Friday, May 25, 2012

Capsule Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

As extensively analyzed and beloved as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is, it's easy to forget just how overwhelming the jagged, expressionistic visual  must have been to the audiences of the early 1920s. Fueled by two great performances - Conrad Veidt as the somnambulist Cesare and Werner Krauss as Dr. Caligari - the film's erratic pace can sometimes make for a frustrating viewing experience, but the twist ending - a controversial decision at the time - still holds some surprises for those used to more tame silent fare. Friedrich FehĂ©r's acting is wildly over the top, but perhaps the gesticulating might have been necessary to be noticed when next to a towering, ghostly sleepwalker or the bug-eyed, troll-like doctor. Notable for introducing flashbacks within flashbacks into the language of cinema, and creating a tale that was endlessly imitated by the monster movies of the  following 30 years. It's also been remade several times, including as recently as 1995 (with Doug Jones as Cesare), but none can equal the impact of the German original.

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