Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924)
Directed by Fritz Lang

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * *

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Siegfried kills a dragon, wins a treasure, and arrives at the Burgundian court ruled by King Gunter, whom he befriends. When Gunter shortly thereafter reveals that he desires the warrior maiden Brunhild, but that she will marry only a man who can best her in battle, Siegfried offers to win her for his newfound companion. Overjoyed by this generous proposal, the king, in return, promises Siegfried the hand of his sister Kriemhild. Unfortunately, after Brunhild has wedded the king, she learns that Siegfried, not Gunter, had defeated her and plots against her conqueror.

Fritz Lang's adaptation of the Germanic epic of the Nibelungs, of which Siegfried is the first half, is perhaps the director's greatest achievement and is, for the whole of its duration, imbued with a poignant mythic feel. Lang really has created a fantastic, dreamlike world somehow divorced from that of ordinary experience and has inhabited it with incredibly well realized characters.


In fact, the individuals whose stories the director tells are all absolutely enthralling. Siegfried himself is the perfect warrior. He is brave and loyal. Gunter is the weak, easily swayed king he serves. Brunhild is a fierce and proud warrior maiden. Kriemhild is an innocent girl enamored of Siegfried. All of these characters Lang has conjured up have a sort of undying presence that allows them to rise up above the ordinary. Rather than reducing them to some psychologist's case studies and tediously analyzing them, the director presents them as though they were embodiments of primal emotions. They are, consequently, endowed with a strange eternality, as though they were outside of time, enduring like the emotions themselves.


What is more, as fascinating as these characters are, the images with which Siegfried is filled are just as bewitching. The brilliantly stylized sets are both consistently beautiful and impressive. The movie opens in a great forest of artificial trees and moves from there to the stark, symmetrical Burgundian court. At other times, the heroes visit still other magical lands, including Brunhild's barren kingdom, charming woodlands, and a pool guarded by a dragon. As different as they are from one another, however, the film's sets, by bringing to the viewer's awareness a peculiar otherworldliness, arouse a potent sense of awe that is sure to leave him profoundly stirred.


Such feelings are further enhanced by Lang's slow and deliberate presentations of his characters' actions, especially those occurring in the scenes set in the court, which infuse the whole movie with a formalized, ritualistic feel. Rather than depicting events in a naturalistic way and trying to convince the moviegoer he is looking at a world much like his own, Lang moves the viewer beyond his ordinary experience and reveals to him the universe of dreams and religion. The director's evocation of the fantastic has been equalled by very few others.


Not only does Siegfried manifest a marvellous sense of some mythic universe, however, but it also elicits nearly overwhelming feelings of heroism and sympathy. In fact, the eponymous protagonist's adventures are consistently dramatic and exciting. His battle with the dragon is wonderfully well realized, as is the competition for Brunhild's hand. The viewer is left exhilarated by these scenes, and the presence of such feelings makes the pitiable events at the film's conclusion, which contrast with and destroy the earlier emotions, more potent than they would otherwise have been. The hero's fate, and its effects on those around him, consequently, arouse feelings of deep sorrow.


Fritz Lang's Siegfried is an astonishing film, almost certainly the director's best, and is among the finest works of cinema as an artistic medium.

Review by Keith Allen

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