Framing the Supernatural in Caligari and Nosferatu

My post for today concerns two of my favorite horror films – the German Expressionist masterpieces The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror. After showing both movies innumerable times in Intro to Film classes, I’ve come to believe that the awesome power of each ultimately lies in their shared sense of a wacked-out story structure: Robert Wiene and F.W. Murnau didn’t just make films about the supernatural, they made films supernaturally.

One of the hallmarks of the German Expressionist cinema is a keen interest in the supernatural. Incorporating techniques borrowed from Expressionist artists in other mediums (painting, theater, architecture, etc.) the major German Expressionist film directors sought to create a new, more personal form of expression that favored the unknown to the known, the power of the human imagination to knowledge acquired only through sensory experience and a cinematographic style that consciously rebelled against the “invisible” techniques of Hollywood narrative continuity filmmaking. The arrival of Expressionism in movies is usually credited with the 1920 release of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, a low-budget but revolutionary film written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer and directed by Robert Wiene at the Decla-Bioscop studio. Two years later, F.W. Murnau directed the landmark Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horror, the first movie adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for a small outfit named Prana Film (it would be their only release). These two works, which share a startling, little commented upon framing device, provided a shining example, in both form and content, for many other filmmakers to follow.

One of the key ingredients to the success of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is its narrative structure. Wiene employs a framing device so that the chief action of his film is a story being told within a story. This structure provides a wealth of stylistic and thematic possibilities that allow Wiene to bring out the haunting, mysterious nature of his tale to maximum effect. The movie begins with the protagonist, Franzis, telling his story to an old man on a park bench. These shots (and a few rhyming shots at the film’s conclusion) are the only exterior shots to actually be filmed outdoors by Wiene and his crew. The bulk of the narrative is comprised of Franzis’ story, about the sinister goings-on at a carnival, which Wiene presents as a lengthy flashback sequence. All of the exterior scenes inside of Franzis’ story (and there are many) were clearly shot on interior sets in the Decla-Bioscop studio and have a highly artificial, theatrical appearance. The discrepancy between authentic and artificial exteriors is the first subtle clue as to the fact that Franzis is an “unreliable narrator.”

There are several reasons why the framing device is effectively suited to movies involving fantastic and otherworldly elements. First, it provides the director with an ironic juxtaposition of tone and setting. This is immediately apparent in the opening of Murnau’s Nosferatu. The first several shots of the film are title cards, the first of which reads: “an Account of the Great Death in Wisborg anno Domini 1838.” The second warns against speaking the word Nosferatu aloud lest “. . . haunting dreams will climb forth from your heart and feed on your blood.” The third title card is the most curious as it introduces the mysterious narrator: “I have reflected at length on the origin and passing of the Great Death in my hometown of Wisborg. Here is its story: Once in Wisborg lived a man named Hutter and his young wife Ellen.” Incredibly, it is never made clear who the narrator is, or even if he appears physically within the movie, although several more title cards crop up that indicate what we are seeing represents a first person perspective.

The first shots of Nosferatu (following the opening title cards) depict a scene of domestic contentment between Hutter and Ellen in their small-town bourgeois home. Hutter is excitedly getting dressed in front of a bedroom mirror, preparing to go to work for the day. Nearby, Ellen is laughing and playing with a cat and a ball of yarn in front of an open window. The counterpoint of the spectral opening titles – with their gothic font and multiple evocations of the “Great Death” – against this backdrop of newly wedded bliss allows Murnau to establish a mood of foreboding; a feeling of uneasiness has permeated the setting that will soon explode into horror once the narrative proper begins.

Another function of the framing device is to allow for multiple narrators. The first narrator of Caligari is Wiene himself – omniscient, God-like, paring his fingernails. He is the rational narrator who provides the “frame” for the fantastical portrait of the second narrator, Franzis. Wiene takes care to show the mesmeric effect of Franzis’ story on his listener (the old man) in the hopes that we, the viewer, will become hypnotized too. (The theme of hypnotism next raises its head in this same scene when Jane, the female lead, walks past the two men in a zombie-like trance. This theme will recur throughout the film.) Wiene will not however return to the framing story until the very end of the movie, a device that makes many first-time viewers forget that there even is a framing story. Nosferatu, on the other hand, only has one narrator, the “I” who mysteriously appears in title cards on a semi-regular basis throughout the movie. This suggests that what we are seeing is perhaps the illustration of someone’s diary and, unlike Caligari, we can never be certain whether any of what we see in Nosferatu is “real.”

After Nosferatu‘s opening titles, the narrator’s presence doesn’t crop up again until almost twenty-two minutes into the film, when Hutter has traveled to the Carpathian mountains in hopes of making a real estate sale to the mysterious Count Orlok. After a memorable shot of Hutter crossing a bridge, the following intertitle appears: “As soon as Hutter crossed the bridge he was seized by the eerie visions he so often told me of . . .” At the 38 minute mark, Ellen, at home in bed, is also seized by eerie visions (of her husband in Orlok’s clutches). After a doctor visits her, this intertitle appears: “The doctor described Ellen’s anxiety to me as some sort of unknown illness. But I know that on that night her soul heard the call of the deathbird.” Later, when Count Orlok departs for Wisborg, we see this intertitle: “Nosferatu was coming. Danger was on its way to Wisborg. Professor Bulwer, a Paracelsian who was then investigating the secrets of nature and its unifying principles, told me about it: Caskets filled with dirt were loaded onto the double-masted schooner, Empusa.” What these crucial title cards establish is that, although there may only be one narrator, what we are seeing has been passed through several subjective filters (the narrator’s as well as Hutter’s, Ellen’s, the doctor’s and Professor Bulwer’s).

As in Citizen Kane, what we think of as the “truth” of the events depicted onscreen in Nosferatu is really just the sum total of a bunch of stories that many different people have told to the narrator. The chief difference, therefore, between Murnau’s approach to constructing narrative and that of Wiene lies in Murnau’s self-consciousness in regards to form. While the narrative strategies of the two filmmakers work on the viewer in a similar, almost-subliminal fashion, the repeated intrusions of the unseen narrator in Nosferatu make the construction of narrative itself the subject of Murnau’s film as much as the mass death that Orlok causes to sweep across the German countryside like the plague.

Finally, the most important function of the framing device, at least in relation to supernatural subject matter, is the distancing effect it has on the viewer. When filmmakers set their narratives in the distant past or in faraway lands (as Wiene and Murnau both do), they are, somewhat paradoxically, lending credence to otherwise fantastical tales in the mind’s eye of the viewer. This technique is still common in campfire ghost stories and urban legends today where “Something once happened to a friend of a friend of mine . . .” Because most of us do not experience supernatural phenomena in our daily lives, we are more ready to accept such phenomena when it is packaged in a story taking place outside the realm of our concrete experience. Hence the evocation of “exotic” settings in both of these films: Romania and the mid-19th century in Nosferatu, Italy and the early 18th century in Caligari.

In Caligari, the most obvious narrative function of the framing device is that it allows Wiene to set up his famous “trick ending” (the story Franzis tells turns out to be no more than the ravings of a madman). As disturbing as this conceit is on the surface, it provides the audience on a deeper level with a sense of relief (i.e., it explains why the rest of the film looks so bizarre, it allows us to feel that Caligari’s counterpart, the asylum director, may be able to cure Franzis, etc.). If Nosferatu remains the more unnerving film today, it’s partially because its ending offers the viewer no comparable sense of relief. Towards the end of Nosferatu the narrator informs us, “I have wondered for a long time why it was said that Nosferatu took his coffins with him filled with dirt. I have surmised that vampires can only draw their shadowy strength from the cursed earth in which they were buried.” In other words, Murnau’s narrator is just as clueless as the viewer, merely speculating as to the causes of the horror to which we have born witness. When the vampire is finally vanquished (through the self-sacrifice of Ellen), the abiding tone is one of bleakness and despair. For a country that had just lived through and lost an unpopular war (for which Nosferatu can be seen as an allegory), the end of the “Great Death” was no cause for celebration.

Few movies have proved to be as enduringly popular as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu; Shutter Island and most of Tim Burton would be unthinkable without the former and many key elements of vampire mythology were first introduced in the latter – such as the notion that vampires cannot be exposed to sunlight. As to the reasons for this popularity, some would credit the masterful use of atmospheric lighting, the brilliantly innovative set design, the unforgettable monster make-up or the legendary performances of the villains played by Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt and Max Schreck. Personally, I think both films still resonate today because Murnau and Wiene both illustrated that form is the most direct route to emotion.

The most complete versions of Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are available on DVD from Kino Video. The most essential critical writing on the German Expressionist movement is Lotte Eisner’s The Haunted Screen.


About michaelgloversmith

Filmmaker, author and Film Studies instructor. View all posts by michaelgloversmith

35 responses to “Framing the Supernatural in Caligari and Nosferatu

  • suzidoll

    I am showing Caligari in my class tonight! I will put this on their reading list.

  • michaelgloversmith

    What a coincidence. Thanks, Suzi!

  • Nathan Spero

    I think that the lighting in both films was extremely well done. The use of low-key lighting was used almost exclusively on the antagonist. Low-key lighting is what causes all of the high contrast shots in the movie. The way that low-key lighting was used, it cast great big and dark shadows onto a wall behind. This was done purposely to give the audience a portrayal of evil that could not be contained for much longer within that particular character.

    • michaelgloversmith

      “low-key lighting” and “high contrast” are two SEPARATE styles of lighting. One does not “cause” the other. Also, your observation that big shadows were cast on a “wall behind” is vague. Did you see this in one movie or both? WHERE exactly did you see it? 6/10

  • Peter Aziz

    After watching both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu my first impression was that they both were great films especially for their time. While comparing the two, I definitely think The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari did a great job in making custom background scenes and they were more effective for a movie that has a horror genre to it. The use of custom backgrounds also give you more of a expressionist feel. The lighting between both movies were also very different. The lighting in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari had shadows everywhere throughout the movie and almost every scene in which we saw Caligari you had a dominate shadow behind him as well as some other characters. In Nosferatu shadows didn’t dominate the whole movie but you do see shadows tend to follow Count Orlok in specific scenes. Overall they both made great use of low-key lighting. I also tended to like that the overall storyline of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari wasn’t predictable whereas Nosferatu was similar to Speedy in which the ending was more predictable and followed more of a narrative continuity type movie.

  • Joey Crocilla

    I though both films were good. I liked the use of many different aspects and techniques used in the film. The use of low-key lighting in Dr. Caligari was impressive. Most of it was filmed in a studio, while the exterior shots were filmed outside. It was amazing how it’s shown as a story within a story told by Francis. It wasn’t until the end when I found out how it all ends up. In Nosferatu, the shadows that is shown is very cool and gives you a sense of fear. This represents expressionism, but doesn’t curved buildings and windows as did in Dr. Caligari. Both films were really good. You can see how the characters are and what they really are, especially in Dr. Caligari. It makes you think in a way. Good post on them.

  • A.J. Schlesinger

    Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu are good films. I like the use of dark clothing that Cesare, Francis and Orlok were in as they were the ‘evil’ characters in their stories. It showed pretty good Mise-en-scene from Wiene and Murnau. Another good use of Mise-en-scene was the shadow play in both films. In Caligari, their is a lot of uses for the shadows, they showed Cesare’s shadow killing people but not Cesare himself, the smiley face on the stair to imply the madness of this story, even the extremely large and dark shadow behind Caligari for one scene where nothing else in the scene has that shadow. In Nosferatu, the first time Hutter notices what Nosferatu is doing, he pretends to be asleep after seeing Nosferatu glaring at his door. The door then crept open and a room that was pretty well lit turned into complete darkness. And in that darkness, Nosferatu emerges. The other use of shadows came from Nosferatu grabbing Ellen’s heart with his hand’s shadow. Nosferatu also had a scene that was perfect expressionism. Nosferatu is in a casket on a ship and everyone on said ship has died from a virus except for the captain and his first mate. The first mate decides to destroy Nosferatu’s casket and he emerges. Nosferatu then frightens the first mate off the ship and kills the captain. A title card goes in and says “The Ship of Death has a new captain” and then the ship itself goes all black while the water and sky are very white. The main contrast I saw was the background and title cards. The title cards were designed as part of the story the narrator was telling. In Caligari, it was Francis’ story and the wackiness of the title card show us what is happening in his mind. While Nosferatu’s title cards were pages of a book because the narrator of the story (I suspect) was the professor. As for the environment, since Dr. Caligari was from the mind of an insane man, the background showed that by having everything distorted. When the story was starting and over, everything went back to normal. Since Nosferatu was a story from a professor the background was pretty normal. I think both of these movies are good. However, I believe Dr. Caligari was the better of the two.

  • Ewelina Roszko

    Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu do an excellent job portraying the demands of German Expressionism. In both films we have a dark and twisty story line which captures the viewers, but not only that also the make of the films in regards to lighting, costumes, shadows, etc. which adds fear and interest to the viewers. In Dr. Caligari we are presented with a story which also has an underlying story we are not aware of until the very end of the film. Now looking back we now see the hidden message and the great use of shadows that have immense amount of meaning. It a great job of making the story not only follow german expressionism of being creepy but also the plot line of having the asylum and killing. In Nosferatu we presented with a story that includes a vampire. This follows german expressionism regarding including the vampire and the great use of low-key lighting. One significant sense in which we see low-key lighting was when Ellen invited the vampire into her home and he was about to kill her. This not only uses low-key lighting which shines on her face but also a combination of voyeurim which gives the scene a sexual connotation.

  • Josh Melfi

    I really liked how the tone differed between the two movies. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has this ominous tone starting with the fiance trance walking past the two gentleman on the bench. Nosferatu starts off almost like a Romantic Comedy with it’s bright decor, happy people, and smiles, only to turn ominous when Hutter mentions he is off to see the Count. The mood takes a hard 180 at that point and from then on the music changes, the lightning grows darker, and death becomes a prominent undertone as a plague sweeps through the town. Both movies utilized highly contrasting tones very well; Cesar is always dark, shadowed, slinking, while Jane is clothed in white and eventually triumphs over evil. In Nosferatu, Count Olaf, from the moment we see him, he’s shroud in black atop his black carriage, he wears black in every scene, and his darker than black shadow is visible on the black walls of the house the night that he feeds on Ellen. It’s undeniable that these two movies helped create, or at least influence the suspenseful horror genre, so it’s quite cool to see tropes from these films being used and altered in today’s cinema.

  • John Youkhana

    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was an awesome film and was a pioneer to German expressionism in film. The film’s dark imagery, high contrast, distorted environment, and extreme mise-en-scene made the film very unnerving. The film also had an unnerving plot focusing on mental illness, asylums, political corruption, and murder. At the end of the film it is revealed that Francis was actually mentally ill and thought that a somnambulist named Cesare (who was being controlled by Dr. Caligari) killed his friend Alan. It is heavily implied that he was the one who actually killed Alan in reality.

    Nosferatu was also a great example of German expressionism. The film at first had an upbeat, bubbly mood where everything was going right. This was a form of foreshadowing because if everything is going right, something will eventually go very wrong. Hutter, was sent to Count Orlok’s castle for his job and he was completely oblivious to all the warnings that Count Orlok was a vampire. This film also utilized mise-en-scene especially on Count Orlok. He had heavy eyeshadow, pointed ears, long nails, and buck, rat-like teeth. The lighting and sexual imagery between Hutter’s wife and Count Orlok near the ending of the film also contributed greatly.

    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu were both extremely influential films that helped pioneer horror/thriller movies today.

  • Cody Bemis

    I really liked both of these films and how they were the catalyst for modern day horror films. In The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari we see the jagged writing style that is used throughout the film to really bring out the distorted and dark style that German Expressionism is known for. We also see in The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari the distortion of the buildings throughout the movie with each building ending in sharp corners. In Nosferatu shadows are put to great use throughout many of the scenes throughout the film. Especially when Thomas is in his room and Count Orlock opens the door and we see his long frame standing in the doorway with his shadow pouring over Thomas as he lies in fear in his bed. We see another great use of shadows to evoke fear in Nosferatu when we see Count Orlock’s shadow walking up the stairs toward Ellen and has he reaches for the door we see this long protruding shadow of his fingers reach for the door handle One of the things that I found the most interesting was how they made Count Orlock look with his pointy ears, tall skinny frame, and his two middle fangs. It was cool to see how the image of vampires has changed since Nosferatu was released with vampires going from more non-human qualities to assimilating with more human qualities. Both of these movies are great representations of German Expressionism and it is impressive to see how some aspects of these films are still used in cinema today.

  • Georgia Khamo

    I enjoyed watching both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu in class, personally I think these films were both ahead of their time. In both films you see themes of German Expressionism. For example, in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, you see these distorted, over exaggerated characters that have this dark, twisted and evil flare to them. The sets on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari were very curved, and had a lot of shape to it. This made me feel like it was a little out there and cartoonish. Also, the set had a lot of low key lighting where the set was dark and diffusing shadows dominated the scenery. Anytime Cesare was about to kill someone it occurred with a dark shadow never himself so it made it feel more darker than it already was. Also, there was use of some high-contrast lighting in the scene with the stairs.Everything was dark but you had these shadows that popped and really showed effort on the part of the director. Cesare had a Frankenstein feel to him in the casket and being awakened by his creator played well with this horror movie theme. Cesare was always dressed in black and had dramatic makeup around his eyes that showed his evilness. The title cards in both movies conveyed a certain mood and provides graphic value to both movies. The editing in Dr. Caligari is very choppy and shots dont match so it could depict chaos. The entire movie of Dr, Caligari was a flashback which played into the these of German Expressionism because it was dream-like, you never really knew what was going to happen until the very end and many were still confused. You as the viewer were watching the movie through the eyes of someone insane, so you were kept at the edge of your seats the entire time. In Nosferatu, immediately you recognize the makeup of the vampire; the long nails, dramatic features, fang-like teeth, and black outfit. As the movie goes on you pick up on the plot of the story and relate it to Dracula. Likewise, with Dr. Caligari your eyes start wandering to the set. The archways , vertical columns, everything seems elongated; the backs of the chairs, this ties to German Expressionism. The shadows of Nosferatu climbing up the stairs during the dark night plays key to making you feel horrified. Also, in both films you see voyeurism. In Dr. Caligari, when Cesare is about to attack Jane you see him spying in on her through the window and when he gets closer hes staring at her and tries to kill her but cant. Jane is always wearing white in her scenes to show her purity and angel-like character. In Nosferatu, when Olak is watching Hutter’s wife from across the street shows voyeurism too. Horror movies are my favorite genre so watching these original classics was a treat.

  • Dylan Berliant

    Both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu feature many examples of German Expressionism in film. While Caligari focuses on the expressionistic/wild set design, Nosferatu features a more “realistic” and dark tone. I really enjoyed seeing the set-designs in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. There was something whimsical, yet scary about the proportions used for doorways, houses, trees, and sidewalks. It felt as if the characters themselves are in a dream like state (which could be connected to the somnambulism theme of the film). Makeup was also used to a dramatic effect, such as the eye shadow used on Cesare, and the deranged look of Dr. Caligari. These attentions to detail are some of the main characteristics of German Expressionism. Wiene wanted to do something drastically different from the standard films at the time, and thus used a intricate, dark, and twisted visual style, as well as an overemphasize on make-up. The visual style even compliments that of a Gothic style, which I thought was very interesting to see. In Nosferatu, another example of German Expressionism, Murnau used many soon-to-be tropes of the horror genre to demonstrate an expressionistic view on film. I thought it was cool to see how these tropes would later be used in other films of the same genre, such as the idea of foreshadowing (Hutter living a care-free life-style in the beginning of the film, and the trope of having Count Orlok’s castle be situated on top of a mountain secluded from society). The dark tone used throughout the majority of the film, (the dreary cinematography, and horrifying character design, for example) is used as an illustration of the expressionistic ideas of fear and dread. Many films at the time pandered to an audience who didn’t want to watch a serious, or dark movie. I think that in order to be unique and express certain themes in his movie, Murnau used this dark tone in order to make the audience feel uneasy. I personally don’t watch a lot of horror films, but I thought it was very fascinating to look back at what the original horror films were like. The expressionistic methods of film making exemplify’s the horror genre by using creative and contrasting ideas. Watching the classics has even made me respect the horror genre more!

  • Thao Tran

    Considered as two of the most influential horror movies of all time, both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu are great examples for the movement of German expressionism. Overall, though the former movies convey the idea of expressionism in different moderations, they still have certain commons in this movement’s significant features , such as the lighting and framing. Throughout the movie, The cabinet of Dr.Caligari is mostly filmed indoor with low-key lighting while Nosferatu has been set in both indoor and outdoor with the application of different lightings. However, they both deliver the horror via the usage of shadow as symbolizing supernatural beings. Specifically, the murder scene of Cesare in Dr. Caligari, in which Cesare breaks into Allan’s bedroom and fatally stabs Allan to death, is mainly depicted by shadows of the characters. Similarly, Nosferatu has a scene that shows Count Orlock is approaching Ellen’s room after she invited him. The enlarge shadow of Count Orlock on the wall reaches for the door’s knob perhaps is the most impression scene of the movie to me, for it successfully portraits an intimidated and powerful creature who has the German countryside under the fear of the “Great Death.” Also, the following high-contrast scene of Ellen who is shivering on her bed toward the vampire’s approaching uses the same method to present Count Orlock, so rather than capturing him in person, the scene shows shadow of the vampire’s hand that gradually reaches Ellen heart and crushes it. For the movie’s framing device, I totally agree with the argument that you have brought up considering it as the key factor to succeed of the two movies. For me, the way that narrative is constructed by “story in a story” in The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari is more creative, for the ending is twisted and has the viewer a huge a-ha moment when we realize that Franzis is crazy, and all the thing we have watched are under his view. From that point, everything from the aggressive acting and make up to the distorted setting of the movie start to make sense.

  • Tyler Lauer

    In both Nosferatu and Dr. Caligari, Murnau and Wiene did outstanding work on showing German Expressionism. I thought that it was interesting that both films utilized the darker makeup around the eyes to signify the current antagonist. In Dr. Caligari throughout the film in which you’re deceived in the tall tales of a mentally ill patient, Dr. Caligari has dark makeup around his eyes as well as Cesare until you’re shown that they’re actually the opposite. In Nosferatu they demonstrate this technique only on Count Orlock simply because he’s the constant antagonist throughout the film. Also the set props on Nosferatu and Dr. Caligari contained narrow, sharp shapes giving off a tainted/haunting vibe. Dr.Caligari took this a step further with path-ways of slim jagged turns, whereas Nosferatu only had structures like Count Orock’s castle and new “home” narrowly depicted. Not to mention the dark clothing used by the main menaces for an effective choice. But who can forget the similarities between the darkness of these films? While it’s not easy to always tell when it is day and night in black and white films, Wiene and Murnau really grasped at the different lighting techniques used. All of the scenes kept in a upbeat manner received high-key lighting to settle the viewer much opposed to the low-key lighting used to seek thrill and horror out of the viewer. In each scene Count Orlock was attacking in, the set was in lower contrasts as well as Cesare’s attacks. These techniques are a part of what makes these movies pleasurable to watch. Without so much emphasis of German Expressionism and creativity, the directors could not achieve such masterpieces. Kudos to Wiene and Murnau, much respect.

  • Godfrey A

    After watching both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, I gained an appreciation of German Expressionism in the world of flimmaking. Some of my favorite movies and movie characters have characteristics that have been taken from these 2 influential films. For example, Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands and Danny Devito’s Penguin character in Batman Returns. There are also many recreations of Count Orlock in vampire and horror movies I have seen in the past. I think that shows how inspiring these 2 films are in that they are still referenced in movies and TV shows I have seen. The use of high contrast in both films give them an eerie feel that you’re about to enter another world, a world that is unknown to its viewers. An example of this in Nosferatu is the scene when Hutter passes the bridge and gets on the carriage ride. In that scene, Murnau used negative shots and fast motion to represent a “changing of worlds”. You can also see the use of lighting techniques done in the homes of the characters. Most notably, in Jane’s home. This room was the brightest in film and when Wiene clashed that with different lighting shots when Cesare makes contact with Jane exemplifies the different use of lighting that enhances the conflict that happens in that scene. This is done similarly and, in my opinion, better in the scene of Nosferatu when Count Orlock comes to take Ellen. The mix of low-lighting and close shots help set up a fearful yet intriguing scene. The set design in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is particularly eye-catching. I liked the use of abstract shapes and sharp angles to show the distortion found in Franzis’s mind, which also let the viewer feel like it was a dream world. Although both films are staples of German Expressionism, I enjoyed The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari more than I did Nosferatu. I definitely think this is due to the framing that is mentioned in your essay. Even though both films can be considered ambiguous, I think the idea of a “viewer’s relief” after watching a film can be tied to its enjoyment. However, I don’t think that hinders the ideas of the filmmaker, but, as stated above, it allows a filmmaker to direct what emotion they possibly want to convey to its viewers.

  • Ethan

    The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferato, I believe are two great films that capture the meaning of German Expressionism. What I enjoyed most about the film was that in the beginning of both films it started as one story and ended as another. For example, the beginning of Nosferatu we are given two characters that seem to be in love and content with life, but as the movie unravels we begin to see another storyline arise. We are still given that dark and scary feeling with the shadows that play in to part. Whats so great about “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” is the lighting, shadows, emotions, and also the distorted angles. I think those four things is what tied together well in order to create a great dark and twisted film. It gives us a feeling that we are in a dark fantasy. The use of shadows and low-lighting capture a different aspect in these films, they portray a strong horror feeling. Both films were great and for their time I’d say they are somewhat better than horror films today. What’s so great about “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” was that we were given an unexpected ending where as “Nosferatu” like todays films we kind of figured what would happen in the end. Both films were great overall and I really enjoyed them, We really get to see the “Start” of it all as these films not only changed filmmaking but influenced a majority of films.

  • Sean Crowe

    Both Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are great examples of German Expressionism talent in the film industry. Both films use an intense amount of high contrast and low key lighting. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is built around the use of incredible and unusual structures set in a very dark yet high contrast environment. This alone makes the film vastly interesting to the viewer since it is so unusual. Murnau takes a different approach in Nosferatu, this film is focused more so toward the use of low key lighting and a natural environment. Unlike Wiene’s vision, Murnau decides to film outside for a large portion of the film. I also like how The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was shown to be a story within a story told by Francis. That made the ending to the film quite shocking as it wasn’t made obvious beforehand. This definitely played a part in making the film enticing. The high use of shadows in Nosferatu made the film mysterious and focused on the unknown. This gave me a different sense of fear compared to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but it was great German Expressionism none the less. I really enjoyed the idea that since these films are focused around notion of the supernatural that it was better for them to be filmed in interesting locations. Being that we generally don’t experience supernatural occurrences in our daily lives, it makes sense to film in locations that give off a sense of fantasy. That way it is much easier for us to accept the story as credible. All of these Ideas I believe were a work of genius when it comes to really putting forth the filmakers’ ideas.

  • Syd Denila

    After watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu, I gained a better understanding on how German Expressionism was used to make the films give that horror vibe. In the film the Cabinet of Dr Caligari, we were first introduce to the scene where Franzis was talking to an old man. The set of the scene was very creepy and dark with vines and dead leaves on the ground. I like how the director (Robert Wiene) decided to shoot this scene outside to show us some “normality.” That Franzis was just a man madly in love with a girl. I also like how he used a blue tint to indicated that it was at night. In Nosferatu in the other hand, we were first introduced to the scene where Hutter was getting ready, and his wife Ellen was playing with the cat. This scene was way different from the first scene of the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Due to the fact that the first scene of Dr Caligari showed you darkness and uncertainty, this scene is was more joyful and bubbly. I also like how Murnau decided to start the time line at day time. To give it that more mellow and bubbly look, and to show the viewers whats happening before everything goes down hill. Another factors that somewhat differentiates both films is the set and the score. In The Cabinet of Dr Caligari when the first scene was shown and through out the film the score was this very disturbing tone that somewhat gives you the chills. But in Nosferatu, the score was this very mellow instrumental sound that changes throughout the film and matches to whats happening. Both scores was very effectively used in both films, it gave each film its own character like the sets. The set of the Cabinet of Caligari was very distorted, creepy and dark as if it was a deadly dream; whereas, Nosferatu was more realistic and normal to the human eye. Which probably made it scarier for the people at that time. Even though Nosferatu didn’t use that much shadows like the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Both directors used it very effectively playing around shadows making them a symbol of sinister terror. An example of this was the scene where Ceasar killed Franzis’ friend and the scene where Count Orlak slowly walked up to the room of Ellen. Another component that was used in both films is voyeurism. Scenes that displayed this was when Ceasar creepily stood outside Jane’s windows and Count Orlak staring straight through the window of Ellen’s room. Both female characters where very daring and sexy for their time which probably proved the phrase “sex sells” in the movies from the 18th century to the 21st century. Throughout the film The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, you can feel this uncertain vibe probably due to the fact that the set was thsi very disturbing dream like land. At the end we saw the scene where Franzis accused the director of being this mad man who ordered ceasar to murder people. I was not expecting that in the end it was just a mad man’s story, that instead of the Director being put in the straight jacket Franzis took his place. We also see this concept of doppelgangers in Franzis’ dream Ceasar was this evil sleepwalker, but in reality he was just calm person. In Nosferatu the film had a more predictable ending due to the fact that a specific title card keeps on popping on how to kill Count Orlak. All in all both films are an amazing start of the horror film era. They have set great examples on how to use Expressionism very effectively and influenced such amazing directors throughout time.

  • Jessica Zotoiu

    Both the movies, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu have the words “German Expressionism” written all over them. Lighting, exaggeration, and distortion are very important elements of German Expressionism and both movies possess these qualities. When you first meet Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, he very slowly and dramatically opens his eyes, which you can see are covered in a lot of dark under-eye makeup. In the shots where you can see his full body, you can see that he is dressed in all black and in German Expressionism, you learn that darkness and shadows symbolize evil. This is also shown in the peculiar way that Cesare walks, he clings to the wall as if he, himself is a shadow. In Nosferatu, when Count Orlock appears on screen, although in disguise, the audience can recognize that this character is villainous. He appears in all black, covered in a cape that hides his face, and a cape that covers his horses, as well. Once the cape comes off, Count Orlock’s unusual and exaggerated features are shown, large pointy ears, dark eye makeup, long claw-like fingers, and two pointy teeth that stick out of his mouth. Count Orlock doesn’t even look human, he resembles a rat more than anything, a good example of exaggeration and distortion. In German Expressionist films, lighting is very important, usually filmed with low-key lighting or high-contrast lighting in order to have shadows dominate the shots. Shadows represent evil and in fact, in both films, shadows are shown doing the killing. In The Cabinet of Caligari, the shadow of the murderer appears on the wall as a knife is pulled out and used to stab the victim. Similarly, in Nosferatu, the shadow of Count Orlock appears on the victim and his hand reaches up to her chest and forms a fist, thus crushing her heart and killing her. Something that I noticed in both films was the symbolic use of contrast, made possible by the high-contrast lighting being used. For example, both films have a scene where a lady is dressed in all white, sleeping in a white bed where a dark figure then appears in their room with the intention of killing them. The white representing goodness and purity and the dark representing death and evil, by doing this, I believe the films did a good job portraying good and evil.

  • Sara Zengoska

    Both films were great in my opinion and did an excellent job at portraying German Expressionism. Personally, I think Dr. Caligari was a better horror film of the two because as a viewer, I didn’t really expect Francis to turn out to be the crazy person telling the story. In Dr. Caligari, the use of the custom sets made it an even better representation of German Expressionism. In Nosferatu, the story seemed a bit more subtle and didn’t feel like much of a horror film at the beginning. Once Hutter stops and says he’s going to meet Count Orlok, then it becomes more a horror movie because of the reactions he gets from the people. The shadows in Nosferatu were prominent because they were usually only following Count Orlok. Overall both films portrayed German Expressionism really well because of the costumes, custom backgrounds and different lighting techniques that the directors used.

  • Max Henley

    Both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Nosferatu, have had major influences on present day horror films. From the different lighting styles, to how the characters are portrayed really has influenced horror movies of today. In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, there were many examples of high contrast lighting. Especially, during the scenes where Cesare was killing people. Another example of lighting would be the shadows created. In Nosferatu, we saw many shadows of Count Orlok, especially during one of the most famous shots of all time, when he is in Hutter’s home going up the stairs. German expressionism really exaggerated the makeup of the characters in the films. In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Cesare had an intense amount of black makeup around his eyes, almost making him look like a raccoon. Even Dr. Caligari himself had some crazy makeup. In Nosferatu, the makeup of Count Orlok would become almost the standard for future vampires. Like Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, he had dark eye shadowing, and looked very pale overall. These films were very enjoyable to watch, and very influential to all future horror films.

  • Dimitri Khamo

    In both films, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu are both very dark and gloomy films. This applies to German Expressionism. The lack of bright lights, and weird structured sets both play a very important role. As we watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, we are viewing a scene of a circus like act that would attract so many people around the town inside a tiny tent. It is there when we are introduced dramatically to Ceasre. This was pretty amazing seeing him dressed in all black, having black lips, and sunken black eyes with the use of facial makeup. The camera then zooms in to his face, and then Ceasre slowly opens his eyes. Now with him looking like a shadow, that’s what made this movie have a sense of evil and darkness. Throughout the movie Ceasre would walk slow and stiff around like a spider, staying very close to walls, and blending in with the dark environment around him. The set’s were tall and weird in all ways possible. Now in the film Nosferatu, it is also very dark and has an evil touch to it. We see a scene where horses are covered in capes completely alongside with the conductor in a black cape riding around. When we actually see the what’s under the capes, we see a man’s face that appears to be very frightening, long pointy ears, dark eye makeup, bald head, super long fingers, and most importantly the two fangs. We automatically know now that this must be an evil vampire. It’s just amazing how special effects prosthetics were used to convince film viewers in thinking this thing isn’t human. It’s pretty cool to know that this film was mainly shot outside rather then being inside a sound stage. Nosferatu isn’t as dark as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but when Nosferatu is lurking around like a creepy stalker, it appears to show some darkness and shadows. The scene where Nosferatu’s shadow is dominating an entire wall is just plain old creepy and cool honestly. In both films, low-key lighting and high-contrast lighting are both in effect and have a very important roles throughout the films. Specifically in a German Expressionism film where it is highly likely to see this. In both films, there will be nothing but appreciation from me. I am very impressed with German Expressionism now then I ever have been because i am a huge Tim Burton fan, and I believe that Cesare had a connection to Edward Scissorhands, as to Nosferatu was Barnabas Collins from Dark Shadows. I love the concept of these dark dramatic sets, it’s my dream land. Nevertheless, both films did an outstanding job at showing us good and evil overall.

  • Jacob Allen Jones

    I love the mise en scene of both films. Caligari’s story within a story was a great way to see the world of the narrator like as you said, the first scene is outdoors and realistic but as we go into the narrator’s story, the background becomes unrealistic and from the view of what the narrator’s world is like. Nosferatu plays wonderfully with shadows and use of archways for the characters to be framed within. My favorite scene was the very end where the narrator’s girlfriend is shrouded by darkness and then a shadowy hand clasps over her heart. Both are great films with memorable moments.

  • Michael Ferrarese

    After watching both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, And Nosferatu, I have to say both films are fantastic and have a very similar expressionist feel to them. In The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari it was very obvious that the film mostly takes place on a set indoors because of the ridiculously expressionist set designs. Which included shadows all over the walls and floors that were drawn on to create an interesting contrast between light and dark, Good and Evil in the flashback story. Which was demonstrated when Caligari is on screen, there is always a large shadow behind him showing that he is a shady character to keep a look out for. In Nosferatu there was a little bit of a different feel when it comes to the set design and the use of shadows in this film. The set designs in this film were expressionist in many ways just as The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari is but the sets in Nosferatu were outside for the most part, and were a little more practical. The use of shadows was prominent in this film but not as extreme as in Dr. Caligari in terms of shadows on the ground. But one specific scene really jumped at me from Nosferatu and that shot was of a horse carriage in negative driving down a road, it really had a expressionist feel to it when I watched it. Overall, I enjoyed both of these films tremendously and they both did a fantastic job at capturing expressionism through shadows, set designs, costume design, and lighting techniques that the directors used.

  • Stefan Jankovic

    It was nice to see just what cinematographers were able to do with film back before special effects were popular. Nosferatu, despite being shot in black and white, had a fair amount of effects that played a large roll in the film. We saw a great amount of high contrast shots used to emphasize dramatic scenes about to occur like when Count Orlock shows up. We also saw negative images when Count Orlock is driving the horse drawn carriage which implied there would be more danger to come in the film. The uses of high contrast shots were also shown in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari where there was a strong emphasis on the sharp angles and shapes throughout the film. The high contrast allowed for more shadows and sharper images to pop. This just gave the film a much more eerie appeal and actually did so without having to add special effects or jump scares. This is not the case with modern horror movies. Movies these days merely show jump scares for 90% of the movie in order to add suspense and fear. Unlike the two films viewed in class, modern movies rarely have eerie approaches.

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