DIE NIBELUNGEN - 1: SEIGFRIED

 (Fritz Lang, Germany, 1924) 143 minutes

DIE NIBELUNGEN - 1: SEIGFRIED

Director: Fritz Lang
Producer: Erich Pommer
Screenplay: Thea von Harbou, based on the
  13th century poem Die Nibelungehleid
Design: Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut
Cinematography: Carl Hoffman, Gunther Rittau
Original Score: Gottfried Huppertz
Paul Richter (Siegfried)
Margarete Schon (Kriemhild)
Theodor Loos (King Gunther)
Hans Adalbert von Schlettow (Hagen Tronje)
Bernhard Goetzke (Volker von Alzey)
Georg John (Mime/Alberich)
Gertrude Arnold (Queen Ute)

Reviews and notes

Perhaps the most stately of Fritz Lang’s two-part epics, the five-hour Die Nibelungen is a courageous and hallucinatory work, a film in which every single shot might alone endure as an exemplar of visual art. Its extraordinary set-pieces, archetypal themes, and unrestrained ambition have proven an inspiration for nearly every fantasy cycle that has emerged on-screen since — from Star Wars to The Lord of the Rings. In Part One, Siegfried, the film’s eponymous hero acquires the power of invincibility after slaying a dragon and bathing in the creature’s blood. Later, an alliance through marriage between the hero and the royal clan of the Nibelungen turns treacherous, with Siegfried’s sole weakness exploited.
- Masters of Cinema.


Referencing the original myth behind Wagner's opera, Lang and Thea von Harbou's Die Nibelungen is yet another world classic that once existed only in ragged, grossly incomplete copies. This is a dazzling new restoration of this enduring film classic, reconstructed by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung. Together the two parts are over 4.5 hours long. The transfers are quite good, even considering the cut & paste job of collating all available surviving materials into the longest version yet. Some shots and short scenes are from less-than optimum sources, but even they are stable and free of damage. The static compositions of characters posed amid giant arches and looming trees become as impressive as the still photographs reproduced in film books. Transferred at a proper film speed, the action is more readable. The dragon's fire can be seen to touch Siegfried's armor, and a bit of abstract animation in Kriemhild's vision is now effectively dreamlike. The artwork transformation of the flowering tree is a powerful instance of silent movie symbolism. Even though many scenes and actions are on the slow side, the pace builds throughout. Lang's show has the gravity of a real saga. One can finally appreciate just how big of a film experience this was in 1924,

Titled Siegfried and Kriemheld's Revenge, the film's two parts cover a lot of narrative territory. Part One introduces Siegfried (Paul Richter) as he forges a sword. Siegfried slays the dragon Fafnir and makes himself invincible by bathing in the dragon's blood. Overcoming the treacherous Alberich (Georg John, who also plays two other roles) he acquires the treasure of a race of demonic dwarves called the Nibelungs. In addition to the Balmung sword, the booty includes the Tarnhelm, a magic helmet - here more like a net - with special powers. Having heard of the beautiful Burgundian princess Kriemhild (Margarete Schön), Siegfried conquers twelve kingdoms to be worthy of her. At the capitol at Worms, Siegfried asks for Kriemhild's hand. Her physically weak brother Gunther demands a price: Siegfried must accompany him to Iceland, to win for Gunther the hand of Queen Brunhild. The warrior queen has her own conditions - the man she marries must defeat her in three contests. Siegfried uses the Tarnhelm to fool Brunhild into thinking Gunther an athlete. She accompanies them back to Worms, but refuses to yield to Gunther on his wedding night until Siegfried again uses magic to subdue her. His deception triggers a tragic series of events that end in "Hate, Murder and Revenge."

Populated by weird dwarves, monsters and legendary heroes, Siegfried is packed with masterful visuals. Lang's architectural training is given a workout in the enormous sets created for the German forest, with tree trunks as big as giant sequoias. The pomp and ceremony at Worms is reflected in grand, harmonious symmetrical compositions. One mesmerizing setup trucks along a long line of soldiers in metal helmets, with identical jagged patterns on their tunics. Another group of soldiers stands in the water in full armor, using their shields to form a walkway for Brunhild to walk from a boat to the shore. Visual symbols stand out prominently, as when a flowering tree changes into a death's head to foretell a murder to come. The dragon is a full-scale mannequin operated by several men... it has a real flamethrower in its head.

The noble characters are deeply flawed. Siegfried is a grand hero, but once he has slain the dragon, his further success is all gained with the help of magical acquisitions: the sword, a magic helmet. With those powers, anybody could conquer twelve kingdoms. In the latter part of the story the royals' deceits and jealousies set into motion a domino-like series of awful events. Shocked to learn that Gunther didn't win Brunhild fair and square, Kriemhild tells Brunhild. Humiliated, Brunhild tells Gunther a lie about Siegfried on their wedding night. The proud Gunther dispatches his sinister hatchet man Hagen Tronje (Hans Adalbert von Schlettow) on a murder mission. Unfortunately, Siegfried's invulnerability has a flaw, just like the Greek hero Achilles. Strangely, Kriemhild is usually assigned most of the blame despite the fact that she loses the most. Nobody in the poisonous inner circle at Worms acts in a truly ethical manner.
- Glenn Erickson, DVD Savant, 14 November 2012.


Weblink: See also KRIEMHILD'S REVENGE

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