It seems appropriate and serendipitous that I would begin this intrepid journey into cinematic history with what is essentially a very early take on the horror genre. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is indeed a creepy film, one whose stylistic, angular sets almost serve the purpose of visually representing the surrealist nature of hypnotism and mind-control as it is being used by the nefarious Dr. Caligari. The plot centered around delusions and mistaken identity remind me of Shutter Island, where it is only revealed at the end that the protagonist you have been rooting for all along, as he tries to solve the murder of his friend and apprehend the insane doctor we know to be guilty, is, in fact, the insane one. Perhaps the twisted streets and angled corners of Holstenwall are not a representation of hypnotism after all, but a peek into the mind of poor, deluded Francis, who cannot see the world as it really is. Or are we the insane ones for not believing him and painting what he thinks to be true as mere paranoid fantasy? The ending of the film really leaves it open for interpretation; is Dr. Caligari real and is everyone's life in danger, or is Francis the one obsessed by the story of Dr. Caligari and his broken mind is superseding his beliefs onto the world around him?
I am particularly fond of the film's clever use of vignettes as not only a scene transition device but also for their intended purpose of drawing the audience's eye to the subject of interest when appropriate.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is similar to Dr. Caligari in tone and genre but stands out to me as being very different visually and for having better-written dialogue and a much more compelling story. Of course, to compare the narratives is unfair since Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has, I think, the narrative advantage of being not only a classic tale but also a literary masterpiece before becoming a cinematic snack. So, I'm going to focus on the film's use of title cards and dialogue. Episode 58 of You Must Remember This covered the worst mistake of Buster Keaton's career when he signed on with MGM Studios in the late 1920s. At one point in the episode, Karina Longworth mentions that Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin were in competition to see who could make a film using the fewest title cards. Chaplin won at 21 titles cards to Keaton's 23, which is impressive when you consider that the average silent film, as Ms. Longworth points out, used 240 title cards. I remember laughing to myself when I heard this because I was already familiar with Charlie Chaplin's body of work thanks to my father's love of physical comedy, and yes, a Charlie Chaplin film, regardless of its genre, doesn't really have much need of dialogue, and I admire when a visual medium like film can be so dedicated to remaining almost entirely visual. However, I'm a words person and I admire cleverly written dialogue in film.
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