Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Golem: How He Came into the World

Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam; Silent fantasy, Germany, 1920; D: Paul Wegener, Carl Boese, S: Albert Steinrück, Paul Wegener, Lyda Salmonova, Ernst Deutsch

Prague, 16th Century. Rabbi Löw observes the stars and discovers signs which predict troubles for the Jewish community. And truly, a decree is issued in which, because of accusations of sorcery, the Jews are to be expelled from Prague. Löw thus uses his magic to create a Golem, a humanoid creature created out of clay, to save his people. He presents Golem during a festival and the impressed Emperor withdraws the decree. Löw's assistant spots that Löw's daughter Mirjam has a relationship with Florian, and thus uses the Golem against him. The Golem throws Florian from the tower and puts the house on fire, going out of control. Until a little girl takes it's star from the chest and causes it to drop dead.

Paul Wegener's "The Golem" is the most famous movie adaptation of the folklore legend revolving around the title clay creature and Rabbi Löw, which has some fascination based on the unknown hidden in the human subconsciousness and thus indeed justifies why the authors picked it for their film. The opening is fantastic, using the expressionistic style to the maximum: it shows stars in the night sky and Rabbi Löw observing them with a telescope, reading signs from them. However, these aesthetic images are quickly replaced with ordinary ones, trying to just tell the story in a rather conventional way, and that's why "Golem" seems rather dated at moments. Back in the 1920s, cinema was still young and fresh, but also 'rough', since the directors didn't yet know how to use all their possibilities and simply using the 'aim and film' method, and some part of that comes across as flaw in this story. It keeps stalling and has too many empty scenes that don't lead nowhere.

The most brilliant scenes are those which use imaginative mise-en-scene in trying to stand out from the other films of that time, like the one where Rabbi Löw draws a circle around himself which starts to glow and attracts lightning bolts in order to awake the Golem or the mesmerizing moment where he uses his magic to start a "triangle screen" on the castle's wall, showing the images of Jews traveling through the desert in epic queues, because there the movie shows that it really has something to show. It also juggles with motives of antisemitism and fear of the unknown, but it would have been better if it shaped the Golem in a more mythical way, and not just waste him in ordinary scenes showing him as a servant chopping wood or going shopping. Much more could have been made out of the story, but what can you do, the authors didn't want to go there. The film still has enough talent displayed though, which shows that not only the title creature was created out of nothing.


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