Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Golem: Opening Night

Golem-blogging, essay 6 of 21:

Opening Night

The Golem: How He Came Into the World
If you went to see The Golem on opening night, October 1920, chances are…

Paul Wegener in the 1915
The Golem.
You would be familiar with the idea of the Golem, a monstrous man made out of clay, from the hit 1915 movie and possibly from the less popular 1917 sequel, The Golem and the Dancing Girl. The first was a contemporary story about the ancient Golem being discovered and brought back to life. The second was a contemporary comedy about an actor playing the Golem. Because you’d know the Golem from these movies, his appearance in the new movie would neither shock nor surprise you.  He’d be more like an old familiar face.

You would be aware that The Golem was the title of a popular novel written by Gustav Meyrink and published in serial form from 1913-1914 and then as a very successful novel in 1915, riding high on the popular success of the first Golem movie. Perhaps you’ve even read it—at the very least, you’re aware of it. The book is a challenging artistic piece that interprets the ancient Jewish legend through the memories and hallucinations of a 20th century artist and craftsman. You would know that the book has fascinated many people with its bold explorations of occult matters.

Disturbing images in The
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
You would have seen The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and perhaps it’s made you think that you've been underestimating the movies. Maybe they really are a new art form and not just a new-fangled shallow form of entertainment. Caligari made you think—in fact, you couldnt get it out of your head for days. It was disturbing and very modern, but it also told a strong and exciting story while showing you things on the screen that you'd never seen before. It was like a dream—or a nightmare—on the screen. You know that it has become an international hit and that people in other countries are now speaking of the German film industry with respect. Other countries haven’t shown respect for Germany lately, so this is a good thing.

You are familiar with Paul Wegener and have seen him in several movies. You know that he is a star and a leading figure in Germany's film industry. You can recognize him easily—as the Golem or in other roles.  He’s a big man with very distinctive features. In addition to seeing him as the Golem, you have seen him in The Student of Prague (Wegener's first movie, and a huge hit), The Yogi, The Pied Piper of Hamelin, and probably some others. All of these movies have fantasy or occult elements in them, so you have come to associate Wegener with the weird and the strange.

And so you enter the theater expecting the familiar, in the form of Wegener and his Golem makeup, but ready for the unexpected in the form of fantasy and horror. Your hopes are high because this movie is expected to be important. It is an event and it has attracted a large eager crowd, who wait for the lights to dim and for the orchestra, down in the pit in front of the screen, to strike up its opening chords.

The Golem confronts young lovers in the climax of The Golem (1915).

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

© 2011 Lee Price

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