Flickchart Film School: 1920
By the beginning of 1920, film had already become widely popularized. There were over 20,000 locations in the United States alone that had begun to show movies. Film was already so popular, Hollywood’s Chamber of Commerce had already begun to ask acting hopefuls to try to stay out of the movies due to the overwhelming response to moving pictures. Politics were even brought into the mix when The Americanization Committee was formed. This committee, which was led by film executives and various politicians, hoped to influence a level of patriotism through the films being released. While films still played without sound, Brazil began to test out the use of records to be played during films in order to give them the sense of sound. The idea of film celebrity grew to even greater heights when two of the most famous actors of the time, Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, were wed. In addition to all this, a British teen named Archie Leach came to America. Leach would later take on the stage name, Cary Grant, and become one of the most famous actors of his generation.
Flickchart readers have voted that the best film of 1920 is The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The debut film of German director Robert Wiene, Dr. Caligari was a masterpiece of German Expressionism films and is still a highly influential film to this day. Dr. Caligari is renowned as one of the first horror films, one of the first uses of the surprise ending, and quite possibly one of the first zombie films. Dr. Caligari features the narrator Francis, telling a story about him and his friend Alan who saw a man named Dr. Caligari at a carnival. Caligari presents Cesare, a somnambulist who can also answer any question. When Alan asks when he will die, Cesare responds that he will die by tomorrow. When Alan does in fact die, Caligari and Cesare becomes the prime suspect of Francis and his soon-to-be wife Jane, who also believe him to be connected to several other murders. With the town trying to find who is terrorizing their town, Francis must try to stop Caligari and his murderous assistant.
The world that Wiene creates is a dark and curious world. His sets and characters create a world where nothing is quite right, evoking a feeling of unease and uncertainty. The influence of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari still shines through the films of today such as the works of Tim Burton and Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island. Wiene’s film leads to a fantastic conclusion that is hard to see coming, yet makes complete sense in hindsight thanks to the film’s style. Wiene pulls you into the world he creates, allows the audience to accept the world they are presented with, and then he pulls the carpet right out from under them. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a masterpiece for anyone interested in learning about the beginnings of horror, how a set can exemplify emotions of a story or for someone who just wants to be surprised by a great film.
For those interested in more films 1920, check out these films:
- The first filmed version of Zorro, The Mark of Zorro, became essential to the swashbuckling films that followed it. In addition, the masked star was played by one of the most famous stars of the time and the recently wed, Douglas Fairbanks.
- For more from The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance director D.W. Griffith, check out his adaptation of the play Way Down East, which was also the highest grossing film of 1920.
- Finally, for those interested in more silent German horror films after The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, you should seek out The Golem: How He Came Into the World, about a giant Golem created out of clay to protect a town.
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