The uninitiated moviegoer might toss out a dig at silent films, and be heard speaking dismissively of black-and-white movies. It's a juvenile offense. But nobody jokes about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Robert Weine's 1920 horror film and an early gem of German Expressionism. That influential movement sought to convey mood, emotion, and psychology through the lighting and sets, an approach that directors of film noir copied a couple decades later.
The designers of Dr. Caligari understood light and shadow -- filmmaking, in other words -- as well as anyone in the history of cinema, and they applied their talents to devising a distorted, disorienting, devious, and deeply disturbing nightmare. An innocent carnival act -- the doctor elicits prophecies from his sleepwalking assistant -- conceals far darker deeds. Iconoclastic organist Cameron Carpenter can be counted on to wring maximum dread and terror from the feature attraction, as well as provide witty accompaniment to the curtain-raiser, The Cameraman's Revenge (1912), the great animator Ladislaw Starewicz's stop-motion short about married-but-unfaithful beetles.
The Cameraman's Revenge and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari begin at 7 p.m. at Davies Symphony Hall, 201 Van Ness (at Grove), S.F. Admission is $10-$60.
Here's Cameron Carpenter, the "bad boy of the organ" on CBS Sunday Morning:
And here's The Cameraman's Revenge: