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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2014 by Carl Bennett
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The Cabinet of
Dr. Caligari

(1920)
 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) is a tale of a mysterious showman who arrives in a small European town at the time of their annual fair. He intends to amaze the crowds with a genuine somnambulist who knows the past and sees the future. Outside of the sideshow, however, Caligari the showman has sinister plans.

Immediately a series of murders are committed in the town. Suspicion quickly falls on Caligari and his sleepwalker Cesare (Conrad Veidt). But a thief also becomes a suspect.

When Cesare cannot bring himself to murder the beautiful Jane, he kidnaps her, and is hunted by the angry people of the village. Caligari eventually flees the wrath of the mob, and is traced back to an insane asylum.

Werner Krauss’ Dr. Caligari is wonderfully played to archtypical levels, and Veidt delivers a stand-out performance as the somnambulist. Lil Dagover is gorgeous in her film debut as Jane, and Friedrich Fehér as Franzis is at times animatedly maniacal.

The simple but compelling story is augmented by the much-acclaimed expressionist set design that is full of angles and painted shafts of light and shadow. The angular settings and exaggerated makeup emphasize the bizarre world occupied by the mad Caligari. The film’s cramped, off-center and uneasy world is perfectly communicated to the viewer, and there can be no mistaking it: it is a mad world, but its denizens are not aware of it. Caligari remains a deliciously intriguing film, and one of world cinema’s required viewings. — Carl Bennett

2014 Kino Classics Blu-ray Disc edition

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 75 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Pillarboxed 16:9 1080p AVCHD, one single-sided, single-layered Blu-ray Disc, Region A, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, German language intertitles, optional English language subtitles, chapter stops, standard BD keepcase, $29.95.
DVD release date: 18 November 2014.
Country of origin: USA
This Blu-ray Disc edition, administered by the F.W. Murnau Foundation, has mastered from a high-resolution 4K scan largely from the original 35mm camera negative. Presented with German language art intertitles, English language subtitles are available as a viewing option.

This presentation features a music score performed by the Studio For Film Music at the University of Music, Freiburg, with an optional alternate music score by Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky).

Supplemental materials include: the documentary Caligari: How Horror Came to the Cinema (52 minutes), a booklet essay by Kristin Thompson, an image gallery, and a restoration demonstration.

This will very likely be a highly recommended edition of the film.

 
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2002 Kino on Video DVD edition

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 75 minutes, not rated,
with Genuine (1920) [exerpts], color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 44 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K254, UPC 7-38329-02542-7.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 7 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 12 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $24.95.
DVD release date: 24 September 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 8 / additional content: 7 / overall: 7.

This new edition from Kino International has been prepared from a 35mm print restored by the Bundesarchiv-Filmarchiv, and is administered by Transit Film of Germany for the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau-Stiftung.

The restoration print is an uneven compilation of footage, apparently from a couple of sources. Early in the film the emulsion of the source print was beginning to decompose creating a halo effect that produces lighter areas in the darkest portions of the picture (see right). While it is quite distracting, the effect is only apparent in the source print’s blue-tinted shots. Some of the early shots of Franzis talking to an older man appear to have been copied from a mediocre 16mm reduction print. However, the majority of the restoration print appears to have been duplicated from very-good to excellent 35mm materials. The print has a moderate amount of speckling, emulsion scuffing, frame jitters and dust. The Transit Film print is not compromised by the frame misalignment of the Russian print that the 1997 Image Entertainment edition was prepared from (see review below).

Kino International has done a good job of emulating the original German intertitles, with their slowly panning down long hand-painted cards, in this English language edition translated by Kinograph Montreal. The English-speaking viewer is afforded a sense of the style of the German original while enjoying the film in a language they will understand. Of note is the retention of act division intertitles, which are excised from some editions of the film.

The video transfer is excellent with its sharper image details and lack of visible sharpening artifacts (as compared to the Image edition). There is a normal amount of speckling, frame jitters, moderate dust and other minor flaws in the print, but this presentation fares far better than other home video editions of the film. Our reevaluation of the DVD on high-definition equipment, with an upscaled signal to full 1080p HD, forces us to be realistic about our original grading of the disc, with the surviving footage being of lesser quality than our quality-starved eyes originally saw in this disc. The transfer itself does well in HD, but the surviving material doesn’t.

The film is accompanied by two stereo music scores: the Audio 1 track features an synthesizer, guitar, piano, saxophone, bass and percussion music score composed by Rainer Viertblöck; the Audio 2 track features a score composed and performed on synthesizers by Donald Sosin. Since there is no getting away from synthesizers in this edition, a viewer’s selection of which track to listen to will be based on mood preference. The Viertblöck score is eerily atmospheric and conveys the film’s unsettling premise but will annoy some listeners with its atonality. The Sosin score takes a lively but traditional orchestral approach to its accompaniment of the film, but it is ultimately a synthesizer score — that is, the score is satisfyingly composed but is sold short by its synthesizer arrangement.

The supplementary section includes a 44-minute condensation of Caligari director Robert Wiene’s Genuine (1920) which represents nearly all of the surviving footage, a sketch, photo and posters gallery (40 images, not counting detail closeups), 35mm clips of Wiene on the set of I.N.R.I. (1923) (3 minutes), and exerpts from a German language print showing the calligraphic artwork of a few of the original intertitles (7 minutes).

While it is not perfect, we enjoy watching this edition because of the sharp picture details, the lack of a misframing line, and its faithful emulation of the original German intertitles. We highly recommend this edition of the film.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
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1997 Image Entertainment DVD edition

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), color-tinted and color-toned black & white, 72 minutes, not rated,
with Genuine (1920) [exerpts], black & white, 3 minutes, not rated.

Film Preservation Associates, distributed by Image Entertainment, ID4099DSDVD, UPC 0-14381-40992-5.
Windowboxed 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 18 chapter stops, snapper DVD case (reissued in standard DVD keepcase), $29.99.
DVD release date: 15 October 1997.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 8 / audio: 9 / additional content: 4 / overall: 8.
This film is among our favorites, but over the years we have had to endure watching substandard home video versions of the film. Videotape versions from budget-line and public-domain distributors were a horrid viewing experience. The laserdisc version from Republic Pictures Home Video was OK. But when this edition produced by David Shepard was released, a massive hooray was heard. The print is still not perfect, but it is a vast improvement over videotape editions and is one of the best editions of this film available on home video.

This edition of Caligari, which first appeared on laserdisc and videotape in the mid-1990s, features new intertitles designed and typeset to emulate the original expressionistic German intertitles. Unlike the original intertitles in German which slowly panned down to reveal longer sentences, this edition uses static intertitles with sentences broken up between multiple title cards. This edition also does not include the divisions of acts that were used in the German original. The transfer has been color-tinted and color-toned and the picture image is amazingly clear when compared to other home video editions of Caligari. Overall, the visual quality of this edition is very pleasing.

The DVD is augmented by a chamber orchestra music score composed and conducted by Timothy Brock. Compared to the music tracks of the Kino edition, we slightly favor this Brock score for its traditional instrumentation and eerie quirkiness.

This edition’s video transfer utilized a 35mm print struck in Russia, probably from an early generation nitrate duplicate negative. However, in the silent era and from country to country, there was no worldwide standard for the position of the image’s frame in relation to the film’s perforated sprocket holes. The standard later established and still in effect today has the image area lined on both sides by eight sprocket holes (four on each side of the image) and puts the horizontal frame line in between two perforations. Caligari was apparently shot with a camera that placed the horizontal frame line centered on two of the perforations. When the Russian print was struck, some anonymous Russian film lab technician failed to adjust the film printer to allow for the difference in frame lines. The result was a print with a visible frame line running through the image; most of the bottom part of the picture was at the top and a sliver of the top of the picture was at the bottom. Preservation prints taken from this Russian print have adjusted for the original frame line of the German camera, but now a visible frame line appears at the top of the picture (see above). A sliver of image at the top and the bulk of the image at the bottom now overlap slightly within the visible dark horizontal frame line.

Previous video transfers of this source material (we wonder, are there any?) would have dodged the problem by cropping the picture area tight enough to avoid the frame line, but the surrounding image area would disappear on all sides of the new framing and heads would be cut off. Shepard decided to approach the video transfer of the print on a shot-by-shot basis. Where it was deemed necessary to see all of the original image, the frame line was allowed to be seen in the transfer. Where it was felt that a shot could be shown without losing any essential action or important background visual information, the image was cropped tight enough to remove the frame line. The result is a largely more-open framing of the film. In shots of the busy Holstenwall fair, a merry-go-round is now seen at the left of the picture that was nonexistent in other editions of the film. More so than before, we can see the top of heads.

Our reevaluation of the original pressing of this disc, on high-definition equipment with an upscaled signal to full 1080p HD, reinforces our original grading of the DVD’s video quality (the noted frame line not withstanding). The video transfer, with its color-toning predominantly in sepia, holds a bit more of the highlight details that become washed-out in the strong color-tinting of the Kino edition noted above. The video details are themselves a bit soft, partially the source print and partially the standard resolution video transfer, but not to the point of downgrading the score of the disc.

We suggest for consideration that a film preservation team could take a high-definition transfer of the original Russian print and digitally repair the frame line discrepancy for good. The repaired film could then be imaged to a preservation 35mm safety film negative. The digital work would be expensive, but wouldn’t it be worth the money to restore a film that is certainly one of the ten greatest films of the silent era?

All surviving footage has been included in this edition. The disc includes some uncut shots that were previously shortened in English language editions: for example, where Alan reads the murder announcement on the wall, where Francis reads the placard on the wall of the insane asylum, and where Caligari sees the words “Du musst Caligari werden” all around him.

The disc is supplemented by 3 minutes of exerpts — two scenes — from director Robert Wiene’s film, Genuine (1920), accompanied by a piano score by Robert Israel. Also included is an audio commentary track by Mike Budd. Informative, we suppose, but dull.

We cannot suggest strongly enough that if you want to add a copy of Caligari to your home video collection, you should consider this Image edition or the Kino edition above. We recommend this DVD edition.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
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2000 Eureka Entertainment DVD edition

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), black & white, 72 minutes, Classification U,
with Genuine (1920) [exerpts], black & white, 3 minutes, not rated.

Eureka Entertainment, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 PAL, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 2, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, £19.99.
DVD release date: 18 September 2000.
Country of origin: England
This early PAL edition has likely been mastered from the best available 35mm film elements. The content may be identical to the Image edition noted above.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 2 PAL DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
2000 Elite Entertainment DVD edition

The Masterworks of the German Horror Cinema (1920-1922), black & white, 175 minutes total. not rated,
including The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), black & white, 51 minutes, not rated.

Elite Entertainment, EE 4376, UPC 7-90594-43762-6.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, two double-sided, single-layered DVD discs, Region 0, 6 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 8 chapter stops, two-disc DVD keepcase, $54.95 (reduced to $49.95).
DVD release date: 22 February 2000.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 3 / additional content: 7 / overall: 4.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari remains one of the most-discussed silent era films. Its imagery is among the silent era’s most influential. So, why hasn’t providence saved this important film in better form? True, the David Shepard/Image edition available on DVD and VHS videotape that was transferred from a very good quality Russian print represented a tremendous leap forward in visual quality. But, why aren’t there a flood of good quality editions of this film? The Elite edition of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari feels like a step backward. The film has been well-transferred (at sound film speed) from a substandard 16mm reduction print originating from Film Renters Inc.

Toss away your budget-line VHS videotape versions of Caligari. At least Elite has produced a definitive transfer of the 16mm prints commonly utilized for those editions. But is that really saying much? While the transfer framing is impeccable, the framing of the 16mm source material removes picture information from all sides, but especially from the top and left sides of the picture. In the shots of the Holstenwall fair, the merry-go-round clearly seen at the left of the picture in the Image edition is nonexistent in the Elite edition.

The downside of the disc includes audio crackling, and the fact that some shots have been shortened: for example, where Alan reads the murder announcement on the wall or where Francis reads the placard to the insane asylum, both seen in the Image edition. But, everything that is wrong with the Elite edition of Caligari ultimately stems from what is wrong with the source materials. (Except, a few master tape glitches appear in the picture at 6:52 into the disc.) It is a disappointment that better materials were not available to the Elite production team.

The Caligari disc (in this two-disc set) is supplemented by the same 3 minute exerpts from director Robert Wiene’s 1920 film, Genuine, that is available in the Image edition of Caligari.

We do not recommend this edition of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2004 Delta Entertainment DVD edition

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), black & white, 70 minutes, not rated.

Delta Entertainment, 82 340, UPC 0-18111-23409-2.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 5.5 Mbps average video bit rate, 1536 kbps audio bit rate, PCM 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 10 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $6.99.
DVD release date: 24 February 2004.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 3 / additional content: 0 / overall: 4.

Well, we shouldn’t be surprised. Budget home video distributor Delta Entertainment has released yet another silent film edition that has been prepared from a 16mm reduction print (the substandard 1937 16mm print from Film Renters Inc. as the Elite edition above, to be specific), the same source as a handful of other budget DVDs of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Much of what is wrong with this edition is the same as what is wrong with others mastered from this material. The print is contrasty (facial details are often blasted out), but manages to hold middle graytones well enough. The print is also moderately sprinkled with dust, and is soft of image details. The video transfer at least

The film is accompanied by a low-fi compiled orchestral soundtrack of preexisting recordings that appears to originate from the Film Renters print.

Because the disc is ultimately nearly identical to other budget DVD editions of this film taken from the same source material, we do not recommend this Delta disc to anyone but the cheap collector.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2002 Catcom Home Video DVD edition

Nosferatu (1922), black & white, 80 minutes, not rated,
with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), black & white, 51 minutes, not rated.

Catcom Home Video, CAT0213-6, UPC 7-41914-02136-0.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 3 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, unknown suggested retail price.
DVD release date: 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 3 / audio: 4 / additional content: 3 / overall: 3.

You can’t expect much from a cheap edition when they are going to use the same substandard 16mm reduction print materials from Film Renters Inc. that has been used a dozen times before. The transfer has been made a sound film speed to utilize the muffled orchestral optical soundtrack from the 16mm print. Image details are almost nonexistent and the picture is contrasty. In places, the film is a strain to watch.

Not recommended.
2014 Grapevine Video DVD edition

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), color-tinted black & white, 67 minutes, not rated.

Grapevine Video, no catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD-R disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, German language intertitles, English language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $12.95.
DVD release date: 17 October 2014.
Country of origin: USA
This edition has likely been mastered from a 16mm reduction print.

The film is accompanied by a music score compiled from preexisting recordings.

 
This Region 0 NTSC DVD-R edition is available directly from . . .
2002 Alpha Video DVD edition

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), black & white, 82 minutes, not rated.

Alpha Video, ALP 3170D, UPC 0-89218-31709-4.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 4 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $6.98.
DVD release date: 4 June 2002.
Country of origin: USA
The majority of Alpha Video’s silent film editions are prepared from 16mm reduction prints, and this disc likely doesn’t depart from that trend. It’s probably OK if you can’t force yourself to spend $25 on a quality edition.

We are a little suspicious of the advertised running time of 82 minutes, since most natural-speed transfers of the surviving film materials run from 72 to 75 minutes.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
2003 Madacy Entertainment DVD edition

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Madacy Entertainment, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0?, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $5.98.
DVD release date: 4 March 2003.
Country of origin: Canada
We have not viewed this budget edition, we haven’t even seen an actual copy of it. But you may expect yet another low quality Madacy edition that has likely been prepared from a 16mm reduction print.

What can you expect from a company that markets this film in its “Hollywood Classic Collection”? We do not recommend this edition.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase support the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase support the Silent Era website.
2004 Sunrise Silents DVD edition

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), black & white, 65 minutes, not rated,
with His Royal Slyness (1919), black & white, 25 minutes, not rated, and exerpts from The Lightning Raider (1919) [unidentified episode], black & white, 10 minutes, not rated.

Sunrise Silents, V1N2-N, no UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD-R disc, Region 0, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, PCM 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $14.95.
DVD release date: 2004.
Country of origin: USA
We have not viewed this DVD-R edition from public-domain home video company Sunrise Silents.

The film is likely accompanied by a music score performed on MIDI synthesizer.

If you own a copy of this edition and would be willing loan it to Silent Era for review, please contact us.

 
SUNRISE SILENTS has discontinued business and this edition is no longer available.
2003 Front Row Entertainment DVD edition

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Front Row Entartainment, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0?, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, slimline DVD keepcase, $5.98.
DVD release date: 2003.
Country of origin: USA
It is safe to assume that this low-budget DVD edition has been prepared from low-quality materials — likely a 16mm reduction print.

If you own a copy of this edition and would be willing loan it to Silent Era for review, please contact us. Meanwhile, we do not recommend this edition.

Other silent era ROBERT WIENE films available on home video.

Other silent era CONRAD VEIDT films available on home video.

Other GERMAN FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

Other HORROR FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
 
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