Archive for Siegfried

Snake Eyes

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on May 27, 2011 by dcairns

“Howdy, Mr Lang!”

Siegfried fights the fearsome friendly dragon in Fritz Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN. The German effects crew were very fond of their life-sized mechanical fire-breathing dragon, operated not by pneumatics and remote control, but by a gang of sweltering Germans crowded in the belly of the beast. Not animatronics, so much as Germanimatronics.

But! Impressive as the contraption is, one can’t help but feel sympathy for the mighty mythic lizard, innocently lapping at a pool when Siegfried, pig-headedly intent on mayhem, comes gallumphing up and whacks the poor critter with his broadsword. And the reason we feel this way, I suggest, is the overall air of wounded innocence projected by the vast reptile, and this is all because of his eyes.

You see, unlike every reptile in the natural world, the monster has been outfitted with two eyes which face front, rather than to the side, giving him stereoscopic vision and making him appear more simian than reptilian as far as his facial alignment goes. While it’s never entirely certain how truly sympathetic Lang intends Siegfried to be (and it’s more than likely that matters of sympathy appeared quite irrelevant to the meister with this particular material), it does seem unfortunate that he’s allowed an inappropriate anthropomorphism to kind of de-fang his reptilian menace. Still, that’s not a mistake he would ever make again.

Oh dear. What IS it with Lang and these eyes-front serpentine puppets?

As with Pete’s Siegfried’s dragon, the snake is one of those things you initially might have to forgive in Lang’s Indian diptych (THE TIGER OF ESCHNAPUR & THE INDIAN TOMB), but really he’s part of the rich texture that makes things so enjoyable, visible wires and all. Lang’s penultimate project/s are not only, in all probability, the best thing ever if you’re a ten-year-old German schoolboy, but an apotheosis of pulp exotica that somehow reaches the level of poetry through a high-serious approach to material that is, on the face of it, the sheerest tripe.

I guess the feeling was that to make the snake look properly hypnotized by Debra Paget’s sexy dance (as who wouldn’t be?), it was necessary for it to face forward and seem to give her its undivided attention. But again, the effect is hilariously human.

Never at a loss for a theory, I’m going to suggest that Lang identified with these cold-blooded co-stars. He does have a certain serpentine quality himself, like a monocled adder with a cigarette in its gob. And so he wanted them to look as much like him as possible. The dragon is young Lang, fiery and virile. The snake is old Lang, attenuated and half-blind, only able to gaze awe-struck upon the gyrating humanoid before him.

In that sense, the story of Lang’s serpent is the story of us all.

Thanks to Masters of Cinema for these beauties, which you can, and should, now buy ~

Der Tiger von Eschnapur / Das indische Grabmal (Fritz Lang’s Indian Epic) [Masters of Cinema] [DVD]

X and M

Posted in FILM, Mythology with tags , , , , , on February 12, 2008 by dcairns


In Lang’s SIEGFRIED, Kriemhild is tricked into revealing the location of the one vulnerable spot on her husband’s body, his shoulder. She even marks the spot with an X sewn into his top.

X marks the spot

This “mark of Cain” leads directly to Siegfried’s downfall.

Seven years later, and the mark is back, only now it’s an M.

M for Murder

Same shoulder!

Both films written by Germany’s top screenwriter, Mrs. Lang, Thea Von Harbou. So the central gimmick of “M” must have occurred to her after her work adapting the German myth cycle.

More on this crazy bitch later.

Love Conquers All

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2008 by dcairns

The heat is on 

SIEGFRIED, the first part of Lang’s DIE NIBELUNGEN, has quite a lot of magic and fantasy elements — a dragon, petrifying dwarfs, a lake of fire, a magic satsuma bag that turns you invisible when you stick your head in it. In part two, KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE, most of that is stripped away, and what we get, mainly, is Kriemhild’s revenge.

(Which is all about LOVE. It’s rather like Lang and his Mrs. to re-conceive romantic love as the most powerful destructive force in the universe.)

It’s during this part, which I don’t think I’d ever really watch all through before, shame on me, that things started to feel familiar.

There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight

Well, a burning fort is a burning fort, but it slowly dawned that Kurosawa was maybe the right age to have seen Lang’s epic two-parter on its first release (AK mainly saw American and European films as a kid with his dad) and that there’s a rogue element in Kurosawa’s RAN that doesn’t come from Shakespeare’s KING LEAR, the movie’s credited source. The avenging woman.


In Kurosawa’s 1985 masterpiece, Mieko Harada puts in a terrifying turn as Lady Kaede, whose family were massacred by the Lear figure in his youth, and who has been married to one of his sons. With cunning, strength and a vampiric sexuality, Kaede manipulates the men around her into a course of action that results in the total destruction of her enemy’s family.

The critics, impressed but nonplussed by this extra-canonical character, likened her to Lady Macbeth and suggested that her presence compensated for the loss of Lear’s daughters from the storyline (Japanese women could not inherit a kingdom, so Kurosawa had performed a sex change on Goneril, Regan and Cordelia, turning them into Lord Hidetora’s sons). The second point is basically true, Kaede supplies a feminine evil that would otherwise be absent, but of course Lady Mac is not a figure of vengeance, she is merely ambitious for her husband. The particular brand of treachery practiced by Kaede and whose true purpose is kept concealed from us until the moment of her triumph/death, corresponds far more closely to the models of Brunhild and Kriemhild provided by Lang’s film.

(Incidentally, in both Lang and Kurosawa, this Oni-Baba devil-woman figure takes over the story altogether and becomes the strongest and most involving character.)

hey Mieko

I’m so convinced of this connection that I would declare the matter proven if I could in any way show that AK had seen DIE NIBELUNGEN, which I can’t.


The Flame and the Arrow

In the ever-reliable Patrick McGilligan’s Fritz Lang, The Nature of the Beast, we learn that Lang ignited his Hun fortress personally, by firing a flaming magnesium-tipped arrow onto the roof of the primed edifice. The crowd of extras watched awestruck (you can see them shift their weight from foot to foot in a kind of dazed dance) as the castle, a former factory building, was reduced to cinders inside ten minutes.

Kurosawa’s longtime assistant, Teruyo Nogami, has written a fabulous and heartbreaking book, Waiting on the Weather, about her career alongside A.K. Her account of the conflagration scene in RAN is both mind-boggling and thrilling. The 1.17 million-dollar specially-constructed castle was to be filmed by five cameras, as star Tetsuya Nakadai, playing the insane Lord Hidetora, descended the steps. Then those five camera crews had to get the hell out of the way so Hidetora could be filmed leaving the front gate, the castle still blazing behind him. Not the kind of scene you can retake.

An arrowing experience

The castle, coated four times with cement, and filled with lumber to make it burn more slowly than Lang’s factory, was set alight.

‘”Ready!” shouted Kurosawa, in an unusually high voice. The cameras all started rolling at once.


‘Clouds of white and gray smoke billowed from the castle windows. Cries of “The smoke is rolling! Smoke is ready!” rebounded from the castle.

‘”Action!” thundered the director. The bar on the clapperboard snapped down.

‘”Nakadai!” This was the actor’s cue. All eyes turned to the castle entrance. We were breathless with suspense. Kurosawa gripped the megaphone tightly with apparent concern. Pure white clouds of dry ice swirled and billowed, but no Hidetora came out. His eye pressed to the camera, Takao Saito said to his assistant, “No sign of him?” Kurosawa muttered worriedly, “What’s he doing?”

‘Then all at once a clatter arose inside the castle, and through the smoke Hidetora finally appeared, carrying his sword scabbard. Some twenty-five seconds had gone by, but it seemed like an eternity.’

Anyhow, they get the shots. Once things are a little more relaxed —

‘As Nakadai came over, looking pleased with himself, Kurosawa burst out, “You took so long coming out, I was worried. Was everything okay?” Nakadai laughed. “I took my time because I thought it wouldn’t do to rush.”‘

You would think that a shoot like that would be the highlight of the book, but it’s just ONE OF MANY. Buy this book.