The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)
Watch this movie this Halloween. Watch this instead of watching Tim Burton, who was clearly inspired by the aesthetics of this horror meets Bauhaus meets all the reasons I adore 1920s fashions. Watch this instead of watching American Horror Story, it will scratch the itch for both the freakshow and asylum seasons without making you feel guilty. If a movie is about to have a completely white cast and an ableist view of mental health having the excuse of being made in pre-WW2 Germany is about as good of an excuse that you can get. Lacking the exploitative and “they should know better,” aspects of 2016 does a lot to excuse the negative but so the does the iconic visuals that you might not even know were iconic.
I don’t say iconic lightly, either. I would start posting screen shots from the film but I’m not sure I would stop until I had a book (or several books) worth of discussion of the direction, the acting, and the influence of this movie in visual rhetoric. Part of the reason I love watching silent movies is that film making had different intentions for the experience of the audience. Acting, as we now know it, was closer to recreating paintings than to contemporary actors’ desire to truly recreate genuine emotion and experience. If ever over the top, the lack of dialogue and the encouragement of the soundtrack helps to shape the dramatic performances into ineffable portraits of mental and emotional states. Watch this instead of Sin City or 300, also, the idea that a movie can act like a comic book has never been stronger. In fact, I wonder if those young Jews who would go on to create comics were inspired by the title cards, the sets that frame with wild paint patterns and spiraling visuals.
I hope to someday have more eloquent things to say about this movie but, for now, you’ll have to settle with the fact that I’m newly in love and seriously enjoying every bit of NRE I’m having with this movie.
The Addams Family (1991)
So technically this is me rewatching this movie again after watching it last week and probably before watching it again today. It’s honestly a movie I will find myself coming back to throughout the month so I figured I might as well mention it now. Despite predictable lack of diversity and other 90s no brainers, there is still so much I love about this movie. Watching it in conjunction with Caligari highlighted the visual rhetoric that firms a solid base for all things dark that owe some of their success to Tim Burton. Having said that, and due to the fact the Burton has recently and very blatantly outed himself as casually blinded by his white privilege, I’m far more interested in the influences of Caligari albeit possibly diluted by the existence of Burton.
Raul Julia and Anjelica Houston as Gomez and Morticia Addams could effectively have their dialogue removed and still be successful as silent film actors. This generally goes for the majority of the characters, including baby Christina Ricci’s controlled chaos as Wednesday. And Christopher Lloyd’s comedic transformation both as Fester and his alterego identity of Gordon. The actors performances are supported by the narrative and while being a family friendly film it still manages to treat the audience with respect and to create a relatively complicated storyline people with dozens of supporting characters that add to the general aesthetic of the Addams Family menagerie. If nothing else, I could compliment this movie for how consistent it is from beginning to end.
Instead, I’ll end on this note before I (most likely) go to watch this movie again: Gomez and Morticia Addams are relationship and goals until death do you not part. Their quirky and “weird” romance is not only accepting of its’ oddities but is supportive, nurturing their oddness as it grows stronger through each over the top turn of the plot. It captures, from the subversion of the Christmas carol in the opening credits, the delight of sullying something picture perfect in order to create something more beautiful in its complexity.
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