A hundred years ago, citizens across Europe were concerned about the rise of authoritarianism, the powers of demagogues, the moral repercussions of scapegoating and the blindness of following a crowd. Either history is cyclical, humankind has not learned from its mistakes, or both.
Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari was written by Hans Janowitz and Carl Mayer as a parable of the times. Under the direction of Robert Heine, the silent film became “a triumph of German expressionism” and a classic in its own right, paving the way for art house horror. This year, Spanish post-rockers Toundra are releasing a brand new score, which will be screened along with the movie on their upcoming tour. They hope to expose “the real danger of ideologies that nowadays are getting a new life across Europe,” but of course, this is more than just a European problem; the United States and others are caught in it as well.
After a brief title sequence, the excitement never lets up: six acts, each one with a score of over ten minutes. Classic post-rock fans are going to love this. “Akt I” boasts a propulsive build which echoes the action; something has been set in motion, and reversal seems unlikely. A gorgeous breakdown in the eighth minute offers the opportunity for reflection or choice, but the wrong road is taken. In the movie, hypnotism leads to murder, but questions are also asked about human character: how far will people allow themselves to go in the name of intolerance, masked under the guise of nationalism, protectionism, or purity?
This film has been rescored before, most recently by Ricardo Romaneiro, Richard Vergez and an ensemble comprised of The Reverse Engineer, Midi Paul, Matthew Collings, WOLF and Heir of the Cursed. Most of these renditions included electronic or orchestral components, adding their own distinctive flavors. With so many artists in this field, the thought occurs that certain modern films could be well-served with fresh sonic sleeves as well. But post-rock and silent films have a storied relationship especially fitting to horror. The urgency of the music is a perfect fit for the underlying themes, while the trademark peaks and valleys are intensely cinematic. In the fourth minute of “Akt II,” single piano notes create suspense; at the end, church bells form a gothic connection. “Akt III” alternates between calm and danger, borne by different guitars. The volume rises noticably in the concluding minute of “Akt V” as we brace for the end.
The “twist ending” may have been forced on the writers; we won’t spoil it, even though you’ve had a hundred years to see it. But the themes are just as timely now as ever. Toundra has no concluding twist, only a concluding catharsis; and that’s just the way post-rock fans like it. (Richard Allen)