Closing in on Caligari
Paul Kesler | Bridgeport, PA United States | 02/28/2000
(2 out of 5 stars)
"After the superb job Elite did on their "Night of the Living Dead" disc a while back, I was rather deflated when this compendium of German Expressionist horror arrived. On one hand, it's nice to have three films as seminal as "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," "Nosferatu," and "The Golem" brought together in one package, and it's a beautiful-looking set from the outside.Problem is, when you explore the discs themselves, you discover they are not drawn, as the package proclaims, from the "finest" film elements available (though perhaps this simply means the finest available to Elite). "Caligari," for instance, is taken from a very shabby print, previously available in a budget VHS edition, with the same non-synchronized score as on that version. I was hoping for a "Caligari" that improved on the Kino-on-Video print already on disc, a version compromised by a translucent "bar" that runs across the top of the screen through many of the sequences. In fact, I was really wishing for a digitizing of the print brought out a few years ago by Republic Pictures video, a beautiful black-and-white copy that was further enhanced by an excellent music score. Here's hoping the latter print makes it to DVD one of these days; meanwhile, those wishing for a good copy of "Caligari" had better seek out the RP version as a tape rental."The Golem," which has the distinction of being the first rendering of this film on DVD, was an equal letdown. Not only was there no attempt to restore the print (the package boasts of the "restored" Astaroth sequence, but there's nothing here that was not already available on the VHS edition released by Video Yesteryear in 1985), but there is NO music score at all. Is there an excuse for this? After all, if it was a matter of budget, they could simply have omitted one of the other two films (especially since they are already available on DVD), and presented this package as a twofer. Admittedly, it's nice to have "The Golem" on DVD in any form, but this begs the question of the lack of music. As the critic Walter Kerr once noted, music in a silent film is "half" its life.Which brings us to "Nosferatu," and it is here that we get the best offering of the set. We're given a very nice black-and-white print, not as complete as the tinted version on the Kino/Image DVD, but excellent nonetheless for a film of this age, and well worth having. Also, Elite went out of its way to commission a new score for the film, something that should have been done for all three films. The music, moreover, is synchronized, and while I didn't especially care for some of the post-modern jazz elements (which seemed out of sympathy with the dark Gothic mood of the film itself), it at least showed care of presentation, and respect for the film's integrity. I must confess that the relative lack of "extras" in this set (nothing more than some historical notes and a brief collection of prints and stills) didn't particularly bother me. Additional bonuses would have been nice, but the real problem lay in the prints ("Nosferatu" excepted), and the shortcomings in the musical area. Miroslaw Lipinski, who's done important work in the genre translating stories of the Polish fantasist Stefan Grabinski, contributes valuable liner notes to the films in an accompanying leaflet; these make a good primer for those approaching these films for the first time. But, overall, such efforts only emphasize how superior this set might have been under the right auspices.It's best to see "Masterworks," then, as an interesting but flawed representation of German horror Expressionism. Let's hope that better editions of all three films appear on future DVDs (including, for instance, a copy of "Nosferatu" that contains the brilliant score from the Kartes Video edition released in the early 80s)."
How bad do you want Der Golem?
JoeJJC | southern NJ | 02/17/2001
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I won't rehash what most people already know; two of these films are considered classics while the other is a well-respected but lesser known silent work. This three-pack was a big disappointment overall from a technical standpoint. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is basically unwatchable because the high contrast obliterates the details and bad framing destroys the picture composition. Also, the title cards have been replaced, and this version doesn't have any of the tinting. Nosferatu fares a little better. The contrast is high but not unwatchable. More annoying here is transfer speed of 24 frames per minute, which makes the characters appear to be moving at super-human speed; this works okay for comedy but terrible for horror. There are several versions of both the above films out on DVD and VHS; I hear good things about the Image Editions but haven't seen them. What isn't available anywhere else is Der Golem; the tale of the stone figure brought to life to protect a Jewish community. It stars Paul Wagner. The film has got a heavy contrast but with nothing to compare it to, I can't say if this is the fault of the source material or the transfer. This was the only film that doesn't have a musical score, which definately detracts from the film. The movie itself is good but not up to the level of Caligari or Nosferatu. Whether to buy this set or not ultimately rests with how bad you want this film."
Masterworks of the German Horror Cinema
HP MURPHY | OLYMPIA, WA USA | 08/09/2000
(1 out of 5 stars)
"The box set made by IMAGE (not ELITE) does not have all of the technical problems that Paul Kesler wrote of in his review."