[Last Films I Watch] Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Kriemhild’s Revenge (1924)

Die Nibelungen  Siegfried poster

Title: Die Nibelungen: Siegfried
Year: 1924
Country: Germany
Language: German
Genre: Fantasy, Drama, Adventure
Director: Fritz Lang
Writers:
Fritz Lang
Thea von Harbou
Music: Gottfried Huppertz
Cinematography:
Carl Hoffmann
Günther Rittau
Walter Ruttmann
Cast:
Paul Richter
Theodor Loos
Hanna Ralph
Margarete Schön
Hans Adalbert Schlettow
Bernhard Goetzke
Gertrud Arnold
Georg John
Rating: 7.8/10

Die Nibelungen  Kriemhild s Revenge poster j

English Title: Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild’s Revenge
Original Title: Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache
Year: 1924
Country: Germany
Language: German
Genre: Drama, Adventure
Director: Fritz Lang
Writer: Thea von Harbou
Music: Gottfried Huppertz
Cinematography:
Carl Hoffmann
Günther Rittau
Cast:
Margarete Schön
Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Theodor Loos
Hans Adalbert Schlettow
Rudolf Rittner
Fritz Alberti
Bernhard Goetzke
Erwin Biswanger
Gertrud Arnold
Rating: 7.7/10

At the age of 34, Fritz Lang astonished the world with his grandiose silent adaptation of THE SONG OF THE NIBELUNGS, a monumental poem written around AD 1200, is extolled as the pioneer of epic cinema, divided into two parts, each comprises 7 cantos and runs over 2 hours in their integral restored versions, it is an awestruck experience to behold early cinema’s most enterprising saga compounded heroism and romance with deception, jealousy, undiminished hatred and bloodletting revenge.

The first part SIEGFRIED starts as a myth-abounded adventure of our hero Siegfried (Richter), who masters the art of sword-forging and is misguided to a dangerous route to win the heart of Kriemhild (Schön), the princess of Burgundy, en route he slays a dragon (a prototype puppet model looks formidable but moves too ungainly to call it as a monster) and acquires the invincibility from bathing in its blood (save for one spot, his Achilles heel); defeats Alberich (John), king of the dwarves, takes possession of a magic net powered with invisibility and transformation, as well as the Nibelungs treasure. Sequently, a quid pro quo is achieved between Siegfried and King Gunther (Loos), Kriemhild’s brother, Siegfried uses his mighty strength and the little help of his invincibility, to help Gunther conquers Brunhild (Ralph), the powerful queen of Iceland, in a threefold strength competition, and we are pleasantly to see a double-wedding, Gunther and Brunhild, Siegfried and Kriemhild. This is where the surreal side of the tale reaches its crest with Lang’s groundbreaking cinematic wizardry.

From then on, an inauspicious plot of Greek tragedy looms large, our hero will unwittingly succumb to his demise owing to the coalescence of a pompous queen’s vengeful lie, a weak king’s low self-esteem and blind enviousness, and a wide-eyed wife’s inconceivable gullibility, the first half of the tale finishes with a big bang of pathos.

In KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE, the fantasy element has been completely abandoned, it focuses on Kriemhild’s iron-willed commitment to avenge Siegfried, she agrees to marry the Hunnish King Etzel (Klein-Rogge), and gives birth to a boy, then invites Gunther and co. to celebrate summer solstice in King Etzel’s hall, meanwhile secretly plots the ultimate revenge on Hagen of Tronje (Schlettow), Gunther’s advisor who personally sets up the ambush and dispatches Siegfried. In sharping contrast between Burgundian’s fantastically make-believe Celtic fashion and Huns’ barbarian style with grotesque garments and unsightly makeup, a tangy whiff of racial supremacy is self-evident, King Etzel is dutifully portrayed as a weakling, wailing over his infant son, but cannot fight in the front-line, a shocking contradiction to his savage appearance. The battle is elongated in spite of the multitude of Huns, Gunther and his brothers refuse to give up on Hagen in exchange of their lives, subconsciously they are all guilty for the conspiracy, they are willing to fight until the last man standing. Besieged in the king’s hall, the remaining Burgundians will face their doom in a staggering conflagration, tremendous manpower has been deployed for the arduous ending, no wonder it was such a mammoth sensation when it came out!

In retrospective, these two films are par excellence in its imposing production design and advanced special effect grandeur, Huppertz’s guiding score is a masterwork of its own vitality, yet, the laggard pace can unfortunately hold many contemporary audience at bay, which cannot be rescued for the archaic and stilted performance, although Margarete Schön is excellent in the second part where her facial expressions fully take charge in the lengthy narrative. Among Fritz Lang’s superlative filmography, a defining note is that DIE NIBELUNGEN saga opportunely prefigures his most stylish endeavour METROPOLIS (1927), and his most well-grounded masterpiece M (1931), while its own heritage should also be set in stone, even just for historical reasons.

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