The Austin-based traveling band came to Circle Cinema to perform a live scoring of the silent film.
Recently, the travelling band Invincible Tsars came to Tulsa’s Circle Cinema to do a live original scoring of Robert Wiene’s 1920 silent film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.”
The main plot of the film involves the dubious Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) controlling a sleepwalker to do nefarious deeds. As is typical of silent films, the dialogue is sparse, instead using physical acting to convey the narrative. This allows the viewer to be truly immersed the twisted world Wiene crafts.
Invincible Tsars are a four-man group led by Josh Robbins, who mainly plays guitar for the group. The group also includes a violinist, a keyboardist and a drummer. Most of the members also use secondary instruments, such as an extra keyboard or an odd whistle used to imitate laughter.
The Tsars’ music provides an amazing atmosphere to the film. Robbins’s guitar playing creates a sublime aura, especially aided by the wonderful acoustics of Circle Cinema’s theater. The incorporation of the violin is also beneficial; it gives a very light and eerie feel that greatly compliments the tone of the film.
Their performance incorporates a pleasingly large degree of theatricality. At the climax of the film, Robbins stood up as he shredded resounding chords on his guitar. Several members of the group wore wonderfully bizarre outfits; The Invincible Tsars tapped into the aesthetic of the film perfectly.
Not only was the Tsars’ score great, it doesn’t feel like too far a departure from the film’s artistic intent. The group was able to create a fresh and modern take on a classic film while still remaining tastefully respectful of the essence of “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.”
The film itself is a true masterpiece of silent cinema. Considered an example of German Expressionism, the sets of the film use few right angles, preferring twisted walls and windows. A common backdrop depicts a twisted hill of slanted houses that make up the town. Even the chairs some characters sit in are so high off the ground they force a slouch on the sitter. The dialogue intertitles are expressive, using a wild font and artful background.
The film’s influence is hard to overstate. It was incredibly important in the development of both the horror and arthouse genres of film. It pushed the bounds of what was allowed visually and thematically, paving the way for many movies to come. Directors like Cocteau, Bunuel and Dreyer all owe some debt to this film.
Thematically, the film is generally interpreted to be an anti-authoritarian statement against Germany and its political culture. Dr. Caligari represents a manipulating master, exerting complete control over the unwitting somnambulist. The sleepwalker represents the many people of Germany who were often forced into combat in the First World War. Many see the film predicting the rise of Hitler, as it criticizes the German people for being willing to be controlled by a master.
Overall, this viewing not only proves that “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” holds up to modern standards, but also that it can even be greatly improved by a wonderful new score.