Thursday, October 08, 2009

Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam

Golem: miten hän tuli maailmaan
DE 1920. PC: Projektions-AG “Union” [PAGU]. P: Paul Davidson; D: Paul Wegener; SC: Paul Wegener, Henrik Galeen; DP: Karl Freund; AD: Hans Poelzig; CAST: Paul Wegener (Golem), Albert Steinrück (Rabbi Löw), Lyda Salmonova (Mirjam, daughter of Rabbi Löw), Ernst Deutsch (Famulus), Otto Gebühr (Kaiser Rudolf II), Lothar Müthel (Count Florian), Loni Nest (little girl); 1954 m /20 fps/ 85 min
From: Münchner Filmmuseum.
Score: Betty Olivero; performed by: Cynthia Treggor (violin), Melissa Majoni (violin), Lorenzo Rundo (viola), Serena Mancuso (violoncello), Lee Mottram (clarinets); Conducted by Günter A. Buchwald. - E-subtitles in English + Italian. Viewed at Teatro Verdi, 7 Oct 2009.

From the GCM Catalogue: "THE MUSIC. Betty Olivero’s music for Der Golem was commissioned in 1997 for Argentinian “klezmer king” Giora Feidman and the famous Arditti String Quartet, responsible for countless world premieres of works by leading composers. The choice of orchestration is programmatic, involving the musical liaison of klezmer with contemporary chamber music. Olivero’s score unites both genres: “It is a combination of popular folk music with contemporary music, but in a natural way.”
Various sources of Jewish music serve as original material: the music of Eastern European Ashkenazi, as well as the Sephardic Spanish music tradition and Middle Eastern Jewish music. Olivero uses these to create – mainly with the principal clarinet – all the scenes in the Jewish ghetto, as well as shaping the character of the Golem. Undoubtedly her music sees the Golem more as an unpolished human creature than a Frankenstein monster! As she says, “I wanted to emphasize the human side of the Golem,” so for the scene of his creation she chose a familiar melody, “Place Me Under Thy Wing”, which she sees as “a symbolic message of love”.
The music avoids the traditional “bim bam” of klezmer accompaniment by underlaying alienated chords and rhythms of the string section. “There are a lot of traditional melodies, mostly for scenes of crowds. But the transcription of those melodies is mine. So you can recognize the melody, but the dressing of the music is my own.”
The entire clarinet family is brought into play. The bass clarinet, with its dark colours, somehow becomes the fifth string instrument when the strings take the lead over dramatic scenes, such as the animation of the Golem or the destruction of the shtetl. In others scenes the bass clarinet is the voice of Rabbi Löw. The basset horn is used for the atmospheric morning scenes. The clarinets in B-flat and C represent the joy of life; they are used in all scenes of Jewish ghetto activities, as well as for the good-natured Golem. The E-flat clarinet, with its grotesque colour, evokes a caricature of Emperor Rudolph II and his court in Prague.
The string quartet is always on a par with the clarinet. This creates an enormous space and a highly differentiated field of sound. The cello seldom plays on the low strings; most of the time it moves in the key of the violin, even above the viola. Both the viola, in the love scenes, and the cello, in the most dramatic parts, are equal partners in the dialogue with the clarinet.
“It’s a very complex tradition,” Olivero says. “I was born into this reality. In Israel, this is the music that I heard from morning till night. It had already arrived as a synthesis, a mixture. I didn’t create it. I just have to expose it. Add to that not only Western musical tradition, but also contemporary Western music, avant-garde music. For me, contemporary music was a means of expression – but into that I can easily put my roots.”
This synthesis is very important, because it is music for film in the best sense of the term, music which functions as a part of a Gesamtkunstwerk. The music has to perform many tasks: represent the protagonists’ emotions, create atmosphere, represent onscreen music, characterize periods and locations, create dramatic curves, mark the ends of acts and pauses, and much more. But despite all these functions, the music always remains autonomous, in the sense that it can be listened to without the visuals. – Günter A. Buchwald
Betty Olivero was born in Tel Aviv in 1954, where she studied piano and composition at the Samuel Rabin Academy of Music. In 1982 she began to study with Luciano Berio at the Berkshire Music Center in Tanglewood, and pursued her studies and collaboration with him in Italy until 1986. In 1991 she graduated from the Yale School of Music, where she studied composition with Jakob Druckman and Gilbert Amy. Her works have been performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, the Israel Philharmonic, the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, the London Sinfonietta, and many other groups. Olivero currently lives in Israel, where she is an Associate Professor of Composition at Bar-Llan University in Ramat Gan, and was composer-in-residence with the Jerusalem Symphony Orchestra from 2004 to 2008.
Lee Mottram is a 22-year-old musician who was discovered internationally after winning the prestigious Blue Riband prize at the 2008 Welsh Eisteddfod, recognizing him as the best young instrumentalist in Wales. Born and brought up in the west Wales countryside, he is currently studying at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.


Der Golem is a classic film – doubly so.
First, it has long nestled comfortably within the list of titles that make up the German Expressionist movement of the 1920s. Teachers of survey history courses are more likely to show Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, but a serious enthusiast will make a point of seeing Der Golem as well.
From the start, reviewers recognized Der Golem as Expressionist. In 1921 the New York Times’ critic wrote, “Resembling somewhat the curious constructions of THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI, the settings may be called expressionistic, but to the common man they are best described as expressive, for it is their eloquence that characterizes them.” (Spellbound in Darkness, p. 362) In 1930, Paul Rotha’s The Film Till Now, the most ambitious world history of cinema in English to date, appeared. Highly influential in establishing the canon of classics, Rotha adored Weimar cinema, including Der Golem.
In 1936, the Museum of Modern Art obtained a large number of notable European films. The core collection of the young archive contained such prestigious titles as Caligari, Battleship Potemkin, Metropolis, and Der Golem. These films soon became part of the museum’s 35mm and 16mm circulating programs. With MoMA’s sanction as historically important classics, they remained the most widely accessible older films available to researchers and students alike for many decades.
There is, however, a second, largely separate audience: monster-movie fans. Starting in the 1950s, German Expressionist films were promoted as horror fare by Forrest J. Ackerman in his magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland. In 1967 Carlos Clarens included Der Golem in his An Illustrated History of the Horror Film. Really dedicated horror devotees pride themselves on their expertise across a wide variety of films, including foreign and silent ones. Der Golem became a certified horror classic.
In the 1950s and 1960s, companies offering public-domain 8mm and 16mm copies for sale allowed both film-studies departments and movie buffs to start their own film libraries. Ultimately home-video made previously rare silent classics easily obtainable – including a restored Golem from the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, with new tinting and a musical score, on DVD. Such a presentation reconfirms the film’s status as a classic.
But what sort of classic is it? An undying masterpiece that one must see immediately? A film one should definitely watch someday if the chance arises? On the occasion of Der Golem being presented on the big screen with live musical accompaniment, we have a chance to specify what distinguishes it from its fellow exemplars of Expressionism.
I suspect that horror-film fans won’t feel that a reevaluation is necessary. Der Golem is a forerunner of Frankenstein, and hence an important early contribution to the genre. It’s an impressive film to look at, and obscure enough to impress one’s friends during a late-night program in the home theatre.
But for film historians returning to Der Golem in the early 21st century, after nearly 90 years of taking it for granted, what is there to say?
Some would deny that Der Golem is truly Expressionistic. If one has a very narrow view of the style, insisting that only films with flat, jagged, Caligari-style sets qualify for membership in the movement, then Der Golem doesn’t pass muster. Neither do Nosferatu, Die Nibelungen, Waxworks, and a lot of other films typically put into the Expressionist category.
It’s a subject susceptible to endless quibbling. To avoid that, it’s helpful to accept historian Jean Mitry’s simple, useful distinction between graphic Expressionism, with flat, jagged sets, and plastic Expressionism, with a more volumetric, architectural stylization. If Caligari introduced us to graphic Expressionism in 1920, Der Golem did the same for plastic Expressionism later that year.
For me, seeing Der Golem again doesn’t much affect its status as an historically important component of the German Expressionist movement. It’s not the most likeable or entertaining of the group. Caligari has more suspense and daring and black humor. Die Nibelungen has a stately blend of ornamental richness with a modernist austerity of overall composition, as well as a narrative that sinks gradually into nihilism in a peculiarly Weimarian way.
Moreover, Der Golem’s narrative has its problems. None of the characters is particularly sympathetic. Petty deceits and jealousies ultimately are what allow the Golem to run amuck. The narrative momentum built up in the first half of the film is inexplicably vitiated for a stretch. Initially the emperor’s threat to expel Prague’s Jews from the ghetto drives Rabbi Löw to his dangerous scheme of creating the Golem to save his people. Yet after the creation scene, the dramatic highpoint that ends the first half, we see the magically animated statue chopping wood and performing other household tasks that make his presence seem almost inconsequential. The imperial threat has to be revved up again to get the Golem-as-savior plot going once more.
But putting aside Der Golem’s minor weaknesses, it has marvelous moments that summon up what cinematic Expressionism could be: the opening shot, which instantly signals the film’s style; the black, jagged hinges that meander crazily across the door of the room where Löw sculpts the Golem; the juxtaposition of the Golem with a Christian statue as he stomps across the crooked little bridge heading toward the palace.
Hans Poelzig was perhaps the greatest architect to design Expressionist film sets. He designed only 3 films, and Der Golem is the most important of them. Once the monster has been created, Poelzig visually equates the lumpy, writhing towers and walls of the ghetto and the clay from which the Golem is fashioned. The sense that sets and actors’ performances constitute a formal, even material whole became one of the basic tactics of Expressionism in cinema.
Speaking of performances: A lot of the actors in German Expressionist films were movie or stage stars who didn’t specialize in Expressionism. There were, however, occasional roles that preserve the techniques the great actors of the Expressionist theatre. There’s Fritz Kortner in Hintertreppe and Schatten. There’s Ernst Deutsch, who acted in only two Expressionist films, as the protagonist in the stylistically radical Von Morgens bis Mitternachts and as the rabbi’s assistant in Der Golem. Just watching his eyes and brows during his scenes in this film conveys something of the radical edge that Expressionism had when it was fresh – before its films had become canonized classics. – Kristin Thompson".

Der Golem is a film which I love, and I revisited it also to experience this print and this music. On display was a Lumière Project print from ca 1995 with heavy tinting, which makes it impossible to appreciate the quality of the cinematography. The experience was that of a long distance to a visually wonderful film. - The catalogue remarks about the music sounded very promising, too. We did not get to hear the original score but a new composition by Betty Olivero. It is very modern, very imposing, with klezmer aspects, but I failed to discover the connection between the music and the film. - The film itself is a masterpiece in my book (MMM Film Guide), and it keeps resonating as an early Frankenstein and Faust story, more and more relevant in an age when mankind is able to self-destruct via technology. It is also an important, and unfortunately still topical, tale about the persecution of the Jews.

1 comment:

hannah Gal said...

fascinating piece! thanks : )

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