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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

According to Siegfried Kracauer, "the character of Caligari . . . stands for an unlimited authority that idolizes power." This idea is applicable both to Caligari and to the master of Metropolis, a man who is a virtual dictator and who has an entire class of people who serve the needs of the machine and so the city and have no other purpose in life. The central metaphor of the film is the transformation of a robot into a woman, and for leaders like Joh Fredersen, there is an entire class of human beings who are nothing but robots.

Power relations in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Robert Wiene, 1920) are displayed through exaggeration. The mesmerist holds power over the somnambulist with the power of his eyes, with gestures, and with direct orders. Power is a central motif in the town depicted, with high officials showing their power by siting on high stools with huge ledgers before them, much as Caligari stands over the recumbent Cesare, or as Cesare stands over Jane and carries her off across the roofs of the town. Power relations in Metropolis are society-wide, with a clear division between those in power and those expected to serve those in power.

The force of German Expressionism is evident in the images that persist from films of the 1920s and 1930s first from Germany and then from Hollywood as more and more German directors and technicians fled Hitler's Germany and changed the way films were made in Hollywood. German Expressionism was an aesthetic that combined with images of the machine age and a certain sense of social criticism to forge images of human beings moving through a menacing landscape, surrounded by deep shadows, architectural angles, and a pervasive and oppressive psychology. One or another of these elements might dominate in any given instance, but the films making use of this aesthetic are clearly recognizable as doing so. In Germany in the 1920s, a film like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari sought to us...

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The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 23:14, April 21, 2019, from