Die Nibelungen

Tuesday, 25 July 2006

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

Monday, 29 July 2002

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.