Robert Wiene’s 1920 classic is one of the main representatives of German Expressionism, a movement that revolutionized film-making, and has influenced many later masters of the world cinema. We see here a different type of cinema than we are used to, different even for the standards of the time. The relatively new medium is seen as a chance to present a work of art which does not try to imitate reality, but where reality is interpreted through the artistic models of the Expressionism. In order to antagonize Hollywood’s hegemony, the art directors convinced the producers to realize a film which interpreted cinema as a new medium, where different artistic disciplines could converge, and not just a glorified narration, as it generally was customary across the ocean.
The result is the depiction of a world of wonky houses, angled roads, and sinister characters, and the effect is beautiful, very expressive, full of symbols and allusions, and definitely a novelty for that period. The avant-garde arts had arrived to the movie screens too, in the end, and the results achieved here could not be ignored ever again.
So strong was the impact this film had, on audience and insiders alike, that many later directors drew inspiration from Caligari for their work. Let’s think about Hitchcock for instance, or Tim Burton, or the American Film Noir of the 40s and 50s, and also to all the other genres or directors who were inspired by Caligari’s themes and visual mise-en-scene.
The plot revolves around the figure of stage magician Dr Caligari, and his dreadful ever-sleeping slave, Cesare the Somnambulist. They arrive into town for the big exotic fair, and strange events start to happen; are they somehow connected to this?
This film is bound to fill any theatre where it might be shown, counting hordes of supporters and lovers, and rightly so. It is silent cinema at its best!