by Joe Nolan
German Expressionism Film Series: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 14
Where: The Frist
One of German Expressionism’s most influential films, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is almost 100 years old, but its pioneering look and structure make it feel surprisingly contemporary. The framing of its plot within a larger narrative — which was, at the time, a novel approach — makes its trailblazing twist ending possible, and one can’t imagine that M. Night Shyamalan (to pick just one example from, oh, a century of cinema) would have a career in a world without Robert Wiene’s silent 1920 shocker.
The movie’s striking, stylized sets are paired with an acting style that is over-the-top even by silent-film standards, yet the continuing appeal of these elements speaks to the enduring attraction of German Expressionism’s preoccupations with the monumental and sensational — preoccupations that translated seamlessly from canvases to cameras. One of the first horror films to attract a worldwide audience, Caligari is still great fun — even if the scariest thing about its murder-by-sleepwalker plot is how thoughtless and dull it makes current horror-film storylines seem. Put on your gloves, grab your best top hat and arrive early in hopes that The Frist has free popcorn on offer.