Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings

By Leo Eubank; Marshall Cohen | Go to book overview

FROM FROM CALIGARI TO HITLER

THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI

SIEGFRIED KRACAUER

The Czech Hans Janowitz, one of the two authors of the film Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), was brought up in Prague—that city where reality fuses with dreams, and dreams turn into visions of horror.* One evening in October 1913 this young poet was strolling through a fair at Hamburg, trying to find a girl whose beauty and manner had attracted him. The tents of the fair covered the Reeperbahn, known to any sailor as one of the world’s chief pleasure spots. Nearby, on the Holstenwall, Lederer’s gigantic Bismarck monument stood sentinel over the ships in the harbor. In search of the girl, Janowitz followed the fragile trail of a laugh which he thought hers into a dim park bordering the Holstenwall. The laugh, which apparently served to lure a young man, vanished somewhere in the shrubbery. When, a short time later, the young man departed, another shadow, hidden until then in the bushes, suddenly emerged and moved along—as if on the scent of that laugh. Passing this uncanny shadow, Janowitz caught a glimpse of him: he looked like an average bourgeois. Darkness reabsorbed the man, and made further pursuit impossible. The following day big headlines in the local press announced: “Horrible sex crime on the Holstenwall! Young Gertrude … murdered.” An obscure feeling that Gertrude might have been the girl of the fair impelled Janowitz to attend the victim’s funeral. During the ceremony he suddenly had the sensation of discovering the murderer, who had not yet been captured. The man he suspected seemed to recognize him, too. It was the bourgeois—the shadow in the bushes.

*The following episode, along with other data appearing in my pages on Caligari, is drawn from an
interesting manuscript Mr. Hans Janowitz has written about the genesis of this film. I feel greatly indebted
to him for having put his material at my disposal. I am thus in a position to base my interpretation of Cali-
gari on the true inside story, up to now unknown.

-154-

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