Saturday, July 31, 2004

A Review of The Golem

Recently watched The Golem, an old silent film from Germany. I've been interested in the topic ever since reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which featured the legendary hero of Jewish lore. I wasn't really wowed by The Golem, but it is an interesting curio, and it seems that the film was a major influence on F.W.Murnau, director of some of the greatest films of all time. Specifically, The Golem (1920) clearly influenced Murnau's Faust (1926). In its best scene (which, alone, makes the film rent-worthy), a rabbi summons the demon Astaroth and compels him to reveal the word that can animate the Golem, which the Rabbi had made from clay. Compare this scene to one in Faust (the excellent dvd includes that scene for just such handy comparison) in which the devil is summoned, and you'll see unmistakable similarities. Historically, the legend of the golem is said to have been an influence on Shelley, and the film was clearly an influence on Whale's classic film version of Frankenstein (1931). In both versions, the lumbering creations encounter young girls, but with very different results. (There's also the difference between the overreaching scientist in one and the use of religion AND magic in the other. Speaking of magic, I was struck by how much the rabbi here reminded me of the classic wizard figure, complete with robe and long beard, and I wondered how old that archetype is.)

To my suprise, my biggest problem with the film is that its ending is morally unsatisfying. Without giving too much away, The Golem's havoc has caused the death of a character who is more or less innocent. The happy ending of the film sweeps this death under the carpet. I wasn't particularly rooting for this character, but I expected his death to have major consequences. There are several versions of the story, though, including some classic books and two earlier, reportedly lost, film versions by the same director, Paul Wegener, so there's probably more to the narrative. (2 stars out of 4)



Post a Comment

<< Home