Die Nibelungen - Fritz Lang

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Die Nibelungen (The Nibelungs) is a series of two silent fantasy films created by Austrian director Fritz Lang in 1924: 'Die Nibelungen: Siegfried' and 'Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild's Revenge', and produced at UFA's Bablesberg Studios in Potsdam, Berlin.
The screenplays for both films were co-written by Lang's then-wife Thea von Harbou, based upon the epic poem 'Nibelungenlied' written around 1200 AD.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Universum Film AG

Universum Film AG, better known as UFA or Ufa, is a film company that was the principal film studio in Germany, home of the German film industry during the Weimar Republic and through World War II, and a major force in world cinema from 1917 to 1945

'Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari'
UFA was created during November 1917 in Berlin as a government-owned producer of World War I propaganda and public service films. It was created through the consolidation of most of Germany's commercial film companies, including Nordisk and Decla. Decla's former owner, Erich Pommer, served as producer for the 1920 film 'Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari', which was not only the best example of German Expressionism and an enormously influential film, but also a commercial success.

 UFA-Palast am Zoo Theatre 
During the same year, UFA opened the UFA-Palast am Zoo theatre in Berlin.
Pressured by the US film industry, in late 1921 UFA was merged with Decla-Bioscop, "with government, industrial and banking support" and a near-monopoly in an industry that produced around 600 films each year and attracted a million customers every day.
In the silent movie years, when films were easier to adapt for foreign markets, UFA began developing an international reputation and posed serious competition to Hollywood.

F.W. Murnau
'Der Blaue Engel'
During the Weimar years the studio produced and exported an enormous, accomplished, and inventive body of work.
Only an estimated 10% of the studio's output still exists.
Famous directors based at UFA included Fritz Lang (see below) and F.W. Murnau; under chief producer Erich Pommer the company created landmark films such as 'Dr. Mabus' (1922), 'Metropolis' (1927 - see below), and Marlene Dietrich's first talkie, 'Der Blaue Engel' (The Blue Angel - 1930).

'Der Triumph des Willens'
'Der Heilige Berg'
In addition to 'avant-garde' experiments, and lurid films of Weimar street life, UFA was also the studio of the 'bergfilm' (mountain movie), a uniquely German genre that glorified and romanticized mountain climbing, downhill skiing, and avalanche-dodging.
The 'bergfilm' genre was primarily the creation of director Arnold Fanck, and examples like 'Der Heilige Berg' (The Holy Mountain - 1926) and 'Weiß Ekstase' (White Ecstasy -1931) are notable for the appearance of Austrian skiing legend Hannes Schneider and a young Leni Riefenstahl - later the director of 'Der Triumph des Willens'

Fritz Lang und Thea von Harbou - 1924
The studio over-extended itself financially during the late 1920s, partly as a result of the expensive production of Metropolis, and was taken over by the press baron, former Krupp manager, and DNVP leader Alfred Hugenberg in March 1927.
During the 1930s UFA produced both lighthearted musicals and comedies.
During the war the studio made several part entertainment, part propaganda feature films using the Agfacolor process, such as 'Münchhausen' (1943) and 'Kolberg' (1945).

Besuch von Hitler bei der UFA 

Babelsberg Film Studio - Postdam
The Babelsberg Film Studio (German: Filmstudio Babelsberg, FWB: BG1), located in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany, is the oldest large-scale film studio in the world. Founded in 1912, it covers an area of about 25,000 square metres (270,000 sq ft). Hundreds of films, including Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis' and Josef von Sternberg's 'The Blue Angel' were filmed there.
From 1933 to 1945, around 1,000 feature films were made in the studios and on the studio lot. Under the direction of Hitler's propaganda chief Dr Joseph Goebbels, the studio produced hundreds of films including Leni Riefenstahl's magnificent 'Triumph of the Will'.

UFA Logo
Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang (December 5, 1890 – August 2, 1976) was a Austrian filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor.
One of the best known directors of the German school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute.
His most famous films include the groundbreaking 'Metropolis' (the world's most expensive silent film at the time of its release), and 'Die Nibelungen'.
Lang was born in Vienna as the second son of Anton Lang(1860–1940),[9] an architect and construction company manager, and his wife Pauline "Paula" Lang née Schlesinger (1864–1920).
Fritz Lang himself was baptized on 28 December 1890 at the Schottenkirche in Vienna.

Thea von Harbou
After finishing school, Lang briefly attended the Technical University of Vienna, where he studied civil engineering, and eventually switched to art.
In 1910 he left Vienna, traveling throughout Europe and Africa and later Asia and the Pacific area.
In 1913, he studied painting in Paris, France.
At the outbreak of World War I, Lang returned to Vienna and volunteered for military service in the Austrian army and fought in Russia and Romania, where he was wounded three times.
While recovering from his injuries and shell shock in 1916, he wrote some scenarios and ideas for films.
He was discharged from the army with the rank of lieutenant in 1918 and did some acting in the Viennese theater circuit for a short time before being hired as a writer at Decla, Erich Pommer's Berlin-based production company.

Expressionist films: the Weimar years (1918-1933)

'Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler'
His writing stint was brief, as Lang soon started to work as a director at the German film studio UFA as the Expressionist movement was building.
In this first phase of his career, Lang alternated between art films such as 'Der Müde Tod' ("The Weary Death"), and popular thrillers such as 'Die Spinnen' ("The Spiders"), combining popular genres with Expressionist techniques to create an unprecedented synthesis of popular entertainment with art cinema.
In 1920, he met his future wife, the writer and actress Thea von Harbou.
She and Lang co-wrote all of his movies from 1921 through 1933, including 1922's 'Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler' (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler), which ran for over four hours in two parts in the original version, (and was the first in the Dr. Mabuse trilogy), 1924's five-hour 'Die Nibelungen'(see below), and the famous 1927 film 'Metropolis'.
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

'Hitler loved Lang’s depiction of the traditional German epic, 'Die Nibelungen'.
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
He thought that it expressed his racial and cultural concerns, and he used a 1925 version, with a Wagnerian soundtrack, for propaganda.
Lang claimed that Goebbels told him how the Führer loved his films, and asked him to produce films for the Reich.'

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Richard Wagner
The ancient Germanic and Scandinavian tales of Siegfried (or Sigurd) were vital building blocks for much middle and northern European folk culture.
This was true long before Richard Wagner conflated them for his great opera cycle 'Der Ring des Nibelungen', and certainly long before J.R.R. Tolkien absorbed them into his somewhat less inspired 'The Lord of the Rings'.
Tolkien’s variation, in re-positioning the material as a battle against tyrannical evil, tried to present a completely opposite, contemporary tilt, on the stories to that assumed by Hitler and Germanic Völkisch groups, who annexed aspects of them through Wagner as lynch-pins for their own mythology.

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Siegfried, the anointed, pure hero, who defeated the dragon, and yet fell to a spear in the back, presented to post-WW1 German nationalists a powerful metaphor for what they saw as the betrayal of their great struggle by politicians.
The story of director Fritz Lang’s encounter with Hitler and Joseph Goebbels, who, as Lang later recounted, asked him to become their master filmmaker, is today known by just about anyone with pretences to film scholarship.
It’s one of those singular moments where, as with Eisenstein’s contretemps with Stalin or Ronald Reagan’s co-opting a popular sci-fi adventure for a planned weapons system, where cinema history and political history suddenly unite with genuine import.

RKK - Reich Chamber of Culture
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In Lang’s account, he was approached on the back of their adoration of his two-part 1924 film of the epic poem 'Die Nibelungenlied', and its science-fiction follow-up 'Metropolis' (1926) - works riven with Lang’s malleable sense of human masses and colossal design, bound together as expressive instruments that seem to dwarf individualism in the face of historic forces.
The fact that Lang’s wife and collaborating screenwriter, Thea von Harbou, became a member of the NSDAP, and that many of his cast and crew would keep working in a Goebbels-run film industry, deepened the seeming surety of Lang’s links to the new regime.
Made nine years before Hitler’s rise to power, 'Die Nibelungen’s' dedication to 'dem Deutsch volk' (To the German People) in the earlier context reads as encomium to a beaten and deeply depressed nation trying to struggle its way out of a dreadful collapse in political structures, economic terrors, and appalling loss, whilst the film radiates the sensation of the pre-war neo-romantic love for mythology.
The tale’s depiction of a maddened clash not only of individuals and peoples, but also values and world-views, fighting each-other to a bloodily apocalyptic nullity, reflects the still sharp memory of the Great War as noble yet incoherent tragedy.

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As is obvious, Lang disliked Wagner’s version of the Nibelungen myth, and based his films squarely on the saga written by an anonymous poet who was probably part of the court of the Bishop of Passau at the turn of the thirteenth century.
The poem was a product of a phase in European history when rulers were attempting synthesise new loyalties and codes of behaviour, as well as put the burgeoning numbers of poets and troubadours to some use, through formalising national mythologies in the pattern of Homer’s epics: most of the Arthurian tales came out of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court a little earlier.
Like such works, 'Die Nibelungenlied', which probably combined transmissions of Greek myth, passed on from hazy sources, with folk memories and legends, was a study in medieval ethics and social constructs, which stressed ambiguity on a human level by presenting cast-iron order and morality imbued on a cosmic level: heroes fall because of their blind spots, and the righteous often appear to be uglier than the villainous in attempting to assert an absolute ethic, and finally history, or fate, or society, wins over the individuals even as each venerate the fallen.

Siegfried - Dragon Slayer
The poem also neglected most of the oversized mythological details, like Siegfried’s descent from the Norse gods, and instead presented a story squarely set in an historical context, and in spite of some mytological touches such as the dragon Siegfried kills, and the magical helmet he wears, the tone is largely that of this earth.

Siegfried und Mime
The first part of Lang’s work thus begins, rather than climaxes with, Siegfried’s great, heroic acts, and, in the total scheme of the films, moves through them at lightning speed.
Lang’s film preserves the feudal flavour and fearsome, atavistic sensations of the poem, and yet is also a prototypical version of the same modern moral universe, inflated in scale and resonance, but still recognisable.
Such was a universe where a daemonic quality in human nature wreaks havoc, and mankind on a social level is often disturbingly mindless and reactive.
The nobility and ethical strength of the individual barely keeps afloat when such forces are unleashed, the heroes’ loving impulses often transmuting into a hard and unforgiving vengefulness, one that risks becoming monstrous and inhuman in the name of maintaining a human, moral shape to the universe.
Lang’s sensibility thus intuitively grasps some of the subtler inferences of the original myth.
In the immediate context of Lang’s Weimar films, where the 'Dr Mabuse' films explored the paranoid mindset of the contemporary, and 'Metropolis' posited fables in the future, 'Die Nibelungen' looked for same in the distant past.
In each case, a similar, sinister sense of plots laid and hatching evil is facilitated by borrowed guises as the means to insidious ends: Siegfried’s use of his magic helmet equates with Mabuse’s use of disguise, and the robotic Maria in 'Metropolis'.
Lang’s personal art was perhaps most strongly defined in, and contained by, 'Die Nibelungen', because, as has been noted, the essential figurations of the tale recur again and again in Lang’s films.
Clearly, for Lang, 'Die Nibelungen' was more than a national myth: it was his own.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Fritz Lang’s two part silent film of 1924, 'Die Nibelungen', is a masterpiece of German cinema.
A landmark in the development of cinematography as an art, it displays a stunning use of light and shadow, and exquisite set and costume design

The script is based on an ancient, 12th century, German and Norse epic poem 'Die Nibelungenlied' (The Song of the Nibelungen), and was developed and adapted by Fritz Lang’s wife, the author and former actress, Thea von Harbou.
Her novelised version of the script was published during 1923-4 as an adjunct to the film.
Prior to the outbreak of World War I in 1914, von Harbou had performed on stage in Friedrich Hebbel’s dramatised version of the saga dating from 1866.
She was therefore well versed in the story’s narrative elements when the time came to prepare a script.
As a result, the film largely adheres to the traditional text, varying in many ways from Richard Wagner’s operatic adaptation (known as 'The Ring') which first appeared in 1876.
Wagner’s opera was compiled from a variety of sources, and differs from the von Harbou / Lang silent film of 1924.

Fritz Lang’s 'Nibelungen' should not be seen as a cinematic version of Wagner's music--drama.
Lang’s large-scale Decla-Ufa film commenced production in 1922 and was not completed until the early part of 1924.
Part 1, 'Siegfrieds Tod' (Siegfried’s Death), premiered on 24 February 1924 at the Ufa Palast am Zoo, Berlin, in the presence of the Reich Chancellor Gustav Stresemann.
Part 2, 'Kriemhilds Rache' (Kriemhild’s Revenge), appeared two months later, on 26 April, at which point both films were screened in unison.
Together, they originally ran to almost five hours and were accompanied by a dramatic, classically-based musical score composed by Gottfried Huppertz.

The length and complexity of the original saga called for such a detailed treatment on the part of Lang and his crew.
Though slow-paced in parts, and lengthy, the film was nevertheless rivetting to German and non-German audiences alike, due in part to the stunning camera work by Gunther Rittau and Carl Hoffman, and lush set design by Erich Kettelhut and Kurt Volbrecht.
Just as this film was set in times past, so Lang and von Harbou’s next epic - 'Metropolis' - would be set in the future.
Both films have strong narrative linkages and shared visual motifs.
For example, in 'Die Nibelungen' the dwarfs who hold up the bowl containing the Nibelungen treasure are turned to stone when Siegfreid steals the cloak of invisibility from Albrecht; in 'Metropolis', the negro slaves who hold aloft the bowl upon which the evil Maria performs her seductive dance, are turned to stone copies of the Seven Deadly Sins during Freder’s hallucinogenic dream.
Both of these silent ‘blockbusters’ were to influence filmmakers to come, and can be seen as the pinnacle of German cinematic production values during the 1920s.

Die Nibelungen: 'Siegfried'

Die Nibelungen: Siegfried
The title character Siegfried, son of King Siegmund of Xanten, masters the art of forging a sword at the shop of Mime.
Mime sends Siegfried home, but while preparing to leave, Siegfried hears the tales of the kingdom of Burgundy, the kings who rule there, as well as of Kriemhild, the princess of Burgundy.
Siegfried announces he wants to win her hand in marriage, much to the amusement of the smiths.
By way of physical violence, Siegfried demands to be told the way.

The Dragon
Mime, who is envious of Siegfried's skill as a swordsmith, claims there is a shortcut through the Wood of Woden; in reality, this route will lead Siegfried away from Burgundy and expose him to attack from the magical creatures inhabiting the wood.
During his journey, Siegfried discovers a dragon, and deviates from his path to slay it.
Siegfried Bathes in the Dragon's Blood
He touches its hot, yellow blood and understands the language of the birds, one of which tells him to bathe in the dragon's blood in order to become invincible to attack - except for one spot on his shoulder blade, which is missed after being covered by a falling lime (linden) leaf.
Soon after, the powerful Siegfried trespasses on the land of the Nibelungs and is attacked by Alberich, King of the Dwarves, who has turned himself invisible.
Siegfried defeats Alberich, who offers Siegfried a net of invisibility and transformation.
Siegfried is not persuaded to spare Alberich's life, whereupon Alberich offers to make Siegfried "the richest king on earth !".
While Siegfried is mesmerized by the treasure, Alberich tries to defeat him, but dies in the attempt.
Dying, Alberich curses all inheritors of the treasure, and he and his dwarves turn to stone.
Siegfried finally arrives in Burgundy in his new guise of the King of twelve kingdoms.
A battle breaks out between Siegfried and King Gunther and his adviser Hagen of Burgundy, which is subdued by the appearance of the beautiful princess Kriemhild.

Niebelung Treasure
Hagen negotiates over Siegfried helping Kriemhild's brother, King Gunther, to win the hand of Brunhild, the Queen of Iceland.
The men travel to Brunhild's kingdom, where Siegfried feigns vassalage to Gunther so that he can avoid Brunhild's challenge and instead use the net's power of invisibility to help Gunther beat the powerful Queen in a threefold battle of strength. The men return to Burgundy where Gunther marries Brunhild and Siegfried weds Kriemhild.
Brunhild is not, however, completely defeated.
She suspects deceit and refuses to consummate the marriage.
Hagen again convinces Siegfried to help.
Siegfried transforms himself into Gunther and battles Brunhild and removes her arm-ring during battle, after which she submits to his will. Siegfried leaves the real Gunther to consummate the marriage.
Kriemhild discovers Brunhild's armlet and asks Siegfried about it.
Siegfried discloses the truth to Kriemhild about his role in Brunhild's defeat.
When the Nibelungen treasure that Siegfried acquired from Alberich arrives at the court of Burgundy as Kriemhild's wedding gift, Brunhild becomes more suspicious about Siegfried's feigned vassalage to Gunther. Brunhild dons the Queen Mother's jewellery and proceeds to the cathedral to enter as the first person, as is her right as Queen of Burgundy.

Kriemhild tries to take Brunhild's right of way and an argument erupts between the two Queens.
Kriemhild betrays her husband's and brother's secret to Brunhild, who then confronts Gunther.
Brunhild demands that Siegfried must be killed, which she justifies by claiming that Siegfried stole her maidenhood when he struggled with her on her wedding night.
Hagen von Tronje and King Gunther conspire to murder Siegfried during a hunt in the Odenwald.

Death of Siegfried
Hagen deceives Kriemhild into divulging Siegfried's weak spot by sewing a cross on the spot in Siegfried's tunic.
After the hunt, Hagen challenges Siegfried to a race to a nearby spring.
When Siegfried is on his knees drinking, Hagen pierces him from behind with a spear.
In an evil twist of bitter revenge, Brunhild confesses that she lied about Siegfried stealing her maidenhood in order to avenge Gunther's deceit of her.
Kriemhild demands her family avenge her husband's death at the hands of Hagen, but her family is complicit in the murder, and so they protect Hagen.
Kriemhild swears revenge against Hagen while Brunhild commits suicide at the foot of Siegfried's corpse, which has been laid in state in the cathedral.

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Die Nibelungen: 'Kriemhilds Rache'
(Kriemhild's Revenge)

Kriemhild tries to win over the people of Burgundy to help her exact revenge against Hagen, to whom her brothers have sworn allegiance.
Kriemhild bribes the people with money and treasure from the Nibelungen hoard.
Margrave Ruediger of Bechlarn arrives unannounced to woo Kriemhild on behalf of his King, King Etzel, who resides in the land of the Huns.
Kriemhild initially declines, but ultimately she recognises the opportunity for revenge in her marriage with Etzel and in Ruediger's allegiance to her.
She forces Ruediger to swear allegiance to her on his sword.
At that very moment, news arrives that Hagen has stolen her wedding gift, the Nibelungen hoard, which Hagen has, unbeknownst to all, sunk into the Rhine river.
Kriemhild travels to Etzel's lands and accepts his hand.
As a gift to Kriemhild for bearing him a son, Ortlieb, Etzel grants her a wish.
Kreimhild requests Etzel to invite her family to celebrate the Midsummer Solstice with them in the Hun kingdom.
In the meantime, Kriemhild bribes Etzel's Hun warriors with money and treasure to avenge her and attack Hagen.
When the Burgundians arrive, the Huns launch several unsuccessful attempts.
Instead, the Huns launch an attack on the Burgundian soldiers during their feast in the subterranean caves where the Huns reside.
The Burgundian Knight Dankwart manages to escape the melee and warns the Burgundian Kings who are feasting with Etzel and Kriemhild in Etzel's palace.
Upon hearing of the treacherous attack, Hagen murders Etzel's son, and battle breaks out.
Dietrich of Bern manages to negotiate an exit from the hall for Etzel's royal entourage, which leaves the Burgundian guests imprisoned in Etzel's palace.
The remaining 60 minutes of the film consists of multiple battles in which the Huns launch multiple attacks on the Burgundians.
Kriemhild offers her family freedom if they surrender Hagen to her.
They decline.
Ultimately Kriemhild calls upon Ruediger to fulfill his oath of allegiance by attacking Hagen.
Ruediger refuses, but is forced to by Etzel. Ruediger and Kriemhild's two younger brothers, Gerenot and Giselher, perish in the battle.
In a final act of desperation, Kriemhild commands the palace be set alight.
As the flames smoulder, only Gunther and Hagen survive.

Kriemhild's Revenge - Fritz Lang
Dietrich of Bern fetches the two remaining men from the palace and delivers them to Kriemhild, who demands Hagen to reveal the hiding place of the Nibelungen hoard.
When Hagen states that he has sworn not to reveal the hiding place as long as one of his kings is still alive, Kriemhild commands Gunther's beheading.
When Hagen reveals that no one now knows the location of the treasure apart from him, and that he will never tell, Kriemhild grabs Siegfried's sword from Hagen and cuts him down.
Infuriated by Kriemhild's act of murder, Sword Master Hildebrant stabs Kriemhild from behind.
Etzel's final words are that Kriemhild should be taken back home to her dead husband, Siegfried, because she never belonged to any other man.

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The first film in Fritz Lang's 'Nibelungen', 'Siegfrieds Tod' might well have been named 'Brunhilds Rache'.
The overarching moral is the ancient Germanic aristocratic knightly principle that recognises the necessity to fight and to conquer in order to demonstrate one's manly virtue (strength) and to be worthy of high standing and to secure a mate of high racial birth - for otherwise the knightly aristocratic race is subverted and weakened by the weak breeding.
Thus Siegfried forges himself a sword, and fights his way through foreign lands to Queen Kriemhild's palace to wed her.
But, pivotally, Siegfried does not fight and defeat King Gunther and Hagen, but instead makes a pact with them to secure Queen Brunhild of Iceland for Gunther in return for the hand of his sister Kriemhild.
This defection from the knightly principle subverts nature, and brings down all of the characters involved, just as it subverts the race.
Siegfried does not obtain his own mate virtuously, and he also cheats the virtuous Brunhild out of her true and natural strong mate (himself or a knightly peer) by pretending that his manly virtue is that of Gunther.
For Gunther should not have Brunhilld unless he is able to obtain her himself.
She has her revenge by tricking Gunther and Hagen into killing Siegfried and then reveals her trick to them.
She kills herself at Siegfried's corpse.
We see the natural aristocratic and eugenic wisdom of the ancient Germans in the Nibelungenlied.
It is natural that the male should obtain his mate through his manly virtue, not through trickery and schemes, pacts.
Nor should one help another to obtain a mate, otherwise the female is cheated of her strong mate and the species is weakened in its breed through the survival and procreation of the weak.
The same is true of nations and races.
It is dysgenic for a strong Aryan nation to help a Negro nation as that causes an imbalance in nature and subverts the species.
Rather a nation and a race must be willing to fight to secure its own existence and to promote its future.
It must breed soldiers who are capable of fighting and conquering and it must weed out the weak so that they cannot breed and so that the race is thus made stronger and worthier of higher birth and standing.
Historical German revanchism can be interpreted in this context as healthy natural Germanic wisdom and virtue.
According to the aristocratic knightly interpretation, the fault of Germany did not lie in fighting the war but in losing it !
The Germanic tribes formed a natural aristocracy across central and western Europe, ushering in the Europe-wide Germanic civilization of the Middle Ages - which was already contaminated with Jewish ideas and influence however and thus had cultural and spiritual corruption, distortion and the seeds of racial ruin within it.
In other words: fight, conquer and breed nobly as becomes a warrior aristocracy or else decline in race and culture and perish.

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© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

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