Geeksboro Coffeehouse and Cinema hosted a silent movie night last Thursday featuring the film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” with a live musical performance of the score by local band Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands.
Though there was about a 40-minute delay to the screening due to technical problems, the film and musical score performed in house did not disappoint.
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is a German Expressionist film created in the1920s. It has elements that correspond with psychological horror films, the supernatural and the surreal imagination of the insane.
The film was shown in six parts, each translated from German to English with subtitles. The music set the stage perfectly and created an eerie feeling that left the audience with a sense of anticipation and wonder throughout the film.
“The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is a narrative of a man, telling a story of a strange occurrence that happened when he was younger. It deals with an insane doctor, Dr. Cagliari, manipulating a somnambulist, Cesare, to his every will, going as far to commit murder in his sleep without remorse or realization.
During the first act of the film, there are many scenes depicting a circus or carnival of some kind. Here, the music played was uppity, playing with a light but eerie atmosphere and projecting the characters’ actions.
The main character and narrator of the film, Francis, and his friend Alan spend the day at a carnival, where they first see the somnambulist whose keeper claims he can see the future and prods at the audience to ask him questions.
When Alan steps forward, he asks, “How long will I live?” To his horror, Cesare’s chilling response is, “’Till the break of dawn.” The next morning, Alan is found dead, stabbed in his own bedroom. From then, the film focuses on bringing light to who murdered him and investigating Dr. Caligari and the somnambulist.
As the film progresses and each act is shown, the characters become more unreliable and reality seems like a hazy dream.
The score during the more sinister parts of the film tended to lead to its climactic points. During Act 3, Crystal Bright used vocals for the first time, portraying the character Jane as she yelled in agony at the death of Alan, making many in the audience jump in surprise.
Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands used many instruments- many of which were unconventional- to tell this story, including an accordion and a chainsaw.
The visual aesthetic of the film included stylized sets that never seemed to have a right angle. There were diagonal walls, trees with spiky leaves, a tilted landscape, and windows and walls that didn’t quite fall on a straight line.
As a psychological film, these were all elements used to represent that the world around them was not set as normal reality and that they are out of tune with the world itself. These little details can go unnoticed but become crucial points in the plot when the ending becomes clear.
The film leaves viewers theorizing whether there is any true magic, if it’s medicine or if it’s the dream of an insane person. Nothing is ever clear or true, and that leads to feeling unsettled and uneasy over what is on the screen. The storytelling combined with the performance by Crystal Bright and the Silver Hands kept the suspense and the intensity alive throughout the show.