After a thorough propaganda campaign culminating in the puzzling poster “You must become Caligari,” Decla released the film in February 1920 in the Berlin Marmorhaus. Among the press reviews — they were unanimous in praising CALIGARI as the first work of art on the screen — that of Vorwaerts, the leading Social Democratic Party organ, distinguished itself by utter absurdity. It commented upon the film’s final scene, in which the director of the asylum promises to heal Francis, with the words : “This film is also morally invulnerable inasmuch as it evokes sympathy for the mentally diseased, and comprehension for the self-sacrificing activity of the psychiatrists and attendants.” Instead of recognizing that Francis’ attack against an odious authority harmonized with the Party’s own antiauthoritarian doctrine, Vorwaerts preferred to pass off authority itself as a paragon of progressive virtues. It was always the same psychological mechanism: the rationalized middle-class propensities of the Social Democrats interfering with their rational socialist designs. While the Germans were too close to CALIGARI to appraise its symptomatic value, the French realized that this film was more than just an exceptional film.

They coined the term “Caligarisme” and [72] applied it to a postwar world seemingly all upside down; which, at any rate, proves that they sensed the film’s bearing on the structure of society. The New York premiere of CALIGARI, in April 1921, firmly established its world fame. But apart from giving rise to stray imitations and serving as a yardstick for artistic endeavors, this “most widely discussed film of the time” never seriously influenced the course of the American or French cinema. It stood out lonely, like a monolith.