The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

If you want a break from the theatre and live performances, if you want to try a calmer, different kind of show, this late-night screening of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, accompanied by a live orchestra, is just the thing.

For fans of cinema who want a change of scene, this screening is highly recommended.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is one of the most famous silent films from the early 20th century, and it has become the symbol of German Expressionist cinema. This cinematic period rejected realism, favouring instead the representation of a kind of emotional reality. It is also known for its set designs, which – in part, due to low budgets – were often merely painted lamps or buildings, and experimented using bold geometric shapes and angles.

Robert Wiene’s The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari fits in snugly with this tradition, as it recounts the story of a strange doctor and his somnambulist, Cesare, who is suspected of committing a series of murders in a small German town where the two appear. The setting is emblematic of the German Expressionist style, with its completely unrealistic townscape, full of painted, cramped, angular houses. This does crucial service to the mood of the film which, unable to use dialogue, is defined by aesthetic: thus the setting plays as much of a role in suggesting the crazed feelings lurking within the ordinary as any of the characters.

The film is worth seeing in itself, as a classic. However, the setting in which it finds itself for this Fringe gives special incentive to watching it here. The main element that improves the viewing of any silent film by significant amounts is the presence of a live orchestra. The one playing for this viewing deserves praise for its phenomenal setting of mood and capable incorporation of various kinds of classical music, from Beethoven to Stravinsky. Part of the orchestra, as well, was the talented composer and violinist Lawrence Dunn, the Gandalf of Edinburgh (you’ll know when you see him).

Finally, the other element that set the mood for the screening quite well was the setting itself: St. Mark’s Church, underneath the Castle. The space is lovely, and sitting on pews with a tall angular steeple overhead, reminiscent of those in the film, I could hardly imagine a more adept one. It is also a space with a long history of being at the festival as an independent, not-for-profit venue, and worth supporting in that regard.

Although at first glance it might seem a waste to see something on a screen at the Fringe when there are so many live performances, do not think for a second that watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on your laptop would be a similar experience to watching it in St. Mark’s Church with a live orchestra. For fans of cinema who want a change of scene, this screening is highly recommended.

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Performances

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The Blurb

Two late-night showings of Robert Wiene's classic 1920 German expressionist horror film, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, with live music provided by ensemble Gladstone's Bag. A film of delusions and deceptive appearances about madmen and murder in a jagged landscape of sharp angles and tilted walls and windows. Starring Conrad Veidt as the somnambulist. Musical score derived from compositions by Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel and Photoplay music from around 1920.

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