Monday, 8 November 2010

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

A vision born in the era of German expressionism with high-contrast lighting, distorted sets and hidden symbolism that makes you question your own perception of sanity. 
“This is a genuinely creepy film which delves deep into the mysteries of the abnormal uncomfortable journey to say the least. Everyone is suspect and, in the end, we must ask ourselves: "who is really the mad one here?"
The imagery in ‘The Cabinet of Caligari’ has very bizarre qualities that give the film its creepy gothic horror quirks. The story unfolds in the streets and houses of a town called Holstenwall, where the walls of the streets are set at irregular angels that remind me of the look of a Crooked Cottage that you would find at a fun fair. The angels obscuring the view act as a constant reminder to the audience that something is not right in this world before them. There is significance of this in Francis telling the story to us discovering that he is mentally insane because the madness of the scenery as a hidden clue to the climatic twist in the story.

The strange psychedelic markings cultured on the walls of the scenery also contribute to the presence of madness but at times it becomes a bit too overpowering and distracting.  In all I feel the scenery is summed up by the words of critic Scott Achlin “...through modern eyes it looks awkward, clunky, and often needlessly confusing.”
Scenery isn’t the only confusing mystery to this film, the complex storyline is hard to follow especially if you’re not used to watching black and white silent film and comes as a bit of a culture shock. You have to watch carefully at the minute details of the characters actions that unravel the twist in the plot where you have to piece together the plot together scene by scene. Unlike in most modern films the plot is almost dummy proof and easy to follow in full dialogue and visual technology.  Also in all films music plays a key part in the story progression, by setting atmosphere and building suspense however it was hard to make order of the music to what was happening on screen. The overall mood of the music sounded wonderfully dramatic and powerful however the music became more dramatised, at what felt like, inappropriate times which became confusing when something did happen.
“By the end of Caligari, it's obvious that emerging ideas in psychology and psychoanalysis had a heavy influence on the plot, and Wiene never explains what "really" happened.”
Another trait of German expressionism is the development and focus of building the characters and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has some wonderfully strange iconic figures. Most of this is done through the dramatised look of the people like the tall thin figure of Ceasar with haunting dark eyes, the mad scientist look of Dr. Caligari with his mad hair and oversized glasses.   



  1. Interim Online Review 09/11/10

    Hey Kay,

    Got your message re. illness. Sorry to hear you've been feeling crook. Yes, I had noticed that things were rather quiet on here, but I'm largely reassured by the content that's arrived recently; some very expressive thumbnails and I see that you're using the pen and tablet in a similarly painterly way - this is good, as it's somehow more satisfying to see a student working with, rather than against the medium.

    Okay - you could look at anyone's interim feedback this week and see me banging on about the importance of having your visual concept in place. You'll also see me reminding people that while, yes, they're concept artists for the duration of Unit 2, they're also production designers responsible for designing (not just depicting) the spaces they've been assigned. The visual concept for Caligari is clear for all to see - the designers have equated the distorted, expressionistic sets with a particular state-of-mind - we are literally in the head of the poor, mad narrator. You need to progress with a similar confidence about your worlds. In your instance, the defining idea might come from a discussion regarding the intended audience for the cg animated version of your book; is it 'toony' or is it 'photorealistic'? If it's toony, then the colour palette might change; the system of shapes and forms might change to fit the Disney model. The point is, you need to identify and then adhere to a set of rules for the depiction of your world. You have to know why it looks the way it does (and not another way). It is an issue of style leading the skill required to depict it - and not the other way around.

  2. If you haven't already familiarised yourself with the production design-based articles on myUCA/Space/Unit Materials, I suggest you take a look.

    Your Caligari review is good in terms of content, but on my laptop at least, the font and formatting is inconsistent?

    Here is a list of links back to the CGAA Group Blog, where I have recently uploaded loads of information regarding the way I want students to tackle their written assignments. As you now prepare your unit 2 assignments on production design, pay close attention to the advice given. I will be looking for clear improvement in terms of use of language, academic ‘voice’, use of conventions, argument structure and correct methods of referencing.

    Academic style/Do’s & Don’ts

    1st Person to 3rd person conversions

    Use of footnotes

    How to satisfy essay criteria/assignment presentation/hyperlink to referencing methods

    Also – be sure to check out the 2 student essays uploaded to myUCA/Space/Unit Materials – good examples of degree level written assignments. Take the time to read them.

  3. Hey Kay - I'm concerned that there's no additional work on here relating to your unit 2 work. Experience suggests that all is not well in 'Kay world' - maybe you're struggling with this unit, or maybe there's some other stuff in the mix. I'd like you to drop me an email - - and give me some insight into your current situation. Let me know how you're doing.