The horror classics of German silent cinema produced a staggering influence over film history. Nosferatu is most often lauded for doing so, but it’s always worth looking into the films that influenced the influencers.

The Golem

Dark Corners Reviews provides some of the best film scholarship available on YouTube in the form of their DC Specials, delving mostly into history and artistry behind horror films, their stars, writers and makers. In the case of The Golem, all three titles go to Paul Wegener, a key figure in genre cinema during the prominence of German Expressionism, who had originally set out to make a film featuring a Golem in 1914 with a period setting, though budget would not allow for the lavish sets required. As such, the Golem was dug up in the 20th century. Returning to his subject, Wegener made a light comedy with a meta slant that barely constitutes the second in a trilogy of films, before finding himself in a position to make The Golem as he had always envisioned it; set in the 16th century Jewish Ghetto of Prague.

The Golem: How He Came Into The World then, is a prequel, exploring the creation of the monster, and how he came to be buried where we find him in the 1915 original (now a mostly lost film). Rabbi Loew foresees an omen in the stars; devastation will befall his village, and so it comes to pass that the nobility delivers a declaration; the Jewish community will be run out of their homes as punishment for “disregarding Christian festivals and practicing black magic”. The Emperor agrees to an audience with Loew, given that he amuse the court with his sorcery. In an act of desperation, Rabbi Loew communes with the demon Astaroth, learning the word that will bring life to a hulking mass of stone, molded into the shape of a man. And, as we are accustomed to today, the creature does not obey Loew for long, growing malevolent and lustful towards his master’s daughter.

In the rampaging sequences at the film’s climax, The Golem carries out what would have been stunningly violent acts to an audience, though we manage to empathize with the creature regardless; he is capable of admiring kindness and innocence, and his fundamental act of rebellion is in refusing to die once he has served his purpose. For all its masterful production design, grounding performances and striking imagery accomplished with complex, stylized effects, the film’s most revolutionary content may be in its script, envisioning a monster imbued with pathos unheard of in the silent era. Thinking ahead to those most influential horror films of the coming decade, Frankenstein and King Kong, it’s tough to miss The Golem’s fingerprints.

After running through the road to the film’s creation, host Robin Bailes touches on the issue of antisemitic representation (this is a German horror film trading in Jewish mythos after all), the moral complexities that make its characters more compelling, and the definitive nature of Paul Wegener’s Golem interpretation.

The Golem
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