Monday, November 16, 2009

Movie Review: Amadeus (Part II)

This is part two of a three-part review of Milos Forman's Amadeus
Part I | Part IIPart III

iii.    Pity to Indignation and Indignation to Pity

For the first half of the film, Mozart is not the most likable character.  He rolls around on the floor with his bride-to-be, he has a piercing cackle of a laugh, he is late to conduct his own piece of music, he composes a bawdy opera.  Mozart has a concerned (if not controlling) father who he disobeys, whereas Salieri’s father mocked his musical aspirations.  Yet while the viewer cannot really bring himself to dislike Mozart, whose brilliance, enthusiasm, and childlike nature balance his faults, we feel a sense of indignation that Mozart should be grateful for his fortunes, especially the good graces of the emperor.  Similarly, we feel pity for Salieri as his labors of love are continually outshone by the rising Mozart and as the young composer disrupts every aspect of Salieri’s life: his life at the court and his relationship with the emperor, his relationship with the Vienna’s prima donna, his own pride in his music, and his relationship with his god. Gradually, though, as Salieri’s emulation morphs into envy and his friendly feeling into enmity, Mozart instead becomes the object of our pity as he becomes the object of Salieri’s vengeance, and Salieri becomes the object of our indignation for the unjust control he wields over Mozart’s life. 

iv.    Confidence to Fear

Lastly, Mozart passes from mastery of his life into complete terror.  When he arrives in Vienna, he tells the lead composers of the imperial court that their tradition of Italian opera is rubbish and shows them up with a new work of his own making.   He complains of their stupidity and calls them “musical idiots” to the emperor’s chamberlain.  Mozart has the audacity to put on an opera set in a harem and then include a ballet in his opera.  He gets married without his father’s consent.  Slowly, as the other emotions of the film gradually give way to their opposites, Mozart’s confidence too gives way to its contrary, fear.  In the middle of the night Mozart is visited by a clandestine patron who commissions a requiem mass from him.  Cloaked in the costume his late father once wore, the figure terrifies the composer, who is haunted by his father’s relentlessly controlling nature years after the man’s death.  Mozart is terrified of every knock on the door.  One time out of fear he asks his wife to answer the door, although it turns out only to be his actor-friend.

The movie’s final scene unites all of these emotional reversals and amplifies them with reversals of plot.  The first of these is the premiere of The Magic Flute, which is a smash hit, a fact that should have brought Mozart great joy since his previous operas flopped.  He is denied this pleasure because he passes out at the harpsichord during the final act and misses the curtain call.  Next Mozart is taken home, where he should be safe to recuperate with his wife.  Not only is his wife absent, but it is Salieri who has taken him home and who remains with him.  Instead of being afforded comfort, Mozart is thrust into danger.  Then, when the actors drop by Mozart’s apartment with his share of the profits, an event would have eased Mozart’s mind is turned into a tool for his destruction, for Salieri tells Mozart it was not the actors but the man who commissioned the requiem.  Salieri then pressures Mozart to complete the mass, claiming the anonymous patron promised much money if the work is finished by the following day.  Thus instead of being eased by receiving the profits of his work, he is burdened to finish a work that is torturing him. 

When Mozart begins to dictate his final work to Salieri, all of the films emotional reversals are amplified.  The emotions that have degenerated into their opposites, will now return, but in a false form.   First, there is the irony that Salieri’s enmity for Mozart should be culminated in a collaboration.  Mozart went from being Salieri’s idol, to his rival, to his enemy, to his tool, and lastly his friend. We get a brief, sad glimpse at the partnership that might have been. Only the friendship is a false one.   Emulation has passed into anger and then to envy and then at last to false-friendship.  Second, at last Salieri begins emulating Mozart, but it is not a true emulation since he is merely copying Mozart’s work verbatim, a task he is barely capable of.  Emulation has passed into enmity and then into false emulation.  Third, that Mozart’s fear, while it should be at its greatest as he falls victim to Salieri, is ebbing because he trusts the man.  Thus Mozart’s confidence gave way to fear, which has given way to a false confidence now. 

The fact that this last scene is the final stage of the emotional arcs is amplified by the contrasting fact that the scene appears to be a happy and successful resolution.  It looks like Salieri is helping Mozart, it looks like Mozart has the money he needs and will get more. . . but none of this is true.  The opposite emotions have taken over, and the false ones fade away as the composer dies.

Of course, the only emotions that are not brought back in false-form are ours, namely those of pity and indignation.  Mozart, once triumphantly and joyfully conducting, is pale and dying on his bead with the villain magnanimously standing over him.  This unjust situation is magnified when Mozart utters his last words to Salieri, “forgive me.”  This is the last reversal, Mozart uttering the words that should have come from his murderer, and Mozart’s inability to grasp not only the gravity of his situation but all of the events leading up to it make us pity him and loathe Salieri even more since it reminds us how long and how completely Salieri was sabotaging him.

Part I | Part IIPart III

Saturday, November 14, 2009


I. Introduction

Book II of Aristotle's Rhetoric takes a rather lengthy look at the emotions, listing, describing, and differentiating them. In the context of rhetoric, a systematized approach is clearly useful to the speaker, who wishes to manipulate the emotions of the listeners to his advantage, and to the listener, who wishes foremost to consider the speaker's arguments. When is not an organized approach useful, though? While this may sound inordinately highfalutin, I only actually mean it is useful specific definitions for what you are talking about. It seems to me we have a tendency when discussing matters, emotions in particular, and whether in the context of personal reflection or of analyzing a drama, to be vague. We say mad when we mean angry, jealous when we mean envious, sad when we mean pitiable, funny instead of ironic, satirical, or farcical, we use tragedy to mean anything bad, and happy to cover virtually any positive experience.

In light these frequent misconceptions, vagaries, and verbicides, I thought it would be fruitful to take a look at Aristotle's study, if not necessarily toward any other end than to ensure we use the proper word on a given occasion. One need not agree with each specific categorization, but I think it would prove a fruitful exercise to explore the nuances and differences of these concepts that often get lumped under broad categories.

II. The Emotions of Book II of Aristotle's Rhetoric (sections 1378a - 1389a)

Emotion - feelings that change men so as to affect their judgments and are attended to by pain or pleasure.

1) Anger - an impulse accompanied by pain to a particular revenge for a particular slight directed unjustifiably toward what concerns self or one's friends.
Slighting - an actively entertained opinion of something of no importance, including
a) contempt - contempt for the unimportant
b) spite - thwarting the wishes of another solely to deprive him of something
c) insolence - shaming the victim for pleasure
2) Calmness - the quieting of anger. Felt towards those who:
- do not slight us or do so only involuntarily
- intended the opposite of what they did
- treat themselves as they treat us
- admit fault (we accept their grief as satisfaction)
- are humble before us
- are serious when we are serious
- have done us more kindness than we have done them
- share our anger or fear
3) Friendship - wishing for someone, for his own sake, what you believe to be good things and being inclined insofar as you are able to bring such things about.
- a friend feels and excites those feelings in return
- friends consider the same things good and evil
- friends wish for each other what they wish for themselves
 N.B. Aristotle discusses friendship at great length here (section 1380b) and of course in Book VIII (1155a) of the Nichomachean Ethics.

Enmity vs. Anger

- concerned with individuals or classes
- cannot be cured by time
- aims at doing harm
- hater does not care if victim feels the hater's enmity
- hater does not feel pain, nor pity
- hateful man wishes offenders not to exist
- concerned with individuals
- can be cured by time
- aims at giving pain
- angry man wants his victim to feel his anger
- angry main feels pain
- angry man wishes offenders to suffer

4) Fear - a pain or disturbance due to a mental picture of a destructive or painful future evil; not all evils, since some (e.g. wickedness and stupidity) do not frighten; also, only of imminent danger (danger is the approach of what is terrible)
- we do not feel fear amidst great prosperity
- those do not feel fear who have experienced every kind of horror
- if one is to feel the anguish of uncertainty, one must have some faint expectation of escape
- we are afraid of those we have wronged
5) Confidence - the expectation associated with a mental picture of the nearness of what keeps us safe and the absence/remoteness of what is terrible; may be due either to the presence of what inspires confidence or the absence of what causes alarm. We feel it if:
- we can take steps to prevent trouble
- have no rivals or not strong ones, or of our rivals are friends
- have the same interests as the stronger or more numerous party
6) Shame - pain or disturbance in regard to bad things (past, present, or future) which seem likely to involve or discredit us. (Shamelessness is indifference toward same bad things.)

We feel shame toward:
- evils due to moral badness
- cowardice
- injustices
- intercourse with forbidden persons
- making profit in a disgraceful way
- giving less or no help to those worse off
- borrowing akin to begging, begging as in asking return for a favor
- refusing to endure hardships endured by the weaker
- talking incessantly about yourself
- those who speak evil of everyone
- those who have not known us to come to grief

7) Kindness - helpfulness toward someone in need, not in return for anything nor toward one's own advantage.

8) Pity - feeling pain caused by the sight of some evil, destructive or painful, which befalls one who does not deserve it, and which we might expect to happen to us or a friend, soon. In order to feel pity one must believe in the goodness of some people, for if everyone is evil than everyone deserves evil. The terrible is not the same as the pitiful. In particular, the cowardly and those who have themselves escaped evil feel pity.

9) Indignation - pain caused by the sight of undeserved goods. (We should feel both sympathy for unmerited distress and indignation at unmerited prosperity.) What is undeserved is unjust
- Indignation is felt toward what is happening to another regardless of its likelihood to affect us.
- The type of man who delights in others' misfortunes is identical to the type who envies others' prosperity.
- Servile, worthless, unambitious people cannot become indignant because there is nothing they can think they deserve.
10) Envy - pain at the good; felt toward equals.
- Small-minded men are envious since all seems great to them
- We envy those whose possession or success is a reproach to us.
11) Emulation - pain caused by seeing in persons whose nature is like our own good things that are highly valued and possible for us to acquire.

- only felt because we lack such goods
- emulation spurs us to secure the good
- is a good feeling felt by the good; is the opposite of envy and contempt
- moral goodness is an object of emulation
III. Conclusion

I hope considering the above proves a useful exercise for you as it does for me. On verbicide, C.S. Lewis had some insightful words, saying its greatest cause:
. . .is the fact that most people are obviously far mor anxious to express their approval of things than to describe them. Hence the tendency of words to become less descriptive and more evaluative, while still retaining some hint of the sort of goodness or badness implied; and to end up by being purely evaluative–useless synonyms for good and bad. . . I am not suggesting that we can by an archaising purism repair any of the loses that have already occurred. It may not, however, be entirely useless to resolve that we ourselves will never commit verbicide. [1]
More than 'not useless,' certainly, but for the purpose of utilizing and preserving a rich and descriptive language. Of course one cannot list the ways "knowing what you're talking about" is useful. Specifically regarding defining the emotions, though, one hopes bearing the aforementioned definitions in mind would assist one in criticism and writing, helping one to notice where something is adequately or even beautifully defined or simply vaguely sketched in. It is also possible this study could lead to some reflection of our own emotions which, according to some, is not bad.

[1] Lewis, C. S. Studies in Words. Cambridge University Press. 1960.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Joseph Haydn's "Missa in Angustiis" Part I

aka The Lord Nelson Mass. Hob. XXII:11

I. Introduction

What makes a good mass? (Musically speaking.) Such is not a question I had pondered until this past summer and a discussion with my esteemed co-blogger. Surely there are many masses (i.e. musical compositions set to the form of a mass) filled with great genius and beautiful music, but how effective are they as masses? Is the music appropriate to the text? I decided to explore this question and, owing to my enthusiasm for it, began studying Joseph Haydn's "Missa in Angustiis" aka Lord Nelson Mass in the context of this question. I was initially aghast to read Charles Rosen's somewhat strong words on the topic in his excellent book, The Classical Style. He remained quite unconvinced that Haydn and Mozart had successfully reconciled the "classical style" with the liturgical tradition and that to do so "was left to Beethoven." [Rosen. p.373] Without debating that obviously larger point, let us look at this mass in particular and consider "Is this is a good mass as well as a good musical composition?"

II. Ordinary of the Mass

1) Kyrie

The D-minor opening of this movement sets the tone for the Kyrie and this movement most lives up to the theme of angustiis. More specifically than anguished though, this movement has an especially martial character, particularly the opening theme on the timpani and trumpets. The chorus then enters in unison not with a traditionally supplicative manner but rather in a terrifying forte. A brief passage for the soloists is then overtaken by a fugue, frighteningly effective in conveying a multitude of voices crying out for mercy. Here and there a soloist will rise above the grieving chorus only to be swallowed up again. The movement concludes with the first theme on timpani.

2) Gloria: Gloria in excelsis Deo

The music for this section of the Gloria could not be in starker contrast to that of the Kyrie and this movement is certainly free from the theme of angustiis. The suffering of man does not interfere with glorifying God. Joyous music like this is perhaps most characteristic, or most associated with, Haydn and it is especially brilliant here. We begin in D major with a soprano solo of Gloria in excelsis Deo, but she only sings it once before the choir joins her in jubilation. She begins again but this time the choir cuts her off in the middle with more Glorias. She continues solo once more but just before she finishes her phrase again the choir bursts in singing Gloria!

Et in terra pax hominibus is performed almost exclusively by the bass and tenor, with repetitive emphasis on the bonae of bonae voluntatis. The tutti returns with three short phrases with crescendos on the middle of each phrase, suggesting a supplicative bowing:

laudamus te,
benedicimus te
adoramus te

we adore you
we give you thanks
we adore you

while the strings play an urgent four-note phrase over and over creating a sense of nervous urgency as the vocalists try to praise God with mere words. With the same weight of the previous three phrases, the treble voices enter with Glo-ri-fi-ca only to be cut off by the entrance of the bass voices. The chorus finishes Glorificamus te and then repeats the above three-part praise (laudamus te, et cetera) but forzando and with te only in the basses and tenors.

The rest of the Gloria is treated to the same melody and taken up by either the treble or bass soloists, with the subsequent section taken by the tutti. The movment concludes with a Patris from the tutti, but the strings and trumpets finish out the melody.

3) Gloria: Qui Tollis

The jubilant tone of the preceding movement is gently shaken off by the first note in the strings. A beautiful bass solo for Qui tollis peccata mundi follows, but a curious theme comes next. Curious insofar as it seems extraordinarily casual a setting for qui tollis peccata mundi. Rosen wrote that the late 18th century tradition of religious music was relatively incoherent and such incoherence led to "effects of a peculiar irrelevancy." Once again, I was outraged at first reading of that statement, but came to agree. If not wholly in appropriate, this theme certainly is of imperfect relevance to the text. Likewise the theme on the organ after the tutti enter with their first miserere nobis feels similarly out of place. The rest of the movement is effective, with the soloists singing of Christ as sedes ad dexteram Patris while the tutti penitently repeats deprecationem nostram or miserere nobis.

4) Gloria: Quoniam tu solus

The first theme from the Gloria returns at the end, here at the Quoniam.  The movement contains some more expository material of the text, with the solo soprano declaring quoniam tu solus sanctus and the chorus following in reinforcement. In hushed tones the choir announces, cum sancto Spiritu in gloria Dei Patris before the basses burst in forte reinforcing. Allegro again also, this movement moves with a joyous swiftness before ending in a cavalcade of amens and glorias which functions as an act finale.

5) Credo: Credo in unum Deum

The Credo takes the form of a canon with sopranos and tenors entering first, followed by the altos and basses singing same one bar later. The effect of the structure of a canon upon the Credo, by nature a personal statement of faith, is the sense of many simultaneously professing their faith. The canon was also a traditional method of representing the fixedness of the faith, the repetitions emphasizing its timelessness. [Stauffer pp. 101]

Wisely Haydn chose to end the movement at descendit de coelis. He has the voices repeat the phrase many times until he brings them all together on coelis and holding them up there with a fermata until last neatly descending and landing back at D at de coelis, ready to move onto Christ's incarnation.

6) Credo: Et in carnatus est

The atmosphere of this movement is not dissimilar from the same passage in Mozart's C minor mass. They share an aura of great gentleness, sweetness, and purity. This sentiment is in many ways appropriate, but is it entirely? Indeed, what music is appropriate, i.e. what could possibly be appropriate, for such an event?

In the Missa Pange lingua of des Prez, it is sung without affectation of any kind. In Bach's B minor Mass it is spoken with a hushed tone amidst an atmosphere of great mystery. I consider Beethoven's setting the most appropriate but describing it here is beyond the focus of this essay. Let us return to Haydn.

After the instrumental exposition of the melody, the soprano soloist sings
Et incarnatus est de Spiritu sancto, ex Maria Virgine et homo factus est.
and the chorus follows and repeats it. The chorus continues forte describing the crucifixion with surprisingly little adornment other than being doubled by the strings. Emphasizing that Christ died for us, and also perhaps his falling on the road to Calvary, there is a drop of an octave and new five-note figure in the strings on no-bis.

The tutti continues piano, singing sub Pontio Pilato as the timpani plays five times an intimidating five-note figure, recalling both the mass' martial theme and atmosphere of angustiis, and Christ's march to his crucifixion. The solos take over the material now, the bass repeating sub Pontio Pilato and the tenor repeating crucifixus passus passus et sepultus est as the alto repeats, pro nobis, for us.

The movement ends pianissimo, with writing for the bass full of pathos:

and an especially hushed sepultus est recalling Christ being buried in the tomb.

7) Credo: Et resurexit

I do not know that this movement gets off to the best of starts. Perhaps due to some limitation on my part it seems overly harsh for a setting of The Resurrection and the music seems to tumble out of the gate, with everyone singing the initial et then the tenors resurrexit, then the basses and then the altos and sopranos following suit. There also seems to be a great emphasis on many of the "et"s throughout the movement as well. Naturally this is an inherent difficulty of setting this text to music. The choice seems to be to use them as punctuation or to attempt not to draw attention to them. Haydn seems to pursue the former path on most occasions, with the result they seem to entertain an undue distinction a number of times in this movement.

Compared to the dance-like celebration of Bach's B minor Mass and the heart-stopping entry in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis I do not consider this opening especially effective. (I likewise consider the "et Resurrexit" of Haydn's own Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo in B-flat major (Hob.XXII:7) to be more effective.)

The movement quickly finds its way, though, and goes on to establish a joyous, even rollicking, inertia. The entrance of the tenors announces cuius regni non erit finis and the staggered entrances of the rest of the choir and the many repetitions of non erit finis beautifully emphasize the endlessness of God's kingdom and the emphases on non assert the believer's confidence in that fact. Once again the theme after prophetas seems most out of place to me and would be more at home in an opera or serenade. Perhaps it is a certain dullness or stuffiness on my part that finds the theme distracting behind et unam sanctam Catholican et Apostolicam ecclesiam instead of joyfully adorning the text about the Catholic Church. Lastly the soprano ends, announcing et vitam venturi saeculi in quite operatic fashion. It is nonetheless glorious and the entrance functions like a messenger bringing great news, "the life of the world to come." The tutti repeats the verse and concludes with a string of amens and a fluttering tune in the strings balancing a certain regalness  and playfulness that here is most welcome upon hearing the good news.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style. W. W. Norton and Company, Inc. New York, NY. 1971.

Stauffer, George B. Bach: The Mass in B Minor. Yale University Press. New Haven. 1997.

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, November 7 through Friday, November 13.

1) At Classical Notes, Peter Gutmann discusses Schumann's 4th Symphony.

2) At the WSJ, Peter Stothard reviews Donald Kagan's "Thucydides: The Reinvention of History."

3) Sandra Stotsky at City Journal asks, "Who Needs Mathematicians for Math, Anyway?"
As part of his education-reform plan, President Obama wants to “make math and science education a top priority” and ensure that children have access to strong math and science curricula “at all grade levels.” But the president’s worthy aims won’t be reached so long as assessment experts, technology salesmen, and math educators—the professors, usually with education degrees, who teach prospective teachers of math from K–12—dominate the development of the content of school curricula and determine the pedagogy used, into which they’ve brought theories lacking any evidence of success and that emphasize political and social ends, not mastery of mathematics.
4) At Standpoint, Piers Paul Read and David Heathcoat-Amory discuss, "How European Are the British?"

5) The ISI "Cicero’s Podium Debate Series" in Boulder, CO on the Anti-Federalists and the ratification of the United States Constitution.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day, 2009


Also, J.D. "Illiad" Frazer, author of the wonderful web comic User Friendly, always has something especially poignant to say on Veteran's Day. This year is no exception:

Movie Review: Amadeus (Part I)

Directed by Milos Forman. 1984.

Amadeus is about emotions, swirling, fiery, and consuming emotions. Amadeus is about how one man fused his passion with his genius and is remembered as one of the greatest artists of all time while another man, in the face of such brilliance, went mad. The central conflict of Amadeus is simple and profound: Antonio Salieri, esteemed Court Composer to Emperor Joseph II, must contend with a young new composer who arrives on the scene in Austria, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Before discussing the plot and characters we must note the majority of the events are recounted in retrospect by Salieri in his old age, years later. For the purposes of analysis, I will refer to events in chronological order.

What about these emotions is so significant, though? Before we can answer that question we need to know two facts, what the emotions are, and how are they related.

i. Friendship to Enmity

Salieri’s relationship with Mozart begins as friendly affection and admiration. As a child Salieri worshiped the young Mozart who toured Italy playing music for kings while he himself was playing childish games in his backwoods town. This amity-from-afar gives way to rivalry when Mozart takes up residence in Vienna. In the span of just a few minutes, Mozart slights not one, but two, of Salieri’s pieces, first by calling one a “funny little tune” and another by transforming Salieri’s gawky little march into a charming tune while everyone watches in amazement. Mozart’s liberality wins the heart of the Emperor, who he proceeds to impress along with the entire court by demonstrating his virtuosity and talent for improvisation. As icing on the cake Mozart proceeds to debut a brilliant new opera and, as Salieri insists, bed the leading lady.

There are two scenes, though, which push Salieri over the threshold from disdain to outright anger. First, Salieri glimpses at a portfolio of Mozart’s sheet music and not only sees page after page of brilliant music but learns that these sheets are his first copies. The music is not edited or refined or redesigned, but merely laid down, already perfected. To Salieri, Mozart did not slave over every note like he did even for his paltry little march, but rather just wrote down music once he had worked out the details in his head. There was absolutely no apparent effort by Mozart. The second scene is when Mozart’s wife, Constanze, shows up at Salieri’s residence and condescends to his bribe whereby if she were to bed him, Salieri would effectively give Mozart the royal appointment he so desperately needed. Salieri, shocked as Constanze denudes for him, sends her away. What did Mozart do to deserve a wife that would endure such embarrassment for him? Why did Mozart get this pretty wife willing to sacrifice herself for him, while Salieri had to be content with sucking down sweets and fondling the palms of sopranos? Worst of all, why was Mozart endowed with the greater genius? Why does he get to enjoy the worldly pleasures Salieri renounced and also artistic superiority?

Yet it is the facility with which Mozart appears to act that enrages Salieri. Where he is bound by chastity, Mozart enjoys a sexy wife. Where he is bound to humility, Mozart is free to boast. Where he must slave away even for a trifle, Mozart dashes off brilliant music as easily as he breathes. However, the transformation is not yet complete. When Salieri resolves to harm and block Mozart, Salieri is still only angry. He has been repeatedly slighted by Mozart and he wants some revenge. Salieri is still a relatively sympathetic character at this point. He is a respected composer, he sits on councils for poor musicians, teaches (often for free), is content merely to flirt with his leading ladies, he walks with gravitas and confidence amongst the regular folk, with humility before the emperor, and with great piety before God, and he even writes a friendly little march to welcome Mozart to Vienna. Mozart is an affront to all of this. While Salieri would have been content for Mozart simply to go away, now he wishes Mozart to remain so he may suffer.

During the performance of Don Giovanni, though, Salieri crosses the threshold from anger to enmity. Mozart ceases to be the object of Salieri’s anger and becomes the tool of his hatred, a tool for depriving God of the joy of His creation. Salieri’s motivation is no longer retribution for the slings and arrows of Mozart’s affronts, but a retribution for the injustice of his existence. Mozart is no longer to be made to suffer, but to be erased. Salieri is no longer pained, but mad. We lose all sympathy for Salieri, now the villain, no longer pitiable and impotent but moving deftly and purposefully to achieve his goal.

ii. Emulation to Envy

Mozart started out as Salieri’s idol. Salieri began his career in emulation of Mozart’s, which he heard of in stories about Mozart’s European Tour, in which he played for kings, queens and the pope, organized by his father and impresario, Leopold. But what ultimately undoes Salieri? It is not just his mediocrity, since even amateur musicians can appreciate works of genius. Nor is it simply his ambition, for even determined upstarts look to successful people as heroes to imitate. The unique combination of these two traits destroys Salieri. Since falling short by just a little breeds more envy of success than a complete failure, Mozart’s victory is not only a triumph but also a reproach to Salieri. Worse, Salieri is just talented enough to see the success and see the difference between Mozart’s genius and his own mediocrity. There is no hiding it. Thus as much as Salieri adores every perfect note that Mozart writes, each is also a dagger that pains him by its very perfection. Salieri’s mediocrity and ambition coalesce into envy, turning what he loves most (beautiful music) into a symbol of his imperfection and impotence. Likewise, the medallion the Emperor rewards him with for his musical contributions becomes the omnipresent symbol of his mediocrity.

Part IPart II | Part III

Monday, November 9, 2009

Movie Review: The Seventh Seal

Directed by Ingmar Bergman. 1957.

I must confess a great gratitude toward Bergman for making The Seventh Seal. What a deeply personal movie this is, and what courage it took to put it out there for others to judge. What a risk to address such weighty and timeless questions, not glibly or insincerely, but thoughtfully and with unflinching honesty. He also directly addresses the matter, portraying death and a vision of the Virgin Mary and asking, "Is it so cruelly inconceivable to grasp God with the senses? Why should He hide himself in a mist of half-spoken promises and unseen miracles?" Bergman's films have obviously acquired a reputation for being grave and depressing works. Grave, yes. Depressing, no. Not The Seventh Seal, anyway. It is certainly unsettling in the way it probes questions about God and life, but it has a certain cathartic power, forcing a release of the viewer's feelings on the issues and while it refuses us any easy answers, the film is a sort of palliative treatment for the most burning questions.

One may of course choose practically any line from The Seventh Seal and analyze it at great length. Likewise one may choose any given scene, shot even, and find a wealth to consider. Yet as customary at APLV we are concerned with the ideas themselves and such is what we will explore here.

The first question is, why are we so obsessed about God in the first place? The Knight asks:
Why can't I kill God within me? Why does He live on in this painful and humiliating way
even though I curse Him and want to tear Him out of my heart? Why, in spite of everything, is He a baffling reality that I can't shake off? Do you hear me?
Uncomfortably direct, do not you think so? Yet a fair question. After all, why should we be so driven to God, His existence, His nature, His will? Why should this question be so central to man? Why is it so hard simply to affirm, "no?" The shot itself, with death lurking in the background, provides the answer and a reminder of our finite existence in this world. The Knight cannot imagine a world without God. Without Him, ". . . life is an outrageous horror. No one can live in the face of death, knowing that all is nothingness." This then is our dilemma and the film's too: reconciling uncertainty about God and how we choose to live our lives.

One scene illustrates the problem. The comic trio performs a silly pantomime onstage but the townspeople are not amused and throw a tomato at the main performer, Skat. In mock indignation, he sneaks out the back for a romp with the village smithy's wife. Mia and Jof (diminutives of Mary and Joseph) follow by singing a nonsense song on stage. With passing references to the plague, the song is an attempt to provide a little relief by suggesting that all is not horror, but folly. With drum and lute and in jester costumes Mia and Jof sing hop about on stage. With Skat fooling around behind the bushes and the couple entertaining the townspeople, we feel somewhat lightened or rather. . . distracted. Yet the respite is brief. Their song is cut off by the sound of the Dies Irae being chanted by monks entering the town. Defiantly, Bergman holds the shot of the characters' reactions. He finally cuts to the monks who enter chanting and surrounded by people flagellating and torturing themselves in repentance.

Yet is is the characters' reactions to this horrific sight I find most relevant. Many of the townspeople unconsciously drop to their knees, the knights kneel with their swords in customary fashion, a woman bursts into tears, a child obliviously looks on, Mia and Jof look on with a mixture of awe and deference, and the Knight, his Squire, and the girl look on with blank faces.

Again, though, this scene is so brilliant not simply because it asks a question about God, but because it also asks the question about the question. The main characters look on and consider the actions of the people as much as they consider the issue of God through the problem of the plague. As the Knight says earlier,
What is going to happen to those of us who want to believe but aren't able to? And what is to become of those who neither want to nor are capable of believing?
How do we react to the faiths of others? Will the monk's vows and asceticism help him? Is their self-inflicted suffering going to help these people? The Squire certainly does not think so, referring to the stories of Jesus Christ, God, and The Holy Spirit as "ghost stories." The voice of a-theism (i.e. lack of belief in a god) throughout the film, this is not surprising. More interesting is what the simple Smithy says to him, when the Squire offers him some sophistical advice about love:
You're happy, you with your oily words, and, besides, you believe your own drivel.
The educated man and the fool have come to the same conclusion: there is no satisfactory answer. Similarly, when the Knight confesses to Mia he is tired and bored of his own company, she responds in understanding, asking "Why do people always torment themselves?" This reinforces the film's main theme, "why the question [in the first place]?"

What is the answer then? Earlier the Knight, in contemplating it, said:
This is my hand. I can move it, feel the blood pulsing through it. The sun is still high in
the sky and I, Antonius Block, am playing chess with Death.
In defiance of death he had learned to relish his existence as the opportunity to struggle. Yet Later, sharing a sweet moment with Mia, Jof, Mikael, his Squire, and the girl, he says:
Faith is a torment, did you know that? It is like loving someone who is out there in the
darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call.

Everything I've said seems meaningless and unreal while I sit here with you and your
husband. How unimportant it all becomes suddenly.

I shall remember this moment. The silence, the twilight, the bowls of strawberries and milk, your faces in the evening light. Mikael sleeping, Jof with his lyre. I'll try to remember what we have talked about. I'll carry this memory between my hands as carefully as if it were a bowl filled to the brim with fresh milk.

And it will be an adequate sign -- it will be enough for me.
How exactly do these two scenes differ? What makes the Knight now ready to continue his chess game with Death with such confidence? Perhaps he has learned to relish his existence itself, learned to treasure moments with friends, moments in peace, moments of beauty.

Yet they all die whether or not they come to this realization, the smith and Lisa, the Knight, Raval, the Squire, and Skat. The smith and Lisa die as simpletons, Raval as a scoundrel, the Squire as a cynic, Skat as a coward (taken by surprise), and the Knight with his memories.

Amongst many good observations, film historian Peter Cowie makes several especially good ones toward the end of The Seventh Seal. The first is of the Knight's line, "It's over now, and I'm a little tired" noting[1] how it became the journey that mattered, not the final destination. Indeed this is the tone that prevails in the scene of reconciliation with his wife, which does not fulfill. He has all the memories he will make and death now awaits.

The emotions we expected between the Knight and his wife actually come from the unnamed girl, who only now speaks, looking eagerly toward death, "as though for a lover." Heretofore silent, Cowie says, "she begins to realize the moment she has longed for, the moment of fulfillment, is at hand. She waits for death as though for a lover, with all the eagerness and expectancy that one associates not with death but with life. Death will open a door, not close it: provide some passage to a brighter world." [1]

Cowie's last point is that in the "last supper composition" of the dinner scene, Bergman has not deliberately seated people or created a hierarchy in the shot. Indeed. Who is best off? Which one are you?

The final scene has a certain mystical quality and sense of reverie. The storm has passed and the family stands outside bathed in sunlight. Why do they endure? In spite of the obvious symbolism of them as The Holy Family, I think they are more symbolic of communion, specifically communion in love. Such is what they shared with the Knight, and love is what they carry on.

[1] Cowie, Peter. Commentary on The Seventh Seal. DVD. 1987.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, October 31 through Friday, November 6.

1) Reflections on the fall of the Berlin Wall at The New Criterion, with essays by: Roger Kimball, Anthony Daniels, and Donald Kagan.

2) At City Journal, reflections on the fall from Claire Berlinski, Daniel Flynn, Judith Miller, Roger Scruton, and Guy Sorman. From Scruton's essay:
It is true that a suspicion of Communism remains, and that young people from Eastern Europe have internalized, to a great extent, the experiences of deprivation and fear that their parents still recount to them. Hence they are more open to conservative ideas than their Western contemporaries; they have a vestigial sense of the seriousness of politics and the real cost of putting fanatics and nihilists in charge. They at least have learned this lesson; many of my colleagues have not. From Horkheimer and Adorno to Foucault, Deleuze, and Badiou, fanatics and nihilists continue to dominate the university curriculum, and there prevails in our universities today the same suspicion of power, property, hierarchy, and liberty that was in the ascendant twenty years ago, when my colleagues called an emergency meeting in order to keep the official illusions in place. And when, ten years ago, the Queen made Hobsbawm a “Companion of Honour” at Tony Blair’s request, I was forced to recognize that, as far as history goes, he, and not I, was on the winning side.
3) James Bowman at The New Criterion notes:
Take that wonderfully and hilariously nonsensical bumper sticker, "God bless the whole world — no exceptions." Grammatically and historically, the "God bless" formula is an example of the "optative," a sub-class of the subjunctive. What it really means is "May God bless. . ." and, therefore, "I hope that God blesses. . ." It is a polite way of expressing a wish that someone — or, in this case, Someone — will do something. Today in French you would use the conditional. But without the knowledge of the English optative, the bumper-sticker’s writer supposes it to be an imperative. The speaker is not humbly supplicating God but imperiously ordering Him, which is ridiculous. For the writer, this is probably a matter of no great moment. Like the rest of the culture, he will long since have grown used to the idea that God, if He exists at all, is only there to be bullied by his creatures and told what he can and cannot do with His world. But that is itself both cause and consequence of the death of the optative. . .
Prayer itself is a function of the optative, and a recognition that man proposes but God disposes. Without this very basic cultural knowledge, we are led into a wilderness of absurdity from which a right understanding of our own language and its potentialities, if not of religious truth itself, might have saved us.

4) At The Scientist, Stuart Blackman discusses how, "Ill-judged predictions and projections can be embarrassing at best and, at worst, damaging to the authority of science and science policy."
Scientists have been making predictions for as long as there have been scientists. Indeed, without speculating about the future, it would be impossible to make decisions about how best to proceed. But there is reason to believe that promises are becoming more central to the scientific process.
Sir Ian Wilmut, leader of the Roslin Institute team that cloned Dolly the sheep, says that a “soundbite” media culture that demands uncomplicated, definitive, and sensational statements plays a significant role. “It’s [the media] who put the most pressure on scientists to make predictions,” he says. And in a radio or TV interview that allows perhaps only 10 or 20 seconds for an answer, “it’s very easy then to inadvertently mislead.”

But it might also pay scientists—financially and politically—to go along with such demands, and to indulge in what Joan Haran, Cesagen Research Fellow at Cardiff University, UK, diplomatically calls “discursive overbidding,” whereby they talk up the potential value of work for which they seek the support of funds, changes in legislation or public approval.

“Since the late 20th century, scientists no longer quite have that quality that we used to speak of as scientists being disinterested. They are now very interested,” says Hilary Rose, professor emerita of the sociology of science at the University of Bradford, UK and Gresham College London. “Many clearly manage to rise above this, but the basic culture of science has changed.”
5) Nick Gillespie at Reason reviews two new books on Sarah Palin and the 2008 election, discussing the "oversize" reaction to her.

6) At the WSJ, Terry Teachout celebrates the 40th anniversary of "Civilisation:"
By "civilisation" Clark meant Western civilization, and the first episode, "The Skin of Our Teeth," made it clear that he was no less firm a believer in the primacy of high culture and the genius of great men. In the opening sequence, an unseen organist thunders out a toccata as the camera pans across the face of Michelangelo's David, the façade of Chartres Cathedral and other icons of Western art. Then Clark reads the stately words of John Ruskin: "Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds, the book of their words, and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last." From there he embarks on a discursive tour d'horizon devoted solely to the doings of dead white giants: Charlemagne, Raphael, Bach, Montaigne, Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson, Byron, Rodin. If you think Michael Jackson was a musical master, you've come to the wrong shop.
7) At Poliwood, Roger L. Simon and Lionel Chetwynd Discuss NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman's claim that President Obama is the "most power writer since Julius Caesar." (Kudos to Chetwynd for shouting, "They are ignorant of Latin!")

8) More brilliance from Mr. Landesman. (WSJ)

9) At The Times Online (UK): The internet is killing storytelling!
Addicted to the BlackBerry, hectored and heckled by the next blog alert, web link or text message, we are in state of Continual Partial Attention, too bombarded by snippets and gobbets of information to focus on anything for very long. Microsoft researchers have found that someone distracted by an e-mail message alert takes an average of 24 minutes to return to the same level of concentration. . .
Storytelling is the bedrock of civilisation. From the moment we become aware of others, we demand to be told stories that allow us to make sense of the world, to inhabit the mind of someone else. In old age we tell stories to make small museums of memory. It matters not whether the stories are true or imaginary.
The narrative, whether oral or written, is a staple of every culture the world over. But stories demand time and concentration; the narrative does not simply transmit information, but invites the reader or listener to witness the unfolding of events.
Stories introduce us to situations, people and dilemmas beyond our experience, in a way that is contemplative and gradual: it is the oldest and best form of virtual reality.
The internet, while it communicates so much information so very effectively, does not really “do” narrative. The blog is a soap box, not a story. Facebook is a place for tell-tales perhaps, but not for telling tales. The long-form narrative still does sit easily on the screen, although the e-reader is slowly edging into the mainstream. Very few stories of more than 1,000 words achieve viral status on the internet.
Meanwhile, a generation is tuned, increasingly and sometimes exclusively, to the cacophony of interactive chatter and noise, exciting and fast moving but plethoric and ephemeral. The internet is there for snacking, grazing and tasting, not for the full, six-course feast that is nourishing narrative. The consequence is an anorexic form of culture.
10) At the WSJ, "Children's books that might help repel the armies of electronic distraction."

11) At the WSJ, an interview with conductor David Robertson, now in his fifth season as music director of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.

Next week here at APLV:
Mozart, Haydn, Aristotle, Bergman.
Join us.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What's Going On?

I had planned a little political essay for today, as it is once again election time. Despite that it is finished, instead of sharing it with you I thought I would share some political thinking of a more timeless quality. All that remains of my original essay is the title of this post, which duly conveys my current sentiments if not my specific concerns, which nonetheless can be found below in the works I decided to highlight.

There are three sections to this post:
I. Demosthenes
II. Links
III. Yes, Prime Minister

I. Demosthenes

I have excerpted the speech known as the Third Olynthiac, the Olynthiacs being a series of three speeches Demosthenes delivered to the Athenians in 349BC, urging them to help the citizens of their ally to the north, Olynthus, who were threatened by Philip II of Macedon.
  • The full speech is available in Greek and English at The Perseus Project.
  • Versions in print are also available in Greek and English.
  • Please see below for other texts on Demosthenes and his time.
  • The boldface sections below are my emphases.
Selections from Demosthenes' 3rd Olynthiac

English translation by J. H. Vince, M.A. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1930. via The Perseus Project.

[3] Never was there a crisis that demanded more careful handling than the present. But the difficulty lies, I think, not in proposing a plan to meet the case: what puzzles me, men of Athens, is how to put it before you. For what I have seen and heard convinces me that most of your chances have escaped us rather from a disinclination to do our duty than from a failure to understand it. I must ask you to bear with me if I speak frankly, considering only whether I am speaking the truth, and speaking with the object that things may go better in the future; for you see how the popularity-hunting of some of our orators has led us into this desperate predicament.

[6] Well, what is done cannot be undone; but now comes the opportunity of another war. That was why I have referred to the past, that you may not make the same mistake again. What use, men of Athens, are we to make of our opportunity? For if you do not send help “in full muster, whereto your power shall extend,” observe how all your generalship will make for Philip's success.

[8] What remains then, men of Athens, but to help them with all your power and energy? I see no alternative. For, quite apart from the disgrace that we should incur if we shirk our responsibilities, I see not a little danger, men of Athens, for the future, if the Thebans maintain their present attitude towards us, and the Phocians have come to the end of their money, and there is nothing to hinder Philip, when he has crushed his present foe, from turning his arms against Attica.
[9] But surely if anyone of you would postpone the necessary action till then, he must prefer to see danger at his very doors, rather than hear of it far away, and to beg help for himself, when he might be lending help to others now; for I suppose we all realize that that is what it will come to, if we throw away our present chances.

[10] Perhaps you will say, “Of course we all know that we must send an expedition, and we are willing to do so; but tell us how.” Then do not be surprised, Athenians, if my answer comes as a shock to most of you. Appoint a legislative commission. Do not use it to frame new laws—you have laws enough for your purpose—but repeal those which hamper us in the present crisis.

[11] In plain language I mean the laws for administering the Theoric Fund, and also some of the service regulations. The former distribute the military funds as theatre-money among those who remain in the city; the latter give impunity to deserters and in consequence discourage those willing to serve. When you have repealed these laws and made the way safe for wise counsel, then look round for someone who will propose what you all know to be salutary measures. But until you have done this, do not expect to find a statesman who will propose measures for your benefit, only to be ruined by you for his pains.

[12] You will never find one, especially as the only result would be that the proposer would get into trouble without improving the situation, and his fate would also make good advice more dangerous for the future. Yes, men of Athens, and you ought to insist that those who made these laws should also repeal them.

[13] It is not fair that those legislators should enjoy a popularity which has cost the community dear, but that the patriotic reformer should be penalized by the odium of proposals by which we may all be benefited. Until you have set this right, Athenians, do not expect to find anyone so influential among you that he can break these laws with impunity, or so wanting in discretion as to run open-eyed into danger.

[14]  At the same time, Athenians, you must not forget this, that a mere decree is worthless without a willingness on your part to put your resolutions into practice. If decrees could automatically compel you to do your duty, or could accomplish the objects for which they were proposed, you would not have passed such an array of them with little or no result, and Philip would not have had such a long career of insolent triumph. Long ago, if decrees counted for anything, he would have suffered for his sins.

[15] But that is not so. For in order of time action is subsequent to speaking and voting, but in importance it comes first and ranks higher. It is action, then, that must be added: of all else we have enough. You have among you, Athenians, men competent to say the right thing, no nation is quicker-witted to grasp the meaning of speech, and you will at once be able to translate it into action, if only you do your duty.

[17] But, in the name of the gods, when we have abandoned all these places and almost helped Philip to gain them, shall we then ask who is to blame? For I am sure we shall never admit that it is ourselves. In the panic of battle the runaway never blames himself; it is always his general's fault, or his comrades', anyone's rather than his own. Yet surely to the runaways collectively the defeat is due; for he might have stood firm who now blames the others, and if every man had stood, the battle would have been won.

[21] I am not talking for the idle purpose of quarrelling with anyone here. I am not such a misguided fool as to pick a quarrel deliberately when I see no advantage from it. But I consider it right as a citizen to set the welfare of the state above the popularity of an orator. Indeed I am given to understand—and so perhaps are you—that the orators of past generations, always praised but not always imitated by those who address you, adopted this very standard and principle of statesmanship. I refer to the famous Aristides, to Nicias, to my own namesake, and to Pericles.

[22] But ever since this breed of orators appeared who ply you with such questions as “What would you like? What shall I propose? How can I oblige you?” the interests of the state have been frittered away for a momentary popularity. The natural consequences follow, and the orators profit by your disgrace.

[24] Now your ancestors, whom their orators, unlike ours today, did not caress or flatter, for five and forty years* commanded the willing obedience of the Greeks; more than ten thousand talents did they accumulate in our Acropolis; the then king of Macedonia was their subject, even as a barbarian ought to be subject to Greeks; many honorable trophies for victory on sea and land did they erect, themselves serving in the field; and they alone of mankind left behind them by their deeds a renown greater than all detraction.

[25] Such was their rank in the world of Hellas: what manner of men they were at home, in public or in private life, look round you and see. Out of the wealth of the state they set up for our delight so many fair buildings and things of beauty, temples and offerings to the gods, that we who come after must despair of ever surpassing them; yet in private they were so modest, so careful to obey the spirit of the constitution,

[26] that the houses of their famous men, of Aristides or of Miltiades, as any of you can see that knows them, are not a whit more splendid than those of their neighbors. For selfish greed had no place in their statesmanship, but each thought it his duty to further the common weal. And so by their good faith towards their fellow Greeks, their piety towards the gods, and their equality among themselves, they deserved and won a great prosperity.

[27] Such was their condition in those days under the leaders I have named; and what is our condition today, thanks to our worthy statesmen? Is it the same or anything like the same? Why, we—I pass over much that I might mention, but you all see what a clear field we had got, with the Lacedaemonians crushed, the Thebans fully occupied, and no other city fit to dispute the supremacy with us, while we might have been both the vindicators of our own rights and the umpires of the rights of others;

[28] and yet we have been robbed of our own soil, we have wasted on unnecessary objects more than fifteen hundred talents, our statesmen in peace have lost us the allies we gained in war, and we have provided a training-ground for this formidable rival. If not, let someone come forward and tell me who but ourselves has made Philip powerful.

[29] “But,” says an objector, “if our foreign policy has failed, there is great improvement in domestic affairs.” And to what can you point in proof? To the walls we are whitewashing, the streets we are paving, the water-works, and the balderdash? Look rather at the men whose statesmanship has produced these results; some of them were poor and now are rich, some were obscure and now are eminent, some have reared private houses more stately than our public buildings, while the lower the fortunes of the city have sunk, the higher have their fortunes soared.

[30] What is the cause of all this, and why, pray, did everything go well then that now goes amiss? Because then the people, having the courage to act and to fight, controlled the politicians and were themselves the dispensers of all favors; the rest were well content to accept at the people's hand honor and authority and reward.

[31] Now, on the contrary, the politicians hold the purse-strings and manage everything, while you, the people, robbed of nerve and sinew, stripped of wealth and of allies, have sunk to the level of lackeys and hangers-on, content if the politicians gratify you with a dole from the Theoric Fund or a procession at the Boëdromia, and your manliness reaches its climax when you add your thanks for what is your own. They have mewed you up in the city and entice you with these baits, that they may keep you tame and subservient to the whip.

[32] You cannot, I suppose, have a proud and chivalrous spirit, if your conduct is mean and paltry; for whatever a man's actions are, such must be his spirit. By our Lady, I should not wonder if I got rougher treatment from you for pointing out these faults than the men who are responsible for them. For you do not allow liberty of speech on every subject, and indeed I am surprised that you have allowed it now.

[33] If, therefore, even at the eleventh hour, you can shake off these habits, and consent to fight and act as becomes Athenians and to devote the abundant resources that you have at home to the attainment of success abroad, perhaps, men of Athens, perhaps you may gain some important and unqualified advantage and may be quit of these paltry perquisites. Like the diet prescribed by doctors, which neither restores the strength of the patient nor allows him to succumb, so these doles that you are now distributing neither suffice to ensure your safety nor allow you to renounce them and try something else; they only confirm each citizen in his apathy.

[36] I am not indeed blaming the man who does your duty for you, but I call on you to do that for yourselves which you reward others for doing, and not to desert that post of honor, men of Athens, which your ancestors through many glorious hazards won and bequeathed to you.

I have now said almost all that I consider suitable. It is for you to choose what is likely to benefit the city and all of you.

* The interval between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars.

Works on Demosthnes and His Time 

On the Style of Demosthenes. Dionysius of Halicarnassus. (In the Loeb edition, titled Dionysius of Halicarnassus: Critical Essays, Volume I.)

II. Links

I keep track of:
  1. the October 2008 "Bailout" at ProPublica.
  2. the February, 2009 "Stimulus" at ProPublica.
  3. "earmarks" on federal legislation at Washington Watch.
  4. bills in Congress at GovTrack.
  5. State legislation at FindLaw. 
  6. Supreme Court Decisions at The Cornell University Legal Information Institute.
  7. my representatives at Vote Smart.
  8. lobbying funds at Open Secrets. 
III. Yes, Prime Minister (ep. A Conflict of Interest)

Part I - Part II - Part III

N.B. I realize much of Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister is available on YouTube. Such clips are, in fact, what introduced me to this fine show. Should you enjoy it too, the shows are available on DVD and Netflix (discs and streaming.)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Movie Review: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Directed by Robert Wiene. 1920.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is a frightening movie. I just wanted to get that out quickly and clearly, as something about silent films entices critics to take readers on a journey through time, paging through the fascinating jargon-laden annals of film history. Such is all well and good, but such a trip should not come at the expense of discussing the essence of a film. Caligari is often remembered as "the first true horror movie," as being highly influential, a classic example of German expressionism, as starring Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt, for having a "twist" ending, being very good, very old, very short, et cetera. As frightening, not so much. Why is that?

The reason is twofold, on the one hand the reasons listed above simply obscure the scariness and on the other the fright is a philosophical one and thus requires a modicum of consideration for its effect. Take the ending, for example, which is remembered for its novelty. We thought that Francis was relating a terrible tale to the man sitting next to him, a tale in which Francis was pursuing a strange doctor, Dr. Caligari, who was using a somnambulist to carry out murders. We discover, though, that Francis is a patient at the asylum in his own story, and that the characters from his story are the people at the asylum. This is of course a surprise, but why is it significant? Perhaps because he is crazy. Well, so what if he is crazy? Why is that significant?

It is significant because it asks the following question: how terrifying would it be to become divorced from reality, to be trapped in a world you cannot understand? How could you live without being able to say what anything is with the slightest bit of certainty? Also, consider the final scene of the inmates in the courtyard: how horrible would it be if we all entertained competing versions of reality, with Princess Jane, Cesare with his flowers, and Francis with his murder conspiracy? With everyone's whims vying for dominance, it would be a nightmare.