FILM RESPONSE TO THE GOLEM (1920)

I’ve seen THE GOLEM (directed by Paul Wegener) only once in the class screening.

The first impression the movie made on me is that I had expected it to be less sophisticated with regard to technical issues. Maybe that impression was based on the presumption that a film that is that old must be very clumsy. Nevertheless I was surprised by he effects the movie provided (such as the scene when the demon was called). What also strikes me a lot about this movie is the similarity with the Frankenstein movie: a monster is created by a man and it somewhat seems to develop its own consciousness and gets desperate and angry about its inability to adapt to society because of its looks.

The purpose of this movie cannot be seen very well. But for the audience it was produced in the 1920s, it must have been a very scary movie. The awakening of a dead matter is a theme that must have thrilled them a lot. To the eyes of the present audience, the golem looks more or less funny and ridiculous, most of that because auf the overacting (gestures, mimetic expressions). But I assume the Golem was a very terrifying character for the audience of the time the movie was made.

The story is told from an omniscient point of view: The viewer has insight into everything, he gets to know what Low, the great wizard, thinks and why he creates the golem. And the audience also gets to know some of what is going on with the golem, especially when he develops some kind of human feelings. The story is told chronologically and the story is very straightforward: The Emperor threatens the Jews in the town. They are then forced to leave the town. Low, the wizard, tries to prevent these plans and begins to create the golem. By using evil and dark forces, he brings the clay figure to life. The golem now forces the emperor to stop his plans. But the golem is somehow beginning to get human, so things are getting a little bit difficult now.

There is a closure in the movie: The town is saved, the golem is stopped and the evil forces are banned.

There is no sound as this movie is a silent movie, written text that is inserted provides the viewer with the essential information. The rest of the occurrences most be derived from the text provided before and the visual events on the screen. Because of this, the plot is kept rather simple.

The most shots in the movie are taken from the front. There are a lot of long shots to establish the scenes, but there are also medium long-shots showing the Golem’s upper body as well as there are close-ups, e.g. when the golem’s facial expressions are shown. A lot of close-ups are used in order to explain things, e.g. there are maps and books in the movie that must be read by the audience. This is where close-ups are used.

The mode of lighting is low-key lighting. There is a lot of contrast between the black and the white color in the scenes. This is because of the horror movie atmosphere that is intended to exist: a black room, the golem merely lighted, only his face, than he comes to life. This technique creates some kind of mystery and darkness that makes the golem more dangerous.

In regard to editing, it can be said that the cuts are rather rhythmic, there are no really explicitly long scenes nor are there any very short scenes.

Of interest is the way some scenes are faded out: The scene is darkened by a black circle that closes and somewhat “eats” the scene.

The costumes of the townspeople are rather cheap and ordinary, the king’s and his men’s costumes look expensive and artful.

The acting, as mentioned before, had sometimes the quality of overacting, like in a play in a theatre. This was not as much the case regarding the wizard and the townspeople but it was concerning the mimetic gestures of the golem.

As far as I can tell, the movie tries to be a scary movies that tries to tell a story that has the character of a (dark and terrifying, though) fairytale: a wizard, a king, an evil demon that threatens mankind

But nevertheless the movie puts its stress on the golem and tries to make him look scary and threatening in order to create a scary atmosphere.


I have written this film response in 2000 in my “The Horror Movie” undergraduate class (University of Massachusetts at Amherst)

Image: UFA.

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