Archive for The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Two

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2022 by dcairns

From Criterion, Terry Gilliam’s THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN, from Masters of Cinema THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI in 4K.

For Criterion, I got together with ace editor Chase Barthel to make a video essay charting the long and one would have to say STORIED history of Baron Von Munchhausen from real-life figure to literary character, illustration subject, movie star and even radio dialect comedian. Huge fun to do, allowing me to mess about with Mssrs. Méliès, Cohl, Zeman and Von Baky, as well as Cruikshank, Rowlandson and Gustave Doré.

CALIGARI is an upgrade from the earlier Blu-ray and ports over my earlier video essay edited by Timo Langer.

Another, smaller (but choice) Criterion announcement to follow soon.

The Sunday Intertitle: Death-Slide for Cutie

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 6, 2022 by dcairns

Still need to write at least two posts to finish off Chaplin’s THE CIRCUS, but meanwhile we watched DIE TODESCHLEIFE — aka LOOPING THE LOOP (although that title really means The Death-Slide), directed by the rather marvelous Arthur Robison (WARNING SHADOWS) and starring Werner Krauss, Jenny Jugo and featuring Warwick Ward and Sig Arno (“Nitz, Toto!”)

It’s worth mentioning in this context because it came out the same year as Chaplin’s film, and similarly features a lovelorn clown as protag, with an aerial acrobat rival, and the girl between. I think it’s not so much a case of direct influence as one of both films being inspired by HE WHO GETS SLAPPED, which has just those elements also.

Jenny Jugo shows how she got her name

Krauss for once is not playing an old man, and he keeps it simple and affecting. While watching, it is necessary to forget about him being such an enthusiastic Nazi, and then when it’s over, it is necessary to remember again, and sigh. He’s really good, in an entirely different mode from CALIGARI etc.

Robison’s politics are unknown to me. The Chicago-born German filmmaker made THE INFORMER in Britain the following year, but was still working in Germany in 1935, the year of his death. But then, the star of his last film, THE STUDENT OF PRAGUE, was Anton Walbrook, no Nazi. Seemingly quite a few filmmakers who were not themselves Jewish or Nazi felt able to stay in Germany for a few years after Hitler came to power: one thinks of Sirk and Lang. So Robison may have been thinking of getting out, but his early death (at 52) intervened. As I say, I know nothing of him save his birth, death and filmography: I’d love to know more.

The film is really stylish and quite involving: among the best touches is a scene where Krauss, as Botto the Clown, recalls a woman who he was romantically interested in, but who only wanted him for his clowning ability. In flashback, she demands that he laugh for her. His laugh — that of a broken-hearted man — apparently terrifies her until she backs away, and Robison stages this moment on a cunningly slanted set to give everything a delirious-vertiginous angst. You feel it in the distorted perspective but also in the straining of her legs. See also THUNDER ROCK and SCROOGED.

Elsewhere there are artful mirror shots; double-exposures, in which Krauss imagines himself grown to Godzilla size and stomping his rival beneath a titanic flap-shoe; a spectacular trick-shot following Ward all the way down and around the death-slide; a miniature journey to England, tiny landscapes rolling past as in Murnau’s FAUST or May’s HEIMKEHR or Powell & Pressburger’s I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING!

Krauss’s act involves a dummy made up just like him, allowing many uncanny moments. Does he converse with it, does it seem to come to life. Oh yes. Fascinating to see Krauss as an offbeat romantic hero. At times he’s almost cute. His hair is the only problem. That and his Nazism.

Flying Monkeys Over Soho

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on November 1, 2021 by dcairns

Fiona joins us with a guest post:

The most frightening thing about Edgar Wright’s sensational cinephile’s wet dream, Last Night In Soho, is Jocasta and her Sheeple. Jocasta may be a monster painted in very broad strokes, but she is all the more terrifying because she is real. Only a woman can understand the true horror of being bullied by other women. And take it from me, female bullies, and their hangers-on, are the worst, because they use complex (and not so complex) psychological tactics.

Played with gleeful relish by Synnove Karlsen, Jocasta is the proverbial ‘nasty piece of work.’ The screenplay hints at her narcissism perhaps being caused by early loss, her mother’s death from cancer, but suffering does not always endow nobility. I found myself, quite unexpectedly, becoming incredibly emotionally invested in Eloise’s story because I WAS Eloise, right down to being a member of The Dead Mums Club. My mother completed suicide when I was twenty-two. My father was already dead.

I’m writing this piece completely blind because I haven’t read anything about this film or been exposed to any interviews with Wright and his co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns. All I can say is that I feel certain she brought the strongest emotional beats to this story and that she probably brought them by experience.

Screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns rejoices in her ability to scare the crap out of you.

Naturally, narcissists like Jocasta have ‘enablers’ or ‘flying monkeys’ who eagerly swallow all the bile she spouts, and naturally, they do a complete three-sixty at the end, praising Eloise for being “so brave.” The most disturbing element of the conclusion is not the reveal, but that Jocasta and her cronies have not changed one bit. Jocasta will go through life belittling other people to shore up her faltering self-esteem and generally getting away with murder (unlike real-life narcissist in the UK news right now, Penny Jackson, who had been getting away with murder for 66 years, until she actually murdered someone), and her enablers will continue to switch allegiances because they have no opinions of their own and no moral backbones.

Jocasta and her Flying Monkeys.

I can speak with some authority about narcissists because I was brought up by two of them. My mother was a covert narcissist whose condition was probably created by trauma (my grandmother also completed suicide) and my father was an overt narcissist caused by parental overindulgence. The fact that there are no consequences for Jocasta is horrifyingly true to life. Most narcissists are untreatable because they fall under the banner of Cluster B Personality Disorders. Jocasta’s flying monkeys are probably completely normal people who are just a bit dim, or they are actually borderline narcissists themselves who enjoy encouraging other people to act out. No consequences for them either.

To be honest, I think this film should come with a warning for survivors of narcissistic abuse (or abuse generally), because I was becoming so caught up with this back story that I wanted Jocasta to die. I’m not proud of that. The moment when Eloise nearly stabs her was both cathartic and frustrating for me. If I was younger I’d probably talk about being “re-traumatised” by the experience, but I’m an old bag so I just sucked it up. My experience of having undiagnosed ADHD AND being a survivor of NA definitely marked me for life and ruined my potential as a screenwriter, but it also gave me early insight into the way people behave, and that can be very valuable for a writer.

Thomasin McKenzie/Eloise goes to a Halloween party made up like Conrad Veidt as Cesare in The Cabinet Of Doctor Caligari (1920), the first psychological horror movie with a twist ending.

I have no idea if Krysty Wilson-Cairns went through anything comparable. After all, everyone has their own story, but I’d be very surprised if she didn’t have some experience of bullying and being seen as ‘different’ in some way. Even if it was just for being a redhead. As for me, I didn’t have any psychic abilty, like Eloise… apart from that time when I was a teenager and could predict wins when watching horseracing on Saturday afternoon tv (true story).

Don’t have nightmares.