Siegfried, son of King Sigmund, hears of the beautiful sister of Gunter, King of Worms, Kriemhild. On his way to Worms, he kills a dragon and finds a treasure, the Hort. He helps Gunther to win Krimhild, a mask that makes him invisible proves to be very useful. But because Brunhild is cursing Kriemhild, she tells her what really happened. Now Brunhild wants Siegfried’s head. Is Gunther going to do her that favor?
Upon completing his epic crime film “Dr Mabuse”, Fritz Lang embarked on a quest to bring Germanic legend Das Niebelungenlied to the screen. So colossal was the undertaking that it required two films, of which “Siegfried” is the first.
Young heroic Siegfried kills a dragon and bathes in its blood, gaining immortality (save for a fatal weak spot). His quests make him into a powerful figure and allow him to court the beautiful princess Kriemhield. But her weakling brother only approves the lovers’ union if Siegfried agrees to help him deceive the beautiful Valkyrie Brunhield into falling in love with him. When she eventually discovers this treachery, the humiliated amazon vows sets forth a cycle of revenge that will create tragedy on an epic scale.
There’s no way to avoid comparisons: “Die Niebelungen” is the Lord of the Rings of its day, and easily one of the most staggering epics in the history of movies. The scale, extras and the pioneering dragon-slaying scene all make for enduring cinema. Fritz Lang’s alluring visuals push it even further: his awesome depiction of the rigid codes of honor that are the undoing of his characters imbues the film with a mood and atmosphere whose influences are incalculable. “Die Niebelungen” can also be read as one chooses, tribute to German heroism or to the trappings and tragedy of “honor”. Hitler for one was so impressed with the film that he used an alternate edit of the film as propaganda, playing to Wagner’s Niebelungen opera (which Lang actually loathed!). To be fair, though the original score can not hope to reach the mythical heights of Wagner’s opera, it is still a considerable achievement.
Though he would revisit the crime genre with the slick “Spies” and practically invent modern science-fiction with “Metropolis”, none of Lang’s silent films would reach this level of excellence. “Siegfried” of course can only fairly be judged when seen right before the second half of the saga: “Kriemhield’s Revenge”, in which formality makes way for chaos and petty jealousy and revenge turn to violence on a biblical scale.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the silent era or film as a whole should avidly seek this out. Kino on Video have a very decent double DVD edition. I wholeheartedly recommend it.
Edit (October 2010): As I add these words, Eureka have released a stellar BluRay of this saga which is just mind-blowing (reviewed by dvdbeaver, for the curious). If you’ve never seen this film yet, lucky you. Go straight to HD!
BRRip 720p | MKV | 1280 x 720 | x264 @ 2048 Kbps | 2h 29mn | 2,75 Gb
Score AC3 5.1 @ 448 Kbps | German intertitles with English subs
Genre: Fantasy, Drama, Adventure | Director: Fritz Lang