Saturday, April 1, 2006

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

The Good Doctor arrives at the village fair displaying a wondrous zombie-in-the-box named Cesare, a somnambulist oracle. Actually, puppet-like Cesare is no oracle, he's only following Caligari's diabolical directions, which include night errands of serial murder. A wax dummy kept in the box doesn't fool authorities for long, and Caligari is traced back to his lair by a friend of one of the victims, and the evil conspiracy uncloaked. But there's one more twist awaiting those who would seek justice... Caligari remains a weird and disorienting experience for the modern viewer; aside from bookending moments set in a serene garden, all events transpire in a cramped, off-kilter dreamworld of oddly striped geometric patterns -- a landscape that has inspired visual designers ever since, from Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) to the Batman (1966-68) TV series to the entire career of Tim Burton. Because it is secondary to the design, the story moves in compartmentalized moments, and sometimes not at all; what a modern viewer would consider the "plot" occurs in the final ten minutes. Undoubtedly an influence on H.P. Lovecraft's tale of psycho-spiritual transference, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, written just seven years later.

[Seen at the Capri Theatre in Montgomery AL with live musical accompaniment by Devil Music Ensemble.]

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