The extract I have chosen is taken from Robert
Wiene’s film The
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and I am going to analyze
it in terms of its cultural context and then focus on how it uses
editing, genre, mise-en-scene, symbols,
narrative structure, themes and
motifs to convey meaning according to the
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene, R. 1920) is
a German silent-horror film directed by Robert Weine who collaborated with the
German cinematographer, Willy Hameister to create this German Expressionist
masterpiece. The movie has been written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Meyer. It is
also considered one of the greatest films of the silent period.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was released right
after World War I (1914-1918). The German forces had been defeated in the World
War and the nation had been taken over by the U.S. This lead to the loss of
many lives and the economy was a complete disaster and at a very low point. 700,000
Germans died of hunger in the postwar period. The citizens were greatly and
obviously traumatized by the war and were in an economic depression. Their morale
and spirits were shattered to the point where many were looking for a sense of
escape from the realities around them. Hans Janowitz, one of the writers of the
film was an officer during the conflict, and became a pacifist afterward after
witnessing the horrors of war. The screenplay written for The Cabinet of Dr.
Caligari immediately caught the attention of the film industry. Carl Mayer came
up with the story when he witnessed a murder and a figure was at the scene of
the murder. He then saw the same figure again at the funeral. This represents
the troubled and social anxiety that was present in Germany at a time of great
horror. The postwar period was also the breeding ground for many artistic
endeavors, however. Many of these developments are vital in deconstructing The
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and its relationship to the context in which it is
A key movement that arose in Germany during
this period was Expressionism which emphasizes distorted landscapes and
subjects which The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has shown perfectly through its
sets, backgrounds, lighting etc. The movement intended to give expression to
things which were beyond words. Expressionism manifested itself in film through
the use of distorted sets as I mentioned above and exaggerated performances. The
German Expressionist movement began during the start of the 20th century and
mainly dealt with poetry, painting, art and cinema. The success of
expressionist films helped Germany to be seen as the most technically advanced
in the world e.g. the movie Metropolis (Lang, F. 1927) is considered to be way
ahead of its time due because of its special effects and advanced looking sets.
So, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was labeled as a film that portrayed the
artistic style of German Expressionism.
A problem I noticed in this film was that when
the characters are talking, their mouth movement is completely different from
the text that would appear on screen afterwards which shows that a lot of the
true dialogue could have been lost in translation because the movie is German.
The sequence I have chosen to analyse is 43:00- 47:09 when Cesare attempts to kidnap Jane. In this sequence there
are very clear Expressionist visual approaches that create terror e.g. In Jane’s
room, the patterns on the walls create a sharp point that are creating an
effect that echoes Cesare’s entry into the room and of him holding a dagger.
Another example is at the very end of the sequence, trees mirror the movements
of Cesare’s fall in the chase scene.
My sequence starts off with Francis spying on
Dr. Caligari. He sees Cesare sleeping in his box when actually Cesare sneaks
into Jane’s home as she sleep. He raised a knife to stab her but instead ends
up kidnapping her after a whole struggle scene. He drags her through the window
onto the street where he is chased by an angry mob, he eventually starts to
feel weak, drops Jane and flees. Soon he faints and apparently dies.
The cinematography in The Cabinet of Dr.
Caligari is fairly simple but effective and gets its point through. The shots sizes are fairly
similar to one another. Most of the shots are medium long shots and are
straight-on shots. This was probably done because of the filmmaker’s intent.
The director wanted the audience to be able to see the overall set in order to
properly understand the film.
The lighting was exaggerated by painting on
fake shadows on the sets. It is obvious to us now but considering this film
came out in 1920, it was probably their only option and worked perfectly.
Therefore most of the lighting aspects appear to be sharp on screen.