When you hear the word “Golem” I’m sure the first thing you think of is a deformed Hobbit named Smeagol. Aside from the difference in spelling, a Golem is, in fact, a mythical creature, derived from Jewish folklore, created entirely from inanimate matter. And that, my friends, is where our story begins.
The Golem (1920), is a silent horror/fantasy picture about this abnormal being. In 16th Century Prauge, a whole Jewish community is threatened when the local government decides that the Jews that inhabit the city do not meet with their overtly Christian views, and thus decrees them to be removed from the city immediately. A local Rabbi, having used the stars to predict this event, goes to work creating a large Golem out of clay. Trying to use diplomacy at first with the Rulers becomes fruitless, and so, using black magic, the Rabbi creates a magical device out of the Star of David. He places the Star upon the clay figure’s chest, and, suddenly, the Golem springs to life.
The Golem, created by The Rabbi to save the good Jewish people of the city, at first does the bidding of the The Rabbi. But as time progesses, The Golem becomes annoyed, and fights back against his master…and ultimately begins causing great havoc throughout the town he was to protect.
Being one of the early German Expressionist films (along with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and Nosferatu), The Golem creates a harsh realistic and surrealistic atmosphere. At the center is a giant clay Monster, brought to life to protect, and rebelling to destroy what he was meant to protect. One could literally see this as a reminder of Free Governments. We created Governments to protect us…but they get out of hand, they could also be our doom. Fascinating stuff!
A few of the notable sights of this movie are that of the creature itself (played by Paul Wegener, who also co-directed the movie). It’s a tall, big hulking creature, expressionless and over-powering. It’s eyes open and pierce through you like a creature waiting to pummel. The make-up here is top notch and realistic. The other notable thing about the film is the wonderful cinematography. It creates a landscape of shadows, as the German Expressionist films of the time always do. The Cinematographer here was Karl Freund, who was a master at creating the pictures you see. A true autuer, Freund also photographed Fritz Lang’s superb Metropolis, as well as, weirdly enough, I Love Lucy (he created the sitcom shooting style still used today).
The Golem is a fine film for the hardcore cinema lover and a great example for the films that were created after it. It’s worth checking out!
For those of you in Long Beach, The Golem will be playing at 8pm on Wednesday the 23rd at the Cinefamily in nearby Hollywood. It will be accompanied by a live orchestral soundtrack. Ticket are $12 dollars and can be bought at the Box Office or HERE.