Combustible Celluloid
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With: Conrad Veidt, Werner Krauss, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover, Hans Heinrich von Twardowski, Rudolf Lettinger
Written by: Hans Janowitz, Carl Mayer
Directed by: Robert Wiene
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 75
Date: 02/26/1920

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Dutch Angles

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Robert Wiene's essential The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919) is an unquestionable landmark in cinema. Rather than attempting to capture "realism," which was the general method of the time, Wiene went the opposite route, slathering the screen with forced perspectives and all kinds of bizarre diagonals and slants; there is hardly a right angle to be found in this film. It results in vivid, dreamlike logic and a terrifying lack of control.

Werner Krauss stars as the doctor, who enters a carnival with his main attraction, a somnambulist (Conrad Veidt) who predicts people's deaths (and may well be the cause of same). When his best friend is found murdered, Francis (Friedrich Feher) immediately suspects Caligari and sets out to prove his hunch.

A prologue and epilogue were apparently added over Wiene's objections to lessen the overall impact of the film's sheer, unrelenting madness. Interestingly, though this film influenced everyone from Murnau and Lang to Hollywood filmmakers of the 1940s -- and still influences certain filmmakers today -- Wiene himself never had much of a career.

In 2002, Kino released a definitive DVD version, and in 2014 they have released a newly restored, 4K Blu-ray, but with almost completely different extras. The DVD came with two scores, one by Donald Sosin and another by Rainer Viertblock, as well as a "condensation" of another Wiene film, Genuine: The Tale of a Vampire, on-set footage of Wiene, and a stills gallery. The Blu-ray comes with two new scores (one by Paul D. Miller and DJ Spooky), a new 52-minute documentary on the film, an essay by Kristen Thompson, and very possibly the same stills gallery. But the 94 year-old film itself couldn't look richer or more potent than if it had come from a brand-new print.

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