Looking for something a little… weird? Have I got a show for you.
A Zombie. A Mad Doctor. A Carnival. An Insane Asylum. Live Music. Yes, a garden of delights awaits you, courtesy of Constellation Theatre. Start with the 1920 German Expressionist silent film masterpiece Das Kabinet des Dr Caligari, and add the offbeat music of multiple award winning musician Tom Teasley, and you’ve got a fantastical evening of spookiness ahead of you.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari has been called the first horror film, and much of this early silent film has influenced countless other films, from horror to film noir: the use of off-kilter camera angles, striking mood lighting and the surprise twist ending. Directed by Robert Weine and written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Meyer, the film has long been regarded as a sharp commentary on German society of the time. Indeed, the storyline, which follows Dr Caligari (Werner Krauss) as he commits senseless murders through control of his somnambulist servant Cesare (Conrad Veidt)- really, the screen’s first zombie- must have been shocking back then. Nearly a hundred years later, it’s still a frightening film.
Tom Teasley’s live score suits it well. Using mainly a keyboard and various percussion instruments, some homemade, he shivers our spines with atmospheric creepiness. Who knew a coffee can with a steel spring through it could sound so threatening? Mr Teasley’s music for this movie isn’t terribly melodic- I would call the score more accompaniment than a musical score- but it broadens our appreciation of the film. And the film itself is as nonrealistic in style- in a sharp departure from most films of the age, it was filmed with painted sets that mirrored the Expressionist art designs of the era. Off centered doors, floors painted in twisted spirals, and sharp shadows painted directly onto the set gave it a nightmare quality. Add Mr Teasley’s music and it’s a goose-tingling funhouse.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
closes August 13, 2017
Details and tickets
My only complaint of the evening was the film itself- surely a better copy could have been found than the fuzzy and poorly cut version we saw. Dr Caligari has been restored a number of times, most recently a fine and clear copy rendered and sold on DVD by Cinnetica de Bologna in 2016, and yet the copy we saw seemed to be from much earlier, with out-of-sequence frames and badly translated English. The original German titles also were done in an Expressionist style, yet the simple font titles we saw entirely replaced the German, rather than appearing as subtitles below.
That’s a shame, for it’s easy to forget the timeline without the original German. To truly appreciate the film, you need a bit of history: it was made just after WWI, when Germany was searching for new leadership- but before it found its Fuhrer. It’s been said that this film foretold of the horrors to come, when evil, with no direction or motivation, made men do the unthinkable. Dr Caligari has no motivation to kill- yet kill he does, through his somnambulist Caesare, and in the end, there is no retribution from justice or authorities. There’s only the Asylum.
Silent movies are now more available than ever- click on Youtube and you can see nearly anything. But listening to Tom Teasley’s eerie score and viewing the very very first horror film with other people is an experience like no other.
Just don’t blame me if you dream of zombies.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari with Tom Teasley, Musician . Produced by Constellation Theatre Company . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.
1 Hour 20 minutes, no intermission