Masters Of Cinema #92 - Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari - Blu-ray review

'Wiene reveals his film's twisty ending and plunges you in to a deep pit, just before you realise that something has actually been amiss all along'

I've recently read a book by Dave Trott on marketing and advertising, during which he claims that any one single piece of marketing is worth no more than 5% towards someone's decision to buy or not buy a product. A similar sort of equation appears to apply to Robert Wiene's classic Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari). In no way, by modern standards, would this film be described as scary, but Wiene's film leaves you with a distinct sense of unease, a creepy cloying idea that all is not right with the world, that you might not be safe in your bed tonight. Is it the angular near-cubism of the set design? The black-eye tired make-up of many of the stars? The occasional showy Horror motif that has echoed down the ages, such as the floating entrance of the woman in white, in the background of the first act? It's probably all of those things, all making up small 5% steps until Wiene reveals his film's twisty ending and plunges you in to a deep pit, just before you realise that something has actually been amiss all along.

Wiene implants the idea that all isn't right mainly by the staging created by Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann, and Walter Röhrig. Leading us down tough angular alleys and into the distorted confines of Caligari's (Werner Krauss) caravan-like retreat, Wiene presents to us a world at odds with the one we know. The sets - which are beautiful - have dual purposes, reminding us that we are witnessing a story, set-up in act one as a narrative protagonist Francis (Friedrich Feher) is telling to a visitor. Weine creates a believability to this through the introduction to Francis' town; a picture postscard drawing of angular houses, which fades in and out of the screen, as if from memory. There's more purpose to the genius settings revealed in the final act, but from this point forwards, Weine's key decision is to allow us to forget what we are witnessing, resisting any temptation to return to Francis before the finale. Regardless of purpose: Warm, Reimann and Röhrig's form is perfect, and perfectly used by Wiene and photographer Willy Hameister, who emphasises the contrasts. Watch for a late chase involving Caligari and Francis, where the former reaches an expressionist hill and is promptly framed in gorgeous silhouette.

The design on show is reflected in the more subtle touches of Wiene's film. The intertitles by Katherine Hilliker mirror the apparently random nature of expressionist setting, standing on jagged ends and sloping sides. The make-up, all sleepless blackened eyes and the slightly too-prominent streaks in Caligari's hair, further foster the insinuation that something is amiss.

If that sounds like cold praise - how many people really tune into a film to see what the intertitles are like? - then know that there is a story here which is both well told, compelling, succinctly put, at just 77 minutes, and satisfying, if more than a little bleak. The mastery of multiple narratives Wiene shows belies the film's infatuation with storytelling. Count the number of people telling or part of stories in the film - think of The Grand Budapest Hotel's structure for a recent peer - and you'll find yourself approaching double figures.

Whilst rightly hailed as introducing many of the storytelling elements that would inflect Horror, Noir and other genres for years, perhaps it is the finale that deserves the most praise. Showing a willingness to stand by his mantra that all is not right, Wiede creates a conclusion both surprising, satisfying and meaningful. Caligari's 'now I can treat him' line does also stoop to offer the viewer some hope: at least there may be resolution coming, off-screen.

Founded in 2004, The Masters of Cinema Series is an independent, carefully curated, UK-based Blu-ray and DVD label, now consisting of over 150 films. Films are presented in their original aspect ratio (OAR), in meticulous transfers created from recent restorations and / or the most pristine film elements available.

Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari is released in the UK on Monday 29th September 2014

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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