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25 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Mystical Legend Brought to Life, 13 Sept. 2005
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This review is from: Der Golem [1920] [DVD] (DVD)
I have read so much on the internet that places this film in the context of Weimar Germany in the period that led up to National Socialism and the Nazi's crimes of genocide against the Jews, that when I watched it for the first time it was hard to suspend that thought in the back of my mind, especially when absorbed in the flaming ghetto scenes and when contemplating the pseudo-scientific, bio-political or techno-political overtones of the Golem's fabrication and deployment. On subsequent viewings I successfully put these ideas out of action and managed to submerge myself more fully into those other contexts, the eschatological plight of the Jewish faith per se, and the rich mystical heritage of the Prague Kabbalists. It is on that basis, that of losing myself in the film, of entering its silence, that I felt able to review the film. Not looking back in commemoration of a single historical confluence it may or may not have anticipated, but of what it, in the innocence of story-telling, brought to bear on mystical history as such, and through the vehicle of expressionism.
Sometimes Expressionism gets accounted for as an attempt merely to disturb or dislocate by defamiliarisation or alienation of familiar forms, typically architectural and postural/gestural exaggeration. But besides this (to me) rather redundant and self-qualifying aesthetic interpretation, it is also in my opinion more honest to say that Expressionism tries to capture an external representation of what is felt and realised, what is at bottom experienced, internally and viscerally, throwing into question - and into mystery - any idea of a normative, "objectivistic" conception of community life. The organic, labyrinthine set design places us within this everyday mystery, both concealing and revealing the players, and serving as a visual metaphor for the twisting, torsional, branching fate of a private gated community confronted with an intolerant and puerile imperial context that wants to amuse itself with open spectatorship. Politically, the gothic, ogival complex of the Jewish ghetto, crisscrossing itself and interwoven with rough, laureate, almost sylvan ornamentation sets a mood of nature and innocence that the more rectilinear and finer imperial settings threaten to interfere with and expel.
Trapped in the intricacies of their own law, the Prague Jews look to their elders, one of whom, in accordance with the entire labyrinthine theme, produces in secrecy a Golem, commanding the assistance of ashteroth. Intended as the guardian of the people, a noble servant, the Golem (played by director/actor Paul Wegener with a stultifying array of facial expressions) is a creature of clay given animation by the Shem, the mystical inscription of a secret word in a symbol placed on its chest. The price of the Golem's docile loyalty soon begins to betray itself, when at the Emperor's rose festival the scent of a flower and the interest of young women arouse a more human, rebellious, almost adolescent nature. Despite the (hesitant) rescue of the emperor and his court from their own effete follies, earning the Jewish people a pardon, the Golem remains as an impassive presence, its internal seething captured for our perception only in its diverse facial contortions and menacing glowers. As Uranus comes to eclipse Venus in astrological significance, and as the Golem's masters involve it in more and more emotionally complex errands, this nature becomes more and more evident, with feral facial performances by Wegener showing a nonheritable "rage to live", a different sense of nobility altogether, emerging in the Golem: its increasing resistance to human control and refusal to be "put to sleep". In the end the Golem, after having bust the gates of the community wide open, revealing the true "interior" of the film's labyrinths, is only overpowered by the powerless innocence of childhood, in the absence of suspicion or mercenary motives. In the mole-tunnels of the film a subtext is at work, setting the wisdom and laws of elders and imperial court rulers against a more fragile wisdom of naivety, curiosity, and play. This staple innocence of the mystical tradition redeems itself subtlety, almost obliquely and inconsequentially, possibilising those deep moral meditations that a good story always makes available for an open and involved mind.
Many of the stylistic and narrative precedents for later gothic expressionism (and indeed cinema in general) are found here - moods are indicated by score and liberal use of tinting, lighting, gesture, etc. In fact in the absence of dialogue (the film is of course a "silent") and a minimum of inter-titles, this is almost a film about how to make a "film", or, if you like, about the creation of filmic humunculii.
The film is only slightly marred by the psychology of its era, in which the women appears as a foil for the easily-swayed, swooning and fainting hysterical shadow of the bold resolute man - but this trend is also at the same time undermined by the effete, craven, decadent, and vaguely camp male characters of empire, the desperation and fervour of the rabbi Low trying to fulfil the expectations of his people, and the astonished, puzzled, horror and affectionateness of his assistant.
Prior to watching this, it had been a while since I had seen a silent movie, and this film has really sparked off a liking for them. The power of the silent film today seems to me to be in revealing the wordlessness of our contemporary era, its global network of intercommunications amounting to the incessant drone of spoken silence, whilst shedding light on the ability to communicate affections and meanings as originating on that more visceral, moody level that expressionism fully exploited without constant verbiage and exposition.
Included on my DVD were the original German inter-titles available through selecting an alternative angle, a gallery of publicity material, related photography and illustrations (including some from Meyrink's novel), and a simplistic but pleasing essay on the stylistic features of German Expressionism. The navigation menus are very much in keeping with the film and its reference to secret texts being read in half-light, half-underground settings; practises half-legal, half an aberration of any law: humanity.
This, Wegener's third attempt at the Golem (the first being lost and the second apparently being a send-up) is a true masterpiece, a landmark film that has retained its relevance throughout the maze of 20th century history.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 28 Nov 2009 19:32:18 GMT
James Horton says:
Liked what you were saying in the first paragraph and it seems like this film will be of real interest to me, I'm going to buy it and find out.
However, I didn't understand a word of the second paragraph (I've read it three times). Clarity is important in a review you know? I'm guessing you werent really saying anything. Maybe it was a bet.
But you were back to English by paragraph three so fair play.

Posted on 8 Apr 2011 05:04:35 BDT
''the wordlessness of our contemporary era'' - if only...

In reply to an earlier post on 29 Nov 2011 19:02:04 GMT
Are you serious?? You didn't understand a single word of the second paragraph?? Ah well. Here's my interpretation for you, in simple English...

"Ghd ufguid guid ndd ghfuiegtui whjo qew jqox ncbnut y btb bycb ychvnuin hvuib gvyue uiw bye uib vnim cjiox mcniub vyiuo iuoy wuy cinccio viuviv uni ovuioeuvn pyemce. Wp rdn hkdjs bgdjks nhjd fklsh dklfm jkl huier wghhs #a la wfnsklas hwbhah uihu t trut gui hihy yhuog jhzc xdfkxd fjd jud euir euierr fklklg tflo lfhirmapow qew udyg fddfwyqw frqwt ewioq jwpoe qwo pqwid lkhwauiry u."

I have a PhD in Gobbledygook, you know. Knew it'd come in handy, one day.
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