DIE NIBELUNGEN PART ONE: SIEGFRIED. (1924) BASED ON THE EPIC POEM ‘NIBELUNGLIED,’ BY ANONYMOUS. DIRECTED BY FRITZ LANG. SCREENPLAY BY FRITZ LANG AND THEA VON HARBOU.
STARRING PAUL RICHTER, MARGARETE SCHŐN, THEODOR LOOS, HANNA RALPH AND HANS ADALBERT SCHLETTOW.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This stunning two-part film series, based on an epic poem written anonymously around 1200 AD in Middle High German, is a fantasy saga and one of Fritz Lang’s finest films, which is really saying something, as he directed both ‘M’ and ‘METROPOLIS’ as well.
I had to watch each of the two films twice in order to be able to write this review, as there’s so much material and stuff to follow in each of them. The first instalment, SIEGFRIED, is two-and-a-half hours long and tells the story of the eponymous Siegfried, the muscular blonde son of King Sigmund of Xanten.
This film was a favourite of Hitler’s and Joseph Goebbels,’ his Propaganda minister. You’ll understand this when I tell you that Siegfried is tall, massively proportioned, blonde-haired, fair-skinned, healthy as a horse, with white gleaming teeth and a love of physical activity and combat. He is, in short, the perfect Aryan man, the German hero to put all other heroes in the shade. Can’t you just imagine Hitler and Goebbels clutching each other and ****ing themselves over such a perfect specimen of Aryan manhood?
Anyway, Siegried spends time in the forge of Mime the blacksmith, where he forges himself a sword so sharp it can cut a floating feather in half. Mighty pleased with himself, he decides to trot along to the Kingdom of Burgundy at Worms on the Rhine, where, he has been told, the royal kings are rich and powerful beyond all imaginings and there is a beautiful princess there, Kriemhild, who is ripe for the plucking.
En route through the forest, he kills a dragon and bathes in its blood. Why? A little bird told him it would make him invincible and it does, except for one spot on his left shoulder blade which is accidentally left covered by a falling linden leaf. Remember this fact, reader, as it will prove to be Siegfried’s undoing.
Next, he passes through the land of the Nibelungen, a race of dwarves, and is attacked by their king, Alberich, a dwarf with claw-like hands, a long pointed beard and a huge hooked nose that all give him an ‘unfavourably’ Jewish appearance, something that Hitler and Goebbels can’t have failed to notice. He is a hoarder of gold and money and treasure as well, again just like the Jews in anti-Semitic portrayals in literature and other media.
Siegfried spares him his life in return for a smashing veil of invisibilty and the treasure of the Nibelungen, although this is tainted somewhat by Alberich’s putting a curse on the treasure before he turns himself and his minions into stone. I mean, that’s the last thing you want when you come into an unexpected fortune, isn’t it? Still, Siegfried doesn’t hang about looking his gift dwarf- I mean, horse- in the mouth.
He toddles on, anyway, until he arrives at Worms, and finds that all there is pretty much as he has been told. He is hugely taken with Kriemhild and she with him and his blonde, bare-chested manliness, but before he can marry her, he has to perform a favour for her brother, the wimpy and indecisive King Gunther.
The favour is the brainchild of the ferociously bearded, one-eyed Hagen Tronje, Gunther’s closest friend, ally and protector. King Gunther wants to marry Brunhilde, the warrior queen of Iceland, Hagen Tronje tells Siegfried, but no man can marry her who has not bested her three times in games of skill and strength: the stone hurl, the long jump and the spear throw. This could be tricky, because she’s a fit, sporty bird who rules over a kingdom of Amazonian-type women and is generally reckoned to be a tough cookie.
No problemo, replies Siegfried confidently. I’ll best this queen for you, only I’ll wear the Tarnhelm, my veil of invisibility, to fool her into thinking it’s King Gunther alone who’s beaten her. The three men and their entourage travel to Iceland, and Gunther defeats Brunhilde as planned with an invisible Siegfried by his side, hurling the stone for him, actually carrying Gunther in the long jump, and throwing the spear for him too.
Brunhilde is a brunette Amazonian-type woman, as mentioned earlier, and she is truly devastated to be bested by the wimpy Gunther, who is so weedy he actually needs Siegfried to physically subdue her for him, in the guise of Gunther, on their wedding night before he can consummate their match. Now that’s wimpy, by anyone’s standards.
And poor Brunhilde! She has an abrasive and unlikeable personality, it’s true, but she’s basically being tricked into a marriage she doesn’t want to a man she despises and coerced into sex by a couple of conniving blokes, so I really think she deserves our sympathy.
By the way, Siegfried says later to Kriemhild (they’re married themselves by this stage), don’t say anything to Brunhilde about the way Gunther got me to help him to trick her into marriage, will you, because it could get us all in hot water.
A few scenes later, Kriemhild is shown spilling the beans unreservedly to a horrified Brunhild, because women can’t keep a secret to save their bloomin’ lives. Brunhild cares not for the taste of these poisoned, ruined beans and she wants revenge, and it’s Siegfried, not Gunther, she’s gunning for…
What unfolds next is a tragedy that leads nicely into the second of the two film instalments, KRIEMHILD’S RACHE or KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE. We won’t talk about it here, but it carries on the story from where it left off and ends almost in Gőtterdämmerung or Twilight of the Gods, both expressions originating from Wagner’s Ring cycle of music dramas (DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN) and signifying a burning and destruction of the world of gods and men.
You know the way that fantasy writers are always being suspected of having copied from J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy epic books, THE LORD OF THE RINGS and THE HOBBIT? Well, in DIE NIBELUNGEN: SIEGFRIED, we see that Mime’s blacksmiths look very like an early variation of orc, there’s a burning plain that resembles nothing so much as the road to Mordor from Sam and Frodo’s point of view and there’s also a tower that could pass for Saruman’s, where Christopher Lee as Saruman and Ian McKellen as Gandalf ended up (in the film) flinging each other around the place like sacks of flour, with total disregard for each others’ exalted wizarding statuses. I’m not accusing anyone of anything; I’m just saying that every idea was inspired by something else, and there’s no shame in that.
All the Burgundian men have terrible hair, by the way. Another by the way is this: the composer Richard Wagner (1813-1883) created four musical dramas commonly known as his RING cycle, or DER RING DES NIBELUNGEN (THE RING OF THE NIBELUNGEN). The plot involves a magic ring that grants the owner the power to rule the world, incidentally. Whoopsies. I’m going to sneeze. Aaaaaaaaa… Tolkien…tishoo…! Ahem. That’s better, lol.
Wagner composed this epic work long before the film was made, however, and took his inspiration from Norse sagas and the epic poem, NIBELUNGENLIED. Remember, the epic poem written anonymously around 1200 AD in Middle High German? Hitler was a massive fan of Wagner’s dramatic music. It’s kind of hard to watch Fritz Lang’s film or listen to Wagner’s RING cycle, both of which I’ve been doing a lot of lately, and not make that connection to ze Third Reich…!
The first film is a big commitment, time-wise, and it will take you five hours in total if you watch it twice, as I did. I admit I was a bit bemused by it first time around, so I read the accompanying booklet, then watched it again and was shocked to see how much I’d missed out on in the first viewing. I understood it much better second time around, as well.
It was so worth re-watching it though. You’ll need a block of free time to commit to this, so maybe when the wife is down the beauty parlour or the hubby’s in the bookies? Either way, they ain’t coming back any time soon…!
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.