Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Golem: Identification with Victims

Golem-blogging, essay 8 of 21 

Identification with Victims 

At one point in the academic study of film, it was assumed that point-of-view camerawork was the primary method of establishing audience identification. In chapter 15 (Star and Auteur) of his book Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, Robin Wood argues that there are other ways, equally powerful, to encourage audience identification, including: 
Identification With the Threatened or Victimized: A recurrent motif of Hitchcock interviews: there is a 'natural' (read: endemic to our culture) tendency to identify with the character who is threatened.” 

In The Golem (1920), the audience is primed to identify with the people who are threatened and victimized. 

Miriam, Rabbi Loew, and Famulus.
In the movies opening minutes, we have: Crisis, followed by response – the Jews are facing misfortune and therefore, they should do… something. And the something that they do is to gather as a community for prayer. Note that this first response is visually passive. There is no pro-active community response, except to pray and to wail at fate. As presented here, the Jewish community is open to the audience’s sympathy but is not taking a heroic role. The audience is led to see the Jews as victims (specifically, victims of misfortune), which is also the way that the Jews in the movie seem to view themselves. 

The decree.
At this point, we have our lead trio of figures (Rabbi, Miriam, Famulus) and a community of passive victims. Naturally, the audience is expected to empathize with all these figures, but we want action, too. And it is only at this point, with the audience’s sympathies clearly placed with the threatened Jewish community, that the “Christian” and imperial charges against the Jews are stated. In the form of a medieval document, we get to read the litany of traditional slanders: “Decree Against the Jews: The many serious charges against the Jews can no longer be disregarded, being that they crucified our Lord, wrongfully ignore the holy Christian holidays, thirst after the goods and lives of their fellow men, and practice the black arts. Hence we decree that all Jews evacuate their quarter, known as the ghetto, before the new moon.” 

Taken by itself, this decree is a traditional list of anti-Jewish sentiments. It might be approved by organizers of a pogrom, or Nazis, or the KKK. But this movie was not made for such an audience. In these opening scenes, the audience has already been led to accept the Jews as figures of empathy. As I have argued previously, even the accusation of practicing the black arts was not necessarily positioned as being an evil thing. Meyrink’s books and numerous popular occult explorations of the time primed the German public to regard the occult as a field neither necessarily good nor bad. The audience would have been expected to react to this anti-Jewish decree as one of monstrous unfairness, with all the audiences sympathies firmly placed with the Jewish community. 

The following scene, in the emperor’s palace, further deepens the audience’s empathy with the Jewish community by contrasting the pampered lives of the writers of the decree with the devout, prayerful Jewish community.

Worship in The Golem.

Watch The Golem (1920):
Purchase through Kino International
or at Amazon,
rent through Netflix,
or sneak a peek at YouTube.

© 2011 Lee Price

No comments:

Post a Comment