With this cheerful message the audience is dismissed. Janowitz and Mayer knew why they raged against the framing story: it perverted, if not reversed, their intrinsic intentions.

While [67] the original story exposed the madness inherent in authority, Wiene’s CALIGARI glorified authority and convicted its antagonist of madness. A revolutionary film was thus turned into a conformist one — following the much-used pattern of declaring some normal but troublesome individual insane and sending him to a lunatic asylum.

This change undoubtedly resulted not so much from Wiene’s personal predilections as from his instinctive submission to the necessities of the screen; films, at least commercial films, are forced to answer to mass desires. In its changed form CALIGARI was no longer a product expressing, at best, sentiments characteristic of the intelligentsia, but a film supposed equally to be in harmony with what the less educated felt and liked.

If it holds true that during the postwar years most Germans eagerly tended to withdraw from a harsh outer world into the intangible realm of the soul, Wiene’s version was certainly more consistent with their attitude than the original story; for, by putting the original into a box, this version faithfully mirrored the general retreat into a shell. In CALIGARI (and several other films of the time) the device of a framing story was not only an aesthetic form, but also had symbolic content. Significantly, Wiene avoided mutilating the original story itself.

Even though CALIGARI had become a conformist film, it preserved and emphasized this revolutionary story — as a madman’s fantasy. Caligari’s defeat now belonged among psychological experiences. In this way Wiene’s film does suggest that during their retreat into themselves the Germans were stirred to reconsider their traditional belief in authority. Down to the bulk of social democratic workers they refrained from revolutionary action; yet at the same time a psychological revolution seems to have prepared itself in the depths of the collective soul. The film reflects this double aspect of German life by coupling a reality in which Caligari’s authority triumphs with a hallucination in which the same authority is overthrown. There could be no better configuration of symbols for that uprising against the authoritarian dispositions which apparently occurred under the cover of a behavior rejecting uprising.

Janowitz suggested that the settings for CALIGARI be designed by the painter and illustrator Alfred Kubin, who, a forerunner of the surrealists, made eerie phantoms invade harmless scenery and visions of torture emerge from the subconscious.

Wiene took to the [68] idea of painted canvases, but preferred to Kubin three expressionist artists: Hermann Warm, Walter Rohrig and Walter Reimann. They were affiliated with the Berlin Sturm group, which, through Herwarth Walden’s magazine Sturm, promoted expressionism in every field of art.

Although expressionist painting and literature had evolved years before the war, they acquired a public only after 1918. In this respect the case of Germany somewhat resembled that of Soviet Russia where, during the short period of war communism, diverse currents of abstract art enjoyed a veritable heyday. To a revolutionized people expressionism seemed to combine the denial of bourgeois traditions with faith in man’s power freely to shape society and nature. On account of such virtues it may have cast a spell over many Germans upset by the breakdown of their universe.