Friday, August 22, 2008

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (2005)


So what is this one about?

First, it is important to talk a little about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) [in the discussion of the two films I will use the year they were made to distinguish between them]. Wikipedia tells us,
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (original title: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) is a 1920 silent film directed by Robert Wiene from a screenplay written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer. It is one of the earliest, most influential and most artistically acclaimed German Expressionist films.
And an abridged plot description follows:
The film tells the story of the deranged Dr. Caligari and his faithful sleepwalking Cesare, and their connection to a string of murders in a German mountain village, Holstenwall. Caligari presents one of the earliest examples of a motion picture "frame story" in which the body of the plot is presented as a flashback, as told by Francis.

The narrator, Francis, and his friend Alan visit a carnival in the village where they see Dr. Caligari and the somnambulist Cesare, whom the doctor is displaying as an attraction. Caligari brags that Cesare can answer any question he is asked. When Alan asks Cesare how long he has to live, Cesare tells Alan that he will die tomorrow at dawn—a prophecy which turns out to be fulfilled.

Francis, along with his girlfriend Jane, investigate Caligari and Cesare, which eventually leads to Cesare kidnapping Jane. Caligari orders Cesare to kill Jane, but the hypnotized slave refuses after her beauty captivates him. He carries Jane out of her house, leading the townsfolk on a lengthy chase. Francis discovers that "Caligari" is actually the head of the local insane asylum, and with the help of his colleagues discovers that he is obsessed with the story of a medieval Dr. Caligari, who used a somnambulist to murder people as a traveling act.

Cesare falls to his death during the pursuit and the townsfolk discover that Caligari had created a dummy to distract Francis. After being confronted with the dead Cesare, Caligari breaks down and reveals his mania and is imprisoned in his asylum. The influential twist ending reveals that Francis' flashback is actually his fantasy: The man he says is Caligari is his asylum doctor, who, after this revelation of the source of his patient's delusion, says he is able to cure Francis.

I know that was long, and lets face it, probably no one read that. But you should have. You've got to understand where all this is coming from.

So this 2005 version
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a 2005 independent film, and a "talkie" remake of the 1920 film of the same name. It was directed by David Lee Fisher and released in the U.S. at the ScreamFest Film Festival on October 22, where it won three prizes - the Audience Choice Award, Best Cinematography and Best Special Effects.
Innovative director David Fisher has used original footage of the film, with its eerie modernistic sets, removed the original actors ascenes, Fisher's version of this timeless classic will take the sinister legend of Doctor Caligari into the realms of the 21st century without losing the quintessential substance of the original film.
which is a description I yoinked from the website of the actor who plays Cesare, and can be found at

And how much did I pay to watch?
I got this sucka on Netflix. It cost me $1.30-ish. I'll probably bnd replaced them with a contemporary cast led by Doug Jones as the melancholic and sinister somnambulist Cesare. Now with sound, spoken dialogue and tinteduy it though, because it was incredible.

And what did I think?
Man oh man. I can already tell this is going to be another nerdy entry. I can't believe I took so much time just putting stuff in that first section.

I first watched this movie during a course I took in grad school titled "Comparative Totalitarian Culture". I took it because we got to watch movies in it. I mean, seriously?? SWEET. When I saw the original version I didn't quite know what to think. For one thing, the audience I watched it with made me not like the movie. There was this girl who was SO annoying. I cannot even communicate how annoying she was for those who were not in this class. But her comment about this movie was "I thought it was so beautiful." Really? A movie about a sonambulist who kills people? riiiiiiiiiiiight.

The movie was sort of mesmerizing. It was a German expressionist film but it had this goth, dark, burlesque feel to it. It reminded me of that time I went to see Panic at the Disco! (don't laugh) and they did this creepy expressionist, burlesque, goth show.

do you see what I mean?

Anyway, I guess because I am a modern film viewer I am not used to silent films so I didn't like this one very much.

The remake, however, is extraordinary! Through a digital process the backgrounds from the original film were used in the new film with the new actors. Now, unfortunately I was not able to find two photos of the same backgrounds in the film so that I could give you a side by side comparison, but just take my word that it is amazing!!!!

Now, another thing that was excellent was the makeup and clothing of the actors. They kept this really 1920s goth-y feel to the clothes and the makeup. And the actors acted in a way that was very reserved...just like a silent actor would in the 1920s. By doing all the visual things in a very stylized manner they kept the integrity of the original film. Adding spoken dialogue just brought the film into the modern times.

Finally, after I had first watched the film, I went onto imdb to get some more information. The director's email address was on the site so I emailed him. And he responded, which totally floored me, because he was kind and down to earth. I mean, who doesn't like that?

Really, just rent this one. But first, watch the original so you can see what I mean about how incredible the remake is. I feel like you wont understand without seeing the original first. Then you need to make sure you watch the making of documentary on the 2005 version. Now...GO. DO IT!!!!

So what is the rating? (out of 10)
This was one of the most, if not the most, impressive and extraordinary film I have ever seen. The meticulous attention to detail and the pitch perfect recreation of a classic film was amazing. The of modern technology never overpowered the vintage 1920s feeling that the director and actors created.

I cannot say enough how amazing this was. If there was ever a film that should get a 10, this is it.

10. 10. 10. 10. 10.


UmassSlytherin said...

yes blogger it is a good film. A great one, actually. I saw it in college, at UMass. It was so weird and amazing. You have good taste in films.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed your reviews...I have not (yet) been able to locate a MODERN copy...My Laserdisk is a recent and RE-STORED version...but, strictly the original.
Something you missed: Conrad Veight, was the NAZI general in CASABLANCA another universally acclaimed cinema classic. His second most-famous role.