Fritz Lang’s Nibelungen

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Before Metropolis, before M, there was the Nibelungen (1925), a five-hour Nordic-medieval-romance-fantasy like nothing I have ever seen.  The primal storytelling impulse that drives this magnificent set of moving images has petered out today in computer generated extravaganzas of ersatz mythologies dreamed up by an English university professor.

One element of the art design that struck me was that it was like watching the Vienna Succession brought to life.  The sets, costumes, and even the direction often look as if they are lifted right from Gustave Klimt (see the cropped images above) and his contemporaries.  The cinematic results are magnificent, and, strangely, it sheds new, backwards directed light on the sensibility of that fin de siècle art movement.

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7 Responses to Fritz Lang’s Nibelungen

  1. sledpress says:

    As a Wagnerite, I have always had it in the back of my mind to hunt up the Fritz Lang Nibelungen. From what I can gather, it straddles the poetic sources and Wagner’s interpolations. I’ve seen some still frames, including the dragon, who is quite wonderful.

    One should not diss English professors, though. Tolkien was operating with Finnish as well as Teutonic source material, and the debasement of his work by a thousand tone-deaf imitators does not lessen its value. We will be out to lunch a long time if we start talking about Peter Jackson’s version of course (the phrase “from the sublime to the ridiculous” comes to mind).

    I see that Nibelungen has been remastered twice — do you have any preference betweent he 2002 and 2012 versions?

    • Lichanos says:

      I am watching the 2002 DVD. I haven’t researched the differences between them.

      I’m not very familiar with Wagner, but I think Lang’s film is considered true to the poem. (I have a verse translation on the way.) I think Wagner was more eclectic in his source material, and there are many plot differences.

      As for Tolkien, I can only say that I gave him a try many years ago, and did not find his prose enticing. And I would never judge an author by the quality of the film adaptations of his work.

      • sledpress says:

        Tolkien has two prose styles really: one workmanlike and matter of fact, occasionally wry (which suits me) and one partaking rather of the King James Version. I suppose many might find the latter offputting.

        Wagner is worth your scrutiny, though most scholars of the sagas and Eddas will cringe at some of his excursions with the material. I have called it “Schopenhauer set to music.” And he *will* go on in the oddest ways about women. For instance, Otter, whose skin must be covered by the Nibelungen hoard in the original saga, is replaced by Freya of all goddesses, pledged as a payment for the giants’ construction of Valhalla. Norse women were, in my appreciation, flinty and could take care of themselves; Wagner’s women are always needing rescuing. But the story as he recreates it carries you along anyway.

  2. Thanks for pointing out the Klimt similarities. Very interesting post. I have yet to seen the film, but hope to soon. As for the poem (assuming you mean the 13th century Middle-High German one), hope the verse translation you have on the way is Raffel’s – if so, you’re in for a treat!

  3. snappa22 says:

    Lang’s film runs for 5 1/2 hours and the recent remastering cleans up that done in 2002. Readings of the life and work of Tolkien suggest that he took his reading of the Nibelungen saga from a translation in Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book published in 1895. Of course there are many elements of similarity between the Tolkien books, the Ring saga and Lang’s film. I would like to know if he actually went and saw the film when it was released in the UK in the 1920s.

  4. […] Lang’s unique cinematic interpretation of the epic poem? As Journey to Perplexity points out, Lang seemed heavily inspired by the style of Klimt. In addition to design patterns, Lang also borrowed from other artists. This shot below of Gunther […]

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