Monday, November 1, 2010
Heightened: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) - form & content
(Hello readers! Beware that spoilers for the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari reside in this entry!)
Based off the form of first few minutes of the 1920 silent film classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, audiences get a good sense of the film's upcoming content. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a story narrated by a man named Francis who describes a strange flashback of a Dr. Caligari and his somnambulist Cesare who prophecies Francis' imminent death. Throughout the film, we are led to believe that Caligari is insane and training Cesare to commit several town murders. But, in a twist ending, we find that Francis' flashback is really a fantasy as he is an asylum patient with his doctor named Caligari. In my opinion, the best word to describe the film's aesthetic is 'heightened' in the sense of physically making something higher and in intensifying something. The set design, title cards, and character make-up embody and compose the heightened quality of the film.
The title card font is jagged and uneven where strokes progress from thick to skinny or vise versa. The text is also not centered, but placed closer to the top, higher than where text is usually placed. This font and placement connotes certain audio characteristics and indicates to the audience that the dialogue sounds a certain way: creepy, suspicious, uncertain, shaky, etc.
The set design is also jagged and warped creating a severely slanted perspective. This perspective plays on the psychologically troubled characters and their strange, fantastical views of the world. For example, in the picture below, the markings on the wall shape the set unevenly and strongly pull the viewer into the back of the room. In addition, the window is not a perfect square.
Character make-up is another way form interacts with content. Jane's make up, shown below, lengthens her eyebrows and shortens her lips, which emphasizes the tallest area of the lips. Similarly, for Cesare's make up also shown below, the lengthening of his eyes through the use of black eye liner again creates a long, dripping quality. All of the elements described above create shapes that mirror the warped and strange content of the film. This successful interaction of form and content helps to create one of the most classic and revolutionary horror films in cinematic history.
#3 & 4: www.homecinema.thedigitalfix.co.uk