The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

(Janowitz-Mayer)
   famous Weimar-era film.* Based on a story by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, it evolved from a combination of the two men's experiences. The sinister Caligari, fashioned on a psychiatrist encountered by Mayer in the war, runs a sideshow in a traveling fair. His act centers on the somnambulist Cesare, who Caligari claims can fore-tell the future. But the doctor's real occupation is murder. Director of an asylum, he has taken Cesare, entrusted to his care, and through hypnosis has commanded him to kill. A young man, whose friend is Caligari's victim, becomes suspicious and, in the process of spying on the doctor, detects his macabre secret. When a confession is forced from him, Caligari loses his own sanity and is forced into a straitjacket—symbol of the institution he has betrayed.
   When the story was released in early 1920 as a silent film, it ushered in Germany's golden age of cinema. Produced by Erich Pommer and directed by Robert Wiene, the dark Expressionist* production served as the focal point for Siegfried Kracauer's* later study of German film, From Caligari to Hitler;it still gains attention as a landmark piece of art. But Wiene inverted the story's ending, depicting the doctor as kindly and his young antagonist as deranged. The authors resented the change since, as Kracauer explained, they justifiably believed that it negated their message. In the war's wake, Janowitz and Mayer wished to symbolize the brutality of authority; Wiene made rebellion against authority appear as madness. Given Germany's extraordinary circumstances, the change must be viewed as exceeding mere poetic license.
   REFERENCES:Lotte Eisner, Haunted Screen; Peter Gay, Weimar Culture; Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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