Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Golem: Seeing Stars

Golem-blogging, essay 15 of 21 

A Star of David before it becomes superimposed over an image of
the Golem's face in The Golem (1920).
Seeing Stars

The Golem's and his
five-pointed star.
The Golem (1920) opens with stars, as Rabbi Loew surveys the sky to foretell the future. Miriam’s dress has a star pattern when she is first introduced. At the opening of the second chapter of the movie, we see the night stars first, dissolving to the Star of David, and then dissolving to the Golem’s face. And stars figure prominently in the Golem creation scene, with Rabbi Loew first waving a star within the magic circle to summon the demon Astaroth and then placing the magic word in the star amulet that is mounted on the Golem’s chest.

But I’ve always been confused watching the movie because the stars switch around. With our first view of the Golem, we see the entire screen filled with a Star of David which then dissolves to a closeup of the Golem’s face. I always assumed that this six-pointed Star of David is the same as the one on the amulet that brings him to life. But it’s not.

The amulet is a pentagram, a five-pointed star.

There are some historic links to five-pointed stars and Jews. Traditionally, the five-pointed star is usually shown with its point upwards. This point-upwards pentagram has some historical associations with Kabbalah and alchemy and was sometimes used as a symbol of nature or wisdom in medieval synagogues.

The hand of a future victim
shows the sign of the pentagram
in The Wolf Man (1941).
When inverted (two points up) and sometimes placed within a circle or double circle, the pentagram becomes an occult symbol popularized in the 19th century by Eliphas Levi, a French author and magician. Levi connected it with an image of a goat’s head, the two ears of the goat forming the two upper points of the star. Much later, in the 1960’s, Anton LaVey and his Church of Satan would adopt this inverted pentagram goat’s head, or Baphomet, as a central symbol. But the pentagram had gained a reputation as a symbol of evil well before LaVey. Screenwriter Curt Siodmak was well aware of its reputation when he scattered references to pentagrams all through The Wolf Man in 1941.

So… at last, we have an opportunity to gain some clear insight into the intent of the filmmakers, right? Inverted pentagram – a symbol of evil. Traditional star – historically appropriate symbol. This should be easy.

Roll the film… The Rabbi places the amulet on the Golem’s chest, point upwards, and then he gives it a twist. This leaves the star midway between point up and inverted. It’s completely ambiguous. Read it whichever way you choose.

Removing the Golem's star.

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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