Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Robert Wienes Des Cabinet des Dr.Caligori (1920) - Film Review

Des Cabinet des Dr.Caligori (1920)

Fig. 1 Film Poster

A film is not always a film to watch, but a film to be a part off. It is not easy to figure out the story of a movie with no narrative, the narrative is in the imagery, the art and the music associated with the play. As Paul Bradshaw mentions in his article for The Guardian, ''This strange and fascinating classic of the silent era [is] the template for today's scary movies, noirs and thrillers.'' Dr. Caligori is the embodiment of film making, the kindergarten of the filming industry – to its respective genre of course.

When it comes to Dr. Caligori, first impressions have to be in reference to Tim Burton and The Adams Family as the design and the artistry is dark and depressive. The make-up of the female lead Jane and Cesare really made this movie as cryptic, dark and brooding as it can be. Cesare is by far my favourite, he is the doppelgänger if you will, or the evil twin of Mr. Francis. The movie is within the mind if this fantastic mad man. A paranoid Schizophrenic, who's twisted delusion is that the Director of the insane asylum is Dr. Caligori. Dr. Caligori, which the actor reminds me of Mad Eye Moody in the Harry Potter series, in Francis's eyes, is the mad one who uses Cesare, a somnambulist – someone who is a sleep-walker, to commit murders. The acting is over-dramatic, yet powerful, as they tell the story well. Sabrina Stent describes the character of Dr Caligori in response to the newer archived version of the film, ''The whiteness of every eyeball adds a greater drama to the film and Caligori’s twisted mouth, manic eyes and straw-like hair exaggerate the psychological extremes of his personality ''.

Fig. 3 Roof Still
The most famous depiction of Cesare as a character is within the famous still of Cesare standing atop some very obscure rooftops carrying the unconscious body of Jane. The artwork of this scene is beautiful for its age. It dips into the idea that Cesare isn't normal, so neither is the world. Which should everything be normal when the he is not. This reminds me a little of King Kong, the moment when the outcast monster of the film takes the fair maiden hostage. Its the iconic ''maiden in distress'' scene, but in this instance there is not really a hero but only the villain himself. Somewhere here I seemed to have lost a part of the story as Cesare drops Jane, runs a little and then collapses. I don't know whether the ''spell'' Dr Caligori had over him to wake him up subsided or he died. But the scene when the men were carrying the table with him covered over does suggest that he is no longer within the living world, but that could have only been because they wanted to hide his demeanour and his horrific appearance from the public or that he has merely fallen back into his deep 23 year death-like slumber.

Fig. 2 Street Still.
The conclusion of this film was not surprising but made me more curious to see a little more intricately into the mind that is Francis. Thinking over now, there was small indications that it was simply Francis going mad rather than anything, and I think it all came down to the fact that as Francis's friend Alan had been murdered – as he was describing to the gentleman in the park – Francis was in a state of grievance that lead him to go completely insane. This being said, after Alan asked Cesare how long he had to live and being told he had until dawn, and being this the mind of Francis, does that mean Francis killed his own friend? Could Francis be the murder of the victims? Could that have placed him in the Asylum and caused him to blame the director? I suppose this can then lead to a cliff-hanger, as the flashbacks of which Francis was telling the story only showed his side of the tale, the audience cannot see other view points. What would have happened if Jane had told the story? Jane was depicted at the beginning of the film in a long white gown walking or rather gliding ghost-like, past the gentleman and Francis after they were discussing that there were spirits walking around. In a twisted sense you could see it as the old man being Francis from the future and then the younger Francis is reminding himself of the tale, therefore being a spirit himself and that would mean Jane is a ghost from his past. ''Of course, while your brain is fritzing out, - (the film is) Scary, disturbing, intriguing, all at once. '' Neil Genzlinger's quote from Metacritic via the New York times, although reviewing the remake version of this film get it right regardless. The film is down right creepy, but deep in rich story and a clear map as to Tim Burtons concept of dark and other-worldly cryptic ideas.

What has been learnt from this? We are not all the same, someone can be depicted as insane when they feel normal. This story can make you think, make you imagine, make you go mad. But ultimately it resembles the fragile hostility of human kind and human nature. Your mind is your best tool, but also your weakest.

Illustration list.
Wiene, R. (1920) Figure 1. Caligari Poster. (Accessed on 23/09/14)

Wiene, R (1920) Figure 2. Street Still. (Accessed on 23/09/14)

Wiene, R (1920) Figure 3. Rooftop Still. (Accessed on the 23/09/14)


Bradshaw, P (2014). The Guardian (Accessed on the 23/09/14)

Stent, S (2014). Silent London on the 23/09/14)

Genzlinger, N (2006). (Accessed on the 23/09/14)


  1. Hi Julia - well done on getting your first review out there! :)

    Just a couple of points - please could you change your font to something that is a bit easier on the aging eye (ie mine and Phil's!) Stick with something like Ariel - it also looks a lot more professional.

    You have put a lot of thought into this review, and my main point today would be really just concerning the tone. Try and get into the habit of not using the 1st person in your writing; if you use the 3rd person, it will sound a lot more academic and less chatty. So, for example, 'This reminds me a little of King Kong, the moment when the outcast monster of the film takes the fair maiden hostage,' could be written as 'This could remind the audience of King Kong, the moment when the outcast monster of the film takes the fair maiden hostage.' Have a look at the guide that Phil has posted on the group blog, for hints and tips on using the 3rd person.

    The only other thing really to say at the moment is, to make sure that you reference your quote after each one, with the surname and the date, so (Bradshaw, 2014) for example. You need to do this even if you have mentioned the full name of the author in the introduction to the quote.

    Keep it up! :)

    1. Thank you for the great advice, I have changed the templates default text font to something a little more readable. If you want me to change it any further let me know.

      I literally wrote the film reviews one after the other so I will apply your advice from both reviews to the next one I write and when given time go back over these two and apply them to that as well.