We are proud to present our DVD of "The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari". There are currently a very good DVs of this title on the market (from Kino) and possibly twenty not-so-good inexpensive DVDs from hit-and-run companies. Our version is different in that we have replaced the long-winded title cards with subtitles, thereby quickening the pace of the film. We've also done some frame-blending in scenes where missing frames made the action suddenly jerk, and we've added various fade-outs and crossfades to give the film a more traditional flow. And, of course, our version boasts what we consider to be the best soundtrack available for this title, composed by Hayim Kobi.
Why would we want to edit this film? To paraphrase the late film historian William K. Everson, films that were once considered "masterpieces" sometimes end up simply as "milestones", depending on the times. For every film student who sat mesmerized at a 16mm print of "Caligari" in a college auditorium, there were 49 who were falling asleep. Blame can be partially attributed to lousy washed-out prints that are difficult to watch, but a lot of it can be attributed to the film itself. In 1919, it was rare to see a feature film that moved along at a brisk pace, and Caligari sometimes slowed down more than most. What we've attempted to do is to try and allow the viewer to focus on the stunning film itself and not on the lengthy title cards. To give you an idea of how many title cards there were, we trimmed a 75 minute film down to 61 minutes - about 1/5 of the film had been titles.
We also have presented the film in black and white in contrast to the recent practice of tinting the film according to records of the original release. Although the tinting is nice, we noticed a great improvement in the clarity of the painted shadows when reduced to black and white.
Though the changes we've introduced to the film aren't as extreme as those in our version of "Nosferatu", we feel that we've made a version of "Caligari" that finally begs for repeated viewing. If you wish to see a traditional print of the film, the Kino or Image titles are both very good. Our version should be considered an alternative for the modern viewer, not as a replacement for the original.
As for the film itself, there is a wealth of information and scholarly research available in books and on the web. Much has been written about the significance of the framing story which explains away the menace as the simple ravings of a madman. Some scholars believe that this was forced on the writers against their wishes, but scholars examining existing documents from the production seem to agree that the framing story was there from the beginning.
The sets, which involve painted shadows and scenery in bold swaths at bizarre angles, were suggested by the set designers and accepted by the producer due to the lack of money in Germany at the time. Crew members found themselves scrounging the streets at night for scraps of lumber and nails with which to build their nightmare world. And in those streets, people were starving, due to the Allies' insistence on punishing the Germans for World War I. The desperate conditions resulting from this punishment seeded the beginnings of the Nazis, who found fertile ground in the misery of the German populace.
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