CinePunked’s Robert and Rachael fight against the distorted reality of their own sleep deprivation for a conversation exploring the 1920 German Expressionist film classic The Cabinet of Dr Caligari – and its lasting impact on contemporary cinema and goth culture.
Sleeve notes are below.
With Robert JE Simpson and Dr Rachael Kelly.
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Episode URL: https://player.whooshkaa.com/episode?id=953751
If you prefer a visual podcast, we have now made this episode available in video format on YouTube:
We’ve been caught in a cycle of films about distorted perceptions of reality and unreliable narrators during the last few episodes of the CinePunked podcast. The last episode’s focus on the sleep-deprived narrator of Fight Club leads us naturally to cinema’s earlier example of violence perpetrated by a character that was caught in a walking dream, that of Cesare in Robert Weine’s Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (known to English speaking viewers as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari).
Fight Club‘s Tyler is a creation of the sleep deprived narrator’s mind. Caligari’s somnambulist is literally sleep controlled into conducting a series of murders, and our narrator may or may not be dreaming the whole thing.
While Cesare is essentially a sleep walker (we point this out at the top of the show), we do talk a fair bit about sleep deprivation, and I realise this may sound like we’ve conflated two things. We haven’t.
Sleep deprivation can be a major contribution into the medical condition of somnambulism, so it is perhaps appropriate that both Rachael and myself were both suffering from sleep deprivation when we recorded this (I’ve had awful insomnia since my brush with Covid at Christmas). Talk about empathising for one’s art…
Because this is a silent film, there are no clips in the episode – this is a straight conversation between Rachael and myself with our responses to the film itself. And we get through quite a bit, from our own responses to silent cinema, Rachael’s lack of enthusiasm for German expressionism, through the very clear lines of influence of the style across film noir, horror and yes ‘goth’ culture.
One of the things I mentioned in the show was David Bowie’s use of the somnambulist as one of his final characters in the music video for ‘Lazarus‘.
Bowie’s own sketch for the character (sourced from here), is rather telling:
The comparisons to Cesare in The Cabinet of Dr Caligari are obvious. Both emerge from boxes, are dressed in figure hugging black, with distinctive striping across the body, and are both described as somnambulist.
In case you haven’t seen it, here’s the Bowie video for Lazarus:
Talk of Bowie, and dreams, takes us back to the beginning of this season of podcasts of course, and Labyrinth.
Although this was Rachael’s first time watching Caligari, the film has been with CinePunked from our first days, with imagery referenced in our own internal style guides. And regular listeners who watch the films under discussion (which we recommend you do) might recall the Berlin sequence in the psychadelic James Bond film Casino Royale (1967) where Mata Bond is confronted by a clockwork Ronnie Corbett (Yes! it really is as bizarre as it sounds).
The thing about great cinema, is it embeds itself into the popular conscience. Even if you don’t realise it. Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice looks so distinctive, and yet familiar, because it draws on the same sources. Art borrows from art, it learns, it evolves. You can love the original, the evolution, both, neither…
Do let us know what you think of Caligari and the pod.
Update 3 Feb 2022: We’ve been recording many of our podcasts remotely via zoom, which has allowed us to keep a video version of each session. It is our intention to provide video versions were possible going forward, in addition to the standard audio podcast. We’ve started with this episode, as I foolishly thought a discussion on a silent movie might be the easiest to edit. How wrong I was! The video is posted in the sleeve notes above. Do let us know what you think of the format and if this is something you want to see more of.
The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari) is readily available via archive.org and YouTube in multiple versions. It is also available on DVD and Blu-Ray from various companies including Eureka in the UK and Kino Classics in the USA.
The CinePunked theme music is ‘Riding the Synth‘ – © 2020, Ben Blademan Simpson. Used with permission.
Episode recorded via Zoom in Holywood and Newtownards, Northern Ireland on 30 January 2022.
Engineered and edited by Robert JE Simpson. Audio podcast first published on 2 February 2022. Video version first published on 3 February 2022.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is available in full below.
In the event that the video is unavailable, you should find alternatives on YouTube.