The Metaphors of Dr. Caligari (a halloweeny svithe)


This is part of my irregular series of posts wherein I take a post I want to write and jam it into a svithe-shaped box.


Part of our regular Halloween decor is placing on old tv in our big front window and playing a Halloweeny movie. The first year we did It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, then Nosferatu, the White Zombie and then, this year, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari:

At one point in the evening I was left home alone. As we don't get that many trickortreaters and as the weather was pleasant, I started the movie over then went outside and watched it though the window.

I bought Dr. Caligari some years ago for a buck somewhere, but never did get around to watching it (a common theme in my movie-related posts, I know). So this was my first time, interrupted now and then by trickortreaters and by my responsibility to the pizza I was cooking and then, just as the climax was hitting, by the return of my family.

One of the elements I was most looking forward to in the film was the German-Impressionist set design, the buildings offplumb and the walls lurching in ausettling ways. And all the triangular doors and trapezoidal staircases were cool, but they didn't affect me in the right way. Decades of Dr Seuss have trained me to view the skippywhompic as whimsical rather than threatening. And I think that's a shame. (Not whimsy, but exclusive whimsy is the shame.)

Dr Caligari

I think the arrival of sound may have limited film's potential in some key ways. The dreamscapes of films like Caligari or Nosferatu or Vampyre don't transfer well to a world where a line of dialogue may be expected to explain away the absurd shape of a jail cell or the stripes of black in the villain's white hair.

In a world of sound, things may not be merely unsettling.

In a world of sound, we expect an explanation. And that which is explained is weakened, because the rational mind is allowed to pretend the celluloid world too is safe and rational. Lame.

Anyway. Time to svithify. Here are some potential metaphors we can apply to the above. Please help me choose the most fit.

Yeah. And a righteous Halloween to you to....

last week's svithe


  1. Great, now you're going to force me to post on what I played for my neighborhood on Halloween. Just kidding, I was planning on doing it anyway.

    Stay tuned.