in the mainstream world of Hollywood cinema, circa 1920. Its European origins give “Caligari” its distinctive German Expressionist look—complete with its awkward, obliviously fake village setting (it could easily work just as much in a play as it does in a film) those oft-skewed, oddly curves roads and strangely placed staircases; the narrow, cramped and weirdly shaped clerk’s office–which looks like something Dickens might have dreamed up in a nightmare—Bob Crachit in Hell!
Like it’s version of The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra, Kino’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) features a wonderfully appropriate jazzy musical score—replete with odd noises and ‘off’ musical notes—fitting and embellishing the already disturbing ambience crafted by director Wiene.
The world of Francis, Caligari and Cesar the somnambulist is nightmarish indeed; the surreal buildings, abnormally sized and shaped furniture and effective use of light and shadow all contribute to Caligari’s continuing success as a truly creepy horror film.
There are a few questions that I would like to post: Firstly, what exactly is the basis for Caligari’s status as an avant-garde film? There is definitely a narrative to the movie—which includes the ‘support’ of inter-titles—although Francis’ tale is told through the use of flashback. Is it the subject matter–or the new (then) German Expressionist style? I was thinking here about Murnau’s Nosferatu (1921)(another German Expressionist film) and whether or not it is considered an avant-garde film—which I do not believe it is.
Also, I would like to hear everyone’s interpretation of the film’s ending–was it all really a fantasy of a mentally unbalanced Francis? Or is there something more subversive going on? In other words, is it all true—or maybe it’s really Dr. Caligari’s delusion?