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  • Color Analysis for the Digital Restoration of Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari
  • Barbara Flueckiger (bio)

To this day, Caligari remains one of the most influential and famous silent films. It is outstanding in both its expressionist art direction and its rather complex storytelling with a final twist. However, the film received extremely divergent reviews from film scholars, most notably the much-publicized interpretation by Siegfried Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler, in which he posited that the film has a fascist underpinning.1 Kracauer, in his later book Theory of Film, also questioned the highly stylized aesthetics of the film’s images, which—according to his concept of realism—contradict film’s essential capacity to convey the realism of the world with what Kracauer called an uncinematic magic of the theater stage.2 Others, including René Clair, appreciated the triumph of mind over matter in Caligari’s forceful interpretation of the world, down to the minute details of the mise-en-scène.3 [End Page 23]

Although the aesthetics of the film’s mise-en-scène have been the topic of many scholarly texts and investigations, little to no attention has been paid to the colors applied to the film. This lack of research is a result of the history of the film’s prints, with most of them having been transferred to black-and-white safety film. Because tinting and toning were applied to individual exhibition nitrate prints at the time, they were not transferred to later copies on safety film.4 Caligari’s original colors have therefore been lost to generations of viewers. The 1984 restoration by the German Federal Film Archive notably contributed to bringing the tinted and toned images of Caligari back to the screen, based on a tinted and toned nitrate print from Montevideo and a copy with only tinting from the British Film Institute (BFI).5 In 1995, the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique undertook another color restoration based on the historical Belgian print, with the color schemes applied photochemically by the Desmet method, based on a second South American exhibition nitrate print.6 The restored version was reduced to the four dominant hues. All the exterior and interior scenes with daylight or tungsten light were tinted in amber, while the night scenes, both exterior and interior, were tinted blue. A pale dusky pink indicated private scenes in the female protagonist’s sitting room. Blue toning was combined with pale amber tinting for the exposition and for a later scene with the male protagonist, who narrates his unbelievable story.

In 2012, the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation decided to make a completely new digital restoration under the supervision of head restorer and film scholar Anke Wilkening. The main motivation for this new restoration was the rediscovery of the original camera negative in the Federal Film Archive in Berlin, which for unknown reasons was never considered in earlier restorations.7 A 4K scan from the negative resulted in a decisive difference in image quality, with regard to both details in the mid-tones and higher resolution. In addition, it was the first restoration to make extensive use of digital restoration tools and color grading.

The new digital restoration was also the first to consider the six currently known, differently tinted and toned historical prints from the 1920s. They are held by the following:

  • • Filmmuseum Düsseldorf, donated by a private collector from Montevideo

  • • Archivo Nacional de la Imagen-SODRE in Montevideo, now at the Cineteca di Bologna

  • • Cinémathèque Française

  • • BFI

  • • Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique

  • • Fondazione Cineteca Italiana, Milano, film fragment [End Page 24]

In addition to the colored prints, the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation used several other prints. One was a black-and-white 16mm print from the Deutsche Kinemathek, which was produced in 1935 for the collection of Gerhard Lamprecht and contained the original German intertitles. Another was the black-and-white camera negative from the Federal Film Archive, which included the original expressionistic German intertitles as flash titles (single frames that indicated the position of the titles and served as complete texts of the intertitles).8 No contemporary colored nitrate print from Germany survives. Therefore the...


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