Die Nibelungen

00000318.pngThis past week­end I watched Kino’s restora­tion of Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelun­gen, a five-hour silent film from 1924. I’ve always been inter­est­ed in this Nordic/Germanic epic and its adap­ta­tions and retellings; ini­tial­ly due to the inter­weav­ing of myth and hero-leg­end with his­tor­i­cal fact [Siegfried kills a drag­on, Attila’s inva­sion, for exam­ple] but now my inter­est focus­es on the elas­tic­i­ty of the sto­ry and its use­ful­ness as a foil for con­tem­po­rary events.

If you’re not famil­iar with the Nibelun­gen­lied [The Ger­man­ic vari­ant of the Nibelung leg­end] it con­cerns the hero­ic deeds of Siegfried, his mur­der and his wife’s vengeance. It also serves mar­velous­ly as an exam­ple of how folk­lore is used to tell a peo­ple about what it means to be that peo­ple. This usage is so much stronger in the mod­ern world because the Ger­man­ic ver­sion of the tale pro­vides its own empir­i­cal evi­dence about the Bur­gun­di­ans and Atti­la. This is effec­tive, but not nec­es­sar­i­ly good, since the Nibelun­gen­lied was reframed as “proof” of the Ger­man mas­ter-race nation­al­ism that was so dev­as­tat­ing last cen­tu­ry. [cf. Wag­n­er]

The orig­i­nal tale was prob­a­bly whol­ly fan­tas­ti­cal, with the Norse Pan­theon piss­ing off some dwarves by killing an otter, result­ing in the cre­ation of a huge hoard of gold, a cursed ring, and the ever-present gra­tu­itous amounts of sex and vio­lence. The Bur­gun­di­an and sub­se­quent Ger­man­ic fla­vor of the Nibelun­gen­lied is like­ly the result of Scan­di­na­vian dias­po­ra. A com­par­i­son between Siegfried and Achilles is almost inevitable, they are both great war­riors who are invul­ner­a­ble except in one small spot.

sigbath.jpgFritz Lang’s film has all of that build-up behind his film. Since I love pro­vid­ing con­text so much, here’s a bit for you. There is a huge par­al­lel between the results of Gavri­lo Princip’s assas­si­na­tion of Arch­duke Franz Fer­di­nand and the results of Siegfried’s sim­i­lar assas­si­na­tion. Both events result­ed in action on oaths and treaties that killed entire armies. While this par­al­lel is not explic­it­ly ref­er­enced in Die Nibelun­gen it cer­tain­ly pro­vides strong echoes. Cou­ple this with a smol­der­ing resent­ment over the War Guilt Clause of the Treaty of Ver­sailles and the omi­nous deter­mi­na­tion that per­me­ates the film [ded­i­cat­ed to the Ger­man Peo­ple] is a presage of the Third Reich. In terms of myth­ic reaf­fir­ma­tion, this is an appro­pri­ate response; after some­thing hap­pens that is trau­mat­ic to a nation­al psy­che this type of sto­ry­telling is a heal­ing mech­a­nism.

The pro­duc­tion val­ues are excel­lent, and though I wish Kino had remas­tered their print, I had absolute­ly no com­plaints about the orig­i­nal 1924 score. The act­ing, set-pieces, spe­cial effects and light­ing are trib­utes to the skill of Lang and the capa­bil­i­ties of UFA. At 5 hours, the film only drags briefly, at tricky points of plot expo­si­tion. I’d prob­a­bly be will­ing to buy it if the print were a bet­ter qual­i­ty. And now, some oth­er stuff:

Renshai Chronicles

after a sum­mer filled with read­ing works con­sid­ered to be fine pieces of lit­er­a­ture, my return to the books i have enjoyed the most, fan­ta­sy nov­els, is bit­ter­sweet. i rel­ish the sto­ries for their enter­tain­ment val­ue, but now they are start­ing to seem a little…juvenile. per­haps this is just due to the books i am read­ing cur­rent­ly, The Ren­shai Chron­i­cles, by Mick­ey Zuck­er Reichert. i have not read any­thing by this author before so per­haps it is just the license she takes with Norse mythol­o­gy in com­bi­na­tion with her vague­ly Dun­geons and Drag­ons sto­ry­lines (i’ve nev­er enjoyed that type of fan­ta­sy). The char­ac­ters are all teenagers and behave exact­ly like teens in regard to affairs of the heart, but when it comes to mak­ing emo­tion­al deci­sions they are ratio­nal as a sophist. it is unnerv­ing, espe­cial­ly since they are all savants and excel in their respec­tive ‘job class’ to bor­row a phrase from D&D, often rival­ing those with decades or cen­turies more expe­ri­ence. it would be a good sto­ry if it weren’t so obvi­ous­ly con­trived. I do not believe this revul­sion will trans­fer to works of gen­uine cre­ative fan­ta­sy that offers philo­soph­i­cal and moral dilem­mas, (LotR, The Recluce Series) or those which offer more than just swords and sor­cery (The Wheel of Time, any­thing by Patri­cia McKil­lip). I am just tired of cook­iecut­ter fan­ta­sy trilo­gies. i need some­thing new.