Thursday, May 20, 2010

Die Nibelungen

Siegfried, 1924
Kriemhilds Rache, 1924

Dir: Fritz Lang

I was a little dubious to go back into Lang after throwing a blanket on him with my Metropolis (1927) review, but given my undertaking this summer, it won't be the last one I encounter either. So where to start? Die Nibelungen is a series of two silent fantasy films based on the epic German poem "Nibelungenlied." I must say that in this setting, rather than in a wonky futuristic one, Lang's expressionistic touches work a lot better for me. At times he feels like he is still finding his feet in that department, being that this is a coupe of years earlier, but the feeling that Lang was trying to make an artistic statement is there, and definitely works in this film's favor.

Siegfried, part 1, is a lot more action packed and is full of shit that any fantasy nerd will enjoy. Siegfried (Paul Richter) starts as an apprentice to a master Smith Mime, and forges a fucking sweet sword. Then he hears the tale of a beautiful princess, and sets out on a journey to make her his bride. On the way to Burgundy, he runs into a dragon and kills that lizard with his rad sword. Did you know that touching dragon's blood gives you the ability to understand birds? Well now you do, and also, those same birds will tell you to bathe in that stuff to make you invincible. So fantastically awesome. He then goes on to kill a dwarf king, get his magic invisibility crown, and steal his treasure. This is all within like 45 minutes. The rest of the film involves Valkyries, deceit, and an epic death. It's pretty engaging, and full of Lang's keen visual eye.

Kriemhilds Rache starts off as a bit of a slow burner, politicking and murderous glares, etc., but picks up with about an hour left where babies are killed, eyes bulge and, as any fantasy should, devolves into the chaos of battle. The first thing you will notice about this film is that the depiction of the Huns is one of the most racist things you will ever see, but like all things of that era, you can't let it bother you that much. It's just to show how "un-German" they are in comparison to the Burgundian court. You just have to enjoy the story telling abilities of Lang, which are numerous and inventive.

The whole tale is very Germanic/Norse in its scope and how it plays out, but especially in it's characterizations. There's the perfect hero cut down in his prime; the easily identifiable villain, Hagen von Tronje (Hans Adalbert Schlettow), with his funky eye and black-winged helmet; cowardly King brother Gunther (Theodor Loos), unable to be unloyal to Hagen even in his betrayal of Siegfried; and of course Kreimhild (Margarete Schoen), the seething Queen hard-done by. I really don't know a heck of a lot in regards to this mythology besides the vague cultural backgrounds, but the characters of Brunhild (Hanna Ralph), proud Valkyrie, and of Attila (Rudolph Klein-Rogge), the Hun (duh), at least are not as east to pinpoint as some of the others, maybe because they lay, even by a little bit, outside of that Germanic code. Feminists could also have a field day, because in the end, all of the nonsense that happens in the film starts because of (what else?) jealous bitches. These things are really easy to pick out in hindsight, but like all silent film, are really just a problem with that medium (intertitles and such).

For what it is, Die Nibelungen turns heads, simply for what it was able to do. Which was having artfully presented special effects while also being a gigantic spectacle. I'm sure it would have blown my mind if I was alive in 1925. Being that I'm not, I can be cynical and say the faces are silly (which they are) but they kind of have to be. So is this worth watching?: if you have any interest in film or silent film, than yes. It might not be one of those personal films (for me at least), but you can at least appreciate the craftsmanship. Otherwise, you should probably jerk off to Lord of the Rings or something, you fucking geek.

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