Kino has released a nice collection of four films made in German at
the height of the Expressionist movement: The
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Warning Shadows, The
Hands of Orlac, and Secrets of a Soul.
The first is the most well know Expressionist film, but the other three
are also good examples of this style. While the popularity of the
movement itself died out by the 1930's, it's still influencing film makers
today, and this set is a nice way to become acquainted with Expressionist
So, just what is an Expressionist film and why are they identified with
Germany? The term was first used to describe a style of painting,
but quickly migrated to theater, film, sculpture, and even architecture.
Previous to its start, artists painted in a realistic style. They
tried to faithfully reproduce on canvas the physical appearance of the
objects that they were painting. Expressionists discarded this philosophy
and instead tried to reproduce an artist's feelings and emotions about
what he was seeing. Paintings like The Scream are filled with powerful
emotions have an intensity of feeling rarely captured in realistic paintings.
After WWI, the German film industry was going quite well, but money
was still a problem. With inflation running rampant in post-war Germany
film makers found it hard to compete with the production values that the
films from Hollywood exhibited. (Though there are a few famous exceptions
including Lang's Die Nibelungen.) Instead, the German directors started
to create their own style of film creation. Embracing the Expressionist
movement, they started making films that reproduced the emotions and feelings
of the characters more intensely. Playing with pacing, symbolism,
set design, camera movement and especially lighting, they created stylized
and surreal films that were very effective. The most famous, quite
justifyibly, is the lead film in this set; The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
of Dr. Caligari (1919)
One of the best films to come out of the silent period, The Cabinet
of Dr. Caligari has been remade and reproduced several times, but the
artistic gauntlet that it threw down at the feet of other filmmakers was
never picked up. No one rose to the challenge to be that daring,
creative, and experimental in a mainstream film. The Cabinet of Dr.
Caligari stands alone as a unique and brilliant film that is still as powerful
and awe-inspiring today as it was nearly 90 year ago.
in a quiet garden, Francis (Friedrich Feher) starts to tell his friend
about how his fiancée, Jane (Lil Dagover), went mad. They
had both experienced something horrible and tragic about a year ago when
a carnival came to town. In a flashback, Francis tells his friend
about the awful events when Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) came to town with
his attraction, a somnambulist, Cesare (Conrad Veidt). Cesare is
always asleep, even when he eats, and can only be awakened by Caligari.
When he does come out of his trance, he predicts the future, and his predictions
often involve people dieing.
When his first prediction comes true and a man turns up dead, the police
arrest a common thug and try to pin the crime on him. Francis isn't
sure they've got the right man however. He's convinced that Caligari
is behind the murders and that Francis may be next!
this movie, director Robert Wiene created a masterpiece. Not only
is the story interesting and engaging, but nearly every shot in the movie
looks like an Expressionist painting. The sets, designed by
Hermann Warn along with to painters, Walter Rohrig and Walter Reinmann,
are filled with strange angles, triangular doors, and crooked roofs.
Complex and intricate architecture, odd stairways, and bizarre props such
as giant stools near enormously tall desks all serve to give the film a
unique look. The entire production feels like the dream of a madman.
Not only do the sets appear like Expressionist paintings, but the characters
themselves do too. The heavy, exaggerated make-up with sharp angular
lines painted across the characters faces and the triangular costumes serve
to accent the sets and props. No film has ever captured insanity
The lighting is very important in this film, and a key aspect to expressionist
film. The stark, harsh, shadow filled lighting gives all of the scenes
a nightmarish quality. The sets are painted with shadows which makes
the movie even more eerie and otherworldly than it would have been otherwise.
In one of key and often imitated moments in the film, a murder is shown
only as shadows on a wall.
Even without the stylized lighting and sets, the story itself tells
a solid tale. All too often avant garde films eschew narrative and
plot for interesting visuals, but that's not the case here. The murderous
Ceasar and his puppet-master Caligari are eerie and fascinating creatures
and the crimes they perpetrate are more than enough to keep a viewers interest.
The twist at the end also works quite well even today and is the capping
masterpiece to the film.
This disc is the same as the earlier Kino release.
This film has two musical tracks to choose from, one by Donald Sosin
and a more modern track by Rainer Viertlock. I wasn't overjoyed by
either of the scores, too much synthesizer for my tastes, but I did appreciate
Sosin's much more. The latter track was too odd and strange for my
The first time I popped this version of Caligari in my DVD player, I
was shocked. The beginning sequence, where Francis is in the asylum
telling his tale, looks absolutely wretched. The detail is weak,
the contrast is very poor, and there is more than a little film decomposition.
As soon at the narrative changes to Francis' home town however, things
start to look much, much better.
For the bulk of the movie the contrast if good and the detail is acceptable.
In some close-up shots the level of detail is much better than I would
have hoped. There is some mild blooming on the highlights and some
details are lost in dark areas. The film is also tinted, following
an early German print of the film.
There is a good selection of bonus items on this disc. First off
is a 43-minute condensation of Robert Wiene's film Genuine: The
Tale of a Vampire another unique looking production. There's
also a film clip of Wiene working on his film I.N.R.I. in 1924,
and a clip for Caligari with the original German intertitles.
Finally the disc has a very nice selection of production photos and advertising
(some of which I've used to illustrate this review.)
An interesting experiment in narrative style, Warning Shadows
is a German Expressionist film that deserves to be more widely known.
While The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary and Metropolis are justifiably
famous examples of expressionist film, Warning Shadows comes very
close to the standard those films set, telling a story where the visuals
and what is included in the frame are just as important as the actions
the characters take.
Told without intertitles (aside from the opening credits) the film is
populated with nameless characters who's only identification is the role
that they play; man, woman, youth.
A German count is insanely jealous of the attention four men are giving
his attractive, young, and very flirtatious wife. One evening the
wife invites the four rivals for he affections to have dinner with her
and her husband. While she teases and flirts with the men, the count
starts to boil. When a strange little man shows up and offers to
put on a puppet show with shadows, the Count agrees to let the traveling
showman entertain the group, but he gets more than he bargained for.
While the guests watch the shadows dance across the wall, they become hypnotized
and the men see what will happen they continue to peruse the count's wife.
While the story is rather simple, this film is a masterpiece of style.
From the opening credits were the shadow of a man's hands introduces the
players to the final reel, the entire film is creatively staged and filmed.
course shadows are a technique used extensively in German Expressionism,
are they are very important to this film and are used to good effect here.
The shadows cast upon the wall are often more important than the actors
themselves, revealing a character's personality or thoughts. The
superimposition of the shape of a wolf's head over a man's shadow tells
more about him than minutes of dialog could.
Director and cowriter Arthur Robison, an American working in Germany
did a very good job crafting this film. Though there are not titles,
the action is fairly easy to follow. There are a couple of segments
that aren't as clear as they could be, but generally viewers will have
no trouble following the story.
Even though Robison's direction is skilled, much of the credit for the
movie's success has to be placed at the feet of cinematographer Fritz
Arno Wagner. Responsible for the filming of the Fritz Lang films
and Spies, Wagner was also behind the camera (or more accurately
next to it turning the crank) for F.W. Murnau's masterpiece Nosferatu.
He helps give this film the slightly eerie feeling it has by drawing the
viewer's eye to the seemingly ever present shadows that are an integral
part of the film.
sadly neglected film in the US, this is the first time it has been released
on DVD. (I'm unaware of a VHS or Beta release too.) The film
is a triumph of style and a great example of an early psychological thriller.
This film has been restored by Cineteca del Comune di Bologna, the Cinematheque
Francaise and the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung using two main sources,
an original tinted French print from Cinematheque Francaise, and a dup
negative held by the Museum of Modern Art. The editing of the film
was based on an examination of all existing prints of the film. Though
the French print had intertitles in the film itself, this restoration has
left them out as the original German release was title-less.
full frame black and white tinted image looks good, especially for a film
this old. There is still a fair amount of print damage, scratches,
spots, and dirt, but that isn't unusual. The contrast is pretty good
overall, though some scenes are a bit too bright causing details to be
lost in the highlights. The tinting scheme works well and isn't intrusive.
Overall a very nice looking film.
The music for the soundtrack composed and performed by Donald Sosin.
The track, piano with a few sound effects added, is scene specific and
compliments the film very well.
Unfortunately there are no extras on this disc.
Hands of Orlac (1924)
the director and star of Caligari, Robert Wiene and Conrad Veidt, are at
the helm of The Hands of Orlac is an interesting psychological thriller.
While not as creative and stylized as Caligari, the movie about a pianist
who is given the hands of a murderer after an accident has some interesting
touches and effectively illustrates the torment that the lead goes through
as he feels the compulsion to kill.
Retuning home from a concert tour, pianist Paul Orlac (Conrad Veidt)
is in a train accident when the wrong switch is thrown. His wife,
Yvonne Orlac (Alexandra Sorina) rushes to the scene and discovers his still-living
body and manages to get him to a hospital. The doctor there saves
his life but reveals that the musician's hands have been terribly damaged.
Pleading to save her husband's hands, the doctor transplants the hands
of an executed killer onto the young pianist.
While still recovering in the hospital, Orlac starts seeing visions
of the murderer whose hands he has acquired which disturbs him greatly.
Reading a description of the murder that his hands were supposed to have
committed, Orlac discovers that a knife with an X on the handle was used
to kill a shop keeper, a knife that has mysteriously appeared in Orlac's
by the murderous knife and fighting an urge to kill, Orlac can't sleep.
He vows to never touch anyone again with his criminal hands, and gives
up playing the piano. Of course Paul and his wife can't continue
to live in a large house with servants when they have no income, and the
creditors soon come knocking at the door. Yvonne appeals to Paul's
rich father to help them but is rebuffed, and when Paul finally goes to
his father, he discovers the elder Orlac dead, killed with a knife with
an X on the hilt and the executed murderer's fingerprints on the handle.
The plot to this movie would be copied and repeated several times, and
this original version is very good in a lot of ways. The film does
an excellent job of showing Orlac's decent into madness and paranoia, and
the mystery of his father's murder really propels the narrative.
Unfortunately the movie is slowly paced at the beginning and really drags
in places. Having seen Caligari which moves at a good rate several
times, I have to wonder if the slow pacing was intended or if it was the
result of the editor in charge of the restoration wanting to use every
scrap of film that was available. As it is, a lot of the scenes last
too long and there are several clips that I would have eliminated altogether
to quicken the pace.
film does pick up pace quite a bit in the final reels when the conflict
about the creditors and, ultimately, the murder take center stage metaphorically
speaking, and even the early part has some interesting sections.
Veidt does a great job in the role, and it was fun to watch him on screen.
Unfortunately the same couldn't be said of Alexandra Sorina who horribly
over-acted her part. While Veidt did exaggerate his motions for effect,
Sorina really went overboard acting more like Douglas Fairbanks in one
of his action comedies, alternately waving her arms and crumpling into
a cringing ball. It's too bad, because a more sedated performance
would have made the film much better.
While not as surreal and stylized as Caligari, the film's use of lighting,
the barren urban setting for one section and the anti-hero at the center
of the drama puts this firmly in the expressionist genre.
While I'm sure many people will enjoy this stereo soundtrack, I actively
disliked it. The music, composed by Paul Mercer, consisted of piano,
violin, viola, percussion, and some scant vocals. Unfortunately Mercer
uses a lot of discordant sounds and irritating noise-like tones to illustrate
Orlac's madness. Not only are these parts of the soundtrack not pretty,
they distract from the film. It's hard to get engrossed in the movie
when your ears are cringing. Aside from this stylistic choice that
I didn't agree with, the musicians were all very capable and performed
the music ably.
This movie was restored in 1995 by Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, Fredrich
Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung, and Deutsches Filminstitut. In addition
to this, some additional scenes were added by Bret Wood from a 16mm print
that was found in the Raymond Rohauer Collection. These additional
scenes were sections not found in the FWMS restoration, naturally.
The 16mm sections were easy to tell, they had less resolution and were
much softer, but they also had a bit more contrast. The FWMS restoration
was good, but there's only so much film restorers can do. This print
still had a lot of dirt and spots on the print and in one or two places
there were sprocket scratches were the film had jumped the gear at some
point in time. The contrast wasn't wonderful, with dark areas losing
a lot of detail and there was some minor blooming on highlights in a few
places. About average for an restored film of this age: not
great but not bad.
There were some great bonus items on this disc, most notably a scene
comparison. Now my eyes usually glaze over on the storyboard to film
comparisons that are included on some DVDs, but this was much more interesting.
Scenes from the FWMS restoration and the Rohauer print are shown, either
individually or side-by-side. These were often from two different
cameras. In the silent era it was common to have two cameras cranking
side by side: One film for the domestic release and one for foreign distribution.
In addition to the different angles and sometimes different takes, the
scenes were often edited differently between the two prints with some middle
sections of a single shot being removed in some instances. I was
also quite surprised to see that the camera were cranked at different speeds
occasionally. A scene would be lined up to start, and after a few
seconds it would get out of synch. Three extended scenes are compared
with optional commentary.
In addition to that there is a text piece on the restoration, film notes
by John T. Soister, an image gallery, and the trailer for Mad Love,
a 1935 remake of the film staring Peter Lorre.
of a Soul (1926)
The final movie in this set is the weakest, but it has some interesting
aspects that make it worth viewing.
Kulturfilm Abteilung branch of UFA, the German film studio, was charged
with making films that would appeal to a more high-brow audience; films
aimed at an academic and more cerebral audience. In the mid-20's
the science of psychoanalysis was still very new and relatively unknown
to the general populace, and Kulturfilm head Hans Neumann thought the subject
would be the perfect subject for a movie. He wanted to get the science
right, so he approached Sigmund Freud and asked that he be technical advisor.
Freud turned him down instantly, since he felt that psychoanalysis was
much to abstract to be accurately portrayed in a film, and that they only
wanted his stamp of approval, not his input. Not deterred, Neumann
went to people in Freud's inner circle and finally convinced Dr. Karl Abraham
to help with the project. This ended up causing a rift between Abraham
and Freud especially when UFA leaked a story that Freud approved of the
film and some news stories even said that he was directing it! UFA
promised to issue a retraction, but they were very slow in doing so causing
Freud to issue his own statement distancing himself from the project.
It seems that studios back then were as sly and conniving as they are now.
Billed as a "psychoanalytical thriller", the film has more psychoanalysis
than thrills. When Martin Fellman (Werner Krauss) is trimming the
hair on the back of his wife's neck (Ruth Weyher), he hears a cry of "HELP!"
as a neighbor is murdered, causing him to nick his wife slightly.
the days that follow, Fellman starts to act strangely. He's terribly
afraid of knives and sharp instruments and starts to feel compelled to
kill his wife! He has strange nightmares and has trouble sleeping.
At the same time an old friend of both Martin and his wife's arrives from
out of town, but Martin's phobias and compulsions start to ruin the visit.
When Fellman encounters a psychoanalyst (Pawel Pawloff), he starts to undergo
therapy. Slowly, after describing his nightmares and his past, Fellman
starts to discover what's really causing these unusual reactions and when
the root is finally discovered, he is cured.
Viewed today, the film is pretty lackluster. The acting is stilted
and unimpressive and the plot creeps along. Even worse is the resolution,
where just talking about an event in the past miraculously causes the disease
to disappear. As presented in this film, psychoanalysis bears more
than a little resemblance to Scientology, where they similarly preach that
forgotten events in the past can cause all sorts of ailments.
The highlight of the film is the dream sequence that is very interesting
and quite impressive. The use of double exposures and very surreal
images are used to create an intense and visually striking trip into a
neurotic man's nightmare. The film is worth watching for that sequence
This disc comes with a piano score by Ekkehard Wolk which I quite enjoyed.
He wasn't trying to make the music dominate the scenes as in The Hands
of Orlac, but to supplement the action on screen. A nice and appropriate
This is one of the better looking films in this set. The level
of detail is very strong and the contrast is good. There is some
blooming of white objects, especially the wife's dressing gown at the beginning,
and there was some dust and spots on the print used, but overall it is
a solid looking film.
The only bonus item is text piece on the film that is illustrated with
Final thoughts on the set:
This is a good introduction to German Expreessionist film. While
these (with the exception of Caligari) aren't necessarily the best
know Expressionist films, they do illustrate the techniques and style used
by this short-lived film movement. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
is mandatory viewing for any student of film, and the other selections
are strong too. If you don't have any of these films in your library,
the set is highly recommended. All of these films are also
available separately for those who already have the two previously released