So, so much has been said and written about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920). From its Expressionist design to its reflection of the German psyche in the interwar period, there is little ground uncovered. And of course just about every thesis put forth has been countered. It’s a divisive film, but and undoubtedly influential one.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari begins with a young man, Francis, telling a story of the troubles he and his fiancee, Jane, have endured at the hands of the nefarious Dr. Caligari. In the flashback, a fair has come to the town of Holstenwall and a rash of strange murders breaks out. One of the victims is Alan, Francis’ friend, and a good-natured rival for Jane’s affection. Francis (and the authorities) begin to suspect that it’s no coincidence that the murders began when the mysterious sideshow barker and hypnotist, Caligari, came to town with Cesare (Conrad Veidt), a hypnotically controlled sleepwalker. As they close in on Caligari, Cesare is on his way to claim their next victim, Jane. But who is this Caligari really? How much free will could a somnambulist really have?
The plot is, at its heart, a simple detective story, complicated by the film’s Expressionist style. It’s not uncommon for storytellers to pair simple or familiar elements with more experimental ones to make it easier for their audience to concentrate on the newer, more adventurous elements. You’ll find this strategy in many of the films considered part of the German Expressionist movement. In more recent filmmaking, Tim Burton attempts this with his films often (with varying success). Edward Scissorhands (1990) in particular comes to mind.
German Expressionism was a popular art style and it spanned many art forms, though its shining moment was on film. Following WWI, the use of Expressionist styling set apart German films from their competitors, primarily American films at the time. Expressionism sought out extreme subjectivity, materializing emotions and moods into physical space.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari uses this approach to articulate Francis’ unreliable narration of the happenings at Holstenwall. Unnatural angles and impossible shadows evoke delusions desperately struggling to become reality. Hermann Warm, Walter Reimann, and Walter Röhrig designed and painted sets and costumes that stretched reality. It would only be two characters, Caligari and Cesare, that would get the full Expressionist treatment.
Conrad Veidt’s Cesare is a lean, shadowy figure. Cesare is often photographed such that it seems as if he’s forcing himself out from the walls, fighting against incongruous gravity.
Cesare only has one costume through the whole film. He wears a dark turtleneck knit sweater with the texture of the sweater embellished with stripes at the neck and wrists. On the front of the sweater is a loosely drawn X that suggests an accumulation of dust. Cesare’s pants are fitted and the same shade as his sweater. His shoes are matte with no decoration or detail.
For my daywalker look, I tried to avoid looking costumey by varying the colors, but staying muted. I chose a v-neck sweater over a mock-turtleneck top to keep the silhouette and and to mimic the top of the X on Cesare’s costume with the V of the sweater. I don’t own any black skinny jeans, but those would have been a better choice for the pants tbh.
I also don’t own a dark knit turtleneck so I embellished a plain black turtleneck with baby powder and a small paintbrush on the neck, wrists, and loosely drew the X. I paired it with black leggings, but any fitted pair of dark pants would work. To achieve the effect of his pants and shoes blending into one another, I put on some black ballet flats and put an old pair of black socks over them. (I do not recommend doing this if you’re planning on wearing this someplace with a lot of hardwood floors! Just get some all-black fabric sneakers.)
Cesare’s makeup is the most graphic makeup design in the film. The deep, dark, and geometric makeup emphasizes the sunkenness of his eyes and cheeks. The shapes drawn around his eyes, when seen at a distance, can make them seem open or closed; the makeup mirroring the nature of his somnambulism.
For the daytime look, after applying an even layer of foundation, I concentrated on the eyes. Starting with a neutral shadow, I laid down a base layer of powder to ease blending later. Moving to a dark gray eyeshadow, (1.) I laid down a smudgy line on the outer half of my lower lid. I brought the line out past the end of my eye and blended it directly upward above my crease. (My eyes are very round, so I didn’t want to bring the shadow all across my bottom lid because I find that makes them look even rounder–not quite right for this look.) (2.) I then went in with a taupe shadow on the same brush to build up the chevron shape on my outer eye. Using a clean brush, I covered my moveable lid with white shadow. (3.) To finish up the eyes, I applied a coat of black mascara and went into the waterline softly with black liner. If you think you’re eyes will look too small (or you just don’t like getting up in your waterline) a few extra coats of volumizing mascara would do the trick.
For the eyebrows, I went for a thick, straight shape with a brown pencil and softened it out with brown powder. I also went in with a little bit of contour just under my cheekbones and dusted the tops of my cheekbones with a matte highlighter.
For the lips, I chose a pink nude since the eyes are the real focus. I used a liner to straighten the lines of my lips a little.
On to the full makeup! Since I’m working over the daywalker look, there are a few steps I will have “skipped” in the photos, but I’ll include them in the written instructions.
For a base, I powdered down my foundation with white powder to get that deathly cast. Using a dark taupe powder, I contoured my cheekbones. To the left is the initial shape and to the right is after I blended it out (but only back and down, since this is meant to be a sharp, stark look.)
(1.) I used a very soft black liner to map out the under eye shape. Be sure to use a very soft product for this so you don’t tug at this skin too much. It’s sensitive! (2.) Fill those shapes in! You might notice that I didn’t extend the shape very much on the inner corners of my eyes. (3.) My nose protrudes at a pretty sharp angle fairly close to my eyes so the shape would be distorted if I extended it further. If you have more real estate there, go for it! It’s okay if the lines are a little messy, we can clean them up later.
From the points at each end of the eye, (1.) draw a rough triangle upwards to the area above your crease. (If you have hooded lids or a monolid, this might be a great opportunity to try a cut crease!) (2.) I then went in with a fine brush and black powder to tidy the lines and get sharper points. (3.) Using white face paint and an angled brush, I covered my moveable lid and drew an arcing line just below my eyebrows. I also went in with the soft black liner to darken my lower waterline. Now’s not a bad time to apply a coat or two of black mascara. To finish up the eye area, (4.) I blocked out the head of my brow and darkened the straight shape that I created with the daytime look with a brown eyebrow pencil. I also added a little flick at the arch, but that’s optional.
I went with a vampy wine color for the lips, staring with a liner to make the shape of my lips more angular. I exaggerated the cupid’s bow and made a straight line from the top of my cupid’s bow to the ends of my mouth. My bottom lip is already fairly straight in the middle so I only straightened out the sides with a little overlining. After I filled in my lips with burgundy lipstick, I pursed my lips to blot to emphasize the uneven texture.