A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920)

I don't know how many years it's been since I saw this in some university film series or other, but I remember finding it rather silly and quaint. In the meantime it has been carefully restored: The flickering black-and-white images I must have seen have been replaced by smooth digitalized projection and the appropriate color filters, as well as the original hand-painted intertitles, and an appropriately spiky modern score by John Zorn has been added. It's clearly a classic, both of its time and enduring into future times. The film has been endlessly analyzed, most notoriously by Siegfried Kracauer in his 1947 book From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film, in which Kracauer posits that the film reveals post-World War I Germany's subconscious desire for an authoritative leader. In other words, Caligari equals Hitler. Considering that in the film Caligari, as played by Werner Krauss, looks both sinister and absurd, something like an elderly owl in a top hat, I find the argument hard to swallow. But this is one film that will probably never exhaust interpretation. I think it's best just to enjoy it as a tremendously gripping artistic experience.