Das Cabinett des Dr. Caligari
The legendary film is now seen with its tintings, at something like its original length, and with an admirable score (1996) related to works of the New Vienna School in its early days (the original music is presumably lost, or there would be no need).
The closest thing to the pathology represented by the “flashback” that is the main body of the film would be Kafka’s short story “The Judgment” (“Das Urteil”), in which a young man is condemned by his father for good actions that have unconscious motivations. The fantastic drama of Wiene’s film describes essentially the same situation in stark terms, desire for the girl means extinction of the friend, this is projected as a fairground display of controlled somnambulism that horrified Kracauer notably in the resolution (said to have been offered by Lang but part and parcel of the main action).
The day and night tintings add a cohesive depth to the famous compositions for a level of finish quite in keeping with the extraordinary artistic effort of the set designs and the great modulation of acting. A cardinal film not widely appreciated perhaps but certainly by Hitchcock in Spellbound.
The Tale of a Vampire
The subtitle is elsewhere given as “die Trag÷die eines seltsamen Hauses”, under any name a benchmark of the cinema as purely oneiric and literally a dream.
Comparisons can be drawn to Lubitsch’s Die Augen der Mumie Ma, Lang’s The Woman in the Window and Fellini’s La CittÓ delle donne, this is the dream of the artist Percy, the story of the girl in the painting... a priestess, a slave, a temptress inciting to murder...
The most beautiful sets in all the cinema. Marotta’s score for the Rohauer condensation bears a happy resemblance to Kaz’ for The Monitors (dir. Jack Shea).
Tom Milne (Time Out) had no use for it, “reduced to grisly travesty.”
Crime and Punishment
“The Overman”, who murders and robs a pawnbroker to “benefit humanity,” and for this Wiene has the Moscow Art Theatre Players, an incomparable troupe at the dreaming point of contact with his expressive sets, a springboard for Sternberg.
Two murders, a witness, the pawnbroker’s sister, two women.
The double, Marmeladov, the despair of his wife and children.
“No one in the world can be as unhappy as you—with this load on your conscience—”
The startling resemblance of Khmara as Raskolnikov to Falconetti is among the wonders of the silent era, certainly Dreyer had it in mind.
One of the greatest masterworks in all cinema.
The Hands of Orlac
A stupendous masterpiece on a highly recondite theme.
The congruent hands reappear in Godard’s DÚtective.
Dr. MerkwŘrdigliebe was born with Veidt’s performance, and though the New York Times reviewer objected (“goes a bit far”), James Dean would appear to have studied it closely.
Wiene, a past master of cinematic time and space, here even more expressionistic in realistic settings, notably the dynamism of the train wreck.
Variety considered the matter from another perspective equally familiar, Wiene’s film was “absurd” but saved by the star’s “masterly characterization,” the key phrase here is “hopelessly complicated”, a view rather dimly shared by Time Out.
Leonard Maltin, “genuinely spooky”.
Jonathan Rosenbaum (Chicago Reader), “legendary... reportedly this first version is the best of the lot.”
Wiene’s dramatic film of the opera, for which Strauss arranged a continuous orchestral score.
An especially fortunate film.
Russell represents a performance of it in Dance of the Seven Veils.
Location filming, a kinship to Lubitsch. Quite another matter, the Marschall’s army and all, with the composer tapering his notes as often as not to the period, echoing at the trumpet alarm a bit of Beethoven’s well-known military march.
And so you have something of a precursor to Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon in the way of comedy, as when the little black page brings in a black cat on a cushion to the Marschallin, and in the way of style to Reed’s The Third Man, the Viennese film par excellence, as when the page walks in on the Marschallin’s anticipation of grief and silently backsteps out.
“Children and soldiers half-price” for the play, “don’t begrudge us, if you will, your kind applause, life’s stupider than this at times, everyone knows.”
The Marschall ordains a fancy dress gartenfest Ó la Watteau. Thus, “eine Dame erwartet Sie im Pavillon der Diana...” the composer’s most magical effects begin there, where the richness of harmony suggests Klimt... the grand spectacle with a ballet brings a most surprising quotient of period music.
The ending of Wiene’s film, for all the authenticity and majesty that went before, is presently lost but has been reconstructed from stills and trailer bits, with of course the score.
Shakespeare and Mozart share the turn of action in the finale, Falstaff and Figaro. “Im Mondlicht nehmen drei Alleen drei glŘckliche Paare auf...”
Alex Ross, writing for the New York Times in 1993, was unimpressed, it’s the sort of thing you could write in your sleep, his review. Nevertheless he ascribes the innovations of the screenplay to Hofmannsthal, and thus we have a new work, created for the cinema, in which the pair of court schemers (Valzacchi, Annina) convey Count Octavian’s presence in the Marschallin’s boudoir to the Empress’s high council and to the Marschall in the field, he goes great guns and is victorious, returning posthaste he fights a duel and unmasks Sophie, sought by Baron Ochs for her dowry. The exquisite details make up the sum of the screenplay, Von Lerchenau pleased Ross but the acting is sublime throughout, and a good deal of the fun is in unraveling the theatrical citations.
Forman’s Amadeus remembers the masked ball and the ballet.