Why? That is the first response I receive when recommending a silent film released a hundred years ago in Weimar Republic. But this is not just a silence film. Not just another example of cinematic movement in film history. Robert Wiene’s “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was a film that shaped the entire industry, and stills has influence on modern cinema more than almost every other film ever released. in that case, for those who truly love cinema and take interest in its development, I find it reasonable to propose this film.
Before even analyzing it, the fact that the movie was created hundred years ago needs to be comprehended. The entire medium was still in its diapers, and many concepts appearing in the movie, that seem usual today, were appearing on screen for the first time in this particular film. One example is a frame story for the main plot. As for most films made before the post-modern era, frame narrative and nonlinear narrative were bold ideas that most rarely were seen on screens, and most definitely in the silent cinema times. In addition, plot twist. The simple notion can be found in every modern script, was first demonstrated in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. I will spare the details in order to avoid spoiling, but the simplest twist in today’s cinema, was conceived a hundred years ago in a German expressionist film.
The issue about “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is mainly the dark tone of the film that made the first step to defining cinema as art rather than entertainment. Horror movies were not new, even at the time the movie was released, but the expressionist style of the dark and distorted sets, that fired the opening shot to the German expressionist movement in cinema, made an impact on horror movies till this day more any film these times. The expressionist movement was originally developed in painting and poetry, which is reflected in the movie’s art and design, that was painted according to the expressionist lines. every location and view is wry, distorted, asymmetric, and dim. The actors and actresses were wearing heavy make up and told to overact. And the story follows the expressionist poetry in themes such as crime, murder, and mental illness.
The German expressionism in cinema was brought to its bitter end in the Nazi period, when craziness and evil were not welcomed upon the big screens, and the German film industry of the 20’s was destroyed and its members fled to safety in Hollywood. Even though “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” doesn’t seem modern as other cinematic creations like “Metropolis”, it was a huge breakthrough in film history.