Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (BFI Film Classics)

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9780851706450: Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (BFI Film Classics)

In this book, David Robinson challenges long accepted versions of the history and reception of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, and seeks to redefine its relationship to the larger phenomenon of Expressionist art.

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Review:

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, released in Germany in 1920, is a legendary horror film that set new standards for cinema. It has come down to us as the first "art" movie, the first work of German expressionism, and a movie despised by its initial audiences that took time to win favor. The most famous story about its production was told by screenwriter Hans Janowitz. He claimed that director Robert Wiene added unnecessary material that belittled the impact of the script he wrote with Carl Mayer.

In this excellent little book, David Robinson investigates these legends and proves most of them to be false. He claims that though admittedly influential, Caligari was not a pioneering work of German expressionism. In fact, its creators conceived of its sensationalistic decor to cater to popular audiences of the time. Robinson proves that their intentions succeeded: Caligari was actually beloved by audiences from the day of its release.

The author also debunks Janowitz's account. In an appendix that includes the recently discovered scenario for the film, Robinson demonstrates the valuable contributions Wiene made to the script, reconsidering many qualities of the movie as the work of the director rather than the screenwriters. This critique, a major reevaluation of a pioneering film, is thus also a reevaluation of cinema history itself. --Raphael Shargel

About the Author:

David Robinson is a film critic, historian of popular performing arts, and Director of the Pordenone Silent Film Festival.

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