The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

I’ve been watching a lot of silent films lately… ‘Nosferatu’, ‘Faust’ and the tile of this blog. Most of what I’ve been watching is silent film from the Weimar Republic– that little country that Germany was before the Nazi’s took over.

Silent film is very strange. At the same time it feels both ancient and new. In some ways, if the graininess is removed and the file is properly restored it can seem fresher than a film made even 10 to 20 years ago. The people are much more expressive, especially in the German films, where camp poses and extreme actions were less used than in American films of that era.

One thing that particularly strikes me in ‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’ and “Faust’ is the set design. Comparing it to the sets of, say, the TV production of Cinderella from the 1960s is how similar they are. The windows are not square. They frame awkward scenes of tilted chimneys and abstracted skies. The flashbacks are cartoon renderings of canted buildings, imperfect in form as is the memory of the person who recalls them.

It’s like one can wonder what the artistic endeavors of Germany might have been if the National Socialists had not tried to throw the country back to a pre-medieval way of thinking. What if that openness that we attempted to capture in the 1960s had taken root then instead of a nightmare world of hate?

And then I think of what we as a country are throwing away now.

We are turning our back on progress. We are ignoring fact in favor of doctrine. We are embracing fear over acceptance. The future is dead, long live the past!

On film, in the 1920s, Germany was experimenting with what the meaning of progress might be; but then turned its back on the future in a suicidal attempt to recapture a glorified past that never really was.

Are we becoming that kind of nation? What have we imagined that we are willing to sacrifice for our hate and anger?

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