Fritz Lang - Nibelungen

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Die Nibelungen (The Nibelungs) is a series of two silent fantasy films created by Austrian director Fritz Lang in 1924: 'Die Nibelungen: Siegfried' and 'Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild's Revenge'.
The screenplays for both films were co-written by Lang's then-wife Thea von Harbou, based upon the epic poem 'Nibelungenlied' written around 1200 AD.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang (December 5, 1890 – August 2, 1976) was a Austrian filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor.
One of the best known directors of the German school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute.
His most famous films include the groundbreaking Metropolis (the world's most expensive silent film at the time of its release), and Die Nibelungen.
Lang was born in Vienna as the second son of Anton Lang(1860–1940),[9] an architect and construction company manager, and his wife Pauline "Paula" Lang née Schlesinger (1864–1920). Fritz Lang himself was baptized on 28 December 1890 at the Schottenkirche in Vienna.

Thea von Harbou
After finishing school, Lang briefly attended the Technical University of Vienna, where he studied civil engineering and eventually switched to art.
In 1910 he left Vienna, traveling throughout Europe and Africa and later Asia and the Pacific area.
In 1913, he studied painting in Paris, France.
At the outbreak of World War I, Lang returned to Vienna and volunteered for military service in the Austrian army and fought in Russia and Romania, where he was wounded three times.
While recovering from his injuries and shell shock in 1916, he wrote some scenarios and ideas for films.
He was discharged from the army with the rank of lieutenant in 1918 and did some acting in the Viennese theater circuit for a short time before being hired as a writer at Decla, Erich Pommer's Berlin-based production company.

Expressionist films: the Weimar years (1918-1933)

'Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler'
His writing stint was brief, as Lang soon started to work as a director at the German film studio UFA as the Expressionist movement was building.
In this first phase of his career, Lang alternated between art films such as 'Der Müde Tod' ("The Weary Death") and popular thrillers such as 'Die Spinnen' ("The Spiders"), combining popular genres with Expressionist techniques to create an unprecedented synthesis of popular entertainment with art cinema.
In 1920, he met his future wife, the writer and actress Thea von Harbou. She and Lang co-wrote all of his movies from 1921 through 1933, including 1922's 'Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler' (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler), which ran for over four hours in two parts in the original version, and was the first in the Dr. Mabuse trilogy, 1924's five-hour 'Die Nibelungen', the famous 1927 film 'Metropolis'.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Die Nibelungen

Die Nibelungen: Siegfried
The title character Siegfried, son of King Siegmund of Xanten, masters the art of forging a sword at the shop of Mime.
Mime sends Siegfried home, but while preparing to leave, Siegfried hears the tales of the kingdom of Burgundy, the kings who rule there, as well as of Kriemhild, the princess of Burgundy.
Siegfried announces he wants to win her hand in marriage, much to the amusement of the smiths.
By way of physical violence, Siegfried demands to be told the way.

The Dragon
Mime, who is envious of Siegfried's skill as a swordsmith, claims there is a shortcut through the Wood of Woden; in reality, this route will lead Siegfried away from Burgundy and expose him to attack from the magical creatures inhabiting the wood.
During his journey, Siegfried discovers a dragon, and deviates from his path to slay it.
Siegfried Bathes in the Dragon's Blood
He touches its hot, yellow blood and understands the language of the birds, one of which tells him to bathe in the dragon's blood in order to become invincible to attack - except for one spot on his shoulder blade, which is missed after being covered by a falling lime (linden) leaf.
Soon after, the powerful Siegfried trespasses on the land of the Nibelungs and is attacked by Alberich, King of the Dwarves, who has turned himself invisible.
Siegfried defeats Alberich, who offers Siegfried a net of invisibility and transformation.
Siegfried is not persuaded to spare Alberich's life, whereupon Alberich offers to make Siegfried "the richest king on earth !".
While Siegfried is mesmerized by the treasure, Alberich tries to defeat him, but dies in the attempt.
Dying, Alberich curses all inheritors of the treasure, and he and his dwarves turn to stone.
Siegfried finally arrives in Burgundy in his new guise of the King of twelve kingdoms.
A battle breaks out between Siegfried and King Gunther and his adviser Hagen of Burgundy, which is subdued by the appearance of the beautiful princess Kriemhild.

Niebelung Treasure
Hagen negotiates over Siegfried helping Kriemhild's brother, King Gunther, to win the hand of Brunhild, the Queen of Iceland.
The men travel to Brunhild's kingdom, where Siegfried feigns vassalage to Gunther so that he can avoid Brunhild's challenge and instead use the net's power of invisibility to help Gunther beat the powerful Queen in a threefold battle of strength. The men return to Burgundy where Gunther marries Brunhild and Siegfried weds Kriemhild.
Brunhild is not, however, completely defeated.
She suspects deceit and refuses to consummate the marriage.
Hagen again convinces Siegfried to help.
Siegfried transforms himself into Gunther and battles Brunhild and removes her arm-ring during battle, after which she submits to his will. Siegfried leaves the real Gunther to consummate the marriage.
Kriemhild discovers Brunhild's armlet and asks Siegfried about it.
Siegfried discloses the truth to Kriemhild about his role in Brunhild's defeat.
When the Nibelungen treasure that Siegfried acquired from Alberich arrives at the court of Burgundy as Kriemhild's wedding gift, Brunhild becomes more suspicious about Siegfried's feigned vassalage to Gunther. Brunhild dons the Queen Mother's jewellery and proceeds to the cathedral to enter as the first person, as is her right as Queen of Burgundy.

Kriemhild tries to take Brunhild's right of way and an argument erupts between the two Queens.
Kriemhild betrays her husband's and brother's secret to Brunhild, who then confronts Gunther.
Brunhild demands that Siegfried must be killed, which she justifies by claiming that Siegfried stole her maidenhood when he struggled with her on her wedding night.
Hagen von Tronje and King Gunther conspire to murder Siegfried during a hunt in the Odenwald.

Death of Siegfried
Hagen deceives Kriemhild into divulging Siegfried's weak spot by sewing a cross on the spot in Siegfried's tunic.
After the hunt, Hagen challenges Siegfried to a race to a nearby spring.
When Siegfried is on his knees drinking, Hagen pierces him from behind with a spear.
In an evil twist of bitter revenge, Brunhild confesses that she lied about Siegfried stealing her maidenhood in order to avenge Gunther's deceit of her.
Kriemhild demands her family avenge her husband's death at the hands of Hagen, but her family is complicit in the murder, and so they protect Hagen.
Kriemhild swears revenge against Hagen while Brunhild commits suicide at the foot of Siegfried's corpse, which has been laid in state in the cathedral.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache
(Kriemhild's Revenge)

Kriemhild tries to win over the people of Burgundy to help her exact revenge against Hagen, to whom her brothers have sworn allegiance.
Kriemhild bribes the people with money and treasure from the Nibelungen hoard.
Margrave Ruediger of Bechlarn arrives unannounced to woo Kriemhild on behalf of his King, King Etzel, who resides in the land of the Huns.
Kriemhild initially declines, but ultimately she recognises the opportunity for revenge in her marriage with Etzel and in Ruediger's allegiance to her.
She forces Ruediger to swear allegiance to her on his sword.
At that very moment, news arrives that Hagen has stolen her wedding gift, the Nibelungen hoard, which Hagen has, unbeknownst to all, sunk into the Rhine river.
Kriemhild travels to Etzel's lands and accepts his hand.
As a gift to Kriemhild for bearing him a son, Ortlieb, Etzel grants her a wish.
Kreimhild requests Etzel to invite her family to celebrate the Midsummer Solstice with them in the Hun kingdom.
In the meantime, Kriemhild bribes Etzel's Hun warriors with money and treasure to avenge her and attack Hagen.
When the Burgundians arrive, the Huns launch several unsuccessful attempts.
Instead, the Huns launch an attack on the Burgundian soldiers during their feast in the subterranean caves where the Huns reside.
The Burgundian Knight Dankwart manages to escape the melee and warns the Burgundian Kings who are feasting with Etzel and Kriemhild in Etzel's palace.
Upon hearing of the treacherous attack, Hagen murders Etzel's son, and battle breaks out.
Dietrich of Bern manages to negotiate an exit from the hall for Etzel's royal entourage, which leaves the Burgundian guests imprisoned in Etzel's palace.
The remaining 60 minutes of the film consists of multiple battles in which the Huns launch multiple attacks on the Burgundians.
Kriemhild offers her family freedom if they surrender Hagen to her.
They decline.
Ultimately Kriemhild calls upon Ruediger to fulfill his oath of allegiance by attacking Hagen.
Ruediger refuses, but is forced to by Etzel. Ruediger and Kriemhild's two younger brothers, Gerenot and Giselher, perish in the battle.
In a final act of desperation, Kriemhild commands the palace be set alight.
As the flames smoulder, only Gunther and Hagen survive.

Kriemhild's Revenge - Fritz Lang
Dietrich of Bern fetches the two remaining men from the palace and delivers them to Kriemhild, who demands Hagen to reveal the hiding place of the Nibelungen hoard.
When Hagen states that he has sworn not to reveal the hiding place as long as one of his kings is still alive, Kriemhild commands Gunther's beheading.
When Hagen reveals that no one now knows the location of the treasure apart from him, and that he will never tell, Kriemhild grabs Siegfried's sword from Hagen and cuts him down.
Infuriated by Kriemhild's act of murder, Sword Master Hildebrant stabs Kriemhild from behind.
Etzel's final words are that Kriemhild should be taken back home to her dead husband, Siegfried, because she never belonged to any other man.

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

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