Friday, October 14, 2016

31 Days of Gothic Romance | The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

As soon as people began making movies, they made them about gothic romances. Thomas Edison's 1910 Frankenstein was a very early example, but of course there were also '20s versions of Phantom of the Opera and Nosferatu, which was a bootleg of Dracula. And there were original gothic romance movies, too, like Robert Wiene's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari from 1920.

Caligari was based on a script by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer and is reportedly the product of their dissatisfaction with German authority after World War I. The way that Janowitz and Mayer express this though is pure gothic romance. Dr Caligari may represent the abuse of power in German systems (what with using one of his patients in a horrific experiment and all), but he's also the classic, gothic oppressor. He's inspired by a murderous monk (hello, Matthew Lewis!) and uses his influence over sleepwalking Cesare to abduct the young Jane. Jane's handsome boyfriend then has to try to save her.

In addition to these tropes, Caligari also deals subtly with the theme of decay. There are no crumbling castles or musty mansions, but it's set in post-WWI Germany and reflects the national paranoia that marked that time. Germany had been humbled by the Treaty of Versailles and there was a strong sense that German society was deteriorating. That unease is reflected not only in the actions of Caligari's characters, but also in the bizarre, twisted design of the sets that depict a tumultuous and disturbed world.

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