The Cabinet of Dr Caligari Jazz Bar

One of the highlights to my fringe reviewing from last year was the screening of the classic silent horror film “Nosferatu” with the addition of an atmospheric background score by talented musicians Graeme Stephen & Ben Davis.

Well flash forward twelve months, and here I was again amidst the dark, mysteriously gothic seeming surroundings of The Jazz Bar in Chambers Street, where the musicians were about to musically compliment a screening of another much acclaimed classic from around the same silent era – “The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari”.

For those perhaps a little unfamiliar with the movie, “The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari” stands as one of the most influential and visually striking in all of cinema history. In fact, like so much of the great early German cinema of the 1920’s, the stylised visual impact that gave so much to the overall enjoyment of the experience would be borrowed and greatly enhanced a couple of decades later, in many of the most prominent film noir dramas and thrillers made in Hollywood.

Originally made way back in 1920, (in fact when I told a colleague what I was going to review during the fringe she cried out: “what – a black and white silent German film – made… in 1920!!” The plot centres on the sudden appearance in a little German town of the mysterious title character, whose presence happens to coincide with a spate of horrific murders.

Dr Caligari arrives not alone, but accompanied by his sideshow attraction of Cesare the somnambulist. For those not sure what the term means, it is someone who sleepwalks in a trance-like state. I’m sure all of us have met someone like that in our lives at one point or another, but that’s another story…

In the role of Cesare (all dark, sleepy eyes!) we find the renowned actor Conrad Veidt, who would later leave Germany once the Nazis came to power and ended up enjoying a successful career in Hollywood. Ironically playing, for the most part, Nazis.

It is however the look of the film that made the biggest impact – all jagged angles, shapes and surreal images that would often reflect the disturbed minds of many of the characters. In fact the main premise of the plot is whether the images we are watching are real, or are they more part of a mad distorted nightmare that adds that extra level of surrealism to the story.

Providing the background music composer Graeme Stephen on guitar and Ben Davis on saxophone once again offer up an unsettling and slightly disturbing music score that perfectly compliments the strange goings on. In fact the music has just as many jagged and edgy tones as the film’s design, supplementing that cold feeling of dread and unease, as the mysterious doctor and his sleepy friend Cesare cause havoc in the small town.

So, yet another richly enjoyable and unusual presentation featuring the rewarding combination of great silent horror cinema, with dark, nightmarish atonal music sounds, provided by Mr Stephen & Mr Davis.

I look forward to their next production with eager anticipation.

Lawrence Lettice