2 February 2009

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 1919

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 6:22 am






  1. Gotta just pause for a moment, as usual, and gasp at the amazing art in this film and revel in its influence (on me and so many artists and filmmakers). I wish I could watch it right now. Certainly if we had to make a list of the “most influential films ever,” this would be on it.


    Comment by Kim Dot Dammit — 2 February 2009 @ 2:04 pm

  2. Yes, KDD, those surely are some unconventional sets, even before anything like cinematic convention had been firmly established. The characters often act as though they’re part of the sets, striking poses and grimaces and then holding them far longer than ordinary human behavior would warrant.

    Did you know that Conrad Veidt, the guy who played Cesare the Somnambulist here, later played Major Strasser in Casablanca? He also played Gwynplaine in The Man Who Laughs — apparently this is the character who inspired The Joker in the original Batman comics. And to top it off, he played the first openly gay character in the history of cinema.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 February 2009 @ 2:12 pm

  3. I didn’t know any of that except maybe The Man Who Laughs factoid. Love love love cinema factoids. I haven’t seen Caligari since the mid 1980s when I saw a beautiful print at the Pacific Film Archive. Of course, the sets are totally the inspiration for Tim Burton (and about a zillion others).


    Comment by Kim Dot Dammit — 2 February 2009 @ 4:34 pm

  4. PS: I love your point about the people being part of the sets, but of course the sets are the psychology of the characters, so in a way you are inside the body so it makes sense that the sets/mind and characters/body are conjoined.


    Comment by Kim Dot Dammit — 2 February 2009 @ 4:36 pm

  5. clysmatics these sets are displayed at the berliner film-museum, which is one of the best in europe (on potsdammerplatz), and it was interesting to me that they’re actually cardboard miniatures much as what you’d make for a clay animation (so in this sense this IS already an animation set). the effect is doubly uncanny considering in reality they look mediocre, but when blown up to the screen you get this. the third picture reminds me of barcelona architecture, with those curves (and the resulting psychoanalytic vertigo). i have yet to tell you about my horrible experience in sagrada familia…


    Comment by parody center — 2 February 2009 @ 5:57 pm

  6. It’s an odd little story, with this zombie-like sleeper going around killing people on the orders of his psychiatrist. So do we regard the whole film as a dream, perhaps of the psychiatric patient who narrates the story? The somnambulist kills this guy’s rival and his fiancee’s father, but stops on the verge of killing the fiancee. She too wanders about in a trancelike fashion, and while asleep or unconscious she reveals her hidden passion for the somnambulist. So it’s like the somnambulist is everyone’s unconscious, including that of the psychiatrist who wants to unlock the secrets of the great Dr. Caligari of the prior century. The somnambulist is everyone’s wish-fulfiller.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 February 2009 @ 7:16 pm

  7. clysmatics i had promised to you a debate on zodiac after my second viewing, which took place recently, but since i can’t for the laugh of me find your post on it, i am forced to comment here. the link is the somnambulism.

    so these were my thouhgts: i completely agree with my fav Shav on the fact that through its ”dyschronia” and various kinds of slippages in chronology, the film oddly creates a dream-like atmosphere even though it proceeds in progressive linear fashion and uses the format of a classic whodunit. i got that same ”spectral” feeling watching it and needless to say, it is related to inland empire and that whole new school of hauntological movies. Like dr. Caligari, and as my hero and cyberpunk icon expresses, it paints (with the mise-en-scene) the current mindframe, the ”time out of joint”, as Philip K. Dick would say, and so on.

    but i am also wondering where the indifference of the moment, the absence of polarities, conflict, which have been replaced by parallelisms and paradoxes, stands in spiritual terms. the zodiac wants to kill, by his own admission, because he wants access to Hell. this would imply that Heaven and Hell are both gone, and we find ourselves in some kind of an earthly purgatory. Is this a form of Gnosticism? If the song from HAIR was right, we’re living in the Age of Aquarius now which means the age of multiple deities.. any thoughts on this?


    Comment by parody center — 2 February 2009 @ 7:54 pm

  8. PS to be more precise Zodiac seems to be motivated by the desire for recognition (understood in the Lacanian sense), like the insomniac cartoonist, to ”inscribe himself in the Symbolic Order”, but then on the other hand no matter how public the murders get, and even though he gets plenty recognition, it seems that he’s a failure. as if it is implicitly acknowledged that the murders will never stop because they are meaningless.


    Comment by parody center — 2 February 2009 @ 8:01 pm

  9. PC, you didn’t find my post on Zodiac because I don’t have one. I put up screengrabs of only those movies that leave some residual trace of themselves in my awareness that lasts at least until the next day. Zodiac completely disappeared for me as soon as it ended. That the movie has stayed with you suggests something about the psychology and phenomenology of recognition: not everyone gets entangled in a particular other’s persona, gaze, imagination, created worlds, etc. Something like Harman’s allure has to be activated in the dynamic space between spectacle and viewer. Though Zodiac was emitting its alluring rays to one and all, I wasn’t receptive. In Harman’s world it’s the viewer who emits allure, coaxing the spectacle to reveal its secrets hidden behind the surface image.

    Anyhow, on Dr. Caligari, I found myself drawn back into the fiancee’s encounter with the somnambulist. He comes to kill her while she’s sleeping, but he can’t do it: presumably he loves her. The girl wakes up and finds herself enchanted by the somnambulist: from that point on she walks around in a sort of trance. So I’m thinking: if the somnambulist represents each character’s unconscious, then for the girl it reveals her narcissism — she unconsciously loves herself, or she loves her unconscious self. But this narcissism is also self-destructive, suicidal: to love herself this way she has to become a somnambulist herself, asleep/dead to the world.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 February 2009 @ 8:49 am

  10. clysmatics, narcissism is NOT a ”love of your own image” but an identification with one’s ideal image which serves to prevent psychotic disintegration. i therefore do not see the link with narcissism and dr.caligari i saw ages and ages ago.

    i must admit that your total prostration for dr harman causes jealousy, which could mean that i am more privy to my ex-dad than i had thought. anyhow there’s no way in the world this romance will remain unscathed.


    Comment by parody center — 3 February 2009 @ 9:15 am

  11. I of course said nothing about the girl loving her own image; I said that unconsciously she loves herself, or that she loves her own unconscious self, above all others.

    Also, Harman’s understanding of eidos, or image, is only tangentially connected to Lacan’s. For a viewer to be lured to the image presented by a film, or perhaps by a sociopath who craves to be noticed, isn’t to be drawn into narcissism: it’s to be lured by this sense of something hidden behind the image, some essence that haunts the image, a fetish value. But for the sociopath to craft an alluring idealized image of himself, e.g. in Zodiac’s case that he’s just so much cleverer than everyone else, is I’m sure driven by a narcissism that wants to assure itself of the other’s admiration. This is where Kohut goes in his psychoanalysis of narcissism: the analyst takes on the transferential role of the approving parent who reassures the client of his/her own worth, so that eventually the client can accept this self-worth, can start acknowledging the worth of others, and can stop exhibitionistically parading his/her own idealized image hoping to see the parent’s approving gaze reflected in the eye of the voyeur.

    I think a psychology of personal expression has to address this issue for the artist (or theorist or scientist or revolutionary) who wants to cultivate his/her own vision but who simultaneously wants to attract notice. It’s a difficult conundrum.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 February 2009 @ 9:36 am

  12. I still don’t understand what Dr. Harman’s Copernican turn consist of. We can’t know the object’s hidden essence, and we crave to find out. However we will never know. So what’s the point of knowing that despite having an alluring essence, the object will never be fully accessible? It will remain inaccessible, and the world, again, will be a cold and unfriendly place to live in, in which only semi-attachments are possible and never any orgiastic fulfillment such as the one I seek in my search for the ultimate philosophical guru.

    I would argue that Zodiac is pretty analyzable in terms of Dr Harman’s object-adumbrations; in the film, everything is withdrawn from everything and yet deeply interconnected. And yes there’s something in saying that if the film (expressionistically) depicts the murderer’s mind, then the withdrawal indicates a narcissitic condition.


    Comment by parody center — 3 February 2009 @ 11:46 am

  13. I finally confessed to Kvond that I don’t agree with Dr. Harman’s theory, but it is an interesting one to explore.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 February 2009 @ 9:12 pm

  14. Conrad Veidt is truly one of the best actors of all time (and the most beautiful!!) and I feel so bad that, out of over 100 films, some films are lost. T_T To know that Der Januskopf is gone…but Conrad was truly amazing as Cesare! I remember the first time I was introduced to the glorious silent cinema I was flipping through a Cabinet of Dr. Caligari screenplay, as Cesare just struck me as a very interesting character. ^^ Long live Das Kabinette! ^_^

    And, just one little side note, for all the people who think this, Cesare is not a zombie!! Zombies are re-animated dead people, and Cesare is quite certainly alive!


    Comment by Der Cupcake des Rem — 23 August 2009 @ 3:58 pm

  15. Definitely not zombie. Not undead but unawake, Cesare occupies the dreamstate, the unconscious. He’s a psychoanalytic figure of what everyone else in the film would like to do him/herself. So Herr Doctor Caligari wants to kill. The girl wants t break off her engagements = her conscious commitments, and live instead in perpetual dreamstate-desire with Cesare. Or at least that’s my interpretation. Silent film had to tell whole stories without words, which took the talkies many decades to get back to.

    Nice art, Cupcake. Thanks for stopping by.


    Comment by john doyle — 23 August 2009 @ 8:56 pm

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