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Hans Neumann had initially proposed the project and diligently championed the film and navigated it through a particularly treacherous path to completion. However, Ufa Studios felt that Neumann (who had only one directorial credit to his name) was too inexperienced to direct the film himself, so the role fell to G. W. Pabst. See more »
I come to this as someone who thinks the presentation of dreams - much more than dreams themselves - imitates the ways we use to structure the self that presents the world to us. Charting the cinematic effort of that is exciting to me.
And well, this is an interesting film to say the least, and from an interesting time. The backstory is that Freud himself approved of it and moreover sent two from his trusted Viennese circle to aid and supervise the UFA production on what would be a rational explication of psychoanalysis. You should know that his were radical , modern ideas in their time and for twenty years had been a sensation. And the Weimar public at large was struggling with deep-seated nightmares of their own, evidenced in Caligari and elsewhere, so it was very receptive to the new science for sleep, and probably every bit as confused about it as the somnambulist in Caligari.
But oh boy, haven't our narrative devices come far since Freud.
In the film, we have suddenly strange , unsettling urges followed by a puzzling nightmare, and then a psychoanalyst sits us down to kindly explain and assuage irrational fear.
Nevermind the obtuse focus on sex and symbolic interpretation of dreams, that was Freud. The emphasis on phallic imagery, the incidental aversion to knives linked to imaginary castration in the patient. Jung would make the transition to a character-based dreamworld, and we are growing out of that too. We are insanely more complicated beings these days than a logic like Freud's can explain, our dreams much more layered, and you can see that in contemporary filmmakers who are dabbling with dream.
We are unsure these days where day begins, that much (night) was certain then. Our dreams also come from movies and TV, from tweets and instagram, and we're beginning to understand what the Buddhist had been saying all along; the mind's function is to project snippets of narrative around a fictional self, and the most loaded dream is no different in mechanism to the most trivial thought. You are always at the center of an illusionary world you have set in motion, but you won't know that without a center in emptiness.
The trigger for it is something to consider though. A murder (by knife) has taken place the day before in the same street, a wife killed by the husband. The same urge somehow surfaces in our guy.
The actual nightmare has dated, along with the logic behind it and German expressionism. It is this eerie confluence of semiconscious machinery that still carries power. It is this aspect of dreaming Pabst would cultivate in later works.
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