One hundred and one years ago today, Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari was released in Germany. Directed by Robert Wiene, from a scenario by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer, it was the first masterpiece of Weimar-era cinema, and it remains the quintessential example of the expressionist movement in German film. Although German filmmakers had not yet fully absorbed the advances in technique and continuity editing that had been made by Griffith in the U.S. (Caligari is still largely shot in the older style of long takes and wide shots), the visual language here was striking and new. The film is chiefly remembered, of course, for its surrealistic set design, with buildings leaning at odd angles, non-rectangular doors and corridors, bizarrely tall chairs, and so on.
With an impressive cast by the standards of Weimar cinema – Werner Krauss (later of Waxworks), Conrad Veidt (who would go on to fame in The Man Who Laughs and Casablanca), Lil Dagover (who worked with Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau in Der Mude Tod, Phantom, and Tartuffe), Hans Heinrich von Twardowski (who appeared in Lang’s Spies and, like Veidt, ended up in Hollywood and reunited with Lang for Hangmen Also Die!), and Friedrich Feher (who seems not to have appeared in anything else I’m familiar with).1 – Caligari was the first real masterpiece of what would turn out to be a golden era of German filmmaking that blossomed through the 1920s, only to be brought to a sudden end by the rise of the Nazi regime.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is in the public domain, and you can watch it for free in many places across the Internet. If you will forgive the shamelessness of the suggestion, though, I might venture to mention that I have written a soundtrack for the film, and if it tickles your fancy, you can watch it with my score on YouTube:
If, on the other hand, a chorus of voices is raised in howling protest against my temerity in sullying an Open Thread header with my own work, I will be happy to revise it and provide a link to a different version of the film.2
Have a good day, and remember, never let Cesare tell you your fortune.