Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920)

Screen shot from Kino DVD
WHO: Robert Weine directed this

WHAT: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is huge in cinema history and in my own personal history with cinema. It's frequently (incorrectly) cited as the first horror movie, and its iconic imagery has been borrowed shamelessly by other filmmakers from the silent era to Tim Burton and beyond. With few of its director's other films available for view, it generally frustrates auteurists, especially those highly influenced by the theories of realism put forth by the influential French critic Andre Bazin, who labeled Caligari a "failure" under his criteria for worthy photographic art. 

When I first became interested in exploring silent film history many years, ago, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was one of the first films from the era that made a very strong and immediate impression upon initial viewing. Though I was watching a rather muddy VHS transfer, I loved what I saw, and became a little obsessed. I read about every article or book I could find about it (including David Robinson's excellent monograph), purchased an 8mm print on ebay (my first and ever such purchase, even though I didn't have a projector at the time) and even dressed as the somnambulist for Halloween that year (immortalized in a photograph I've recently cycled in as my twitter avatar). 

WHERE/WHEN: 9PM tonight at the Castro Theatre, presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival

WHY: Since my first viewing I've taken a few opportunities to see the film when it's screened in local cinemas (which happens less often than you might expect, actually), and have seen it projected from an even muddier video transfer at the Castro accompanied by the local ensemble Club Foot Orchestra, and have seen a 1950s-era retitled 35mm version at the Pacific Film Archive with Judith Rosenberg at the piano and accompanied by a lecture by film scholar Russell Merritt, who has just joined the board of the Silent Film Festival. 

None of these viewings, or of the DVD viewings I've also experienced in the interim, have been afforded use of a new 4K sprucing of the best original elements. This version premiered in Berlin earlier in 2014, and tonight is the US premiere. It's also the first time I'll be able to view a 4K digital file projected through the Castro's recent acquisition, a 4K projector to replace the 2K one they've had for several years and which had recently developed an "undead pixel" problem (which is even scarier than it sounds). Although I wish the Murnau Foundation would have made a 35mm print available of this new restoration, I'm curious to see what 4K projection at the Castro might look like when applied to a classic film that I'm very familiar with.

Tonight's screening is the capper to a full day of Silent Film Festival shows, the entirety of which have been enthusiastically rounded-up by my friend Michael Hawley of the film-415 blog (which I hope he never has to change to film-628). 35mm screenings for this all-day even include the 11AM program of Laurel & Hardy two-reelers, and the 7PM showing of Buster Keaton's The General with live musical accompaniment by the Alloy Orchestra (who last performed this at the Castro in 2004- I was there and was very impressed by how a percussion-heavy score helps amp up the action-adventure elements of the classic Keaton comedy.) The Alloys' 3PM world-premiere presentation of their new, years-in-the-making score to Rudoph Valentino's allegedly best film Son of the Sheik will be sourced from a DCP, as will the BFI's A Night in the Cinema in 1914 show.

HOW: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari screens as a 4K DCP, with live music by the versatile keyboardist Donald Sosin. I've heard his eerie score for the Kino DVD and am very interested in hearing how he transforms it in a live environment.

1 comment:

  1. Hawley tells me he was impressed with the 4K DCP. What's your assessment?