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Categories: others

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

June 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is a classic science fiction film directed by Don Siegel, based on a three-part serial written by Jack Finney for Colliers Magazine (AMC, n.d.). It is a low-budget horror flick that elicits tensions through series of events in the narrative that provokes ideas of paranoia, intrusion, and an alien takeover. Much has been written about the film and to-date. Four remakes have been released making it one the most discussed low-budget sci-fi film in history (AMC, n.d.).

The central characters of the film are Dr. Miles Bennel, Becky Driscoll, and the unknown pod people, who are all residents of the small town Santa Mira, California. The story begins with our frantic protagonist, Miles, convincing the psychiatrist in an ER of a hospital that he is not crazy.  The story soon moves into a flashback of what has transpired two weeks ago.  Upon Miles’ return from a medical conference he receives different reports of a mass delusional misidentification syndrome in which the people he knew thinks that their close relative or friend has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.  He sees this first hand when his ex-girlfriend from college, Becky Driscoll, asked for his help to observe a cousin who has this delusion. The imposters are said to have an unknown distinctness in them that makes them devoid of emotion, unreal, and not human.  He dismissed the significance of these random reports up until his writer-friend, Jack Belicec, seeks his assistance about an unidentifiable body that he found inside his house. After a series of clues these characters soon realize that these blank slates come from an alien-looking pod that takes the shape of the person they will replace once the person falls asleep. The body snatchers takeover the town of Santa Mira and soon only Miles is left to tell the tale as represented in a climactic scene of him running in a busy highway shouting “You’re next!”

There are lengthy discussions on the thematic elements found in this movie; the most popular among them is its anti-communism and McCarthyism which were the dominant social issues during its release. The film has been lauded for its representation of Cold War anxieties related to communist infiltration or possible atomic warfare from enemies who are hidden in plain sight.  An analysis of the film by Mann (2004) published in the Cinema Journal discussed the many xenophobic and racial slurs dominant in the film and how it may also represent the threat to the changing dominance of the white patriarchy rooted from small-town traditional values. Its timeless popularity may have been due to the idea that it captured a fear that transcends generations – the threat to the status quo. This threat brings a wave of change that is always met with resistance in most contexts.

There is insufficient justification on Miles’ character as to why he resists the pod’s way of life other than the fact that it is a change from status quo.  Several narratives in the film repeat the unambiguous difference between humans and the pods, yet concrete arguments to resist them were never fully explained. The pods were a threat because they were different; with different being evil and status quo being good. Miles’ conviction to fight the de-humanized pods was highlighted in the scene when he was conversing with the pod-Jack and pod-Dr. Kauffman in his clinic where he was cornered by them. The pods try to convince him; saying that love, ambition, and faith complicates life and without them life is better. He does not argue with these statements and it was Becky’s declaration of love and desire to have his children that seem to have moved Miles into action.

It’s argued that Miles is a representation of the traditional male, white, patriarchal character while Becky represents the powerful sexually liberated women of this generation (Mann, 2004). The sexual tensions between the ex-lovers are prominent and it’s been discussed that Miles’ references to re-marriage were attempts to cut the sexual liberty of the recent divorcee (Mann, 2004). At the end of the movie when Becky defies Miles’ attempts to keep her awake by kissing her, Becky reinforces her freedom from his demand to her body.  Though it seems like the film does not give Becky’s character a “win”. What she has gained from her betrayal is a dispassionate life as a pod in which she cannot fulfil her desire “to love and be loved”. Mann (2004) mentions in her historical analysis of the film how in vitro reproduction achieved popularity among the postwar baby boom and that the asexual reproduction of the pods is a commentary against the change in the traditional methods of reproduction since it is a threat to the male ego by allowing an unknown man (the pod) dominate a wife’s body.

This simple narrative has been interpreted in many ways that makes us wonder if any of them were intended by its creators.  Since the plot is discussed as a flashback narrated by Miles who is the only person knows how the story unfolds, viewers are unaware as to what direction the narrative will go. We experience the film as it happens, contributing to the tension as it progresses. I truly enjoyed watching this and I particularly liked how it provokes all the necessary emotions of a thriller without using special effects or violence. After reading more about its many interpretations, the paranoia of what this film is really about continues to haunt me. I find the endless possibilities of what this film represents intriguing and how, despite its obvious simplicity, a lot has been said about it. I will not be surprised if in the near future, a creative writer will find a way to adapt the paranoia of the pod people to the psyche of the millennial generation and for the other generations to come.

References:

AMC (n.d.). Filmsite Movie Review: Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Retrieved from http://www.filmsite.org/inva.html

Mann, K. 2004. “You’re Next!”: Postwar Hegemony Besieged in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Cinema Journal: 44(1). 49-64.

Categories: films and reviews

Concepts behind the artistry of Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953).

June 24, 2015 Leave a comment

Tokyo Story (1953) is a critically acclaimed film by the Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. It is a film about the relationship of parents with their adult children and how this changes through the passage of time and circumstances. It starts by introducing us to two ageing couple (Shukichi and Tomi) who are eagerly preparing for their first trip to visit their grown-up children living in Tokyo. We soon see how the couple adapts to the bustling city life, the evolving behaviors of their children towards them, and the physical limitations of their ageing bodies. McDonald (1982) in his analysis of this film identified three parts to this tale. The first part was set in the small town of Onomichi where we see the elderly couple preparing for their trip; the middle part that contrast the different attitudes and behaviors of the children to their elderly parents’ presence on their hectic work days; and the last part that involves the climatic ending which is the untimely death of Tomi and how her family responds to this life-event (McDonald, 1982). The plot is a simple narrative yet it masterfully provokes emotions through feelings of nostalgia and introspection.

Yasujiro Ozu was born from a middle-class family during the Meiji Era which was the time when Japan opened up to the world after centuries of feudal isolation. He grew up watching a lot of Hollywood movies which outnumbered Japanese films during this youth. He was an employee of Shochiku Kamata studio for most of his life, starting as an assistant cameraman at 19 years old until he died of cancer as a renowned director at 60 years old (Rayns, 2010). Themes of his movies focus on domestic issues such as marriage, generational differences, and life of the elderly. In an analysis of his work, Rayn (201) discusses how the director’s chosen themes are not inspired by his personal life. Ozu never married or had children and other than being in films, he had significant experience as a Japanese army reserve yet he never made a film featuring a soldier’s life (Rayns, 2010).

In Tokyo Story (1953), Ozu shows several unifying concepts that guide his artistic decisions. One of which is the power of simplicity. His work during post-war Japan was identified by his fondness of the fixed low camera position shots whose goal was to attain flatness and monotony that limits strong emotions (Geist, 1987).  This technique is applied several times in the film, most significantly during conversations among the family while sitting on a Japanese tatami mat. Such power of simplicity is also parallel to his use of non-complex daily life narratives used to gain insights on the personality of the characters. McDonald (1982) cited examples from the film which include trivial comments between the siblings Shige and Koichi on how they do not need to serve sukiyaki with sashimi or elegant cakes to their visiting parents in contrast to Noriko’s efforts to serve sake to them despite her limited resources. McDonald (1982) also pointed out repetitive patterns in the narrative such as the appearance of the neighbor on the first scene who wishes them luck on their journey to Tokyo and the re-appearance of the same neighbor at the end of the film, using the same compositional frame, as she converses with Shukichi who is about to take a new life journey as a widow.

Harmony is another major concept evident in Ozu’s artistry.  McDonald (1982) argues that Ozu’s use of “pillow shots” instead of the typical fade away style to transition scenes is a significant example of the harmony between man and his surroundings. We see this technique of transition “from exterior to interior to human figures” in the film’s opening sequence where we first see the landscape of Onomichi with its static ocean and busy commuter trains, which then eventually moves to a shot of a street by the mountains, then the camera moves into the interior of the house with an empty hallway, then ending inside the couple’s room before the couple are focused in a frame (McDonald, 1982, p 23). Despite the contrasting behaviors and attitudes of the children to their ageing parents, there were minimal emotional outburst and arguments among them in narrative. McDonald (1982) argues that conflicts among the characters are never shown in opposition to one another. In fact, the characters try to accept each other’s faults and learn from others, as evidence by the scene when the Noriko attempts to justify Koico, Shige, and Keizo’s indifference to the confused young Hirayama (McDonald, 1982). Domestic unity between the elderly couple were evident in many of their scenes, especially through their sense of humor displayed when they were looking for the air pillow as they pack for their trip and when they were commenting at the vastness of Tokyo as they share their common fears and disappointments about their children and grandchildren. How the adult children echo their reluctance to care for their elderly parents also show elements of harmony, as if the attitudes displayed by the three children came from one character.

Ozu’s films are full of other unique artistic elements. An example is his technique of showing the aftermath of a dramatic event instead of the event itself, as shown in the film when we see Tomi on her deathbed with her family around her, skipping the scene of how she got sick in the train and progressed to a critical state. Another style would be the use of inanimate objects and surroundings to capture the passage of time like laundry drying in a clothesline, a train passing by a quiet town, and shots of the ocean that are repeated at different times in the film. These profound concepts behind his artistic decisions are one, among the many, reasons why he is a beloved director of classical world cinema.

References:

Geist, K. 1987. Narrative Style in Ozu’s Silent Films. Film Quarterly. 40 (2). Pp 28-35

McDonald, K. 1982. Ozu’s Tokyo Story: Simple Means for Complex Ends. The Journal of the Association of Teachers of Japanese. 17(1). Pp 19-39

Rayns, T. Ozu Yasujiro, Tofu Maker. Sight & Sound 20(2), 22-26.

Categories: films and reviews

Antonio Ricci as a Portrait of the Post-war Italian Worker  

June 24, 2015 Leave a comment

The neorealism film movement came about around 1945 as a response of the newly schooled Italian directors against the artificiality. Real locations, non-actors, and a documentary-like mise-en-scene dominate neorealism, in contrast the opera-like melodrama and idealized heroines with box-office appeal found in “white telephone” films before it (Wexman, 2010). As discussed by Wexman (2010) in an excerpt of an interview with renowned neorealist scriptwriter Cesare Zavattini, these types of films do not need metaphorical situations to provoke reflections – they simply convey “real things, exactly as they are”, by weaving fictional stories that covey factual truth (p129). Neorealism stays away from technicality and stylistics to show its intent. It relies entirely on the narrative and episodic elements to discuss its dominating themes.  A prime example of such films is Vittoria De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1946).  The main character was played by Lamberto Maggiorani, a non-actor who was a real-life factory worker in Milan (Ben-Ghiat, 2001).

Bicycle Thieves (1946) paints a portrait of the proletariat worker in post-war Rome through the struggles of its main character, Antonio Ricci. The story begins on the day when our unemployed protagonist finally gets a job as a bill poster, much to the envy of the many men lined up for months alongside him, all waiting for a chance to bring home a salary to their impoverished families. But to grab this unique opportunity Antonio needs to show up the next day at work with a bicycle – a treasure in this community where the only other choice for mobility around Rome would be the endless lines to ride cramped street cars. He used to have one, but like most patriarchal head of his social class, it had been pawned. His family sacrificed more of their remaining possessions to retrieve the bike. Like any worker on his first day of employment we see Antonio and his family happy, motivated, and hopeful of the days ahead. But their joy was short-lived when a few hours into his first day his bicycle was stolen. What follows next are harsh realities of how a person like Antonio in post-war Rome is condemned by his poverty of resources, social support, and guidance. He seeks help from the local police three times in the film, all of which failed to assist his need to retrieve his means of livelihood due to reasons that pass logic and civic duties but fail his need for justice and assistance. He seeks the help of compassionate friends whose willingness to aid him to look for the lost bicycle in a market that sells stolen ones are drowned by the complexity of the task ahead. Catholicism’s form of charity failed to benefit Antonio as well when his chance to find the bicycle thief was hindered by the need to be quiet for the mass being held in the name of faith. Antonio’s only refuge was the guidance of a seer who has been the only source of direction in his family’s cruel life. When he finally finds the culprit of his misery, he realizes that the thief is just like him – a worker whose mobility may as well be more limited than his as the thief suffers from epileptic seizures.  Interestingly, a metaphoric depiction in the lives of Antonio and his son Bruno against the bourgeois standard was evident in the scenes inside an Italian restaurant where the amount of money on their pockets limits their chance to know how it is like to enjoy a bowl of pasta and a bottle of wine in beautifully-labeled bottles.  Antonio comes to term with the idea that the only way to solve his problems is to be a bicycle thief himself. In a moral struggle scored by a suspense-filed music track, Antonio decides to steal an unmanned bike of another worker who was doing his job like he was when his Fides was stolen.  The story ends in an atmosphere of failure, with his son crying over losing the moral battle against the Bicycle Thieves and the uncertainties of the days ahead as another day has passed without any sign of hope for a better future.

An article by Ben-Ghiat (2001), also described how the Bicycle Thieves, 1948 represented the Italian working class if its era. She mentions how the cinema was used as a political tool then to influence votes, with the Communist using the context of films depicting the struggles of the working class as a way to organize communities under their ideologies (Ben-Ghiat, 2001).  In the same article, she discusses several key points in the film that relates to how, what could be considered as a “trivial” conflict in the protagonist life such as losing a bicycle, proves to be catastrophic due to his low position in the society.  However, Ben-Ghiat (2001) argues that Bicycle Thieves (1948) real target were not the proletariats that it depicts but the bourgeois viewers who would be acquainted to the “harsh national realities” that they are unfamiliar with (p 59).

A study of the films by Vittorio De Sica would also show his consistent commitment to stories about this marginal social class. In what is considered his first venture into neorealism, De Sica depicted the conditions of prison life and the misfortunes of the poor street children in Shoeshine, 1947. Cardullo (2000) says De Sica’s empathy for the plight of these street children and the generation they represent is evident on this film by giving a human dimension to frame the ideological context it tries to discuss. De Sica’s international popularity from the release of both films is the exact opposite of the indifference he received from the Italian government, church, and audience who critiqued his pessimism of the negative social realities during its time (Cardullo, 2000). In a later film, Umberto D (1952), De Sica directed a story about a retired government official living in a meager pension and an illiterate housemaid who is condemned by her pregnancy out of wedlock; which again is a story about marginal existence and the  onslaught of the harsh life these characters struggle with daily (Cardullo, 2000). Through neorealism, artists like Vittorio De Sica used fiction as a vehicle to show the social realities of his era.

REFERENCES:

Ben-Ghiat, R. 2001. The Italian cinema and the Italian working class. International Labor and Working-Class History. No 59. pp 36-51.

Cardullo, Bert. 2000. Actor-Become-Auteur: The neorealist films of Vittorio De Sica. Massachusetts Review: A quarterly of literature, the arts, and public affairs. (41:2), pp 173-192.

Wexman, Virginia Wright. 2010. A History of Film. 7th edition. ”Italian Neorealism”. Allyn & Bacon: Boston, MA. pp 129-132.

Categories: films and reviews

Raymond and Samantha

June 24, 2015 Leave a comment

“Well if you’re looking for answers, you’ve come to the wrong place”, says a teenage boy without looking up to the person he was speaking to while he obsessively plays Candy Crush on his iPhone 6 with a hot pink OtterBox.

Samantha was upset, to say the least. Her laptop decided to stop working right when she was about to submit the homework that will may potentially bring her C average to a B+. The light downpour started a few minutes ago and the café is full. She feels silly wearing her cheerleader uniform in a place full of kids from the nearby university. She was in a panic an hour ago when her computer screen suddenly froze, turned blue, and then died. She can’t even remember if she saved the file before the chaos happened. For some absurd reason she thought this would be the place to find help.

“Ok, I’m sorry if I was an ass earlier. If you cannot help me, can you point to someone who can? Please. Please?” She is trying hard to be polite but she sounds more obnoxious now than before. The teenage boy in the cashier lounge did not even bother to respond this time as he works on the next level of his Candy Crush. Irritated, she grabbed the next seat she could find. She opened the laptop again to reboot the system; still no response.

“Hi Samantha”, says a scrawny looking boy with mild acne in athletic shorts. Samantha recognized Raymond, a neighbor she has known since she was 7 years old. They attended the same daycare as kids and even had play dates when they were young. High school changed all that. A lot of things change in high school.

“Raymond? What are you doing here?” Samantha asks.

“Wow, you are on a roll today.” Raymond mutters. “Apologies princess”, Raymond bows then walks away from Samantha. He returned to his booth where his 2 laptops and coffee were parked.

“Wait, I’m sorry OK”, Samantha closes her laptop as she ran after Raymond. As she approached him, she realized how he may be able to help her current predicament.  “I’m sorry. It’s been a horrible day”, she says apologetically.

“Fine, what do you need?” asks Raymond without any hint of concern on his voice.

“Well, it’s my laptop, it’s broken and I have a deadline in 3 hours”, says Samantha.

“And of course you expect me to just help you right? How predictable”, says Raymond. He grabs Samantha’s laptop, removed the battery in a way Samantha did not know was possible, re-booted the computer, and after a few minutes that seemed like a flash, the last paragraph Samantha wrote this afternoon after practice was in front of her.

“Wow, how did you do that?” Samantha gasped, her mouth open in amazement.

“It’s not that hard, stop sounding foolish. Did you really have to walk inside this café, of all places, in your cheerleading uniform? Seriosly?” asks Raymond sarcastically.

“You’re not being nice but I don’t care. You need a coffee to chill. I’ll be back”. Samantha bounces off with her tight ponytail and her short skirt, walking towards the teenage boy and his Candy Crush. A few minutes later, she’s back with a Frappuccino with whipped cream and cherry for her and a dull mug of black coffee for him.

Did you know that the person who owns this building once killed someone here?” asks Samantha in between sips of her cold coffee.

“Seriously what are you still doing here?”, asks Raymond, taking his new hot mug of coffee.

“You want me here, I can tell”, Samantha smiles cheekily. Raymond tried to stop staring at her big blue eyes. It was hard.

“What’s that?” asks Samantha, pointing at an old wallet. “You don’t look like the type who’d skin an alligator”.

“Well for once you’re right, it’s not mine. It was there when I sat on this booth. Somebody might come back to get it”, says Raymond.

“What’s inside?” asks Samantha.

“How should I know?” says Raymond.

“Seriously?” asks Samantha, trying to mimic Raymond’s voice. She grabs the wallet and inside she found $200 bill, a cheap hotel’s key card with the writings “room 45, 9:30” at the back. “Someone was supposed to get lucky!” exclaims Samantha.

“Stop, just put it back”, says Raymond who was obviously blushing.

“Your being shy about this says a lot about you Raymond”, Samantha teases.  Raymond looks away, opens his laptop, and stopped paying attention to Samantha.

“We should do something about this”, says Samantha with determination. She nudges his elbow. He tries to ignore her

“This hotel is just across the street”, says Samantha.

“What do you mean we should do something about it?” Raymond asks.

“Well, well, well, someone’s trying to get lucky!” jokes Samantha.

Irritated Raymond packs up his stuff in his back pack and hurriedly walks out of the booth and out the door of the café. Samantha follows with her laptop on her right hand as she trashes a half-empty Frappuccino using her left hand. “You’re going the wrong way!” she shouts. “It’s this way”, she teases as she twirls the hotel key card around her thin manicured fingers.

Raymond looks at her for a second. When he sees that she was headed to the front lobby of the nearby cheap hotel he quickly follows her.  “Samantha what are you doing? I can’t go out there” he tries to whisper to her ear as he grabs her hand as they step inside the hotel.

“Well whoever owns this key won’t be back in this room until 9:30 right? We have about 3 hours to see what’s inside. Just come with me already, since when did you care about what other people think”, she says as she walks into the closing elevator door and presses the number 4.

The elevator door opens to 4th floor. As they walked by the lighted hallway, they passed by 4 rooms. Soon they reach #45.

“At the count of 3”, Samantha says. She holds one side of the hotel key. Raymond looks at her, then he grabs the other side with 2 fingers.  Together, they took one deep breath.

“One, two, three”, says Samantha. They swiped the key card. The door light turned green.

With a little nudge the door opened.

Categories: films and reviews

L’Atalante (1934)

June 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934) is a beloved classic that shreds light to early marital relationships shown through the lens of poetic realism.  It is the modern-day fairytale of its time, a story of finding love, losing it, and finding it again.

The film shows various scenes in the everyday life of its working class heroes. The film begins by introducing us to main characters:  Juliette – the lovely lady who has always been different with dreams bigger than the small town she has never left, and Jean-the playful river barge captain whose passion dictates the way he goes about his life. The grumpy old co-captain of the barge is Pere Jules; a creepy, rude, eccentric, and lovable ogre godmother-like character who is the voice of reason and a father figure to the young couple. In the background are cats scattered around the boat adored by their owner, Le Pere Jules. There is also an unnamed cabin boy who does odd jobs and functions as a conversational tool to Pere Jule’s many monologues and a sidekick to his plans.

It begins in a journey, the bridal walk to the groom that seems more like a funeral march than a celebration.  We see a young couple who just got married and about to start their life together in a river barge set to travel the canals of France.  Stages of their whirlwind relationship unfold and starts by highlighting the characters’ uncertainty with one another.  Juliette initially resists Jean’s sexual advances highlighted in a scene where she stands by the end of the barge, looking back at the town she is leaving behind as the sun sets to another day. A mishap caused by one of the many cats brings the young couple together on their first night.

True to the realism of the movie, we see the couple going through the motions of everyday life in the barge. They soon discover their many differences, eccentricities, and endearing traits.  Jean uses his authority as the captain to make Juliette happy such as letting her wash dirty clothes and linens on their honeymoon, including Le Pere Jule’s, despite his strong disagreement against it. The innocent Juliette believes that Jean is her true love because she has seen the young man’s face underwater as a child. Juliette’s desire to experience new and different things is captured through her longing to see Paris and the boredom from the life in the barge that she struggles with every night.  Jean worries about Juliette leaving her in the middle of the night, yet he constantly leaves her to man the barge at night. Their immature relationship was best captured by Le Pere Jule’s description of it, which was “either smoochin’ or squabbling”.

The ups and downs of their relationship are also exemplified through the different moods and tones throughout the film.  A warm sunrise welcomes their first day as a married couple. Bright daylight scenes are evident when we see them being playful with each other.  Their fears are visually highlighted in various ways such as a dark and foggy night when Jean thought his wife fell of the boat or their cold or through the empty bed that emphasizes Juliette’s boredom and isolation.  The differences on how the main characters perceive new and modern ideas are a constant source of conflict between them. The adventurous lifestyle appeals to Juliette yet Jean tries to protect her from it in several scenes.  He destroyed mementos from Le Pere Jule’s past during a jealous rampage after seeing Juliette enjoying herself in his co-captain’s cabin; he guarded her against the peddler’s advances in the dance floor, and limited her chance to acquire new things from the over-sized suitcase with “fancy stuff within”.  Scenes from Juliette’s night alone in the urban dwelling show her longing over the impressive items behind brightly lit shop windows yet a significant change in the mood is seen when she was roaming the same streets after being left behind by Jean’s boat. We see Juliette battling menacing men from dark streets and an industrial city with people lining up for jobs that are not available as she longs to come back to the protective capsule of L’Atalante. Jean struggles with the separation as well. His character acts in a stupor-like trance oblivious to everything from his role as a captain to the cheating in a rigged game of checkers.

In the end the couple finds their way back to each other’s arm, thanks to the perceptiveness and fortitude of Le Pere Jule. Without questions and with so much pent-up desires, the film ends with their loving and sensual embrace unmindful of everything else that has happened in between.  Despite being a love story, the film focused on the couple’s physical desire and not on their romantic relationship. Juliette’s fantasy is ridiculed by the misfortunes she faced when she gave in to her naivety of the urban life and we see her coming back to the dull life she tried to run away from. Experience and wisdom is not from a gentlemanly aristocrat elder but from a shabby-looking character with questionable hygiene, uncanny humor, and a cat-loving soul. The passionate relationships between the different characters were mostly embodied through the dialogue between them that stays away from theatrics making everything real and relatable for the present-day audience.

Categories: films and reviews

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920).                

June 9, 2015 Leave a comment

Known in film history as the best example of German Expressionist movement, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari utilized mise en scene to create a visual representation of the psychological themes in the film, thus highlighting the power of the visual form to relay content.  The film’s creative team include Erich Pommer of UFA as producer, Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz as scriptwriters, and Robert Wiene as the director, plus the acting team of Werner Krauss (Dr. Caligari) and Conrad Veidt (Cesare).

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is most remembered for its dark, bizarre, and crooked geometric patterns that take over the screen throughout the movie; creating a sinister and unrealistic looking world painted as backdrop to a murder mystery plot that is more than what it seems. The film’s central theme is the brutal and irrational authority to unconditional obedience, as exemplified by the power of the mountebank-Dr. Caligari who commands the somnambulist-Cesare, the patients he sees, and the fate of the townspeople of Holstenwall. A mise-en-scene analysis reveals unique visuals that dominate the landscape of the town of Holstenwall.   These include jagged edges, crooked lines, and whirls of spiraling patterns that create the impression on chaos, illusion, and a sense of wrong-doing.  Roberts (2009) discussed how the repeating circular elements in the film, exemplified by carousels in the fair scenes, cyclical movement of townsfolks and the characters in the visual space, and the many circular patterns in the painted backdrop, are as equally important. He believes they symbolize the cyclical mental state of the innocent Franzis’ deranged mind (Roberts, 2009). Roberts (2009) also stipulates that they are clues to the film’s circular frame narrative that the omniscient viewer sees progresses from the prologue, flashbacks, and epilogues which was considered innovative at its time.

Dr. Caligari’s wicked looking costume and menacing expression, Cesare’s blank and de-humanized stare, and other acting style similar to theatrical expressionistic pantomime-like mimicry all strengthen the visual representation of the characters in this film.  The film also utilized “circular iris swipes” that attempts to capture the film’s melodramatic moments. Roberts (2009) sees them as mis-en-scene tools used to intentionally link scenes together (signaling flashbacks) or they may simply be a common technique during its time.  Though dark tones are predominantly used in the film, the scenes were significantly brighter prior to the 1st mysterious death of the town clerk. The change in lighting from this point towards the darker tones ceremoniously signals the onset of a series of unfortunate events. The use of space in the movie disorienting, repetitive, and fails to make any logical sense– all of which are utilized as expressionistic symbols to the confusing mindscape of the film’s characters. Another symbolic use of space is the stairway towards the police headquarters and the high chair occupied by the town clerk. Both seem to indicate the separation between figures of authority and the people. These may represent their higher prestige which is typically couples with indifference to the plight of common folks. The sound montage used throughout the movie is appropriate to its plot and it helps function as narrative cues, signaling riveting actions, mysterious twists, and overdramatic moments.

Ebert (2009) mentions that The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is regarded by some as the first horror movie made. The film also has some controversy surrounding it, with discussions among historians on how it influenced Nazism in Germany (Ebert, 2009).  But controversy and debates aside, the film remains a critical element in the study of German silent films. Ebert (2009) discusses that the international success of this film fueled the birth of several other Expressionist works such as Nosferatu, Metropolis, M, and the American film noir genre. Its importance in the history of cinema is undeniable.

References:

Corrigan, T. A Short guide to writing about films. 8th edition. Glenview: Pearson. 2012. Print.

Ebert, R. (2009). The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Retrieved from http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-the-cabinet-of-dr-caligari-1920

Roberts, I (2004). Caligari Revisited: Circles, Cycles and Counter-Revolution of Robert Wiene’s Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari. German Life & Letters. doi.10.1111/j.0016-877.2004.0278x.

Categories: films and reviews