The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)
November 17, 2014 by Dennis Amith
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” would also be remembered for the magnificent, yet creepy performances by its main talent and their movement and expressions, introducing the “twist ending” to cinema and also for its gorgeous set design that would set the course for the German Expressionist cinema movement for many years to come. For silent film fans, especially those collecting silent film on Blu-ray, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is a fantastic release that is highly recommended!
TITLE: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
FILM RELEASE: 1920
DURATION: 77 Minutes
BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, 1:33:1 Original Aspect Ratio, Color Tinted, German 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with Optional English Subtitles
COMPANY: Kino Classics/Kino Lorber
Release Date: November 18, 2014
Directed by Robert Wiene
Story and Screenplay by Carl Mayer, Hans Janowitz
Produced by Rudolf Meinert, Erich Pommer
Music by the University of Music, Freiburg and Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky
Cinematography by Willy Hameister
Production Design by Walter Reimann, Walter Rohrig, Hermann Warm
Set Decoration by Hermann Warm
Costume Design by Walter Reimann
Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari
Conrad Veidt as Cesare
Friedrich Feher as Francis
Lil Dagover as Jane Olsen
Hans Heinrich von Twardowski as Alan
Rudolf Lettinger as Dr. Olsen
In 1920, one brilliant movie jolted the postwar masses and catapulted the movement known as German Expressionism into film history. That movie was The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a plunge into the mind of insanity that severs all ties with the rational world. Director Robert Wiene and a visionary team of designers crafted a nightmare realm in which light, shadow and substance are abstracted, a world in which a demented doctor and a carnival sleepwalker perpetrate a series of ghastly murders in a small community. This authoritative edition of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a 4K restoration scanned from the (mostly) preserved camera negative at the German Federal Film Archive.
With the many adaptations of “The Cabinet of Caligari” in the last 30-years, while many may have familiarity with the 1991 remake by Peter Sellars or the 2005 remake by David Lee Fisher or even perhaps the operatic or stage versions, there is one that still remains as a true classic for cineaste.
And that is the 1920 German silent horror film directed by the legendary director of German expressionist films, Robert Wiene, and an adaptation by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer.
Considered as one of the most important films in the German Expressionist movement, the film was known for its abstract set design, jerky character movements but most importantly, it was the film that introduced the “twist ending” in cinema.
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is an important film of cinema and while the film received restoration in the mid-’90s, it would receive a 4K restoration scanned from the (mostly) preserved camera negative at the German Federal Film Archive and would be receive its digital restoration premiere at the 64th Berlin International Festival in 2014.
And now, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” will be released on Blu-ray in November courtesy of Kino Lorber.
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” begins with a flashback told by protagonist, Francis (portrayed by Friedrich Feher) and he begins telling an elderly man a story about him and his fiance, Jane (portrayed by Lil Dagover).
France tells a story about how he and his friend Alan (portrayed by Hans Heinrich von Twardowki) who were competing for the affection of Jane. One day, while visiting a carnival at the German mountain village of Holstenwall, they see Dr. Caligari (portrayed by Werner Krauss) and his somnambulist, (a term that means “sleepwalking”) named Cesare (portrayed by Conrad Veidt) who emerges from a coffin and is controlled hypnotically by Dr. Caligari.
Dr. Caligari tells the audience that because Cesare is constantly asleep, he can predict the future and knows every secret.
This captivates Alan who goes to as Cesare of how long will he live. And Cesare responds, “that he will die at dawn”. This freaks out both Francis and Alan but Francis tries to keep his friend in better spirits and they should focus on competing for Jane’s affections.
But that night, an ominous figure comes into Alan’s bedroom and kills him.
As Francis is bothered by Alan’s fate and now knows that Cesare’s prophecy comes true, he tells Jane of what happened and both do their own investigation. But as Jane goes to the circus to investigate Doctor Caligari and Cesare, Caligari learns about the investigation and Cesare is sent to kill her.
But will the evil Dr. Caligari and Cesare succeed with their evil plans or will Francis and Jane find a way to stop them?
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 aspect ratio). This is the best I have seen of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” to date. From the early ’90s VHS which was not complete and quality was not good at all, to the 1995 restoration that was available on DVD which improved the film greatly. Looking at this version is simply amazing because there is a tremendous amount of clarity and significant cleanup. I did not see any of the damage that plagued earlier copies or the flickering that was in the previous two versions.
The 4K restoration was created by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in Wiesbaden from the original camera negative held at the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv in Berlin. The first reel of the camera negative is missing and was completed from different prints. Jump cuts and missing frames in 67 shots were completed by different prints.
A German distribution print is not existing. Basis for the colors were two nitrate print from Latin America, which represent the earliest surviving prints. They are today at hte Filmmuseum Dusseldorf and the Cineteca di Bologna.
The color tinting was fixed and I am just amazed by the digital image restoration by L’Immagine Ritrovata – Film Conservation and Restoration in Bologna. The intertitles used were resumed from the flashtitles in the camera negative and a 16 mm print from 1935 from the Deutsche Kinemathek – Museum fur Film und Fernsehen in Berlin.
This is the definitive version of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” to date!
AUDIO & SUBTITLES:
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is presented in German DTS-HD MA 2.0 with optional English subtitles. You get two musical scores, one by the University of Music, Freiburg which I absolutely loved and the other by Paul D. Miller aka DJ Spooky, for those who want a more modern take to the music of the film. And it was great to see Kino Lorber bring in DJ Spooky because I’m a fan of his musical work and I would never expect his music to show up as a musical score in a silent film, so it’s a very good alternative for those who want something more modern and digital.
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” comes with the following special features:
- Caligari: How Horror Came to the Cinema – (52:53) A fascinating German documentary about “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, German Expressionist cinema and its correlation from the Weimar to the Nazi era.
- Image Gallery – View stills from “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”.
- Restoration Demonstration I – (1:18) Comparison of before and after the digital restoration.
- Restoration Demonstration II – (2:42) Comparison of the 1984 and the 2014 digital restoration.
- Trailer – (1:08) The theatrical trailer for “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”.
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” comes with a four-page insert with an essay by Kristin Thompson, film historian at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is an important film for any fan of silent film. A film that captures the style of the German Expressionist genre with amazing efficacy with its wonderful and artistic set design, the character movement and expressions up to wonderful twist, which the film is best known for introducing to cinema.
But the release of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” on Blu-ray is amazing not only for its 4K digital restoration but for longtime cinema fans, it’s the journey of getting to this point of a complete and gorgeous looking version of the film in HD.
Back in the ’90s, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was available by Kino on VHS and that version was not exactly the best version to watch of the film (it was missing a lot of footage) until David Shepard produced a new restoration of the film in 1995 and it was this version that people saw a more complete vision.
But seeing this 4K Digital Restoration with its magnificent picture quality, not only are the frames that were in bad shape not as evident but the constant flickering that plagued the older version appears to have disappeared in this Blu-ray release.
There was no doubt a labor of love and dedication in bringing this film out with much better clarity, especially with the closeups of the characters and you can actually see the backgrounds much better and just value the set design as they are oddly shaped and was no doubt a design that help bring German Expressionist film to the forefront.
But what makes this film so appealing is its performance by Werner Krauss as the creepy Dr. Caligari (who would go on to be a major actor in the Nazi regime over a decade later) and his somnambulist Cesare (portrayed by Conrad Veidt, unlike his counterpart, fled Nazi Germany with his Jewish wife to become a British citizen and eventually appear in the film “Casablanca”).
I can only imagine that those who watched this movie in the theaters being scared each time these two appeared on the big screen. Both are creepy characters and both give a great performance of a deranged doctor and a brainwashed individual and both are evil antagonists.
But then watching the film and possibly finding resolve until they get to the final scenes that no doubt is a significant twist that you never see coming.
In the United States, film critic Carl Sandburg was impressed. In his review (which you can find in the book, “Carl Sandburg’s Film Reviews and Essays: 1920-1928”) written on May 21, 1921, Sandburg writes, “I am glad I went because I have wanted to see a different movie and this is so different it’s a knockout”.
Sandburg also tries to dissect of who this movie is for, bringing up those who loved the film for its twist ending and those who appreciate the film for being artistic and believed this was for art rather than public consumption.
But it was great to know that him and other film critics felt that back in 1921, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was “the most powerful and original photoplay”.
But you can understand why it was a powerful film at the time, this was the scariest silent film that year. German Expressionist films were looked upon as art but for any movie-goer, the effect of weird body movements of a character was out of the norm and so different from any film of that era. But like any scary story told, it wouldn’t be a horror story if you don’t feel that unsettling feeling after watching the film and in this case, it was courtesy of its twist ending which was brilliant!
As for the Blu-ray release, as mentioned, the picture quality and clarity is magnificent. As much as I loved the David Shepard restoration of the 90’s, the 4K digital restoration of this film brings out the clarity of the film, may it be the closeups of the character’s faces or the wonderful set design. No more film warping or damage, white specks or anything. This restoration is amazing! And as for the audio, two musical scores are offered. One that you would expect from a silent film and a DJ Spooky modern musical score which is a wonderful alternative. And as for special features, you get the 52-minute German documentary “Caligari: How Horror Came to the Cinema” and more!
1921 would become a big year for German Expressionist cinema, from Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” to F.W. Murnau’s “The Haunted Castle” and Fritz Lang’s “Destiny”, the film would go on to inspire Hollywood horror films and also inspire many more adaptations for many more decades to come.
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” would also be remembered for the magnificent, yet creepy performances by its main talent and their movement and expressions, introducing the “twist ending” to cinema and also for its gorgeous set design that would set the course for the German Expressionist cinema movement for many years to come.
For silent film fans, especially those collecting silent film on Blu-ray, “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is a fantastic release that is highly recommended!
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