A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Der müde Tod (Fritz Lang, 1921)

Death (Bernhard Goetzke) and the Young Woman (Lil Dagover) in Der müde Tod
Der müde Tod, which means "Weary Death," was released in English-speaking countries under titles like Destiny, Behind the Wall, and The Three Lights, all of which miss an essential premise of the film, which is that Death (Bernhard Goetze) has grown weary of his encounters with human suffering. So when he takes a Young Man (Walter Janssen) whose fiancée (Lil Dagover) seeks out Death and pleads for his return. he is inclined to give her a break: He will give her three chances to save the life of someone destined to die, and if she succeeds, he will return the Young Man to life. So we see the Young Woman in three episodes set in wonderfully fanciful versions of the past: ancient Persia, Renaissance Italy, and imperial China. Each time she tries to save her lover from the death she knows is coming, but each time she fails. Dagover and Janssen play all three pairs of lovers, with Goetze lurking in various fatal incarnations in each episode. When she fails, Death gives her one last chance: Returning the Young Man to life would leave an empty place in the afterlife, but if she can persuade someone to give up his or her life to replace him, he will spare her fiancé. It's a beautifully constructed fantasy, written by Fritz Lang and his wife, Thea von Harbou, and directed by Lang with his usual exploitation of elaborate sets and camera effects. The art direction is by Robert Herlth, Walter Röhrig, and Hermann Warm, frequent collaborators with the great German directors of the period between the wars, such as Lang and F.W. Murnau.

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