Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Die Nibelungen (1966/1967)

While not completely successful, the two part Die Nibelungen is an interesting attempt to tell the story probably best known for the version done 40 years earlier by Fritz Lang during his UFA days. The source legends are, as you might have guessed the source of the Richard Wagner cycle of operas.

This is the story of the lovers Siegfried and Kriemhild who meet and fall in love and the tragedy that destroys a kingdom as a result.

The first film, Siegfried, tells the story of how Siegfried, after crafting a more or less magical sword, won the treasure of the Niebelungen from the drawf Albrecht. He then traveled to the kingdom of Burgund where he won the affection of the lovely Kriemhild, the King's sister. Unable to marry until the King does Siegfried helps the king win Brunhild, who he rescued and who had fallen in love with him. Brunhilda plots the destruction of Seigfried with Kriemihild's uncle, however when Kriemihild discovers who killed her husband she vows revenge.

The second film is entitled Kriemhild's Revenge and that is what happens as she does everything she can to destroy her own family. This includes marrying the King of the Huns in order to get an army at her disposal. Its tragedy on a truly operatic scale.

The first film film is told by a bard who is relating events from within the story. Talking to the audience from inside the film he also tells stories with I the story so we end up with a large scale destruction of the fourth wall as well as other walls as well. Its gambit that serves the film well since it allows for the film to be played at a heightened level of almost operatic proportions.  Its a gambit that sucks you into the story and makes you want to go along all the way to the hellish conclusion.

The films’s visual style is a weird mix of 1960’s fantasy ala the sword and sandal craze and art/opera. Through much of the film I fully expected that Wagner’s music would burst forth from the speakers. While the mix of high brow and low brow don’t always mix, the dragon at the start is decidedly clunky, it some how is comforting in that the film doesn’t feel that it was just tossed together for a buck. The producer was clearly trying to make more than just money.

I was enthralled for the the entire time the story was running, and when the first film ended I simply switched DVDs and kept right on going.

While visually not quite as gorgeous as the Lang version, this telling of the well known tale is just as good, if not better. Running just under three hours this film is two hours shorter than Lang's version and I think we're better for it. To my mind Lang's films run on and on, especially in his telling of the revenge a woman scorned. Here the story plays out with few asides and perhaps a bit more meat as the battle between pagan and Christianity seems to be more front and center here.

I really liked this film or these films a great deal.

I suspect that the films never made it to the US because of their dark nature- this is a doomed romance coupled with a doomed revenge plot. There is no way to lighten it up. There is also no way to release the films as anything except two films or as two parts to one film.  The films are simply too short (about 85 minutes each) and too plot heavy to chop any shorter. You'd also need an intermission between the two because of the heavy nature of the telling.

I'm tempted to call them a lost classic of cinema from the 1960's.

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