28 September 2014

Blu-ray Review - The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari)


Genre:
Horror
Distributor:
Eureka! Entertainment
Rating:PG
BD Release Date:
29th September 2014 (UK)
Director:
Robert Weine
Cast:
Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher,
Buy:Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari (Masters of Cinema) (DUAL FORMAT Edition) [Blu-ray]

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari remains one of the most innovative films ever made. It basically introduced aspects of what would be known as film noir later on, but it is the first ever feature length horror film. It was also, quite possibly, the first film with a twist ending. Tim Burton’s entire gothic style owes more than a bit to Caligari’s pioneering set design.

The whole story is told in flashback, which for 1920 is astonishingly innovative. This was rarely done at the time and it is one of the earliest examples of this narrative tool used in the medium of cinema. Francis (Friedrich Fehér) tells a story about a visit to a carnival with a friend and his introduction to Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and Caligari’s somnambulist Cesare (Conrad Veidt). Caligari has attraction and Cesare can tell people’s fortunes. He says that Francis’ friend Alan only has until dawn to live and, naturally- he dies. Francis attempts to figure out who murdered his friend and who is behind the string of murders across Village of Holstenwall.

The film was directed by Robert Wiene, who wasn’t the producers’ original choice; it was the more natural choice of German maestro Fritz Lang. However, Lang was busy making his film Spiones so Wiene stepped in. Wiene is mostly remembered for helming Caligari but he was also behind The Hands of Orlac (which also starred Conrad Veidt) and a very early adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. It was a lucky fluke in Wiene’s career, he got the gig because he ended up directing a film that changed cinema forever, and that can’t be said for any of his other films.

The film’s mise-en-scene was mostly the creation of the brilliant art director Hermann Warm. He worked on such films as Fritz Lang’s Destiny and some of Dreyer’s films such as the masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc and Vampyr. Warm- along with his team of painters- Walter Reimann and Walter Röhrig, came up with all the crooked sets and the idea of paint lights and shadows directly on the sets. It gives the film the magical and surreal quality it has and compliments the psychological aspects of the film’s narrative perfectly.

The film has been recently restored by F.W Murnau Foundation and has never looked better. The film’s original negative is lost or destroyed but from a collection of prints they have been able to restore to the best it’s looked probably ever. The Disc is rounded off by a commentary by historian David Kalat along with a German produced documentary that runs a little under an hour. It also features a newly commissioned visual essay by Eureka’s current go to critic David Cairns. It also features a lengthy booklet as expected from Eureka.

Overall The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari will cast its hypnotic spell over you no matter the amount of times you watch and re-watch it. It changed cinema forever and its language, and it continues to be as influential as it did when it first came out. If you haven’t seen this masterpiece you need to change that pronto and buy Eureka’s latest release in their Masters of Cinema range.

★★★★★

Ian Schultz


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