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.”

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.