Watching this silent masterpiece, I was struck by the fact that I was observing the long dead. These people, performers, were but ghosts enmeshed in celluloid; each playing their part in a plot, which raised complex questions about identity. I couldn’t help wondering how these “shades” from the first quarter of the last century would view their filmic immortality (so to speak) – what if, for example, some essence, something of their very soul had been trapped along with their image on the film? And they still possessed awareness, trapped in those ancient reels of celluloid. As we look in on them, they look out on us!

Wiene’s film “THE CABINET OF DR CALIGARI” opens with two men sitting talking. One explains: “Spirits surround us on every side – they have driven me from hearth and home, from wife and child”.

And we know this is a man dispossessed, reflecting the state of a nation, Germany in 1919, crippled by the blight of total war, isolated and friendless, and on the verge of revolution. For it was in 1919 “CABINET” was produced. And many of its themes, dispossession, lust for power over others, sudden death, were comments on the state of the culture from which the film grew.

The second man, the film’s narrator, glances up to see a woman with chalk-white face passing by. “My fiancée,” he explains. (She has been confined to a lunatic asylum after her attempted rape, as you soon discover) “I can tell a story much stranger than yours – ”

And so we are hooked in to this story, in to Caligari’s cabinet, in to the mind of a madman, and his delusional fantasies where reality is no longer as certain as once it may have been. Caligari is both the mad magician in control of Cesare, the somnambulist, and the doctor in charge of the asylum. Cesare kills on Caligari’s command. He attempts the rape of the blank-faced lady (Lil Dagover) and murders her lover. Eventually Caligari is arrested. He is confined in a straitjacket. But wait – the man thought mad is now shown to be sane; the restrained Caligari is now the restrainer of the insane. It is the narrator who is mad, and he is placed in a straightjacket after an unsuccessful attempt to kill Caligari, the head of the asylum.

The film questions reality and our ways of perceiving it. This effect is reinforced by some of the most extraordinary Expressionist sets. We are viewing the fantasies of a mind out of kilter, a mind that reflects upon love and death, rape and domination, good and evil. A mind that reflects the aftershocks and upheaval of a society in transition after bloody war.

And the final words are spoken by Caligari and give hope for us all for the future:

“Now I know how to cure him.”

The Murderer

“I like detective stories; I read them, I write them; but I do not believe them. The bones and structure of a good detective story are so old and well known that it may seem banal to state them even in outline. A policeman, stupid but sweet-tempered, and always weakly erring on the side of mercy, walks along the street; and in the course of his ordinary business finds a man in Bulgarian uniform killed with an Australian boomerang in a Brompton milk-shop. Having set free all the most suspicious persons in the story, he then appeals to the bull-dog professional detective, who appeals to the hawk-like amateur detective. The latter finds near the corpse a boot-lace, a button-boot, a French newspaper, and a return ticket from the Hebrides; and so, relentlessly, link by link, brings the crime home to the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Illustrated London News May 6, 1911

Kazuhiko Nakamura


In praise of Kazuhiko Nakamura – one of the best!


The Vampire


In his work titled “The Vampire” Edvard Munch depicts the simplest of scenes: a woman with rich red hair (flowing blood red?) leaning over the neck of a strangely passive male. This male might be crying, and to the casual observer, the woman attempting to comforting him. But no. That was not what Munch had in mind. Look at the shadows surrounding them both: the waiting darkness is threatening to swallow them; here there is alienation, a sense of loss, a sense that reality itself is endangered – embodied in the form of the painting, and in Munch’s use of colour.

Originally titled “Love and Pain” the painting was thought by some to represent the troubled artist’s visits to prostitutes – his empty search for love in the physicality of the flesh; others felt it was a macabre vision of his favourite sister following her death. It certainly created outrage and controversy.

August Strindberg wrote a prose-poem on Munch’s paintings:

Golden rain falls on the unfortunate kneeling creature who craves of his evil genius the boon of death by the prick of a needle. Golden fibres which bind to earth and to suffering. A rain of blood flows in torrents over the accursed head of him who seeks the misery, the divine misery of being loved, that is – of loving.

Vision of the Last Judgement

Blake’s vision of the end of things material, seems an appropriate point to commence a blog on the waiting darkness – Blake was a visionary, poet, painter, engraver, radical and genius. He saw into the darkness, spoke to the angels, and created a universe of emblem and symbol which lives on long after him…and will continue long after all of us!