This paper examines the first great German expressionist film from the silent era, Robert Weine's The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919). It considers the impact of silence as an aesthetic component, the meaning of the fun-fair as a device within the film, the significance of the Caligari character, the use of dark and light, and the similarities to Fritz LangÆs 1927 masterpiece, Metropolis.
Kevin Brownlow, in his exhaustive history of the silent film era, quotes a 1921 essay by James Quirk, who talks at length about filmÆs ôrarest and subtlest beauty: silenceö (654). Quirk goes on to argue, ôThe value of silence in art is its stimulation of the imagination, and the imaginative quality is artÆs highest appealö (Brownlow 654). To the modern audience, accustomed to THX sound, complex films scores, and movies as reliant on dialogue as on the visual image to tell a story, a film which uses only one sense to convey its meaning can seem simplistic and stunted, particularly when confronted with the series of striking images that make up The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Yet Weine and his contemporaries did not look at their inability to add dialogue, sound effects, and a synchronized score as a liability. Painters, poets, novelists, and many other kinds of artists have historically used their ability to capture, craft, and selectively present visual images to influence and engage their audiences. As Brownlow himself contends, ôThe audience respond[s] to suggestion, supplie[s] the missing sounds and voices, and [becomes] a creative contributor to the processö (3). While Weine and other expressionists sought to create a specific psychological effect with their skewed images and intentionally disjointed editing, silent film in general asks more of its audience than does film which fills in audio gaps.
WeineÆs use of the fun-fair is an especially rich invitation for his audience. M. Keith Booker and Dubravka Juraga write, ô...