***½

You fools, this man is plotting our doom! We die at dawn! He is Caligari!

I know I talk about German Expressionism all the time, but this seems like a seminal piece from that important start to the world of cinema. This film uses sets in 1919, that would never fly today. In almost 100 years of film, audiences have grown far too rigid and boring when it comes to set designs. The angles and the unconventional shapes and heights of things do not bother the characters, they merely add a dreamlike quality to the film. Yet I guarantee that the masses would object to the realism of that, in a way that they did not to Tom Cruise climbing a building 100’s of stories in the air–in Mission Impossible 4.

The basic story here is an eery one that still manages to creep me out. The bulk of the tale comes from the words of one poor soul, lamenting his life. He lived in a small German town with a festival where a “Dr. Caligari” appears with a “somnabulist.” A “Somnabulist” is someone who sleeps literally almost all of the time. In Dr. Caligari’s Cabinet the “Somnabulist” sleeps, but fairgoers can see him and ask for their fortunes, or to know of the past. It is best not to ask your fortune…for each night of the fair, another person dies. While  “somnabulists” might be fake, the fear of being wrongly imprisoned still resonates today. The fear of knowing the truth about someone and having no-one believe you lives on.

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