Books in the Park

suggestions from the Barbara S. Ponce Public Library at Pinellas Park

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

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cabinet of dr caligariA young man named Francis sits with an old man and begins to tell a tale of terror that befell him, and his fiancé.

Francis was once a happy man, caught up in a friendly competition with his friend, Alan, for the affection of their mutual acquaintance, Jane. The two men spend a day at the local fair, where they have the misfortune to encounter the sinister Dr. Caligari, and his future-telling somnambulist, Cesare. From here on, Francis’ life is hopelessly entangled with that of the Doctor’s, and the pain and sorrow that follow is unavoidable.

One reason I love this movie is the design! Everything from the backgrounds, to the costumes is bizarre and distorted. Buildings are slanted at almost random angles, trees twist menacingly, and characters are smeared with black paint to highlight their most important features. The design creates a very effective sense of dread, which screams “HORROR MOVIE” even before the viewer gets past the first scene. The stylization, while dark, is also beautiful. The real life characters blend in with the illustrated backdrops, so as to give the effect that one is watching an animated film.

The film also has an excellent ending. It’s is surprising, disheartening, but still a tiny bit hopeful. I think that even modern audiences will be entertained.

I would strongly recommend The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to anyone who holds even a vague interest in silent films.

As a work in the United States public domain, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is available as a free stream and download on Archive.org. There’s also a version on YouTube. Also check out this extended film commentary on Open Culture.

We also have physical copies available in the library system. Check the PPLC Catalog for The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

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