Tuesday, September 20, 2016


Marvelous Beauty of German Renaissance


A very beautiful film. We may wonder how Fritz Lang managed to get to that level of quality of picture but also that width of picture with the camera of the time. But he managed at least to give the impression he had wide pictures of landscape and movement, particularly galloping horses and masses of people.

The film is not in black and white as expected but in gold and black and that gives it a tremendous impact since it is color without being color. It is warm whereas white and black would have been cold. That establishes a relation with the audience that is close like some story telling at night in front of some fire in the winter. We are inside the story. Another quality is the costumes. The luxurious costumes of the Nibelungen from Burgundy and the city of Worms are strikingly imposing and even forbidding. Hagen Tronje’s rough costume and extravagant helmet make him look like a barbarian, violent by principle, treacherous by nature. He is the man apart that will never be betrayed by the clan, in spite of all the misery he will bring down upon them. In the same way the Huns are shown as primitive, mostly have nude, and children are shown as systematically nude, living in some kind of huts or tents, at times troglodyte caves, though at the same time they have a palace in the “city” and that palace is in a way beautiful though rather massive and heavy but quite comparable to that of the Nibelungen in Worms which is maybe vaster and more richly decorated and has a cathedral.

The restoration of the film has a lot to do with the quality of the picture but all the rest is really Fritz Lang’s.

The question this film brings up is the motivation of Fritz Lang when he directed and produced this film. The film goes back to the traditional Germanic more than German legend of Siegfried and his wife Kriemhild. This version is not the only one in Germanic culture with some others more Scandinavian in which Siegfried is named Sigurd. This film is centered on Burgundy seen as German and the Huns in the East. This redistributing Europe to the benefit of Germany is typical of the post World War 1 atmosphere, the desire to step over the defeat. At the same time the Nibelungen are run amok because of one of their allies who is untrustworthy, and yet they stick to him. That leads to all the Nibelungen being destroyed by the vengeful will of one of them, hence some kind of a traitor, Kriemhild herself who wants to avenge the murder of her husband, though she forgets to remember she gave the killer the information he needed to succeed. She wants at least everyone to forget. And she will get her vengeance, but she will be destroyed by one surviving member of the clan.

That means the defeat comes from inside because the Nibelungen were not able to respect and protect the hero they had welcomed in their clan. You see the myth behind, the lesson to the German audience: be faithful and support your heroes. Just nine years later it is this mood that will produce Hitler and the full German support to him. The Germans did not do the same mistake as in the old days. Surprisingly enough the lesson comes from a Jew, the main victims later on.

The vision of the East, the Huns, Attila, is the vision of a primitive and extremely barbaric people but yet courageous and dedicated to themselves, the Huns, with waves and waves of simple people turned warriors without weapons or equipment, dying in great number but finally overwhelming the well equipped and well trained Nibelungen. True enough the killing idea came from Kriemhild: burn them all in and out, but yet it is the Huns who did it, burning down their own palace to roast the Nibelungen inside. At the same time the motivations were clear: they wanted to avenge the killing of Attila’s own son by Hagen Tronje. They were justified since Hagen Tronje killed an infant out of pure spite.

We can wonder if this film, a lot more popular medium than the rewriting of the myth by Wagner’s operas, though Wagner could now be heard on the radio in the 1920s and 1930s, if this film did not contribute to build the atmosphere and motivation that brought Hitler to power. One thing is sure: the film is a very compelling call to the Germans to reunite and get inspiration from their mythology or past and at the same time to unite behind their heroes not to make the same mistakes again. In 1924 Hitler was still unknown but yet the momentum that was going to bring him to power was already moving and building up. This film is one piece of the puzzle. And it’s probably for that reason that we had to wait so long before getting it restored to some glory. Some historical facts of the past are at times difficult to digest by modern people.


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