the cabinet of dr. caligari

Here is a stage of the thought process I missed out… A lot of my work is based in elements of architecture that aren’t usually either a] recognisable through the viewing of the work itself [i.e. process], and b] influences from things that aren’t directly architecture [i.e. literature & film].

In looking at the architecture of films, we not only see an exercise in the production of space [which is needed to allow any form of convincing interaction between its protagonists], but also a necessity to show the intended impact of the space on its occupier; the perception of the individual distorts and contorts the environment.

To try and explore this, I produced a number of recreations of the set from ‘the cabinet of dr. caligari’, with the intention of highlighting how the set becomes the lead role, and how the everyday interactions with the spaces become even more terrifying; or uncanny.

excerpt from           ‘Haunting Houses – a Study into the role of the domestic setting in the pursuit of the uncanny’, Tom Hudson, MArch dissertation 2011.

‘The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari’, directed by Robert Weine in 1920. The hugely influential silent film presented the world as a dark, frightening, violent, and unstable place, reminiscent of a troubled psyche projected onto the world. With the advent of psychoanalysis and the role of the subconscious pioneered by Freud and Jung, Weine’s direction and style indicates this influence of a projected subconscious, the basis for the case study. The role of the home as a metaphor for humanness was to appear heavily in their work also, re-assuming the identity of the home as key to that of the self. Here, the homes and spaces intensified the thoughts and emotions of the characters as opposed to re-presenting them, culminating in a disfigured and uncanny vision of space. 

Murder! [Scene 5]

“That night, there occurred the first of a series of mysterious crimes”

The scene opens to a shot of 3 policemen leant over a disturbed bed. The victim is anonymous. The men then fix their attention on the broken window, looking out to Holstenwall.

Weine, letting the viewer in on the macabre discovery, outlines an immediate disconnection with the victim. Our imagination is instead left to fill the shadows with the evil event that preceeded our intrusion. The attic reeks of sordidness, murder, and evil. The whole composition a vivid intersection of shards of light and dark, of roof-lines, shafts of light and slanting walls pointing angrily to the bed of the prey. An ‘intrusion’ smothering the space by the means of the murderers entry. The room appears to be an effigy of the crime, of its’ murderous capabilities.

The window, the only release from the room is splintered and vacant. We as viewers cannot see an ‘outside’, detaching the room from the collective realm of the town. Talbot suggests the role of the window as an essential connection to the world, that everybody needs to keep an eye, a window, on the world to reassure the self that it differs from the world and thus reinforce the self ’s identity. In removing this we are faced with an uncanny rendition of the home, as it is through windows that we expect to see the ‘known’ outside.

Anxiety [Scene 12]

“Night again…”

Jane is asleep in her bed, and we see Cesare approaching. He breaks in through the window, and slowly leans over her with a knife. When recognizing his victim, he instead kidnaps her and carries her through the window in which he entered.

Holstenwall [Scene 2]

“Alan…My Friend!”

Alan is pacing in his room, reading a book. The window allows a pleasant square of light onto where he walks. He leans on the windowsill, and gazes out. We can see the rooftops of the town. He then gleefully departs to meet his friend.

We are shown a room that has precipitated itself in cavern-like forms, reminiscent of a primitive dwelling. Here space becomes cloistral and encompasses the human. Alan is reading by a well-used desk, allowing the image of what Lefebvre calls ‘lived space’. To dwell means to leave traces behind. We see him gaze out of the window to Holstenwall, giving the living ‘outside’ a voice within the image of the home.

This image of domesticity and shelter is soon expelled, reducing the same space into one of oppression and fear. The uncanny as an idiom for everything that should remain mysterious, hidden, latent is personified here by its eventual emergence, even when heavily resisted; symbolized by Alan’s struggle

“Night”

Alan is laid in bed, and a shadow approaches him. He recoils in terror as it draws closer; personified by a close up of his clawed hands. His shadow struggles with the protagonist’s, but is silenced by the plunging of a knife.

Now, we are faced with the same foreboding shadows and deathly shards that were found in the first victim’s house; the room itself appears to have turned on the protagonist Alan. The room is saturated with the gruesome event of the previous murder. We no longer have the release of the exterior; the space begins to wrap around the viewer as a dark, strangling garment. Any allusion of ‘dwelling’ has been sent packing; we are again in a room of murderous intent, one that has the fate of the occupant sealed and daubed on the walls. Incarnated through shadows, we do not need the visceral details of murder; we are able to kill Alan with our imagination.

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