Caligari And The Last Laugh Essay, Research Paper
Both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, produced by Robert Wiene, and The Last Laugh, produced by F.W. Murnau, are excellent examples of films created in the golden age of German cinema. These two films make use of the camera in order to see inside a character’s mind, a technique greatly refined throughout German Expressionism. The ideas, feelings, thoughts, and dreams of a character are carefully shown in a first-person view, and the tone and mood of the characters and plot are mirrored in the surrounding environment. The German films of this time, as well as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and The Last Laugh, were either fantasy or psychological type films. The fantasy type of film was distinguished by the revolving of action around the strange and bizarre, as was portrayed by Wiene. The psychological film’s action, on the other hand, revolves around the particulars of the characters, such as the importance of the doorman’s job and his status in Murnau’s film. A discussion of these two films and their place in German cinema is the topic of this critique.
The use of the camera as well as the overall direction in the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, released in 1919, is unrefined to say the least, but yet it is considered to be a stellar example of German fantasy filmmaking. The reason for this is due to the fact that the film leaves an eerie impression on the viewer, due to the disturbing scenery and plot. The set was constructed in an upsetting manner; that is, the doors and windows and even walls of houses are crooked and skewed from all others, nothing stands quite straight up, the actors wore excessive makeup, and shadows filled the streets with ominous presence. The audience may notice this oddity, but it does not fully sink in as to why the scenes were arranged this way until it is realized that an insane man has told the entire story, and that it is all a fabrication of his mind that has been shown through his eyes by the camera.
The psychological film The Last Laugh, first released in 1924, contrasts the complex plot of Wiene’s film and the fantasy films. Murnau’s plot, like those that typified the psychological films, was remarkably simple. A doorman looses his job and, with it, his dignity; in the end he regains his lost dignity when he inherits a millionaire’s fortune. However, again the camera is used to portray the world from an actor’s point of view. For example, the camera maneuvers through the hotel lobby and out to the revolving doors rapidly in the first scene of the film, which gives an aura of excitement and importance to the hotel. When the old man gets drunk the camera spins and blurs, displaying the first-hand view of the character. Murnau even includes a dream sequence, in which the old man dreams that he is throwing a heavy chest up and down in the hotel lobby.
Both of these films contain elements of Expressionism. Both are filled with camera shots from the actor’s point of view, and use scenery to convey the feeling of the characters and plot. However, the scenery is used in vastly different ways in the two films. In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the setting is insane and impossible, in The Last Laugh it is realistic and downcast. Wiene uses intertitles while Murnau uses only one, to intermission between the believable demotion and the unrealistic inheritance. And while Wiene’s film is clearly more primitive than is Murnau’s, it is more disturbing and horrific, due to its surreal nature.