This was how many contemporary German reviewers understood, and relished, the settings and gestures. One of the critics stated with self-assured ignorance: “The idea of rendering the notions of sick brains … through expressionist pictures is not only well conceived but also well realized. Here this style has a right to exist, proves an outcome of solid logic.”

In their triumph the philistines overlooked one significant fact: even though CALIGARI stigmatized the oblique chimneys as crazy, it never restored the perpendicular ones as the normal. Expressionist ornaments also overrun the film’s concluding episode, in which, from the philistines’ viewpoint, perpendiculars should have been expected to characterize the revival of conventional reality. In consequence, the CALIGARI style was as far from depicting madness as it was from transmitting revolutionary messages. What function did it really assume?

During the postwar years expressionism was frequently considered a shaping of primitive sensations and experiences. Gerhart Hauptmann’s brother Carl — a distinguished writer and poet with expressionist inclinations — adopted this definition, and then asked how the spontaneous manifestations of a profoundly agitated soul might best be formulated. While modern language, he contended, is too perverted to serve this purpose, the film — or the bioscop, as he termed it — offers a unique opportunity to externalize the fermentation of inner life.

Of course, he said, the bioscop must feature only those [71] gestures of things and of human beings which are truly soulful.

Carl Hauptmann’s views elucidate the expressionist style of CALIGARI. It had the function of characterizing the phenomena on the screen as phenomena of the soul — a function which overshadowed its revolutionary meaning. By making the film an outward projection of psychological events, expressionist staging symbolized — much more strikingly than did the device of a framing story — that general retreat into a shell which occurred in postwar Germany. It is not accidental that, as long as this collective process was effective, odd gestures and settings in an expressionist or similar style marked many a conspicuous film. VARIETY, of 1925, showed the final traces of them. Owing to their stereotyped character, these settings and gestures were like some familiar street sign — “Men at Work,” for instance. Only here the lettering was different. The sign read: “Soul at Work.”