Virginia Woolf composed this essay on the cinema after watching The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the 1920 German expressionist film. Published in the 3 July 1926 issue of The Nation and Athenaeum, ‘The Cinema’ captures both Woolf’s fascination with and apprehension towards film, an art form which was still in its infancy. ‘Film’ in 1926 meant black-and-white, silent film.
“We behold them as they are when we are not there. We see life as it is when we have no part in it. As we gaze we seem to be removed from the pettiness of actual existence. The horse will not knock us down. The king will not grasp our hands. The wave will not wet our feet. … Further, all this happened ten years ago, we are told. We are beholding a world which has gone beneath the waves.”