Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Fritz Lang's DIE NEBELUNGEN part I : Reassessing The Myth


(Part 1 of 3)
   I'm planning a series of posts on Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen for the Omaimon Paradosis blog, more specifically on the mythological aspects of the first "chapters" (Gesangen) of the first film, which covers the Siegfried-Mythos.
First, however, a note on the title card below, shown right at the beginning of the film. Although usually translated as "dedicated to the German people", the German expression means something more along the lines of a perennial gift to the German people, something for it to have and to keep. It echoed, of course, the dedication on the Reichstag from 1916, „Dem Deutschen Volke“, ordered by the Kaiser while the First World War was being fought.

In 1924, when the film's first part entitled Siegfried was released (after 2 years in production), Germany was on its knees, defeated and humiliated, facing a terrible crises under a democratic regime largely perceived as illegitimate. The „Dolchstoß von hinten“ theme featured in the legend, with Siegfried being stabbed in the back by the treacherous Hagen, certainly touched a nerve: it mirrored the widely accepted notion that the Deutsches Heer did not lose the war on the battlefield, but Germany's defeat was the result of a stab in the back, an internal betrayal carried out by civilians on the home front, individuals plotting to overthrow the German Reich and establish a republican regime.

Many parallels can be traced between aspects of the film's plot and contemporary events of the period. Retrieving the Germanic myths at that point in time was not merely "art for the sake of art", detached interest or nostalgia for the Germanic past, or anything of the type; it was a means of producing answers to the riddles and woes of the present through a form of politically-engaged artistic expression. While Lang would leave Germany in 1933, passing on Goebbels' offer to work for the NSDAP producing propaganda films for the new regime, his former wife and screenplay writer for the film, Thea von Harbou, remained loyal to the party and worked with it until its demise.

Irrespective to the individuals involved in the production, it is relevant to note that around the time of the film's release the myth had become a living, meaningful medium once again, for political agitation, art, general intellectual pursuits and pretty much all spheres of life, which after centuries of specialization and fragmentation were coming back together, re-combined in an all-encompassing worldview meant as the ultimate medicine against the groundlessness and nihilism of modernity. This phenomenon can be seem, in a sense, as the culmination of the romantic Renaissance that begun in late-18th century Germany, in the so-called Goethezeit, and slowly reinstated the myth to its original status and function, dissipating the liberal prejudices of the 18th century Enlightenment, which disregarded it as superstitious and uneducated expressions of popular ignorance.

The dedication to the German People on Lang's Siegfried, thus, conveyed an attempt at returning the people to its roots by bestowing them with their own ancestral traditions presented in new form, through a new media. This was, once again, "art" in its true primordial sense, i.e. a mediation between immediate reality and the higher order expressed in the myth, the actions of men and the actions of the gods and heroes of legendry.

 To be continued....

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