The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919 35mm, 1961 16mm)

28 Feb
Director Robert Wiene
Producer Rudolph Meinert, Erich Pommer
Contributors Decla-Bioscope AG
Length 71 minutes
B&W/Color B&W (no tinting in transfer from 35mm to 16mm)
UO Library Catalog description: No UO Catalog Description
Call # Not Entered Into UO Libraries
Genre Feature
Rare No
Online Yes
Copyright status Public Domain
Physical condition Reel 1 – Fair, Reel 2 – Good
Oregon-related No

Notes: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is often referred to as one of the first horror films ever (if you disregard the Lumière brothers’ Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat). It was a feature length film directed by Robert Wiene that employed numerous expressionist aesthetic choices and some of the most defined set design and costuming seen since the birth of cinema. The distorted style of the film has influenced everyone from Tim Burton to Rob Zombie, and has taken an integral place in American pop culture despite its German origin. In my opinion it is an essential film to have in this format as it is such a seminal feature that figures so heavily into movies made after it.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is available in the public domain, and has been for quite some time. Therefore it is widely available online and there are quite a few 16mm film reels still in existence. Most of the 16mm transfers popped up between the 1950’s and 1960’s. 35mm prints of the film are considerably more rare and there has been a noted effort among movie theaters and film festivals to screen restored versions of it to the public. I did some research on how to tell with a 16mm print what type of 35mm print it was transferred from. The most likely scenario would be that it was taken from a Russian print made in the 1920’s. This is probably the case because there is a visible frame line that appears at the top of the picture when it is being used. A tiny bit of the image at the top of the main image at the bottom overlap slightly within the visible dark horizontal frame line. The Russian 35mm prints of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari had to be adjusted for preservation prints in order for the frame line of the original German-made cameras, but in the transfer to preservation prints (which would include 16mm ones), “A sliver of image at the top and the bulk of the image at the bottom now overlap slightly within the visible dark horizontal frame line” (celtoslavica.de). This effect also appears on the DVD transfer of the film.

In terms of a unique history of the reel itself, my mother obtained it from New Mexico State University sometime in the 60’s. It was transferred onto 16mm film by the college, I’m assuming for educational purposes. The transfer leaves out any attribution to directors, stars, producers or distribution companies. Perhaps these didn’t need to be included since the film was being used for educational purposes. The reel is strictly the feature and nothing else. The fantastic condition of the reel would also indicate that my mother obtained it very soon after it was transferred as she essentially put it into storage when she moved and hadn’t watched it since.

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