film: Golem, wie er in die Welt kam (1920)

Golem, wie er in die Welt kam was far longer than I hoped it’d be. This is because I got confused and watched the wrong Golem film. I’d have been much less eager to watch it if I’d known beforehand that the director was Paul Wegener, whose 40 minute feature Der Student Von Prag was a bore to sit through, and as if watching Wegener lumber about the stage in that one wasn’t bad enough, he lumbered about in this one too, showing the only two expressions he’s capable of: boredom and murderous. What makes this film all worthwhile is the last scene, which bears a striking resemblance (I figured this one out all by my very self) to a scene from the Godfather. The scene I mean is the one in which Marlon Brando is playing with his toddler grandson, when he takes a heart attack, falls over dead, and the kid runs over laughs at him, squirts his water and runs off continuing to play. It’s haunting–because it forces us to wonder how children perceive death, if they do at all, and then we wonder, well, is death or life worth anything at all if I child cannot see it? And then we see all the bodies scattered throughout the film. In this, the Golem is supposed to run amok, having been created by a magician/rabbi who for some odd reason calls for the power of a rival Canaanite deity to help the Jews. Apparently the magic is beginning to run out, at which point Golem will disobey and kill his master. Instead, that is, after destroying most of the ghetto (we Are discussing Jews here), he breaks open the city gates, runs outside, and meets a little girl. They have a Frankenstein moment, during which he seems enthralled and she hands him a flower. He takes her in his arms, and the image of this is very sweet. And playfully she tugs off his magic star attached over his heart–which is essentially is on/off switch–and his body becomes a lifeless mound of clay again. He falls over, she thinks this is great fun, bends over and laughs at him, and then runs off. Next we see, she’s convinced all her girl friends to come over and sit on him and play. Seeing the whole thing in black and white, Golem looks as much like a human as the next person, so the whole ordeal is rather disturbing. Quite reminiscent of Godfather, you’ll see.

As for importance goes, this is clear a work of German expressionism–its twisted sets remind me of a more organic version of Cabinet des Dr Caligari–however, I’ll also note that the expressionistic sets are demarcated by the ghetto walls. Immediately outside them, the world loses its gothic-turned-claustrophobic intensity and regains something much more romantic and natural. The conclusion, thus, is that the expressionistic elements are confined to an illustration of Judaism. While the Jews live in this strange city, persecuted for practicing black magic and causing public havoc, they Do practice black magic and cause public havoc! Caligari, as I recall, made the whole world not as twisted, but with the same shadowy texture over much sharper sets.

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