Thursday, October 05, 2017

Der Golem (1915) (2017 restoration Filmmuseum München)

Der Golem (DE 1915), with Lyda Salmonova and Paul Wegener. Please click to enlarge the image.

Der Golem. Phantastisches Filmspiel von Henrik Galeen (Monster of Fate), Heinrich Galeen (DE 1915), scen: Paul Wegener, Heinrich Galeen, photog: Guido Seeber, cast: Paul Wegener (Golem), Heinrich Galeen (the Jew), Lyda Salmonova (the Jew’s young daughter), Rudolf Blümner (the scholar), Karl Ebert (the Count), Jakob Tiedtke (the Count’s servant), prod: Deutsche Bioscop GmbH, filmed: 1914, censor date: 22.12.1914, rel: 15.1.1915, Berlin (U.T.-Lichtspiele Kurfürstendamm, Friedrichstraße, & Alexanderplatz), copy: incomp. (orig. 1250 m), DCP, 24 min (transferred at 18 fps), col. (tinted); titles: GER, source: Filmmuseum München, Restored: 2017.
    Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, Pordenone.
    Grand piano: Richard Siedhoff.
    Teatro Verdi, e-subtitles in English and Italian, 5 Oct 2017.

Stefan Drössler (GCM 2017): "While Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920) is today considered part of the canon of German silent film classics, Paul Wegener’s first Golem film made in 1914 is essentially believed lost. Until recently, only two very short fragments – of 20 metres and 77 metres respectively – were known to exist. These fragments survived in private collections and were subsequently preserved by the Staatliches Filmarchiv der DDR, the state film archive of the German Democratic Republic, in the 1960s and the Bundesarchiv in the 1990s. In addition, the screenplay and a number of stills survive in Paul Wegener’s estate (the Kai Möller collection), held at the Deutsches Filminstitut. The impulse to bring all these materials together in an attempt to reconstruct the film came about when Fernando Peña identified a 16 mm duplicate negative held at the Museo del Cine Pablo C. Ducrós Hicken in Buenos Aires as the second reel of the American version of Der Golem."

"Paul Wegener, who became famous as an actor in Max Reinhardt’s theatre company in Berlin, objected from the outset to any attempt “to force stage plays and literary storylines into film’s Procrustean bed” and sought out distinctly cinematic subject matter: “The first thing you must do is forget theatre and literature and learn to create films from filmic ideas. The true poet of the cinema is the camera. The possibility to constantly change the viewer’s perspective, the multitude of special effects (produced via double exposure, mirrors, etc.), in short the technology of film should dictate the choice of the story.” (Paul Wegener, lecture, “The Artistic Possibilities of Film”, 24 April 1916)"

"The saga of a clay statue magically brought to life, set in a Prague ghetto, was Wegener’s second success after Der Student von Prag, released in 1913. Since the production’s modest budget didn’t allow for expensive period costumes and settings, the story was shifted to the (then) present-day. Shooting took place in Summer 1914, at the Deutsche Bioscop studios in Babelsberg and on location in the historic town of Hildesheim. By the time the film premiered in January 1915, Paul Wegener was serving as a lieutenant in the German army in Flanders. Wartime advertisements promoted Der Golem as a “film for educated people”, and highlighted that Wegener was serving at the front and had been decorated with the Iron Cross."

"The “most successful film of its time” ran for four weeks in a number of cinemas in Berlin, and was seen by more than 100,000 picturegoers. The film was also exported to Scandinavia, Poland, Japan, and the U.S. In America, where it was retitled The Monster of Fate, the film’s German origin went unmentioned. Instead, it was advertised as a “Bohemian production”. The only members of the cast mentioned in public announcements were “Lydia Salmonova” and “Henry Galeen”, most likely due to their apparently non-German-sounding names."

"Wegener conceived his big-budget 1920 remake of Der Golem as a prequel rather than a sequel to the earlier film. Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam is essentially an origin story set in the past, featuring period costumes and Expressionist sets by Hans Poelzig. Although the second Golem film follows the storyline of the first film very closely, going as far as to copy certain shots outright, Paul Wegener is credited as sole writer and director. Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam ultimately did not serve as a companion piece to the first Golem film, but as its replacement. There is no indication that Der Golem and Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam were ever screened together on a double bill.
" Stefan Droessler


"Natur wirkt immer tief,
so innen wie auswendig,

Und alles lebt im Tod,
und tot ist es lebendig."
– Angelus Silesius (quoted in the finale of Der Golem)

An exciting discovery. Paul Wegener's Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920) has rightly retained its status as a key work of Weimar cinema and the international cinéfantastique. We have been aware of the previous Golem film interpretations. Now that footage of the 1915 film has finally become available the revelation is how assured the approach already is.

The 1915 Golem belongs to the earliest films of Paul Wegener and his wife and co-star Lyda Salmonova, but they had already starred in the first film adaptation of Der Student von Prag (1913). For Henrik Galeen this Golem project was his first film credit (his later credits would include Nosferatu, Das Wachsfigurenkabinett, the second adaptation of Der Student von Prag, and Alraune). The true veteran of the team was the master cinematographer Guido Seeber whose career had started already in 1898.

The 1915 Golem starts in the present time at a Jewish antique dealer's store. Old books don't sell, but there is a new treasure in the old vault. A strange clay figure and books that have survived the ravages of the 30 Year War tell the story of the charm of life, a magic paper roll inside a David's Star capsule. Inserted into the clay figure Golem comes alive, awesomely powerful: he breaks the anvil, and his hand does not burn in the tremendous flame of the fire. But when the star is removed Golem becomes lifeless again. Golem guards the daughter and observes the world in silent awe. He crashes a party at the castle. Bullets and daggers do not stop him. The party guests flee, and when Golem enters the street with a knife in his chest he meets a loving couple. The maid removes the star, and Golem crashes lifeless on the ground.

The film is well acted, the pantomime is engaging, and there is an assured approach to the fantastique. The simulation of red toning is impressive.

Lovingly rescued from the ravages of time this fragmentary footage of 24 minutes gives a good idea of a lost movie.

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