The Golem may be less familiar than those other Expressionist classics,Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, but the scale and imaginationevident in the film more than compensate. The impressive sets and make-upas well as the unusually effective acting bring to life this eerilyprophetic tale of oppressed Jews in 16th Century Europe. A rabbiinterprets signs from the stars which warn of a pogrom in the ghetto. Using ancient Jewish powers, he animates a man of clay to protect theJews, only to find that he cannot remain in control over his creation.
Though the film stands well enough on its own, it is also fascinating froma historical perspective. Made in 1920, it pre-dates the worst of theHolocaust by under twenty years, and by referring to the historicalreality of the pogroms reinforces the fact that the ethnic exterminationof the 20th Century is, depressingly, unusual only in scale. However, theDVD extras concentrate on The Golem's place in German Expressionism. Inan interesting though rather short documentary, the main themes andimagery of Expressionism are linked to German literature. The Golem'sdesign is shown to be at least partly the inspiration for James Whales'version of Frankenstein. I would add that certain classic Gothic/horrormyths are established in the film, such as the need to use certain ancientwords to control the creature (similar to those memorably screwed up byAsh in Army of Darkness). For this reason The Golem is essential viewingnot only for those interested in early cinema, but for those who want tosee where modern horror began.