“We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!” – this famous line written by the great Billy Wilder and spoken by Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard could have been written about Die Nibelungen, but probably not quite in the way it was meant. This film is full of striking faces, beautiful and horrible – Norma had a point.
So, I have finally seen the second part of Fritz Lang’s epic Die Nibelungen, almost a year after seeing and being completely floored the first part (read my review here). Yes, it’s taken me that long to get over it (although being in the right mood is a major factor when deciding to watch a two-hour and more silent movie). Another factor was that I did not believe that it could possibly live up to the power of the first installment – and in many ways it didn’t, yet it is still a majestic and truly great film.
Where the first part was saturated with an air of mysticism and littered with stunning visual effects, the second part was far more earthy, metaphorically and literally (it even featured a handful of earth that was soaked in the blood of Siegfried). This film also hinges on honour and the loss of honour if you do not keep your word – be careful of the oaths you take and what you swear to do.
The thrust of this film is evident in the title – it is about Kriemhild’s obsession with avenging the death of Siegfried and her single-minded pursuit of revenge with complete disregard for the consequences to both her subjects and all those close to her. In one scene, the fact that she was so blind to anything but Siegfried is emphasised by Kriemhild going to the handful of blood soaked earth, rather than her own crying child.
The film had the feeling of a Greek tragedy, as though Kriemhild was driven by the gods – yet the god’s played no part in this story. She was driven by her own desire for revenge alone. Throughout the film Kriemhild was imperious and aloof, even when marrying the mighty but squalid Attila the Hun (pictued above) – she married him purely to use his love to further her own warped scheme.The story descends into battles and destruction on all sides and highlights the pointlessness of hate and the self-destructiveness in which ‘an eye for and eye’ approach inevitably results.
As with the previous movie Kriemhild’s Revenge was also bathed in an orange glow and had similarly striking sets. The decoration of the scenery and the clothes were both medieval and geometrically modern for 1924, which gives the film a timelessness and succeeds, as Fritz lang intended, in distancing itself from the Wagnerian model.
It is understandable why the first film was such a wide-reaching success at the time of release and also why it was re-editied and revised throughout the 20’s and 30’s (for both regional distribution reasons and as an example of Germanic heroism for the Nazis to venerate). It is also understandable why the second film did not do so well (in comparison to the first film it does not shine quite so brightly). But if we were only left with the second film it would still be classed as a great piece of work – thankfully we have both and the condition of the film, after extensive research and restoration, is utterly stunning.
Watch this film – but watch part 1 first!