The 1920 silent horror movie The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is widely regarded as the film that kick started the whole Horror genre and most certainly the Expressionist movement in German cinema. It was written by the two young writers Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer between them they came up with a script that was strongly influenced by their own experiences. This film at the time was unique because most of the films that were being made at the time were mainly based on novels and stage plays rather than a script specifically created for film. But what has this got to do with our production of Woyzeck I hear you cry. Are you sitting comfortably? Good, well I’ll explain….
The groups aim for the final production of Woyzeck is to create something that is un-nerving and quite scary. The idea is, is that the audience will experience the events of the play from Woyzeck’s point of view. To achieve this we want Woyzeck to be the only naturalistic character on the stage and the other characters and the world around him gets more mad and distorted as he descends into madness. To achieve this I have looked at other productions that use slightly odd designs to create a strange and distorted world for the characters to exist in and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is a brilliant example.
Despite being written a bit over 80 years apart there are some striking similarities between Woyzeck and the good Doctor. For instance both pieces deal with insanity – Dr Caligari dives into the realms of human insanity whereas Woyzeck is almost railroaded to insanity by those around him. Woyzeck is subjected to constant abuse and humiliation by his superiors, who seem to enjoy taking advantage of his poor man status which in turn is one of the contributing factors that drive him to madness. Woyzeck can be seen as being anti-authoritarian in that it makes a very strong case for the idea that the upper classes and those in power drive the poor and less fortunate down a path that is not of their choosing and from which there is no return. One other but seemingly trivial similarity between Woyzeck and Dr Caligari is the presence of the fairground. Trivial I know however it does seem to be the start of the problems experienced by the characters. In Woyzeck it is the place where the Drum Major first notices Marie and so it escalates into something more serious. Likewise in the world of Dr Caligari the travelling show brings with it something of a killing spree. The arrival of the fair/ carnival could be symbolic in itself in that a carnival or The Feast of Fools (as it was known as in medieval times) is a time and place where normal rules are suspended and chaos reigns. So in some respects this could be another way of the rich and powerful degrading the poor and weak because the poor have no morals or decency and at a carnival those two things defiantly went right out the window. On the other hand of course it gave the rich every excuse to indulge in activities that are not decent or morally sound.
The aspects of the Dr Caligari film that are of specific interest to me as director is mainly the design of the film as a whole from the set to the stagy over the top acting style. Whilst researching the film I found that the overall design is heavily influenced by the Expressionist movement and used lots of painted backcloths which were dominated by cubes and curves, even items of furniture weren’t safe from expressionist influences as it appeared very elongated to the point of almost being distorted beyond recognition. Although we don’t plan on having too much set (at the moment) but what we do have I would very much like to have it in a similar style to Dr Caligari. This along with the sound and lighting effects will have an unnerving and disorientating effect on the audience and help them see the story from Woyzeck’s point of view. Dr Caligari uses a prologue and epilogue as a framing device for the story “Framing the story with a prologue and an epilogue made it a story told by a mad man.” (http://www.leninimports.com/cabinet_of_dr_caliga.html In this instance we could possibly use this technique to frame our production of Woyzeck.
Over the years Dr Caligari has influenced many film makers “Tim Burton used Cesare as a model for Edward Scissorhands – tall, thin, stark white face, racoon ringed eyes and skin tight black on black outfit” (John Bastian http://www.filmmonthly.com/Silents/Articles/Caligari/Caligari.html) Tim Burton is not the only person who has used the film as influences for their characters. In the film Something Wicked This Way Comes it is suggested that Jonathon Pryce used Dr Caligari as a visual for his character Mr Dark. The appearance of Dr Caligari is memorable to say the least – black and white make up, wild white hair and a very dark wardrobe make him frightening and at the same time quite ridiculous. Whilst we don’t want Woyzeck to look like Dr Caligari or Cesare we could take some ideas from them in terms of costume for the other characters such as the Doctors.
There are lots of similarities between Woyzeck and Dr Caligari which most probably are accidental but interesting all the same. There also appears to be lots of things we can use to help give our performance a different feel to what may have already been done before.
One thought on “Woyzeck meets Dr Caligari.”
Well done Rachel! The points you make are interesting and relevant! This is really well written and the time you have put into making this comparison is extremely evident in the detail of your research! I especially like your thinking about the connection between the characters Woyzeck and Dr.Caligari and the presense of the fairground. More so, because we have quite a strong element of the carvinal/fairground influence in our piece.
Some very fine work =)