Observations: Weird sounds emanate from the cabinet of Dr Caligari

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

It's the most influential of German Expressionist films. Now, to mark the 90th anniversary of the making of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, the electro-jazz duo Cipher have composed a new soundtrack to accompany its nightmarish scenes.

Updating the tradition of live pianists in cinemas, the duo are performing the new score live as the silent film is screened in its original hand-tinted version across the country this month. Cipher's Theo Travis plays haunting soprano saxophone, flute and keys, and Dave Sturt plays fretless bass while using pedals to produce the sounds that create their layered, dark, atmospheric music.

Director Robert Wiene's 1920 film tells the tale of Dr Caligari, a hypnotist who travels the carnival circuit with somnambulist Cesare. When a series of murders coincides with the pair's visit, it appears the hypnotist has been ordering Cesare to commit the murders. But is all as it seems?

Cipher have a history of writing scores for sinister films, including Alfred Hitchcock's The Lodger and Blackmail, FW Murnau's The Last Laugh, and GW Pabst's Pandora's Box in their repertoire.

Travis explains: "We tend to pick films that are dark to write new music for. It's about capturing the mood of the film with a mixture of improvisation and composition. The Cabinet of Dr Caligari is one of the most moody and dramatic films ever made, one that continues to exert a huge influence on film-makers".

Dr Caligari has also been an influence on rock and pop music. Rock band Jane's Addiction took their name from a subheading within the film while the video for Suede's "Heroine" uses elements of the film. Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore's band Rainbow took the inspiration even further, dressing up their singer Joe Lynn Turner as Cesare for the video for the single "Can't Let You Go", while Bauhaus printed Cesare's image on T-shirts for "Bela Lugosi's Dead". And timorous Coldplay fans beware: the video for "Cemeteries of London" also features some particularly chilling clips from the same film.

Friday May 15, Reel Cinema, Loughborough; Wednesday 27 May, Showroom Cinema, Sheffield; Thursday 28 May Broadway Cinema, Nottingham