Monster Project: 21 Days of “The Golem”

My blog 21 Essays is an experiment in blogging.  For a set period of time, I challenge myself to post daily essays on a tightly focused topic.  I started with Guy Maddin’s The Heart of the World, am currently spending 21 days on the silent horror classic The Golem. After that, I looking ahead to upcoming series on both Duck Dodgers in the 24 ½ Century and one of those wonderful Kihachiro Kawamoto shorts currently on Fandor.

Today’s entry is on the monsters of German expressionism: not just Paul Wegener’s magnificent Golem, but also Cesare from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the vampire Graf Orlok from Nosferatu, and the false Maria robotrix from Metropolis. It happens that these classic films happen to be available on Fandor.

Here’s a rundown on my previous efforts at Golem-blogging:

Essay #1: The Golem and Me:  “After seeing pictures of the Golem makeup in Famous Monsters of Filmland, I simply had to see the whole movie. I saved up money from a weekend job, and purchased the entire multi-reel 8mm. movie from Blackhawk Films.”

Essay #2: Paul Wegener, Pacifist:  “Wegener and his co-screenwriter Henrik Galeen opted for an ironic, poetic, lyrical end. And perhaps a subversively pacifist end, now that I think about it.”

Essay #3: Movies as Cathedrals: “The genius of The Golem sprang from a collaboration of some very talented people, namely Paul Wegener, Henrik Galeen, Karl Freund, and Hans Poelzig…”

Essay #4: Universal Speculations: “Momentarily forget about the violent conclusion of the 1931 Frankenstein monster-girl scene, and instead just consider the image of large human-like monster and small innocent child.”

Essay #5: The Golem as Metaphor: “Were some teenagers in the audience—the up-and-coming Nazis of the future—identifying with the unfair discriminatory treatment directed towards the Jews when they watched this movie in the early 1920s? That would be ironic indeed.”

Essay #6: Opening Night: “(Y) you enter the theater expecting the familiar, in the form of Wegener and his Golem makeup, but ready for the unexpected in the form of fantasy and horror. Your hopes are high because this movie is expected to be important.”

Essay #7: The Occult and Orientalism: “There is also a floating assumption, missed by many writers on this movie, that the viewer will not be offended by references to the occult and mysticism.”

Essay #8: Identification with Victims: “In The Golem (1920), the audience is primed to identify with the people who are threatened and victimized.”

Essay #9: Sexual Symbolism: “The male feather and the female chalice – there’s no way this is unintentional.”

Essay #10: Art Direction: “The buildings look ancient and massive—like true storybook structures. They tend to have rounded edges as if they were molded out of clay themselves.”

Essay #11: Heroes and Villains: “The individual characters themselves are surprisingly fluid and ethically ambiguous. A character who appears heroic in one scene may take on a different character in the next.”

Essay #12: Shapeless Clay: “In Wegener’s portrayal, the Golem starts as soul-less and eventually moves toward the demonic. He never receives a proper soul.”

Essay #13: Archetypal Story: “In its basic structure, the 1920 Golem movie is a tale of parent/child separation.”

Essay #14: Karl Freund: “The images are beautifully composed but static. Perhaps this was intentional—to reinforce the storybook feel of the material.”

Essay #15: Seeing Stars: “I always assumed that this six-pointed Star of David is the same as the one on the amulet that brings him to life. But it’s not.”

Essay #16: The Cocteau Connection: “Surely, Cocteau was a Wegener fan when he was a young man.”

Essay #17: The “Wandering Jew”: “(T)his ‘Wandering Jew’ episode is weak and a poor choice for a catalyst to move the plot forward.”

Essay #18: Expressionist Monsters: “But the monsters… they are to die for.”

They’ll be three more essays to come as 21 Essays moves through the weekend and concludes this round of monster-blogging on Halloween.

Lee Price is the Director of Development at the Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts, a contributor to Horror 101: The A-List of Horror Films and Monster Movies, and editor of two recently concluded limited-duration blogs, “June and Art” and “Preserving a Family Collection.”

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