|cognitivedissonance - 2012-11-26 |
Greetings all Caligarians! My name is Gene Zerna, and I played one of the lead roles in this art film, Les Van Houten (“… a walking argument for Thorazine.”). I am going to write about anecdotal and personal experiences in connection with the making of “Dr. Caligari”, because I sense there is a real hunger out there for someone to flesh things out.
To summarize some of what I have read: the film is shown annually at Burning Man, is on the midnight-movie circuit in Berkley, has been seen at some kind of “night club” in Minneapolis, and has driven at least one viewer on mushrooms into a psychotic state. In other words, the film is doing everything we intended it to do. When it premiered at the midnight-movie venue, the Nu-Art Theatre in West Los Angeles where it ran for some weeks, I used to show up at screenings with a different young “luuuve slut” or two on my arm each weekend, brushing by the ticket-taker with no tickets, just a brash, “I’m IN the movie!”. I don’t think he was authorized to let me in for free, but was so nonplussed every time I entered that he never tried to stop us.
The film was shot over a period of about three weeks in 1988 in a warehouse at the corner of La Brea and Melrose in Los Angeles (in case anyone wants to make a pilgrimage, build a shrine, etc.), except for a few days of pickup shots two months later we did at Fullerton Studios. This is where we shot the electro-convulsion- therapy (ECT) scene with cannibal Gus Pratt, after the producers had seen the first cut and decided to spend a little more money.
When I was offered the role of Les Van Houten, I was happy to learn that he would be the principal victim. First, his wife attacks him with a straight-razor. When Les goes to meet with Dr. Caligari she slips a little black cube of LSD into his coffee (this is right before the cake explodes into bloody tentacles). Then he is dragged to a cell where his wife displays her forearm transformed into a giant phallus, which she proceeds to ram up his butt. Later he is dressed up in a clown outfit and pilloried. Then he is threatened with castration. Then he is hunted down and raped by the sex-obsessed Gus Pratt (“You always hurt the one you love.”) And finally, he is barbequed on a rotisserie spit over a campfire. All in all, never a dull moment for this character.
A note on Special Effects (which not many people have commented on). If you look at the end titles you will see that Ken Diaz had a crew of 19 people busily operating these live-action effects (like the giant tongue emerging from the door). Ken went on to get an Oscar nomination the following year for his aging makeup applied to Jack Lemmon in “Dad”. He has since won an Emmy for the new Star Trek TV-series, and he did makeup for all three “Pirates of the Caribbean” films. “Dr. Caligari” has many many of his prosthetic devices (like the mouthless face he created for my silent screaming scene on the tv-monitor, from a mold he made of my face), oozing festering blisters, injections into bulging foreheads, amputations, etc. that go by very fast on film, but the very fact that you don’t take much notice of them shows how convincingly they are accomplished. (An anecdote on his makeup for “Dad”: Jack Lemmon, whom Ken had aged by some 30-years, stepped off the set to get a meal at the Columbia Pictures commissary (cafeteria). As a movie star working on the lot, he would never be expected to have cash on him to pay. When he moved down the line to the cashier, she rang up his bill, and Jack said simply, “Jack Lemmon”. The cashier laughed derisively, “Right! Sure you are! That’ll be nine-fifty, mister.”)
In conclusion, “Dr. Caligari” is no masterpiece. But it is a unique experience, and like anything of such singularity, it will be loved by some and hated by others. I will check here periodically, and try to answer any questions people may have. Please report here any “sightings” of the movie playing anywhere. (Some helpful person, forrestian, on the board below titled My Favorite Movie Of All Time has posted a source where the DVD can be purchased for a measly ten-bucks.) See it, play it, buy it, give it away—spread the word. Maybe it has taken the onset of mass-psychosis brought on by the Bush Administration for this movie to finally find a broader audience. “I know you’re watching me. I feel your eyes like wet fingers touching me in special places.”