Not rated yet!
Fritz Lang
2 h 33 min
Release Date
10 January 1927
Drama, Science Fiction
In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city's mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.
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  • German Cinema Classics Der Herrscher (1937)
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    [1]4,843 words

    Der Herrscher (The Sovereign) is a fascinating film for a variety of reasons. The popular idea of cinema in the Third Reich is that is that every film was rife with propaganda. In fact, most films of the period were purely escapist fare, with minimal propaganda content. When propaganda was present, it often took the form of allegory (as in Kolberg [2]), rather than speechifying or preaching. In fact, I would go so far as to maintain that American films from the same period (especially the war years) contained more outright, and unsubtle, propaganda. And, to explode a further myth, anti-Semitic claims or caricatures were extremely rare.

    In the twelve years of Hitler’s government, only three films were made that were clearly devoted to criticizing the Jews, all of them released in the same year (1940): Der ewige Jude [3], Die Rothschilds [4], and, most notorious of all, Jud Süß [5]. (However, anti-Semitic statements are to be found with some regularity in German newsreels, especially following the September 1939 invasion of Poland.) Der Herrscher was helmed by the director of Jud Süß, Veit Harlan. In earlier installments of this series I have dealt with two other Harlan films: Die Reise nach Tilsit [6] (1939), and Opfergang [7] (1944). (See also my essays on German Mountain Films [8].)

    In the eyes of most film historians, Der Herrscher would certainly be seen as a propaganda film – and indeed it is, but this is “propaganda” of a high order. It was based, rather loosely, on Gerhart Hauptmann’s 1932 play Vor Sonnenuntergang (Before Sunset). Hauptmann (1862–1946) was a prolific German dramatist and novelist, who was awarded the 1912 Nobel Prize in Literature, primarily for his plays. He was no National Socialist, but continued to live and work in Germany after Hitler came to power. Predictably, this has since tarnished Hauptmann’s once stellar reputation, even though he never publicly spoke in support of the regime.


    Thea von Harbou

    The propaganda element in Der Herrscher thus does not originate with Hauptmann, but instead with none other than Thea von Harbou, the former wife of Fritz Lang. Harbou is credited as the primary screenwriter, with Curt J. Braun listed second. However, the attribution to Hauptmann’s play is followed, on the same title card, by “und nach Motiven aus Harald Bratts “Der Herrscher” (and based on themes from Harald Bratt’s “The Sovereign”). This was a four act comedy play apparently inspired by Hauptmann’s Vor Sonnenuntergang. Bratt was the pseudonym of August Christian Riekel (1897–1967) an academic who became a prolific screenwriter, penning numerous films from the 1930s into the ’60s. So, this film is really based upon two plays. I cannot find much information on Bratt, but he did write the screenplay for the notorious 1941 anti-British propaganda film Ohm Krüger [10]. In what follows, I will consider Harbou as principally responsible for the final shooting script, including its political content.

    It is well-known that Harbou was a National Socialist, and that this was one of the reasons why the half-Jewish Lang divorced her. (The other reason was her affair with the Indian Ayi Tendulkar, whom she would later secretly marry.) It is a rather remarkable fact that the films Harbou made with Lang have not been sufficiently understood through the lens of Harbou’s political sympathies. Part of the reason for this is that Harbou did not join the NSDAP until the 1930s – though this hardly matters. Further, she asserted after the war that she only joined the party to support Indians in Germany – a claim which simply does not deserve to be taken seriously. The truth is that Harbou’s film work is replete with messages and themes that can be quite plausibly described as nationalist and National Socialist. And this is a subject I intend to explore in other essays, when I deal with the collaborations of Harbou and Lang.

    Just briefly, consider the conservative critique of Weimar culture to be found in Harbou-Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler [11] (1922), with its main character a thinly-veiled anti-Semitic collage (war profiteer, plus stock market manipulator, plus purveyor of vice, plus – I’m not kidding here – psychoanalyst). Or consider the obvious nationalism of Harbou-Lang’s Die Nibelungen [12] (1924), both parts of which open with the dedication “Dem deutschen Volk zu eigen” (“Dedicated to the German nation”). Finally, consider the undisguised socialism of Harbou-Lang’s most celebrated film, Metropolis [13] (1927). A socialism that is neither atheistic (note the Christian imagery and references) nor internationalist. A socialism based upon a reawakening of heartfelt feeling among Volksgenossen, and an overcoming of artificial class distinctions based on wealth (“The mediator between head and hands must be the heart”).

    Indeed, what is truly fascinating about Harbou’s Der Herrscher is that it is one of the most explicitly National Socialist Third Reich films I have yet seen. The racialist and anti-Semitic aspects of Nazism get emphasized so much today that its socialism is lost sight of entirely. And avowed “Neo-Nazis” tend to buy into this, and think that socialists are the opposition! (The Left, of course, asserts that the socialism of the Nazis was disingenuous.) When Albert Speer was released from Spandau prison in 1966 and got a taste of how the Nazis were depicted in the media he remarked privately that “Hitler didn’t spend all his time talking about the Jews, he talked about things like ending unemployment,” or words to that effect. So striking and explicit is the socialism of Der Herrscher, it is an ideal document for understanding the Hitler regime and its philosophy. And it is essential for understanding the work of Thea von Harbou – whose collaborations with Lang (especially Metropolis) must be interpreted, I would maintain, in the light of this later film.

    The star of Der Herrscher is Emil Jannings, whose performance is really quite extraordinary. Jannings was a stage actor who began appearing in films as early as 1914, later working twice for F. W. Murnau (in The Last Laugh, 1924, and in Faust, 1926, in which he played the role of Mephistopheles). Jannings eventually wound up in Hollywood, where his career really flourished. In fact, he was the first actor ever to receive a Best Actor Oscar (in 1928 for his performance in Josef von Sternberg’s The Last Command). (Though the story goes that actually Rin Tin Tin won the vote, but the Academy feared it would not be taken seriously if it awarded the Oscar to a dog.) In 1930 Jannings appeared opposite Marlene Dietrich in perhaps his most famous film, The Blue Angel, also directed by Sternberg.


    Joseph Goebbels with Emil Jannings

    With the advent of sound, however, Janning’s thick German accent severely limited his possibilities in American cinema, so he returned to his native country. And when Hitler took power in 1933, Jannings gave every appearance of being an enthusiastic supporter of the new regime. For example, he was later one of the producers of Ohm Krüger. (For his work on the film, allegedly Joseph Goebbels presented him the “Ring of Honor of German Cinema” – I say “allegedly” because one never knows whether or not to believe such stories.)

    So, let the foregoing suffice by way of an introduction. I now turn to the story of Der Herrscher.

    The main character of our tale is Matthias Clausen (Jannings), the wealthy owner of a steelworks who is now entering old age. He has four grown children: Wolfgang (married to Clothild), Bettina (an old maid), Ottilie (married to Erich Klamroth, a director at the firm), and Egert (his youngest son). At the very beginning of the film, we are witness to the funeral of Clausen’s wife, who has died after a long illness. Clausen has been absent from the factory for some time, caring for his wife, and has left things in the hands of his son-in-law Klamroth. The funeral is an interminable affair, and everyone is forced to stand in the rain while the unctuous Pastor delivers a long, tastelessly excessive eulogy. Bettina is distraught, almost hurling herself onto the casket. The others are unmoved. And, curiously, this includes Herr Clausen himself, who seems strangely detached.

    Though the picture seems grim, one quickly realizes that these scenes are actually quite droll. Der Herrscher is a delicately-balanced comedy-drama. Wry portraits of human imperfection alternate with scenes of genuine pathos. After watching it for the first time I told a friend, “This is the sort of film Frank Capra would have made, had he been German and a Nazi.” It’s a good summation, actually, though Capra would not have had Harlan’s restraint (a telling commentary on American cinema, given that Harlan was actually one of the most unrestrained directors of the Third Reich).

    At the reception after the funeral, prior to Clausen’s arrival, we are introduced at length to his family – and they are indeed a motley crew. Wolfgang’s wife Clothild is hungering after her mother-in-law’s jewels. Wolfgang and Klamroth are thinking only of the future of the factory. And the latter reveals himself to be a real blackguard, who now believes the old man is finished, and the factory his to command. Bettina is the only one who shows any real grief, but her grief is so exaggerated and neurotic it is hard to sympathize with her. (Later in the film, with frankness typical of German cinema but unthinkable in an American production of the same period, her nervous nature is blamed on her virginity.) Egert, a handsome and happy-go-lucky young chap, emerges as the most likeable of the group.

    Also on hand is the elderly Dr. Geiger, referred to by the now-antiquated title Sanitätsrat. He appears to be one of Clausen’s only close friends, and they address each other by the familiar du. Something seems to have changed in Clausen, and Dr. Geiger is the only one to really notice it. Clausen shows no signs of grief at all, though he appears to be quite exhausted. But it is as if he has awakened from a long sleep. Seeking to lose himself in work, he takes a long walk through the grounds of the factory. These scenes were shot on location at an actual steelworks, and it is fascinating to watch the giant machines pouring and pounding steel.

    Clausen winds up in the research and development department, where he learns that in his absence Klamroth, the son-in-law, has cut off its funding. Indignant, Clausen convenes a meeting of his board of directors the following day. Also present is a pretty but very shy stenographer who introduces herself as Inken Peters. Ideologically, this scene is one of the most significant in the entire film, and I will quote its dialogue extensively. Clausen demands an explanation for why funding for R&D has been cut. “You launch an attack against the technology that will make us independent from abroad. Do you imagine that you are fulfilling your duties as industrialists in this way?”

    The board members all try to justify themselves. The most obsequious is played by none other than Rudolf Klein-Rogge, the first husband of Thea von Harbou. He played major roles in three Harbou-Lang films: Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler (the title character), Die Nibelungen (King Etzel), and Metropolis (Dr. Rotwang). Here he only has a small part, but is quite amusing. One of the other directors, however, defends the decision, saying that the Clausen Works should not be a guinea pig for technological experiments. “Let the state carry the risk,” he says.

    “Why the state?” Clausen responds. “Is the state a charitable organization for shareholders in distress?” His loyal private secretary Dr. Wuttke announces that last year the Clausen Works increased its profits by 28%. One of the directors promptly asks, “Where did the money go?”

    “Where it belongs, back into the factory,” Clausen responds. Through this scene and, indeed, through most of the film, Jannings is sharp but extraordinarily dignified and self-controlled.

    Immediately, the despicable Klamroth pipes up: “What about us? Why don’t we earn more?”

    Clausen: “Have you worked more? No. The worker has achieved more. The factory has achieved more. That is why the profit belongs to the worker and to the factory.”

    Klamroth begins to unctuously assure his father-in-law of his deep concern for the welfare of the workers. He wants them to earn more, he says, “but within limits. After all, we want to live too. If we don’t get any profit-sharing bonuses my feelings of charity end.” (I must comment here that this is exactly the sort of dialogue Ayn Rand would have written, had she been the diametrical opposite of Randian. And, in fact, this is not the only “Randian” thing about this film, actually.)

    Clausen has now had enough. He says that he convened the meeting to find out whether it might be possible for him to take a longer holiday. But now he realizes that this is impossible, for not a single one of them is capable of replacing him. (At this point in the dialogue, Inken Peters looks up from her stenography pad and begins to take an active interest in the meeting – though saying nothing, of course.) Clausen continues:

    It has to do with your inner attitude – the bottomless egoism behind each of your words. . . . In times like these you complain about not getting any profit shares, while drawing generous directors’ salaries. We are here to provide work and bread for millions. We are here to work for the folk community [Volksgemeinschaft[1]]. To serve the folk community. This must be the aim of any industrialist conscious of his responsibility. This is my will and my factory’s supreme law. Everyone has to submit to it, without objection. . . . And he who doesn’t submit himself to that supreme law has no place in the Clausen Works.

    Clausen rises to indicate that the meeting is at an end, and his directors file out meekly. The strain has been a little much for him, however, and moments later Clausen collapses. Inken hears him and rushes to his aid. Clausen is touched by her kindness, and then, in a significant moment, he truly notices her for the first time. Pointedly, he asks her name again. “Inken Peters,” she says. He repeats her name quietly, his crisis having passed, and says “Good.”

    Some time passes and we find ourselves at a massive outdoor celebration. Clausen’s workers have gathered to commemorate his 40 years in charge of the firm. The scene can’t help but remind today’s audiences (whether sympathetic or unsympathetic) of a Nazi rally, especially when the workers (who appear to number in the thousands) begin greeting Clausen with rather familiar salutes. With obvious emotion, one of Clausen’s employees makes a speech honoring him. It is at this point that we learn than Clausen began as a simple blacksmith, and worked his way up to be the owner of his own steelworks. We then realize that all the snobbish, aristocratic pretensions of his children and in-laws are just that. This too is part of the National Socialist message of the film: class distinctions based upon wealth are artificial and divisive.

    Those snobbish pretensions are on full display at the party that follows. Inken and her elderly mother have been invited, much to the family’s shock. The mother, you see, is a simple market gardener, who sells flowers and vegetables. Worse yet, the rumor is that Inken’s father committed suicide in jail, after being falsely accused of a crime. Why has Clausen invited her? The gossip flies fast and furious, and in short order Clausen’s dysfunctional little family has realized the truth: he is in love with Inken. This conclusion, of course, disturbs them greatly. Bettina is horrified that her mother’s memory is being defiled (and she is also curiously fixated on the prospect that Clausen may bestow some of her mother’s jewelry on Inken). The rest are clearly worried that Clausen may change his will to favor this new interloper.

    The oily Klamroth dances with Inken and, predictably, makes clumsy advances. But as soon as she has extricated herself from his embrace, she is set upon by the family’s females and not-so-subtly reminded that she’s socializing above her station. Inken handles them quite well, however. Having suffered enough indignities for one day, she abruptly leaves with mother in tow. Meanwhile, in Clausen’s vast and elegant library, he is confessing his love for Inken to the kindly Dr. Geiger while Bettina plays a Chopin nocturne on the grand piano (the same nocturne, incidentally, that figures in an important scene in Harlan’s Opfergang). Inken has restored his love of life, he says. Dr. Geiger is delighted, and urges Clausen to tell the girl of his feelings as soon as possible.

    One wonders at this point how Inken will take this news, and whether she can return the love of the elderly Clausen. (Jannings was actually only 51 or 52 when he made this film, but he is clearly playing Clausen as a much older man.) This question is answered in a scene between Inken and her mother, in her mother’s vegetable garden. They have received an anonymous threatening letter warning them to leave town. Clausen, it seems, has been visiting Inken and her mother quite a lot. The visits have been very innocent, but the mother sees where it is all going, and she is worried for Inken. The girl herself, however, clearly loves Clausen, and is willing to stay with him, even if she is never anything more than his mistress. A very unconventional, non-bourgeois attitude.


    Clausen proposes to Inken

    Soon after, we find Clausen in his office dictating a letter to Inken. He is clearly preoccupied, however. She leaves the room for a moment and when she returns, Clausen has produced a small jewel case. Quietly, very shyly, he asks her to be his wife. Inken is overcome with emotion, and accepts. The ring, which Clausen now places on Inken’s right hand (as is the German way), had belonged to his late wife, and to his mother before that. (Yet the children, of course, know it only as their mother’s ring.) It is a simple and touching scene – but we sense trouble ahead.

    While Inken is absent, Klamroth and his attorney Herr Hanefeld visit Inken’s mother, inquiring whether Clausen might lately have bestowed any his late wife’s jewels on the young stenographer. And they then offer Mrs. Peters a very considerable sum to relocate to another part of the Reich. She sends them packing. There follows one of the longest scenes in the film – one that very clearly betrays its origins as a stage play. It is that time of the month when all the adult members of the family gather for brunch. There are eight in total. When the others arrive, Clausen is absent. But one of the family quickly learns that a female voice has been heard in his room (again, another detail unthinkable in an American film of the period). It is Inken, of course. But Clausen’s contemptible children and in-laws are still more shocked to discover that a ninth place has been set at the table.

    Wolfgang orders faithful family servant Winter to remove the place setting. And when Clausen arrives with his fiancé, poor Inken gets a chilly reception to say the least. When Clausen notices that Inken’s place setting has been removed, he finally loses his composure and roars in anger, causing poor Inken to flee. His family pleads with him to see reason. Again and again, the late Frau Clausen is invoked, as if any happiness Clausen might now achieve is a desecration of her memory. (Of course, this concern masks far more selfish motives – on the part of everyone save, perhaps, Bettina.) In a towering rage, Clausen orders his family out – and when Klamroth dares to argue with him, Clausen fires the rotten so-and-so.

    Clausen is deeply hurt by his family’s reaction. But, imbued with a new-found joie de vivre, he proceeds to buy a yacht and a castle in Bavaria. Then he and Inken leave on a long cruise, intending to be married on their return. (Scenes of their journey were shot on location in Sicily.) Clausen has seriously underestimated the gravity of the situation with his relatives, however. While he is away, they meet with Hanefeld and institute proceedings to have Clausen declared mentally incompetent. If this measure is successful, Hanefeld will be appointed custodian of Clausen and his property – but it is Klamroth who will be running the steel mill. All of Clausen’s children and in-laws sign the petition – save Egert, who refuses at the last moment.

    When Clausen returns, Hanefeld meets with him and – obviously suffering from a very guilty conscience –slowly and haltingly informs him of the terrible step his family have taken. There follows the most dramatic scene in the entire film. Earlier we had seen Clausen enraged, now we see him positively unhinged. He snatches a letter opener and, shockingly, slashes the portrait of his dead wife which hangs over the great mantelpiece, dominating the room (and, it seems, his life). Then he picks up a chair and begins smashing the glass cabinets containing priceless heirlooms (or antiquities; it’s really not clear).

    His children and in-laws rush in, and there is pandemonium. Suddenly, they now realize the gravity of what they have done. The women become hysterical, and everyone except Klamroth seems to want to take it all back. But Clausen is inconsolable. He retreats from them in horror, backing up the library’s grand staircase: “Don’t snivel!” he cries. “Don’t shed those crocodile tears! My wife has given birth to dogs, cats, foxes, and wolves. For decades they have run around in my house in human shape, and have licked my hands and feet. And now suddenly they tear me to pieces with their teeth. I want to get away!”

    Of course, Clausen’s reaction will do little to refute his children’s self-serving claims about his mental state. Later, Hanefeld confronts Inken and, despicably, informs her that everything that has happened is her fault. Soon, he tells her, Clausen will be confined to a madhouse. Inken, who is very much in love with the old man, is distraught. But what happens next is only too predictable. Hanefeld suggests that perhaps the family’s petition could be withdrawn, if only Inken will remove herself from the situation. “I know how difficult this is for you,” he says. “No, you cannot possibly know that,” Inken responds gravely. Then she sits down and quietly begins writing a letter.

    Clausen has taken refuge with Dr. Geiger. In a state of profound nervous exhaustion, he lies on Geiger’s examination table, resting. Geiger is furious with Clausen’s family, and urges him not to give up – to fight them with all he’s got. But then comes the worst blow of all. Wuttke arrives with Inken’s letter. Without rising from the table, Clausen opens it, and out falls the ring. All now seems to be lost. All have abandoned him. (In Hauptmann’s original play, Clausen commits suicide. Thankfully, Harbou and Harlan spare us such a dissatisfying dénouement.)

    There follows a long sequence in which Clausen meanders his way slowly through the steelworks. This takes place, apparently, on the evening of the following day. He arrives in his simple, Spartan office and is greeted by a very concerned Wuttke. Clausen now reveals to him that that very morning a judge rejected his family’s petition and declared him mentally competent. Clausen has won, but – betrayed by his family and abandoned by Inken – he seems like a broken man. He says to Wuttke:

    Have you ever heard the iron’s roar when it’s made into steel? I heard it today. A hell is sounding out of that iron’s roar when it’s purified. A chemical process, right? The experts say: silicium, manganese, carbon, phosphorus. It must be melted out of the iron. Terribly simple, right? No, Wuttke. It’s not easy, such a purifying process. The question is frightful: how much will you bear, steel? How much will you bear, man?

    It is a very emotionally powerful speech. Here as in the rest of the film, Harbou’s dialogue is moving and intelligent. (I have not read the original Hauptmann play, so I have no idea how much of his dialogue she retained.)

    Wuttke is delighted with the prospect of firing Klamroth, but before he leaves Clausen asks him to send in a secretary so that he can dictate a new will. He faces the window as the secretary enters and does not look at her. But even in the semi-darkness we can tell that it is Inken. When she turns on the desk lamp, we see that the ring is back on her finger. Clausen begins dictating, not realizing that it is Inken who takes down his words. Clausen states that he is cutting his children and his in-laws out of his will, as they are unworthy to inherit the steelworks. (One can’t help but think, however, of poor, loyal Egert – as well as of Clausen’s several grandchildren.)


    The final scene of Der Herrscher

    It is at this point in the dictation that Clausen looks down and sees Inken – once more wearing the ring on her hand. There are tears in her eyes. He pauses. “Weiter (continue),” she says, tenderly. With emphasis he responds, “Ja, weiter,” as if to say “yes, let’s you and I continue on as before.” He goes on to say that he is leaving his steelworks to the state and “thus to the folk community.” (Note the identification of Staat and Volk.) And the film ends with these significant words, as Clausen finishes his dictation:

    I am certain that from among my workers and employees . . . the man will rise who is called upon to continue my work. Whether he comes from the furnace or the drafting table, from the laboratory or the workbench, I want to teach him the few things a man who is about to depart may teach another. Because he who is born to be a leader [Führer] does not need any other teacher than his own genius [als sein eigenes Genie].

    Here, of course, we have an enunciation of the Führerprizip. And we realize at the film’s conclusion that what Harbou has really done is to turn Hauptmann’s play into an allegory about Adolf Hitler. (This is reflected, of course, in the film’s title itself, with der Herrscher standing in for der Führer.)

    This is the story of a man who rises from humble origins, possessing great personal Genie, who finds himself in love with the German Volk, personified by the simple and genuine Fräulein Peters. In order to use his great powers in the service of the Volk – in order to be united with his beloved – he must overcome the avarice and snobbery exhibited by his own folk/kin. But this proves to be quite a battle. Moved by egoism, members of his family fiercely oppose him – some even call him insane. He prevails, however. He will build a new family with Inken, based entirely upon love (of one’s own: i.e., the feeling of Volksgemeinschaft). He will expunge the egoism of his old, dysfunctional family, and he will do so with an iron first. But in truth it is not one man who rules: the Volk rules through him.

    Der Herrscher is a fascinating historical and cultural document. But, more than this, it is also a truly fine film – one of Harlan’s best. The screenplay by Thea von Harbou is exceptionally intelligent and well crafted. I plan to eventually write an entire essay on Harbou, who had a very interesting career. Among other things, she directed two films under Hitler. That’s right: Leni Riefenstahl [17] was not the Führer’s only female director! (Can you name any female film directors in the Hollywood of the 1930s? If you guessed Ida Lupino, sorry: she directed her first film in 1949.) Harbou continued to write films after the war, and died in 1954. Emil Jannings is sensational in this film. He made quite a few pictures in the Third Reich – but he never made another film after 1945, having been a victim of “Denazification.” He died in 1950 at the age of 65.

    Der Herrscher is available from [18], with optional English subtitles. Unfortunately the picture quality is not great: it looks like a VHS copy of a copy. It’s still pretty watchable, however – and well worth watching.

    In subsequent entries in this series I will cover other Third Reich films, as well as German silent cinema.


    1. Volksgemeinschaft was a term frequently used by the National Socialists, in countless contexts during the period of the Third Reich. It is usually translated “people’s community,” but I think this wording smacks of leftwing socialism. The Volksgemeinschaft was not a community of any and all people within Germany, but of the German nation or folk. (“National community” is also to be avoided, as the term “national,” particularly in the United States, has been mostly denuded of any ethnic connotation.)


    (Review Source)
  • Tim Burton’s Batman: Putting the Gothic into Gotham
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    2,774 words

    [1]Origins & Evolution of the Gothic in Film

    The gothic is a quintessentially European aesthetic. Moreover, it pertains and appeals more specifically to those of North-West European descent and is to be found in various modes and tropes throughout North-West European culture and contrasts with the Classicism of Southern Europe. Gothic as a term was first applied to medieval art and particularly architecture by Renaissance critics in similar propagandist fashion to how the term Dark Ages was also used to describe the period following the collapse of the Roman Empire. In both cases, the terms were coined to denigrate Germanic ascendancy in culture as unenlightened and barbaric in relation to the culture of Greco-Roman Classical Antiquity and its Renaissance.[1]

    Equally, when the Gothic appeared in literature towards the end of the 18th century, it was as a reaction to Enlightenment Classicism and the Age of Reason. Gothic motifs here are typically old aristocratic families, subterranean and eerie settings, the past—particularly the medieval past—entering the present, the supernatural, emotional extremes in characterization, an older powerful antagonist, a young hero and a heroine that faces some sort of imprisonment or constraint. As regards the subterranean and eerie settings, typical are those again often associated with the medieval: dungeons, castles, manor houses, churches and cathedrals.[2]

    Contemporary (read post-Marxian) critical theory relating to the Gothic has centered on the subject of transgression against societal norms, yet what is rarely addressed is that these norms are post-Enlightenment, not meaning from the likes of Kant or Franklin, but from the radical liberal tradition beginning with Locke. In other words, the transgressive forces of the Gothic proper (as opposed to contemporary texts that often attempt to subvert the genre itself) are not those compatible with any philosophical position further Left, but, in their traditional and mythical rootedness in what is quintessentially European, can only honestly be interpreted from the Right. While the old liberal radical Left used the term Gothic disparagingly,[3] the New Left of the post-1960s cultural revolution has appropriated the Gothic for its countercultural impact, while either critiquing or attempting to divorce it from its Rightist elements, such as those pertaining to aristocracy, myth, religiosity, and Eurocentrism.

    In this struggle between the rationality of the Enlightenment and the alleged unreason of the Gothic, one can see a foreshadowing of the philosophies to come that relate to the human condition: the persona and shadow of Jung and the Apollonian and Dionysian of Nietzsche, the “darker” aspects in both philosophies being defined in relation to post-Enlightenment bourgeois society. Yet with both of these philosophies, one sees a reconciliation of polarities beyond good and evil.

    The Gothic as a genre in and of itself has all but disappeared and is often referred in post-Gothic texts as “the Gothic mode,” diffused as it is throughout other genres. In film, one sees it readily in German Expressionism, in its Hollywood derivative Film Noir, and in more contemporary genres like Steampunk. Here, cinematic settings in particular are atmospherically Gothic: the urban cityscapes are often eerily lonely and dark, often nocturnal, and the characters that inhabit them psychologically extreme. German Expressionism exaggerates the mise en scène to reflect a psychological imbalance in characters; the architecture is therefore often stylistically Gothic, as the form lends to this extremity. Steampunk’s reinterpretation and advancement of Victorianism into the present, often creating alternate timelines where the digital revolution never occurred and steam remained the basis of technology, inevitably bring with them the high Victorian architectural style of the Neo-Gothic.

    Steampunk was certainly influenced by events in the world of distinctly white European forms of music. The rise of industrial, gothic rock, and darker new wave bands like the Damned, the Cure, Bauhaus, and the Sisters of Mercy, to name the more famous ones, created a whole new post-punk aesthetic, in which its acolytes wore black especially leather and plastic clothing, white make-up, and silver jewelry. The aesthetic had a distinct Victorian vampiric look to it, and it was no surprise that its adherents were called simply Goths. The music videos that accompanied the singles released into the charts were set in the city back alleys at the junction of Film Noir and Steampunk. Although this cultural scene began in part, perhaps appropriately, in the industrial yet culturally traditionalist north of England, its Mecca was to be found in the metropolis of London, in a nightclub named the Batcave.

    Origins of the Gothic in Batman

    Batman was originally set in New York City. According to Batman’s co-creator Bob Kane, the name Gotham came quite by chance:

    Originally I was going to call Gotham City “Civic City.” Then I tried “Capital City,” then “Coast City.” Then I flipped through the New York City phone book and spotted the name “Gotham Jewelers’ and said, “That’s it,” Gotham City. We didn’t call it New York because we wanted anybody in any city to identify with it.[4]

    Gotham is an antiquated nickname for the Big Apple, and its appearance in the telephone directory was as incidental as its selection was not. The name Gotham was coined by Washington Irving (and one notes his connection to the Gothic literary mode) in 1807 and taken from the village of Gotham in Nottinghamshire, England, a village notable for its habitation by fools. This cannot have been far from both Kane and writer Bill Finger’s mind when creating a lawless city inhabited by crazy villains, and, whether consciously or subconsciously, neither can Gotham’s phonemic association with the Gothic.

    In spite of Kane and Finger’s ethnicity that often inclines members of their tribe to be at odds with Western culture, they created a character that is very much in the European tradition. The character of Batman himself is a hybrid of both the Classical and the Gothic. Kane stated that the idea for his form came from a design for an ornithopter flying machine by Leonardo Da Vinci with the inscription “Remember that your bird shall have no other model than the bat.”[5] Yet the shadowy chiropteran costume is equally Gothic, as are Batman’s nocturnal habits, which all serve to bring to mind that archetype of Gothic literature: the vampire.

    The outward vestments of Batman and his alter-ego Bruce Wayne serve to reveal the inner compartmentalization of two major character aspects to the audience. Wayne’s bourgeois suit emphasizes the modern Renaissance man, the Apollonian persona constructed for polite society, “persona” of course meaning both character and mask. Ignoring the camp 1960s television series version, the Batsuit’s Gothic external mask disguises the Dionysian shadow within.

    Indeed, the 1960s series did much to undo Batman’s Gothic image, which only really recovered thanks to Frank Miller’s Dark Knight series of comic books from the late 1980s. Indeed, it was Miller’s success in reinvigorating the comic character that led directly to interest in a potential film. It is, however, perhaps quite ironic that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight series of films has concentrated more on gritty realism than a stylized Gothicism, although this may also have been a conscious decision not to attempt to recreate the Tim Burton films.[6]


    Tim Burton & Gothic Batman

    In addition to Miller’s graphic reinterpretation of Batman, one other event enabled the filming of 1989’s Batman: Richard Donner’s 1978 version of Superman, hailed as the first modern superhero film. In the cinematic superhero overload of today, it is difficult to comprehend the impact the film had, or to imagine a prior cultural space in which a serious filmic treatment of a superhero was seen as a daring move. Indeed, Donner’s original grossed far more at the box office than any of its campier and cornier sequels.

    The aforementioned genres of German Expressionism, Film Noir, and Steampunk contract to a point in Batman. Gotham’s criminals and police are attired in the 1940s suits of Film Noir that are by no means out of place in their surroundings. The cityscape of Gotham itself is an aesthetic blend of Steampunk with Film Noir. The art deco theatres and gothic tenement blocks are juxtaposed with fantastic Steampunk appendages: pumps, pipes, vents, shafts, fans, and ducts, which constantly belch out steam. The Steampunk setting culminates in crime boss Carl Grissom’s chemical plant, and it is no coincidence that this building is where the (il)logic of comic book fantasy overrides the laws of physics, Jack Napier plummeting into a vat of chemicals and being transformed into the Joker.

    The Steampunk settings are also congruent with German Expressionist cinema, and there are obvious nods to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The high altitudes and odd angles of both building construction and civil engineering within the film and camerawork as creative process of the film reveal the huge influence of German Expressionism and also correspond nicely to the demands of a film in which the main character emulates the aerial swoops of the bat. The film is replete with downward and upward shots that give the audience a collective sense of vertigo that destabilizes the equilibrium of the senses and transports it beyond its comfortable bourgeois world of safety and reason.

    It is no coincidence that the film ends with multiple opportunities for these vertical shots as Batman fights the Joker, rescuing Vicki Vale from him in a Gothic cathedral, high up in the belfry and above the ribbed vaults and flying buttresses and onto the roof, in almost a re-enactment of the climactic scene in Metropolis in which Freder Fredersen rescues Maria from the mad scientist Rotwang. Indeed, one can readily see similarities between the Joker and Rotwang in their insanity, scientific expertise, and narrative functions in the two films.

    Where the two characters differ most significantly is in their respective relationships to modernity and tradition. Rotwang bears the greater similarity to the “mad professor” archetype of Gothic fiction, for there is no rejection of prior cultural tradition. The Joker’s vandalism in the museum as he abducts Vicki Vale is an attack on traditional and bourgeois culture; Rembrandts, Degas, Renoirs, Gainsboroughs are all defaced, while the piece by Francis Bacon is left intact: “I kinda like this one, Bob. Leave it.” He represents the Left-wing anarchist, whose only aim is to destroy America as a cultural extension of Europe.

    Many fans have criticized the use of the pop singer Prince’s songs in the film, yet one notes the context in their employment; they invariably accompany the Joker on his “artistic” and “theatrical” endeavors—here in his deconstruction of traditional art and also during his gaudy lowbrow parade. In its Negroid superficiality, Prince’s music fits the bill perfectly.

    In contradistinction, accompanying Batman/Wayne is the classical film score by Danny Elfman. Both the Bruce Wayne and Batman identities come from quintessentially European traditions in their construction by Burton and company, the bourgeois Classicism of Bruce Wayne and the reconfigured Gothic Batman for the postmodern technological age being split into a very dualist Apollonian persona and Dionysian shadow, as is revealed in the dinner scene between Bruce Wayne and Vicki Vale, when Wayne, uncomfortable as Vale in the vast Gothic dining hall, suggests they go into the kitchen:

    Vicki Vale: You know, this house and all this stuff really doesn’t seem like you at all.

    Bruce Wayne: Some of it is very much me, and some of it isn’t.

    Vicki Vale: That dining room is definitely not you.

    Bruce Wayne: No, the dining room isn’t.

    The Gothic dining room is not Wayne, but it is Batman, as is, ironically, the whole Gothic edifice of Wayne Manor, underneath which the equally Gothic (in terms of narrative mode rather than architectural style) Batcave is hidden, revealing that Batman is Wayne’s Dasein and Wayne a mere social actor. The Jungian shadow is therefore the true self and the persona, as its etymology suggests, a mere mask.

    When Wayne leaves the dining room with Vale, it is because being with Vale in the room makes him uncomfortable. He is awkward in conversation and table manners, and it is Vale who reveals the inappropriateness of the room by exaggerating her mannerisms as she puts her hand to the side of her mouth and calls to Wayne at the other end of the long table. The acting by the male and female leads is commendable, with Michael Keaton’s awkwardness juxtaposing well with Kim Basinger’s self-assuredness in bourgeois society. What Wayne represents is very much the aristocrat awkwardly attempting to fit into a society now ruled and modelled by the bourgeoisie.

    Here we have then an interesting morality at the center of Burton’s Batman. Whether consciously or subconsciously—and one notes Burton’s unconscious attraction to the Gothic—we are served a critique of bourgeois superficiality and the society of manners and mannerisms as anathema to the heroic. Furthermore, these social conventions are seen as distinctly feminine, the gendered self-assuredness being reversed when these conventions are broken by those who operate outside them, like the Joker. Suddenly, Vale becomes the helpless damsel in distress of Gothic fiction, and Wayne assumes his natural role as Gothic hero, and it is no coincidence that the Joker is (literally) brought down in the finale by a gargoyle from the aforementioned Gothic cathedral.

    Burton’s attraction to the Gothic as a white European has then resulted in both his subversion and masculinizing of the mode, as he recreates it in his own image. In the Gothic literary genre proper, it is the villain who is the personification of the “True Rightist” traditional and mythic past—a representation of the superstition and barbarity of particularly the so-called “Dark Ages.” Yet in Batman, we have a “Dark Enlightenment,” where the post-Enlightenment Apollonian bourgeois world can only be saved from the forces of nihilism by a Dionysian Übermensch who embraces pre-Enlightenment ideals of aristocratic paternalism, the warrior code, an appreciation of the mythic and tradition—ideals that are subverted in true Gothic texts like Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho. As Jonathan Bowden often pointed out, this is ever the irony in Hollywood’s masculine archetype: that the aristocratic warrior type must always defend the liberal capitalism of the bourgeoisified West.

    In all, Burton has created a filmic extravaganza specifically tailored to the sensibilities of the white European male. The only significant Black character in the film is that of the reconfigured Harvey Dent. The decision to cast a black American actor in Billy Dee Williams as a canonically white character was a conscious one on Burton’s part as he looked ahead to Dent’s becoming the villain Two Face. He was interested in the black and white concept. What he meant or where he was going with that was never realized.[7] Critics like Camille Bacon-Smith and Tyrone Yarbrough have attempted to prove that as many blacks attended film showings as whites, based upon a cursory head count at single showings at a tiny sample of picture houses,[8] but the hype surrounding the film was well-documented at the time and audiences were overwhelmingly white. Her study shows rather the dishonesty of contemporary academia.

    The film, then, is a white film for white audiences. Tim Burton’s version of the Batman narrative is not merely a retelling of Batman, but simultaneously, a postmodern retelling of the Gothic tale, which in turn, is a retelling of European folktale and fairytale. Certainly, Burton’s ever expanding portfolio of work bears out this assertion and, in spite of restraints, constraints, and conventions imposed upon the film industry by both Hollywood’s Jewish executives and the state apparatus with regard to the employment of ethnic minorities, Burton’s films remain firmly in the European artistic tradition.


    1. See Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, trans. J. C. and P. Bondanella [3] (Oxford: Oxford University Press [4], 1991), pp. 117, 527, and Giorgio Vasari in Vasari on Technique: Being the Introduction to the Three Arts of Design, Architecture, Sculpture and Painting, Prefixed to the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, ed. G. Baldwin Brown, trans. Louisa S. Maclehose (London: Dent, 1907), pp. 83ff.

    2. For more on the subject, see for example, David Punter, The Gothic (London: John Wiley & Sons, 2004).

    3. See Fred Botting, “In Gothic Darkly: Heterotopia, History Culture” in A Companion to the Gothic, ed. David Punter (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), pp. 3–14.

    4. Cited in Jim Steranko, The Steranko History of Comics (Reading, Penn.: Supergraphics, 1970), p. 44.

    5. Interview with Bob Kane, The Two Masks of the Caped Crusader, The Family Channel, 1990.

    6. Christopher Sharrett, “Batman and the Twilight of the Idols: An Interview with Frank Miller” in The Many Lives of Batman: Critical Approaches to a Superhero and his Media, ed. Roberta E. Pearson and William Uricchio (New York: Routledge, 1991), pp. 33–46.

    7. Tim Burton, “Commentary,” Batman Special Edition, PolyGram/Warner Bros., 2005.

    8. Camilla Bacon-Smith and Tyrone Yarbrough, “Batman: The Ethnography” in The Many Lives of Batman, pp. 90–116.



    (Review Source)
  • The Golem of Gotham: Notes on the Scariest Movie Ever Made!
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    [1]3,634 words

    The Colossus of New York (1958)
    1958 / B&W / 1:78 enhanced widescreen / 70 min.
    Producer: William Alland
    Director: Eugène Lourié
    Cast: Ross Martin, Otto Kruger, John Baragrey, Mala Powers and Charles Herbert.

    YouTube: [2]

    The Colossus of New York! No, not that piece of green junk in the harbor [3]. And it’s not Donald Trump.[1] [4] Although in some ways, it’s Hillary – the Colossus of Chapaqua?[2] [5]

    Everyone, at least those not raised Amish or in hippie commune, recalls movies that scared the pants off them when seen on TV some Saturday afternoon or late night.[3] [6] Usually, what one recalls are movies so cheesy only a five year old would be scared, providing some amused nostalgia.

    But there are others.

    Usually, these films continue to, well, scare the pants off you through accidental factors; the combination of low budget effects and cheap photography, amplified by the decaying prints still in circulation on local TV, creates a new layer of creepiness over and above anything intended by the cast and crew.[4] [7]

    Now, Constant Readers will recall that NYC’s public cable channel likes to dig up old movies filmed in the city, equally low budget and poorly preserved.[5] [8] Recently, they scraped the barrel low enough to dredge up some first-class nightmare fuel: The Colossus of New York.

    Here’s a synopsis, which only begins to give clues to how damned creepy this is:

    Shortly after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end World hunger, doting husband and father, Jeremy Spensser (Martin), is struck down and killed by a car. Jeremy’s father, noted brain surgeon William Spensser (Kruger), is distressed that his son’s gifts will be denied to Mankind and rescues his brain from burial, keeping it ‘alive’ in a bubbling jar of liquid (don’t try this at home) with a view to ensuring his ideas and imagination can continue to flourish, even after death. Transplanting the brain into a specially contracted giant robotic body, he enlists Jeremy’s brother, Henry, to help keep the project secret. The huge shell is mechanically unreliable and combined with the lack of human contact and affection, Jeremy slowly starts to go mad, gaining immense strength and developing the ability to harness power and unleash it in the form of death rays from his eyes. The madness builds until The Colossus goes on the rampage in New York, culminating in a stand-off at the United Nations where only his young son can save humanity. (Horrorpedia [9])

    And you can watch it here [2], in a surprisingly good print (of which more anon).  Or at least, you used to be able to watch it. Actually, during the writing of this very review, Paramount seems to have noticed and had it taken down. Here [10]’s their preview clip.  You can also take in a colorized, ten-minute digest of the film here [11], with subtitles identifying supposed “transhumanist” motifs (of which more anon as well). There’s also now a DVD and even a Blu-ray release; the latter gives me a chance to prove I’m not the only one this film affects strangely, courtesy of this reviewer:

    [Do] you notice how many reviews of this film (and as of now, there are only a total of about 25) MANY people use the terms ‘Atmospheric’, ‘Eerie’, ‘Creepy’, etc… Well, I have to add my complete agreement with that. Most of the Sci Fi films of that decade could be quite hokey in their low-budgetedness (?) But, there was just something to this one which carried a much heavier weight and mood than most. I don’t know exactly what it was, but there was an unusual ‘earnestness’ or ‘gravitas’ that somehow created a much stronger atmosphere and very serious mood for the film. I mean, even with it’s very low budget and fairly common theme, there was just some magical element in the direction, acting, and especially the bloody MOOD of the dang thing that conveyed a LOT more impact than the sum of its familiar parts can quite explain.

    I had never seen this film before; and to be honest, I was fully expecting a REAL corny 1950’s Sci Fi film. But, there was just SOMETHING that kept me riveted to the screen and much more emotionally involved than I EVER would have expected with a film of this nature and from this time period.[6] [12]

    As if they’ve promised us a creepfest, and by jiminy they mean to give us one, the effect starts right from the first frame. Want a pictorial background to your opening credits, rather than drab white letters on black? Just slap a postcard up there! Hey, greetings from NYC![7] [13] Look, it’s the UN!

    Oh, and Plot Point! This scrappy little narrative wastes no time getting round to the fundamentals of screenplay writing.

    And the … music. A piano duet, sounding like some kind of High Romantic/academic atonal mash-up. Surely that’s just the overture, right? Nope, it’s gonna continue right to the last of the 69 minutes here.

    It’s instructive, though, that while when Ed Wood tried to save money by reusing the soundtrack to another film by the same producers, the now totally inappropriate flamenco guitar ostinato at best suggested an alienation effect,[8] [14] here the bare bones music works perfectly, whether we’re outdoors on an estate in Westchester County or walking under the Hudson River (I’ll get back to that in a bit).[9] [15]

    I had assumed that, as in Wood’s case, this was a low budget strategy (hence, they got Van Cleave, not Van Cliburn) but apparently “a musicians’ strike early in 1958 had studios recording film scores overseas and in some cases doing without them altogether.”[10] [16]

    The part(s) that really freaked me out, and still do, are two scenes where the Colossus walks under the river, along the riverbed, to get to his murderous rendezvouses.[11] [17]

    These excursions nicely illustrate the Theory of Creepy. This is real bargain basement (no pun) filmmaking at its finest. The Colossus strides along in front of some kind of aquarium or swimming pool window, totally oblivious to any waves, debris, without even a drop on him, like Diver Dan’s old TV show [18]. And yet, precisely for that reason – though for some reason unlike Diver Dan – it’s scary as all Hell.

    It also illustrates another important factor: your mileage may vary. Cinematic Catharsis says [19] that “Shots of the errant robot …walking underwater possess a dreamlike quality,” while Glenn Erickson, who says that “I was too young to see this one personally in a theater,” cruelly speculates that “Kids… giggled to see him striding calmly up the bottom of New York’s East River.”[12] [20]

    Hey, this is an art, not a science. Perhaps you need to have seen it first with the innocent eyes of childhood. In fact, Erickson perhaps reveals the cynical adult filmgoer behind that comment when he adds:

    Every time I see the soggy Colossus stepping up those stairs out of the river, I think of James Stewart carrying Kim Novak up a set of similar waterside steps on another Paramount sound stage.[13] [21]

    After such knowledge, what forgiveness?[14] [22] Here we see the fallacy exposed by Colin Wilson in his collection of music criticism, Brandy of the Damned[15] [23] — the error of thinking that art, like science, “progresses” by leaving behind false or inferior theories. Works of art are windows on the good and beautiful, and to close one is not to grow and “move beyond” but to suffer the loss of an outlet. One gains nothing by “moving on” from Sibelius, or from the Colossus; knowledge of one film should enhance, not occlude, enjoyment of another.

    Erickson and I also disagree on the scenes where the Colossus attempts to interact with his little boy. Again, supposedly “kids” would have “got a good laugh from the robot’s mock-paternal voice when talking to Billy;” not this one, buddy!

    Nevertheless, some elements do take on new or additional nuances as time passes. The scenes with Billy, for instance, may be uncomfortable today for other reasons – don’t tell your mother about the Iron Giant you talk with in the forest, it’s our secret, Billy.  Right. And again, the hyper-efficient screenplay inserts a key Plot Point here which sounds again rather uncomfortable, as the Colossus reveals to us his hidden on/off switch: “Don’t touch me there!”

    Still, better that than “the robot’s plaintive, screeching wail, which follows his initial activation.  It’s nothing short of nightmare fuel.”[16] [24]

    Another touch, no doubt intended to suggest irony, carries a different charge today.[17] [25] Jeremy, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate for his discovery of instant food (or something), becomes the Colossus who takes fascistic delight in destroying useless eaters.[18] [26] Although I suppose he could have walked across the Atlantic to attack Sweden, he instead chooses a nearer target of opportunity: the UN. (Hence, bookending the post card beginning).

    Yet less than two decades later the Prize would be awarded to such mass murderers as Henry Kissinger and Menachem Begin; and what about laureate Barack Obama, with his promises of “hope and change”? How many did he kill, figuratively sitting at the video-game controls of his own mechanical golems, the drones?[19] [27]

    This “bizarre ending” as Erickson calls it appropriately sums up all the virtues of low-budget filmmaking; as Erickson describes it:

    Art director John Goodman sketches the UN with minimal sets built around a broad checkerboard floor and a large plaque bearing a pacifist credo.[20] [28]Restricted camera angles lend this final scene a dreamlike quality, as does Eugène Lourié’s bizarre direction: the various U.N. dignitaries stand in place, waiting patiently to be fried by the cyborg’s death rays. An electronic sound effect from The War of the Worlds is repurposed for the occasion, and optical artist John P. Fulton animates the deadly ray blasts. Editor Floyd Knutson must have been left with no options for cutaways, because he’s forced to use a shot out of order and continuity: before the first female victim is zapped by a death ray, we see her already lying in place on the shiny U.N. floor. Adding to the dreamlike weirdness, nobody comes to the aid of this woman or any of the other the fallen dignitaries. (Italics mine)[21] [29]

    [30]Quite different, and much more terrifying, than something like Hitchcock’s smooth Technicolor UN. To this triumph of low-budget art, we can only add a note about the interesting detail of the checkerboard floor – quite prominent in the downward camera angle – on which the delegates stand motionless, waiting for death; it is, of course, the universal symbol of the warp of and woof from which the material universe is woven, as we’ve explored before.[22] [31]

    The capper on all this is how, after all the death and destruction, having converted his son’s admittedly tragic death into a complete international catastrophe – and think of the subsequent media firestorm – Doc Spensser just shrugs his shoulders and walks away. The End.

    Producer William Alland (March 4, 1916 – November 11, 1997)  was behind lots of the 50s horror/sci-fi/monster films, including This Island Earth [32]It Came From Outer Space [33]Tarantula [34]The Deadly Mantis [35]The Mole People [36]The Colossus of New York [37]The Space Children [38]The Creature from the Black Lagoon [39] and its two sequels.[23] [40] Director Lourié seems to have kinda specialized in the “X challenges mankind” genre, or to have at least helmed a couple more famous ones, like Beast from 20,000 Fathoms – whose Harryhausen stop-action monster attacks New York from the sea, predating Godzilla, inspiring all the rest of the 50s atomic mutant monster films, and earning a homage in Cloverfield – and, just to switch things up a bit, Gorgo, where the titular sea monster attacks London, although with less impressive results.[24] [41]

    With such creators, it’s no surprise that Colossus obviously riffs on several film/book classics, such as Frankenstein and perhaps Metropolis. Its most obvious debt, however, is to the mediaeval Jewish legend of the Golem [42] (Hebrew: גולם), as well as later novel and film versions such as Gustav Meyrink [43]‘s 1914 novel Der Golem [44] and especially Paul Wegener’s 1921 film [45] (actually a trilogy, of which only the first part survives); the “robot” here closely resembles Wegener’s clay figure.[25] [46]

    The latter feature is indeed a puzzle. Frankenstein built his creature from human parts but had to work on a large scale due its prototype status; on the other hand the robot Maria is Rottweg’s attempt to resurrect his dead, lost love Hel, and even today its lithe form has a certain cyborg-ish  eroticism,[26] [47] but Rottweg is as much an alchemist as a scientist, so I suppose even a postwar, vaguely Germanic scientist like Jeremy’s father (Otto Kruger) still might not have the technology available to make a human-scale robot. Operation Paperclip, Schmaperclip![27] [48]

    But still, why give him such a horrific visage, sure to scare anyone away, except a child – his son – who can be convinced he’s a fairy tale giant. Dr. Spensser has clearly modelled the head on cinematic representations of the Golem. Is this decision deliberate, or some kind of racial memory (or perhaps morphic resonance)?

    What’s really new about Colossus is the way it explores – if you can call a nightmare an “exploration” – the idea of what today might be called transhumanism[28] [49]. And thus it looks forward to Robocop, Ghost in the Shell, and perhaps Blade Runner,[29] [50] films which, perhaps because of their (relatively) big budgets, and despite their undoubted merits, fail to capture the claustrophobic nightmare of post-mortem cyborg existence quite like this queer, quirky little quickie.


    [1] [51] Known to Jim Kunstler, if no one else, as “The Golden Golem of Greatness.”

    [2] [52] You might recall that during the late campaign much was made of Hillary’s propensity to fall, fainting spells, blood clots on the brain, etc. There was even speculation that she had died already from one or another of these things and been replaced by a double, or perhaps an android, which in turn accounted for her odd behavior. Her curious affect and her daughter living in a retro-fitted medical clinic added to the speculation.

    [3] [53]Count Scary [54] was a horror-movie host in Detroit back in the 80s (and apparently still going strong) whose act was basically a rip-off from (or homage to) SCTV’s Count Floyd [55], himself, of course, already a parody of local horror-hosts like Detroit’s Sir Graves Ghastly [56] (I’m not sure if the opening of Tim Burton’s Ed Wood is a deliberate homage) or Boston’s Morgus. Both Counts specialized in dull, inane movies that they would try to hype hysterically during the breaks, although Scary’s movies were real. Now that’s really scary! While Floyd would threaten to scare the pants off you, Count Scary would sometimes literally have his pants scared off. MST3k was conceived as another homage to the vanishing world of local horror hosts.

    [4] [57] Thus, I’m not talking about cheap, black and white movies of the same time period that deliberately seek out such effects, such as The Hypnotic Eye (1960), in which a sadistic nightclub hypnotist programs his female victims to mutilate themselves in a variety of horrifying yet everyday ways (hot showers, anyone?), which I can’t look at yet doesn’t really haunt one’s memory. These films never rise above the level of Grande Guignol; I can’t understand the cult appeal of, for example, Herschel Gordon Lewis.

    [5] [58] See “A Pattern Begins to Emerge: Thoughts on Rod Serling’s Patterns,” here [59].

    [6] [60]An unusually atmospheric Sci Fi film for the time… Blu-ray: AWESOME A:9 V:10” by lathe-of-heaven [61];, 8 June 2014, here [62].

    [7] [63] Of a similar effect at the start of an Ed Wood film, one of the MST3k crew observed: “New York, the city that never moves.” By contrast, when Bert I. Gordon has “giant” grasshoppers crawl up a postcard of the Chicago skyline [64] in the contemporaneous Beginning of the End (1957), it’s just stupid.

    [8] [65] “The music consists of flamenco guitar and piano riffs, in vaguely free-form jazz cues which, although hauntingly beautiful, evoke no excitement or dramatic tension whatsoever. The mournful, almost avant-garde music emphasizes the alien texture of the film, and makes the most dramatic and tense scenes seem dreamy and unreal, in effect a modern incarnation of the “melancholy chants” used in the Osiris death ritual. Jail Bait’s opening titles roll as a Nash police cruiser prowls a busy Alhambra, California, street at night, while dreamy jazz music plays, setting the stage not for a gripping crime melodrama, but a weird spiritual tale in some modern purgatory.” Rob Craig, Ed Wood, Mad Genius: A Critical Study of the Films [66] (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2009); see my review here [67].

    [9] [68] “The piano score by Van Cleave is both unusual and haunting, especially during the tense scenes between creation and creator/father.” DVD Review. “Van Cleave’s subdued piano-based score contributes to an overwhelming sense of dread.” Cinematic Catharsis [69]. “The Colossus of New York is one of the stranger entries into the 1950’s and 60’s wave of films with monsters and aliens on the rampage, with a distinctly serious, almost pious tone, due in no small part by the unique score by noted television composer Van Cleave, harking back to the silent era with solo piano creating the mood and tension without the histrionics of wailing theremins and huge fruity string sections. Horrorpedia, op. cit.

    [10] [70] Blu-ray review by Glenn Erickson, Turner Classic Movies, now online here [71].

    [11] [72] Given the geography, I assume one is the Hudson River, the other the East River, but as we’ll see it’s just the same tank anyway.

    [12] [73] Erickson, op. cit.

    [13] [74] One might also note the prominence of the UN, as in another Hitchcock film, next year’s North by Northwest. Oddly enough, the UN wouldn’t let Hitch film there, so his UN is a combination of “rogue” shooting (when the goons pull up outside in their cab) without permission, and Hollywood sets, just like Colossus with a bigger budget.

    [14] [75] T. S. Eliot, “Gerontion.”

    [15] [76] 1964; later expanded and reprinted in the USA as Chords and Discords/Colin Wilson on Music, in which see pp. 12-12.

    [16] [77] Cinematic Catharsis, op. cit [19].

    [17] [78] “The bizarre ending carries an uncomfortable subversive charge: a philanthropic recipient of the Peace Prize commits a massacre at the United Nations.” –Erickson, op. cit.

    [18] [79] “The Colossus also has political leanings; he loses interest in his humanitarian mission to feed the world, declaring, “Why create food for the maimed, the useless and the sick? Why should we work to preserve the slum people of the world? Isn’t it simpler and wiser to get rid of them instead?” He adds: “We must eliminate the idealists.” Horropedia, op. cit.

    [19] [80] Watch Obama joke about droning some folks here [81].

    [20] [82] “The Colossus stands before an even larger mural with the inscription from the Book of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Horrorpedia)

    [21] [83] Erickson, op. cit.

    [22] [84] See René Guénon, The Multiple States of the Being and The Symbolism of the Cross. Neville: “Think of the vertical line of the cross as the line of being upon which there are unnumbered levels of awareness” and “The Bible’s teaching is one of rising higher and higher in consciousness until rebirth occurs. There is but one purpose in life, and that is to rise higher and higher on the vertical bar of the cross.” (op. cit.).  See also my discussion of the checkerboard floor in Henry James’ “The Jolly Corner” in “The Corner at the Center of the World” in The Eldritch Evola … & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014) and the pigeon-holes in Fred Hoyle’s October the First is Too Late(reviewed here [85]).

    [23] [86] “Alland is also remembered for his acting role as reporter Thompson who investigates the meaning of “Rosebud” in Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane [87] (1941).  In addition to his role as Thompson in Citizen Kane [87], Alland announces the “News on the March” newsreel segment, a spoof of the then-popular March of Time [88] newsreels. In later years, Alland twice provided voiceovers for pastiches of this News on the March segment: once for the 1974 Orson Welles film F for Fake [89] and again for a 1991 Arena documentary for the BBC titled The Complete Citizen Kane.” (Wikipedia [90])

    [24] [91]Gorgo is so dire it earned the MST3k treatment, though mainly for being so bloody British about things. It also had the misfortune to “star” the infamous William Sylvester, an American “actor” who specialized in playing Americans in Brit movies; so great is his transatlantic blanditude that no less than two others of his films earned the same treatment: Riding with Death (two episodes of a failed TV series slapped together for theatrical release) and most notably, Devil Doll, where he is out-acted by the title character. Of course, blandness was exactly what Stanley Kubrick was after, and I like to imagine a rainy London afternoon screening of Devil Doll in which, near the end, Kubrick leaps up and shouts “Heywood Floyd and Bowman’s father – the cast of 2001 is complete!”

    [25] [92] Cinematic Catharsis has a nice, recent review here [93].

    [26] [94] “And of course, Metropolis’s robot is irresistibly seductive, with her sashaying hips and art deco fetish-gear bodywork.” Steve Rose, “Ex Machina and sci-fi’s obsession with sexy female robots,” The Guardian, 15 Jan. 2015, here [95].

    [27] [96] See Jason Reza Jorjani’s “Black Sunrise” in his Lovers of Sophia (Manticore, 2017). The Colossus’ development of extra-sensory perception and death rays also speaks to Jorjani’s interests.

    [28] [97] And like everything else, there’s a YouTube video [11], as previously noted.

    [29] [98] See Trevor Lynch on Blade Runner here [99]. Gregory Hood suggests the recent Lone Ranger remake is a take on Robocop here [100]. I thought that Jason Reza Jorjani discusses Ghost in the Shell in his Prometheus and Atlas (London: Arktos, 2016), but I can’t find it in his chapter on Japan and anime, though his conclusion that “It is in Japan where, unburdened by the Judeo-Christian heritage, visionary artists have best crystallized transformative images of the coming metamorphosis of the merely human being into a  more diabolically daring and dynamic superhuman race, destined to liberate a capriciously ruled cosmos and conquer the inner space of latent psychic powers” is a pretty good summary of what Jeremy’s surgeon father and robotics expert brother have in mind.

    (Review Source)
  • More on Henry James & H. P. Lovecraft The Princess & the Maggot
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    Henry James, in a 1913 charcoal sketch by John Singer Sargent.

    4,592 words

    Although apparently written back in 2008, long before I began writing about James and Lovecraft [2], I only recently stumbled across this quote from pioneer Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi, which might be said to encapsulate my concern in this series of articles:

    The history of Lovecraft’s reputation—his initial rejection by Edmund Wilson and others as a pulp hack; the championing of his work by Derleth, Fritz Leiber, and George T. Wetzel; the revolution in scholarship as a result of the work of such critics as Dirk W. Mosig and Donald R. Burleson; and his final acceptance as a canonical author with the publication of his work in Penguins Classics and the Library of America—would make for an interesting chapter in the evolution of literary taste. Lovecraft remains unique in being simultaneously a figure commanding respect among highbrow critics and a significant figure in popular culture, the source of films, role-playing games, and other media adoptions.[1]

    Having just read Maxwell Geismar’s admittedly idiosyncratic Henry James and the Jacobites,[2] a futile and almost obsessive attempt from the early ’60s to “cry stinking fish” and deflate the effete James “fad” in the name of an alternative American tradition of manly Marxists like Twain, Wolfe, and London, it struck me that, allowing for Joshi’s justifiable boosterism, there was at least one other author, an America author, an author of (for at least part of) the same 20th century, that could tell the same story: Henry James.

    While James certainly never thought of himself as a pulp or other genre writer, his reputation had many more ups and downs over his lifetime than his secure place in the literary Pantheon today would lead you to expect (for example, publishers thought a Collected Edition was called for, but it was a legendary dud). And after his death, he was as forgotten as Lovecraft always was, dismissed as both a hack (his melodramatic plots) and as possessing an unreadable verbose and precious style.

    Then, a new generation of critics, led by the partisans of the so-called “New Criticism” discovered James for their own purposes, elevated him into “The Master,” and even cobbled together an aesthetic for the novel from his self-serving Prefaces he added to that collected edition. James was part of the Penguin Modern Classics from the beginning, along with the Library of America. One might even compare the mammoth editing and biographical work of Leon Edel to Joshi himself.

    As for popular media, James has long become a staple of the Merchant-Ivory film or Masterpiece Theatre TV genres, and my copy of “The Turn of the Screw” has an appendix listing three pages of various adaptations, including operas—although I must grant Joshi that no role-playing games have appeared.

    With this parallel in mind, I’d like to explore some additional similarities of their lives and careers as reflected in their writings—admittedly, in a rather chiastic fashion—by taking a look at an early Lovecraft tale, and an early James novel, as James reflects on it years later.

    My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration in the teeming labyrinths of ancient streets that twist endlessly from forgotten courts and squares and waterfronts to courts and squares and waterfronts equally forgotten, and in the Cyclopean modern towers and pinnacles that rise blackly Babylonian under waning moons, I had found instead only a sense of horror and oppression which threatened to master, paralyze, and annihilate me.—“He,” 1925

    Although permanently associated with New England (his gravestone reads “I am Providence”) Lovecraft’s life, and work, took a weird turn in 30s, when for reasons still unclear he married one Sonia Greene, a Russian Jewish immigrant, and moved to Brooklyn, New York. She promptly lost her job and left for the Midwest to find work, leaving Lovecraft to shift for himself, unemployed and unemployable, until his return to Providence in 1926.

    Surrounded by alien beings—”I’ll be shot if three out of every four persons—nay, full nine out of every ten—weren’t flabby, pungent, grinning, chattering niggers! Help!”[3]—Lovecraft consoled himself with visits to a handful of simpatico friends, such as Samuel Loveman, and long, sometimes all-night walks among such districts as preserved enough Federal architecture to spur his historical interests. “He” was the result of one such walk, that started in Brooklyn and ended, next morning, in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

    [3]During his increasingly desperate stay, he composed a whole series of stories reflecting his traumatic life in New York—recently collected, with photos of the actual locales, as From the Pest Zone.[4] These stories, such as “The Horror at Red Hook” and the one we are looking at, “He,” were something new for Lovecraft; more, shall we say, “Lovecraftian.” As Michel Houellebeq says in his invaluable monograph H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life:

    New York had marked him definitively. His hatred for the “stinking, amorphous hybridity” of this modern Babel, for the “giant strangers, ill-born and deformed, who gabble and shout vulgarly, destitute of dreams, within its confines” did not cease, during the course of 1925, to exasperate him to the point of delirium. Once might even say that one of the fundamental figures of his work—the idea of a titanic and grandiose city, in the fundaments of which swarm repugnant creatures of nightmare—was inspired directly by his experience of New York.[5]

     New York helped him. He, who was so polite, so courteous, had discovered hate. Returning to Providence he composed magnificent stories, vibrant like incantations, precise as dissections.[6]

    Indeed, it was soon after his return to Providence that he produced . . . “The Call of Cthulhu.”

    Here we reach the first of our chiastic parallels: Lovecraft left New England for New York; James left New York for (Old) England.

    Of course, there are more than few important differences. James, for one, was already an established author, although in the early period we’ll be looking at he had had a string of “bombs” and would eventually face utter defeat and even public humiliation (booed from the stage on opening night) when he attempted a new career in drama.

    James was fleeing what he judged to be a colonial culture too “thin” to really produce art (see his infamous essay on Hawthorne, where he lists all the things America lacks). Lovecraft would have demurred, but as a dogmatic “materialist,” he by no means agreed with his Puritan ancestors’ theology; he merely respected them for sternly believing in something. In any event, the “New” England Lovecraft loved was definitely rooted in the 17th century England he took as his literary and intellectual model. As we shall see, when James returned to New York many years later, he found it as loathsome as Lovecraft did.

    Moreover, Geismar emphasizes that James’ idea of “England” was largely imaginary, as literature-inspired as the hermetic Lovecraft’s ideas of everywhere outside Providence, and so he was just as likely to find the reality, at least at first, to be alien. And he had the artistic skill to be able to imagine what London, or any great metropolis, would be like to someone who lacked the “entrée” James had through his money, fame, and family connections—everything Lovecraft lacked.

    In short, Lovecraft idolized the “England” of New England, while James left New York, and America, precisely to immerse himself in a similarly unreal Albion of the mind.

    While Joshi has covered more than adequately the background of nearly hysterical street wandering out of which “He” emerged, we have in the case of James his own account, in the “Preface” included in the doomed New York Edition, of the circumstances in which The Princess Casamassima came to be.

     The simplest account of the origin of The Princess Casamassima is, I think, that this fiction proceeded quite directly, during the first year of a long residence in London, from the habit and the interest of walking the streets. I walked a great deal—for exercise, for amusement, for acquisition, and above all I always walked home at the evening’s end, when the evening had been spent elsewhere, as happened more often than not; and as to do this was to receive many impressions, so the impressions worked and sought an issue, so the book after a time was born. It is a fact that, as I look back, the attentive exploration of London, the assault directly made by the great city upon an imagination quick to react, fully explains a large part of it. There is a minor element that refers itself to another source, of which I shall presently speak; but the prime idea was unmistakeably the ripe round fruit of perambulation. One walked of course with one’s eyes greatly open, and I hasten to declare that such a practice, carried on for a long time and over a considerable space, positively provokes, all round, a mystic solicitation, the urgent appeal, on the part of everything, to be interpreted and, so far as may be, reproduced. “Subjects” and situations, character and history, the tragedy and comedy of life, are things of which the common air, in such conditions, seems pungently to taste; and to a mind curious, before the human scene, of meanings and revelations the great grey Babylon easily becomes, on its face, a garden bristling with an immense illustrative flora. Possible stories, presentable figures, rise from the thick jungle as the observer moves, fluttering up like startled game, and before he knows it indeed he has fairly to guard himself against the brush of importunate wings. He goes on as with his head in a cloud of humming presences—especially during the younger, the initiatory time, the fresh, the sharply-apprehensive months or years, more or less numerous. We use our material up, we use up even the thick tribute of the London streets—if perception and attention but sufficiently light our steps. But I think of them as lasting, for myself, quite sufficiently long; I think of them as even still—dreadfully changed for the worse in respect to any romantic idea as I find them—breaking out on occasion into eloquence, throwing out deep notes from their vast vague murmur.

    There was a moment at any rate when they offered me no image more vivid than that of some individual sensitive nature or fine mind, some small obscure intelligent creature whose education should have been almost wholly derived from them, capable of profiting by all the civilisation, all the accumulations to which they testify, yet condemned to see these things only from outside—in mere quickened consideration, mere wistfulness and envy and despair. It seemed to me I had only to imagine such a spirit intent enough and troubled enough, and to place it in presence of the comings and goings, the great gregarious company, of the more fortunate than himself—all on the scale on which London could show them—to get possession of an interesting theme. I arrived so at the history of little Hyacinth Robinson—he sprang up for me out of the London pavement. To find his possible adventure interesting I had only to conceive his watching the same public show, the same innumerable appearances, I had watched myself, and of his watching very much as I had watched; save indeed for one little difference. This difference would be that so far as all the swarming facts should speak of freedom and ease, knowledge and power, money, opportunity and satiety, he should be able to revolve round them but at the most respectful of distances and with every door of approach shut in his face. For one’s self, all conveniently, there had been doors that opened—opened into light and warmth and cheer, into good and charming relations; and if the place as a whole lay heavy on one’s consciousness there was yet always for relief this implication of one’s own lucky share of the freedom and ease, lucky acquaintance with the number of lurking springs at light pressure of which particular vistas would begin to recede, great lighted, furnished, peopled galleries, sending forth gusts of agreeable sound. . . .

    Truly, of course, there are London mysteries (dense categories of dark arcana) for every spectator, and it ‘s in a degree an exclusion and a state of weakness to be without experience of the meaner conditions, the lower manners and types, the general sordid struggle, the weight of the burden of labour, the ignorance, the misery and the vice. With such matters as those my tormented young man would have had contact—they would have formed, fundamentally, from the first, his natural and immediate London. But the reward of a romantic curiosity would be the question of what the total assault, that of the world of his work-a-day life and the world of his divination and his envy together, would have made of him, and what in especial he would have made of them. As tormented, I say, I thought of him, and that would be the point—if one could only see him feel enough to be interesting without his feeling so much as not to be natural.[7]

    I’ve taken the liberty of italicizing the particularly “Lovecraftian” wording. James seems to have verily conjured up in his powerful imagination the near destitute, near starving, near friendless (though technically “married” and with many correspondents) Lovecraft. What James makes of Hyacinth, what he imagines Hyacinth would make of himself in such a position, is an anarchist; his imagination, though powerful, was, as Geismar insists, too snobbish to let him imagine someone like Lovecraft who could have picked himself up, returned to Providence, and used his experience to make himself a writer; a writer, perhaps, like Henry James.

    The other notable thing about “He” is the famous “racism.”[8] Lovecraft loathes the buildings and streets, but also, perhaps more so, the people in them. You could say he loathes the mongrel New Yorkers first and last; in that same opening passage:

     [T]he throngs of people that seethed through the flume-like streets were squat, swarthy strangers with hardened faces and narrow eyes, shrewd strangers without dreams and without kinship to the scenes about them, who could never mean aught to a blue-eyed man of the old folk, with the love of fair green lanes and white New England village steeples in his heart.

     And in the climactic, terrifying vision of the Babylon of the future from “He”:

     I saw the heavens verminous with strange flying things, and beneath them a hellish black city of giant stone terraces with impious pyramids flung savagely to the moon, and devil-lights burning from unnumbered windows. And swarming loathsomely on aërial galleries I saw the yellow, squint-eyed people of that city, robed horribly in orange and red, and dancing insanely to the pounding of fevered kettle-drums, the clatter of obscene crotala, and the maniacal moaning of muted horns whose ceaseless dirges rose and fell undulantly like the waves of an unhallowed ocean of bitumen.

    Lovecraft loathed New York’s “multicultural tapestry” (and any New Yorker of today will recognize those pounding drums, from subway platforms to parks to “Occupy Wall Street”). “Whenever we found ourselves in the racially mixed crowds which characterize New York, Howard would become livid with rage,” Greene later wrote. “He seemed almost to lose his mind.”[9]

    When you see my new tale “The Horror at Red Hook,” you will see what I make of this idea in connexion with the gangs of young loafers and herds of evil-looking foreigners that one sees everywhere.[10]

    New York is dead, and the brilliancy which so impresses one from the outside is the phosphorescence of a maggoty corpse.[11]

    James’s London, though the center of a world-wide empire, was still sufficiently White to afford no such horrors; it was still at least if one had, like James, entrée to the right circles. “The Great Good Place” is perhaps the reductio ad absurdum of James’s idea of Paradise as a well-appointed London club.

    But James, near the end of his career, returned to New York, and found that “all had changed, changed utterly,” as Yeats might have said. In the relevant chapters of The American Scene James records his incomprehension and horror, again in very recognizably Lovecraftian terms which I have italicized:

     One’s supreme relation, as one had always put it, was one’s relation to one’s country—a conception made up so largely of one’s countrymen and one’s countrywomen. Thus it was as if, all the while, with such a fond tradition of what these products predominantly were, the idea of the country itself underwent something of that profane overhauling through which it appears to suffer the indignity of change. Is not our instinct in this matter, in general, essentially the safe one—that of keeping the idea simple and strong and continuous, so that it shall be perfectly sound? To touch it overmuch, to pull it about, is to put it in peril of weakening; yet on this free assault upon it, this readjustment of it in their monstrous, presumptuous interest, the aliens, in New York, seemed perpetually to insist. The combination there of their quantity and their quality—that loud primary stage of alienism which New York most offers to sight—operates, for the native, as their note of settled possession, something they have nobody to thank for; so that unsettled possession is what we, on our side, seem reduced to—the implication of which, in its turn, is that, to recover confidence and regain lost ground, we, not they, must make the surrender and accept the orientation. . . .

    The carful, again and again, is a foreign carful; a row of faces, up and down, testifying, without exception, to alienism unmistakable, alienism undisguised and unashamed. You do here, in a manner perhaps, discriminate; the launched condition, as I have called it, is more developed in some types than in others; but I remember observing how, in the Broadway and the Bowery conveyances in especial, they tended, almost alike, to make the observer gasp with the sense of isolation. It was not for this that the observer on whose behalf I more particularly write had sought to take up again the sweet sense of the natal air.[12]

    And of course, the most alien are the Jews, who call to mind nothing so much as the fish-spawn of Lovecraft’s Innsmouth:

     The sense of this quality was already strong in my drive, with a companion, through the long, warm June twilight, from a comparatively conventional neighbourhood; it was the sense, after all, of a great swarming, a swarming that had begun to thicken, infinitely, as soon as we had crossed to the East side and long before we had got to Rutgers Street. There is no swarming like that of Israel when once Israel has got a start, and the scene here bristled, at every step, with the signs and sounds, immitigable, unmistakable, of a Jewry that had burst all bounds. That it has burst all bounds in New York, almost any combination of figures or of objects taken at hazard sufficiently proclaims; but I remember how the rising waters, on this summer night, rose, to the imagination, even above the housetops and seemed to sound their murmur to the pale distant stars. It was as if we had been thus, in the crowded, hustled roadway, where multiplication, multiplication of everything, was the dominant note, at the bottom of some vast sallow aquarium in which innumerable fish, of over-developed proboscis, were to bump together, for ever, amid heaped spoils of the sea. . . .

    There are small strange animals, known to natural history, snakes or worms, I believe, who, when cut into pieces, wriggle away contentedly and live in the snippet as completely as in the whole. So the denizens of the New York Ghetto, heaped as thick as the splinters on the table of a glass-blower, had each, like the fine glass particle, his or her individual share of the whole hard glitter of Israel. This diffused intensity, as I have called it, causes any array of Jews to resemble (if I may be allowed another image) some long nocturnal street where every window in every house shows a maintained light. The advanced age of so many of the figures, the ubiquity of the children, carried out in fact this analogy; they were all there for race, and not, as it were, for reason: that excess of lurid meaning, in some of the old men’s and old women’s faces in particular, would have been absurd, in the conditions, as a really directed attention—it could only be the gathered past of Israel mechanically pushing through. The way, at the same time, this chapter of history did, all that evening, seem to push, was a matter that made the “ethnic” apparition again sit like a skeleton at the feast. It was fairly as if I could see the spectre grin while the talk of the hour gave me, across the board, facts and figures, chapter and verse, for the extent of the Hebrew conquest of New York. . . .

    Phantasmagoric for me, accordingly, in a high degree, are the interesting hours I here glance at content to remain—setting in this respect, I recognize, an excellent example to all the rest of the New York phantasmagoria. Let me speak of the remainder only as phantasmagoric too, so that I may both the more kindly recall it and the sooner have done with it.[13]

     The very “scientific” nature of the change, what others might laud with the cliché of “the march of progress” paradoxically emphasizes the ancient Babylonian aspect, rather like Lang’s Metropolis recalls Moloch—scientific progress as a genocidal trap:

     I remember the evolved fire-proof staircase, a thing of scientific surfaces, impenetrable to the microbe, and above all plated, against side friction, with white marble of a goodly grain. The white marble was surely the New Jerusalem note, and we followed that note, up and down the district, the rest of the evening, through more happy changes than I may take time to count. What struck me in the flaring streets (over and beyond the everywhere insistent, defiant, unhumorous, exotic face) was the blaze of the shops addressed to the New Jerusalem wants and the splendour with which these were taken for granted; the only thing indeed a little ambiguous was just this look of the trap too brilliantly, too candidly baited for the wary side of Israel itself. It is not for Israel, in general, that Israel so artfully shines—yet its being moved to do so, at last, in that luxurious style, might be precisely the grand side of the city of redemption. Who can ever tell, moreover, in any conditions and in presence of any apparent anomaly, what the genius of Israel may, or may not, really be “up to”?[14]

    The New Jerusalem is the New Babylon enslaving the former masters.

    So finally, James came to the realization that his New York, revisited after years abroad, had changed as much, become as alienated a maggot-ridden corpse, as Lovecraft’s New York of the near and distant Future; returning now to the beginning of Lovecraft’s story, do we not hear the Jamesian voice?

    So instead of the poems I had hoped for, there came only a shuddering blankness and ineffable loneliness; and I saw at last a fearful truth which no one had ever dared to breathe before—the unwhisperable secret of secrets—the fact that this city of stone and stridor is not a sentient perpetuation of Old New York as London is of Old London and Paris of Old Paris, but that it is in fact quite dead, its sprawling body imperfectly embalmed and infested with queer animate things which have nothing to do with it as it was in life. Upon making this discovery I ceased to sleep comfortably; though something of resigned tranquility came back as I gradually formed the habit of keeping off the streets by day and venturing abroad only at night, when darkness calls forth what little of the past still hovers wraith-like about, and old white doorways remember the stalwart forms that once passed through them. With this mode of relief I even wrote a few poems, and still refrained from going home to my people lest I seem to crawl back ignobly in defeat.—“He”

    One measure of how the cultural climate has changed—and not to Lovecraft’s advantage—is that such passages as the ones in James could be published not by some squalid pulp magazine, but by Harper in 1904, and republished by Scribner in 1944, and today in the Library of America, and reprinted and excerpted in critical works ever since—without any real outrage or even notice (even from Auden, in his introduction to the 1944 reprint) except from the aforementioned Geismar, who sneers at James’s unmanly whining about his elite group being shoved aside, rather than joining the New Americans on the right side of History. (Before attacking the effete James “cult” in the ’60s, Geismar had been instrumental in returning Jack London to critical favor, in the process needing to provide a similar though more forgiving Freudian interpretation of his “racism”—see Rebels and Ancestors: The American Novel 1890-1915.[15])

    “Lovecraft’s racism,” by contrast, is a research theme in itself, constantly condemned or exculpated; Joshi’s short note to “He” in the collection cited finds room to warn that it is “disturbingly racist,”[16] and dealing with an earlier story he denigrates Lovecraft’s obvious distinction between earlier English and Dutch immigrants, what might be called the Founding Race, and the later “wretched refuse” as a “sophism” that allows him to recast the latter as “maggots.”[17]

    James’ New York experience produced, of course, stories of his own, one of which, “The Jolly Corner,” is not only perhaps his last good work, but also one of his “ghost stories,” frequently anthologized alongside Lovecraft. In this tale, the narrator does not so bluntly “gasp” at the swarming aliens; in good WASP fashion, he has retreated to his ancestral townhouse, where he directs his loathing inward. By this time, his loathing of what New York had become had extended to a loathing of what—he—might have become if New York had claimed him.

    But that will be the subject of another essay.


    1. S. T. Joshi, “Introduction” to H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction (New York: Barnes & Noble, 2008).

    2. Published in England as Henry James and His Cult (London: Chatto and Windus, 1964).

    3. H. P. Lovecraft, Lord of Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters, ed. S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2000), p. 179.

    4. H. P. Lovecraft, From The Pest Zone: Stories From New York edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz (New York: Hippocampus Press, 2003).

    5. Michel Houellebeq, H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (New York: McSweeney’s, 2005), p. 32.

    6.  Houellebeq, p. 37.

    7. Henry James, The Art of the Novel: Critical Prefaces with an introduction by R. P. Blackmur (New York: Scribner’s, 1934), pp. 59–61, 61–62.

    8. See the letters collected by A. Trumbo as “The Racial Worldview of H. P. Lovecraft” at Counter-Currents: Part One [4], Part Two [5], Part Three [6].

    9. Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos (New York: Ballantine Books, 1972), p. 45.

    10. Lovecraft, Lord of Visible World, p. 176.

    11. Lovecraft, Lord of Visible World, p. 198.

    12. Henry James, The American Scene (London, Chapman & Hall, 1907), pp. 85–86, 125.

    13. Henry James, The American Scene, pp. 131–32.

    14. Henry James, The American Scene, p.135.

    15. Maxwell Geismar, Rebels and Ancestors: The American Novel 1890–1915 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953).

    16. H. P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction, p. 332.

    17. S. T. Joshi, A Dreamer and a Visionary: H. P. Lovecraft in his Time (Liverpool, UK: Liverpool University Press, 2001) p. 224.

    Source: [7]


    (Review Source)
  • The Holy Mountain, Part 1
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    [1]4,959 words

    Part 1 of 2

    1. Introduction: “A Lofty Humanity and Eternal Blondeness”

    The Holy Mountain [2] (Der Heilige Berg, 1926) is the greatest of the German “mountain films” and the prototype for all the rest. My review [3] of the recent film North Face [4] (Nordwand) discussed this genre, its essential characteristics, and why it should be of interest to readers of Counter-Currents.

    The German mountain film was more or less invented by Dr. Arnold Fanck, a geologist by training. As a child, Fanck suffered from severe asthma and was sent to live in Davos, Switzerland. Not only did his condition improve, he fell in love with the Alps and, for the rest of Fanck’s life, the mountains were his obsession. During the First World War, Fanck worked for German military intelligence. An ardent nationalist, anti-Semite, and admirer of Adolf Hitler, Fanck joined the NSDAP in the 1930s.

    Since 1945, Fanck’s mountain films have often been linked by critics and film historians to the rise of National Socialism. The most notorious example of this is Siegfried Kracauer (1889–1966), a Jewish film critic for the Frankfurter Zeitung and friend of Theodor Adorno. Kracauer’s influential 1947 book From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film, argued that Fanck’s films had helped pave the way for the Nazis. Given Fanck’s sympathies, of course, Kracauer’s claim was at least partially true. However, the arguments he offers in support of it are often extremely weak. (At one point, for example, he claims that the scenes of clouds in Fanck’s Storm Over Mont Blanc [5] influenced Leni Riefenstahl’s use of clouds at the beginning of Triumph of the Will [6]; ergo, National Socialism.)


    Dr. Arnold Fanck

    In fact, the connections between the Fanck films and National Socialism were debated at the time of their release. National Socialist critics, writing in publications like Völkischer Beobachter, praised Fanck’s films as urdeutsch.[1] Leftist critics often reviled them. One wrote that The Holy Mountain was “blatant propaganda for a lofty humanity and eternal blondeness.” Another wrote, “There’s more insufferable bluster and devious, deceptive hot air here than at twenty Hitler rallies put together.”[2] (In truth, there had long been a connection between “Alpinism” and a kind of pan-German nationalism, with some alpine clubs adopting bylaws that excluded non-Aryans.)

    The Fanck films involved often dangerous location shooting that was both time-consuming and costly. His first films were documentaries with little or no commentary. Distributors considered the films so boring and naïve that none would deal with him. Fanck responded by advertising the films himself and showing them in rented halls. Unexpectedly, they caught on with the public.

    Why exactly did they become so popular with the German public? Julius Evola gives us a clue when he writes of “the generation of the crisis,” which was “by and large, is a German product”:

    Out of an obscure need for an organic, biological, and even psychic compensation, and out of an instinctive revolt against a civilization that had become synonymous with dry intellectualism, with mechanical forces, with utilitarianism, and with conformism, what has occurred is an exodus toward nature and the emergence of an absolute need for the mountain to represent that which is anti-city and anti-culture. Thus, what has arisen is a new primitivist mysticism in regard to nature and the sports practiced in nature.[3]

    In short, the mountain films were part of a reaction against modernity: against city life, against the loss of regional identity, against technology, and against all the modern forces that conspire to destroy the possibility of heroism. They were a reaffirmation of connectedness to nature, of national identity, of local folk culture, of the positive effects of struggle, of traditional conceptions of masculinity and femininity. They were a form of escape for urban Germans: escape to a realm of authentic life-affirmation and idealism.

    UFA, the major German studio, offered Fanck 300,000 marks to make a new mountain film, on condition that it have a plot. This was, ultimately, the genesis of The Holy Mountain.

    However, it is unlikely that the film would ever have been made had Leni Riefenstahl not missed a doctor’s appointment sometime in the summer of 1924. The 23-year-old Riefenstahl had already established herself as a successful interpretive dancer, thanks to the backing of producer Harry Sokal, when she suffered a knee injury which threatened to end her career. She made an appointment to see a specialist and went to the Nollendorfplatz U-bahn station to wait for the train.


    Scene from "The Mountain of Destiny"

    Across the tracks, she saw a poster of Fanck’s film Der Berg des Schicksals (Mountain of Destiny), starring Luis Trenker in his first role. Riefenstahl stood looking at the poster, transfixed. It depicted skier Hannes Schneider engaged in some dangerous maneuver. Riefenstahl’s train came and went. Forgetting about her appointment entirely, she left the station and headed to the nearest theater showing Berg des Schicksals, which she subsequently saw several more times.

    Riefenstahl was fascinated by Fanck’s icy mountain landscapes and by the obvious risks taken by all those involved in the film. She resolved that, one way or another, she would become involved in Fanck’s productions.

    Riefenstahl traveled to the Dolomites with Harry Sokal, where she fell in love with the landscape. At the Karersee Hotel a special screening of Berg des Schicksals was planned, with Luis Trenker making a personal appearance. Trenker was a former South Tirol mountain guide who had studied to be an architect. He would go on to become a director in his own right, becoming a kind of national institution in Germany. His films — with their emphasis upon the purity of rural life (especially in the mountains) and the decadence of cities – fit perfectly with National Socialist ideology. However, though he was a party member, his relationship with the regime was not always an easy one.


    Luis Trenker

    Sokal introduced Riefenstahl to Trenker, who boldly announced that she would be co-starring with him in his next mountain film. Though it is hard to imagine how he could not have been instantly charmed by her beauty and audacity, Trenker was an egomaniac who likely saw her as a threat. He was not encouraging. Undeterred, Riefenstahl took her leave of him with the words, “See you in the next film.”

    On their return to Berlin, Sokal arranged a meeting between Riefenstahl and Arnold Fanck, which took place in a café on the Kurfürstendamm. Fanck was strangely shy and subdued throughout this meeting, which Riefenstahl took as a lack of interest. She couldn’t have been more mistaken. Shortly thereafter, Fanck wrote to Trenker that Riefenstahl was “the most beautiful woman in Europe” and would soon be “the most famous woman in Germany.”[4] Fanck, a reticent and highly intellectual man, was deeply in love with the young dancer.

    Soon after their meeting, Riefenstahl went into the hospital for what turned out to be successful knee surgery. During her three-month convalescence, she received a surprise visit from Fanck, who handed her a film script inscribed with the words “The Holy Mountain: Written for the Dancer Leni Riefenstahl.” He had written it in just three days and three nights.

    One factor in Fanck’s decision to cast Riefenstahl was that Harry Sokal (who was also in love with her) had agreed to pay 25 percent of the cost of The Holy Mountain. Still, it is very clear that Fanck needed little persuasion. Once Riefenstahl was sufficiently mobile, she journeyed to Freiburg and stayed with Fanck in his mother’s home. There, she became acquainted with Fanck’s vast library and his art collection. By her own account, Fanck became her intellectual mentor. He bestowed countless gifts on her (including editions of Nietzsche), but though Riefenstahl revered Fanck, she did not love him.

    She did, however, see Trenker as a potential lover. When he arrived to begin planning the film, Fanck soon detected their mutual attraction. The result was a fistfight which Riefenstahl only managed to break up by climbing out onto the ledge of her room and threatening to jump. Fanck also apparently attempted suicide by jumping into the river. Riefenstahl worried that these conflicts and resentments had the potential to wreck their project, and her film debut.

    In the end, however, it only helped make The Holy Mountain a more powerful film. After all, the plot, as we shall see, involves a love triangle in which the most sympathetic character is a lonely, introverted man-of-the-mountains (Trenker), who imagines that his great love (Riefenstahl) has spurned him for another man. Cinematic brilliance has often been forged in the fire of off-screen conflict.

    [10]A real-life love triangle was not the only problem to beset the production of The Holy Mountain. Reading Riefenstahl’s account of things, it sometimes seems that the whole project was cursed. Cinematographer and expert skier Hans Schneeberger (with whom Riefenstahl would later be romantically involved) cracked his spine — but not before Riefenstahl broke her ankle taking skiing lessons from Schneeberger. Ernst Petersen, also an expert skier and nephew of Fanck, broke his foot. He was to play the young Vigo, the third member of the on-screen triangle. And all of these accidents occurred shortly before filming was set to begin. Things became so dire that UFA talked about canceling the whole project. In the end, filming took place over the course of two winters, since accidents and terrible weather continually created delays.

    The result, however, is not only the classic mountain film, but one of the greatest German silent films. (The fact that it has received a great deal less attention than other German films of the period has to be attributed to the presence of the controversial Riefenstahl, and the problematic “ideology” of the mountain films.)

    2. Prelude

    The Holy Mountain begins with the following notice: “The well-known sportsmen who participated in the making of The Holy Mountain ask the audience not to mistake their performances for trick photography. All shots taken outdoors were actually made in the mountains, in the most beautiful parts of the Alps, over the course of one and a half years. The big ski race is performed by German, Norwegian, and Austrian master skiers. The screenplay to this motion picture was inspired by actual events that occurred during a twenty-year period in the life of the great mountains.”[5] The reasons for this announcement are fairly obvious. Reports about the dangerous conditions under which the mountain films were made helped generate publicity, but some cynical souls expressed doubt about the authenticity of Fanck’s images. Understandably, he was indignant about this and sought to set the record straight. Indeed, virtually every “stunt” in Fanck’s films was real, and was performed by the actors themselves, not by stunt doubles.

    This opening, however, creates an odd atmosphere. All of Fanck’s films hover strangely between fantasy and reality, none more so than The Holy Mountain. Not only do the actors perform their own stunts, as we shall see they are often identified on screen by their real names. Many of them are not professional actors at all, and are identified by their actual occupations. Some (e.g. Hannes Schneider and Ernst Udet) play themselves. Stories are frequently interrupted by sporting events, which have only the most tenuous connection to the plot. And these are handled in documentary fashion, the scenes in The Holy Mountain punctuated by what amounts to sports commentary (!).

    This reflects a tension in Fanck himself between the scientist and the artist. His films are filled with reverence for science, which he portrays as fundamentally virile, but they also display the most refined poetic sensitivity. The result is that one does not have to suspend disbelief nearly as much as one does watching other films, for so much of what one sees in a Fanck film is real. And one comes away with tremendous respect for all involved. (This is something that has been forgotten by today’s purveyors of the CGI-laden action film: it just doesn’t mean as much if one knows that it was all a bloody cartoon.)[6]

    The Fanck films break down the distinction between real and ideal. They present a kind of idealized reality (not a purely fake reality, as do other films), in which real people in real danger are placed within a framework of meaning devised by the intellect and imagination of Dr. Fanck. As we shall see, this framework is rich with philosophical and psychological depth.

    [11]The first shot of The Holy Mountain is a split screen image, and it is the key to understanding the meaning of the entire film. The upper part shows a mountain range which we will see frequently throughout the film. (Within it we will find our holy mountain.) The lower part of the screen shows the sea. What we see here is the eternal masculine (the mountains) juxtaposed to the eternal feminine (the sea). This is the subject matter of The Holy Mountain.

    The film is in part a pessimistic fable on the relations between the sexes, which Fanck sees as metaphysically different. Beyond this, it is a meditation on the nature of male friendship and loyalty, which Fanck sees as imperiled by the intrusion of the feminine into the lives of men. The influence of Otto Weininger’s Sex and Character [12] (Geschlecht und Charakter) on Fanck is unmistakable here.

    However, The Holy Mountain cannot be dismissed as simply misogyny. Fanck sees the ideal as “higher” than nature, but his film celebrates nature as well. The Holy Mountain is not a call to reject the feminine. It is a dark fable affirming the inescapable yet inherently tragic nature of the male-female relation. Fanck seeks to present things as they are, not as they ought to be, and he sees tragedy woven into the fabric of human existence. Biographically, the film also clearly reflects the idealistic, introverted Fanck’s own struggle to come to terms with his desire for the the feminine.

    The opening “notice” is followed by an intertitle: “A Drama Poem with scenes from nature by Dr. Arnold Fanck. Dedicated to my late friend Dr. Hans Rhode with reverence.” (I can find no information on Rhode.) Fanck credits himself in the following way: “Nature photography: Dr. Arnold Fanck and his Freiburg School.” Here again we find Fanck presenting himself as the scientist — not just the director of a film set, but the founder of a “school.” In addition to Hans Schneeberger, Sepp Allgeier is credited as camera operator. Allgeier would later work with Riefenstahl on Triumph of the Will. The cast, including Riefenstahl, is listed under the heading “The Sportsmen” (Die Sportsleute), again breaking down the distinction between fantasy and reality. (These are not actors, these are athletes!) Only Frida Richard, as “the mother” is listed separately under “The Actress” (Die Schauspielerin).[vii]

    [13]The dramatic first shot of “The Prelude” is a close-up of Riefenstahl as the dancer Diotima, eyes closed. Then we see her on the rocks beside the sea. “There, where the rock falls steeply and defiantly into the surf . . . is her home — ”

    These rocky, desolate sequences were shot in Heligoland (in German, Helgoland) a small German archipelago in the North Sea. The local population are ethnic Frisians who speak their own dialect of the North Frisian language, called Halunder.

    Heligoland was originally called Heyligeland, and “Heylige” in modern German is “Heilige,” “holy,” as in the title of our film, Heilige Berg. So, Diotima dances in a holy land by the ocean, just as later we will see that the male protagonist’s world is Monte Santo, the holy mountain. Both sea and mountain, masculine and feminine, are divine objects. (Incidentally, Heligoland was probably named such because of its association with the Norse god Forsetti, a god of justice.)

    Fanck shows us a double exposure of Diotima against the water: “The sea is her love, wild – boundless. But her life is her dance – the expression of her stormy soul.”

    [14]And now Riefenstahl begins to dance. Opinions differ on the quality of her dancing, some seeing it as beautiful, others as awkward and strange (one Amazon reviewer of the DVD described it as “galumphing”). Adolf Hitler belonged to the former camp, telling one of his adjutants that “The most beautiful thing I have ever seen in a film was Riefenstahl’s dance on the sea in The Holy Mountain.” Hitler later repeated this judgment to Riefenstahl.[8] An intertitle reads at this point “Diotima’s Dance to the sea — Diotima: Dancer Leni Riefenstahl.” Apparently, Fanck lowered a violinist down the cliff so that Riefenstahl could dance to live music (though she reported that she could barely hear him play over the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks). Fanck’s direction of this scene is truly impressive, especially his use of slow motion.

    In The Metaphysics of Sex [15], Julius Evola notes that “the waters” are a traditional, esoteric symbol for the feminine:

    The Waters embody various meanings; first they represent the undifferentiated life prior to and not yet fixed in form; second, they symbolize that which runs or flows and is therefore unstable and changeable, hence the principle of everything that submits to procreation and becoming in the unpredictable world, which was called sublunar by the ancients; last, they also represent the principle of all fertility and growth according to the analogy of water’s fertilizing action on earth and soil.

    Evola continues, linking the waters to the “horizontal” principle, which stands opposed to the vertical, “the category of ‘standing’ or ékhein in the specific sense of standing up or standing straight; this association with the male principle was expressed in ancient times by the phallic and ithyphallic symbolism of the erect penis.”[9] Obviously, the “vertical” principle is represented in the film by the holy mountain itself, with which the male protagonist is closely associated. (It is not much of a stretch, furthermore, to see a mountain as an ithyphallic symbol.)

    This is also probably as good a place as any to say something about the name “Diotima” itself. Fanck lifted this name, of course, from Plato’s Symposium [16], in which Socrates tells the story of how he was tutored in the nature of love and beauty by a wisewoman, Diotima of Mantinea (her name literally means “honored by the god”). Our only source for Diotima is Plato’s dialogue, in which the only other piece of information given about her is that she saved the Athenians from a plague by telling them what sacrifices to make. Scholars have long debated whether she was an actual person or a fictitious one, but no one really knows for sure. (For our purposes this doesn’t matter, but given that virtually every other character name in Plato’s dialogues has turned out to be the name of an actual person, there is a high likelihood that she really existed.) It is Diotima who expounds, in a “flashback,” the famous “ladder of beauty.”

    As we shall see, the Diotima of the film is obsessed by beauty. When she refers to it in Fanck’s dialogue, much later in the film, she does not use the more natural Schönheit, but instead the rather “platonic” das Schöne (The Beautiful). In the dialogue, Diotima’s “ladder of beauty” is a way to insight into the nature of the beautiful as such, which Plato believed to be an eternal Form transcending nature. The first step on the ladder involves seeing beauty in some body or other. One then graduates to seeing beauty in all bodies. This is followed by a still higher achievement: recognizing beauty in a human soul. One then finds beauty in such things as institutions and laws, then in various kinds of knowledge, whereupon the lover “is turned to the great sea of beauty, and, gazing upon this, he gives birth to many gloriously beautiful ideas and theories, in unstinting love of wisdom [philosophia], until, having grown and been strengthened there, he catches sight of . . . something wonderfully beautiful in its nature.”[10]

    Unike the Diotima of the dialogue, however, the one in the film is not a wisewoman. She is naïve and unconsciously destructive. Further, she appears to be caught at a lower level of the “ladder”: obsessed by physical beauty; the beauty of nature. Throughout the film, she continually yearns to be “taken up” onto the mountain by the male protagonist, whom she takes as her lover. In the end, we will see that Diotima’s encounter with him represents her overcoming of the obsession with physical beauty, and her turn toward the beauty of the soul. Her love for him, and her eventual ascent up the mountain, represent her own ladder of beauty. On one level, the film thus tells the story of the education of Diotima – of her attainment of wisdom, at great cost to herself, and others.

    [17]To return to our story, looking out over the water Riefenstahl’s Diotima catches sight of something that is indeed wonderfully beautiful: she sees the mountains over the sea (that trick shot again), and then a man (Luis Trenker) standing at the edge of a cliff. We see him in profile against the clouds, reminiscent of the famous Caspar David Friedrich painting “The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog.” His profile and bearing are extraordinarily dignified and noble.

    An intertitle tells us: “And so Diotima dances . . . dances to satiate her longing for him — whom she has seen only in her dreams – atop the highest mountain peak.” The eternal horizontal has now encountered the eternal vertical: the cinematic Diotima has caught sight of the Ideal above nature – though only for a brief, uncomprehended moment.

    Thus ends the “Prelude” to the film.

    In The Metaphysics of Sex [15], Evola discusses the Tantric duality of Shiva and Shakti at length. He tells us that Shiva, the primordial male principle, has an “Olympian” character. Shakti, his consort, represents the “energy of all becoming and all motion.” Further:

    [A] non-acting originating function is attributed to the male, to Shiva; he determines motion and awakens Shakti; only the latter, however, truly acts, moves, and generates. . . . Shiva is present in the unchangeable, conscious, spiritual, and stable aspect, while Shakti is present in the changeable, unconscious-vital, natural, and dynamic aspect of everything that exists.[11]

    For Evola, Tantra here expresses the Traditional conception of the masculine and the feminine – which is the reverse of how things are seen in the Kali Yuga, in which it is the male who is supposed to be “active” (all busi-ness), and the female “passive.” The Holy Mountain reflects the traditional conception: it is the man on the mountain – solitary, Olympian, spiritually virile — who awakens Diotima, the personification of life, fecundity, and energy.

    3. “Two friends from the mountains.”


    Ernst Petersen and Luis Trenker

    We now see the mysterious object of Diotima’s love on a high, jutting rock, accompanied by a younger man. Curiously, Luis Trenker’s character is never identified by name in the entire film. He is referred to only as “the Friend.” (Some adulterated, foreign versions of the film give him a name, however.) An intertitle reads as follows “The Friend — Engineer Trenker.” The “engineer” is a reference to Trenker’s training as an architect. This is a curious way to identify an actor, as is the omission of his first name (Kino’s American-release DVD “corrects” this).

    With him is young Ernst Petersen in the role of “Vigo” (usually “Viggo,” this is a common Scandinavian name meaning “warlike”). His intertitle reads “Vigo — Medical Student Petersen,” apparently because Ernst Petersen was attending medical school when he wasn’t appearing in mountain films. (I can find almost nothing about Petersen, aside from one source which claims that he died in 1930.)

    Trenker has handsome, chiseled features, but his face also has a brutal quality and the capacity to seem quite dark and sinister at times. By contrast, Petersen has an extremely boyish, almost neotenous quality and appears to be no more than 18 or 19 years old (Trenker was 32 in 1924).

    The scene then shifts to the Grand Hotel (the specific location is never stated in the film, but it is Zermatt). Vigo and the Friend have now descended from their mountain perch and while Vigo goes off on his own, the Friend enters the hotel. He sees a poster with a lovely picture of Riefenstahl, announcing that Diotima will dance on the stage of the Grand Hotel that very evening. The Friend is captivated by Diotima’s image. He seems both enchanted and befuddled, as if he has never experienced such feelings before.

    [19]That evening, Vigo and the Friend attend the performance, seated together in a box. On stage, Diotima reenacts her dance by the sea (described in an intertitle as a “dance of desire”). The reactions of Vigo and the Friend are very different. Vigo seems excited, happy, and eager. Perhaps also a bit titillated. The Friend seems subdued yet emotionally moved, almost as if the performance causes him pain. Riefenstahl, wearing a gossamer gown, dances a second dance called “Dream Blossom.” And this time her performance is undeniably beautiful. At a certain point, the Friend leaves the box. Vigo, not realizing that he has left, turns and remarks “You . . . she looks like a holy one.”

    When Diotima finishes, the audience goes wild. Their hands stretch out for her in a manner strongly reminiscent of the hands stretched toward Hitler, saluting him, in Triumph of the Will. Backstage in her dressing room, Diotima asks someone “Were any people from the mountains here?”

    As if in a trance, Vigo leaves the Grand Hotel and approaches Diotima’s chauffeur-driven convertible, which waits for her at the entrance. He takes an edelweiss from his lapel and places it on the inside of the car door. Just then, Diotima emerges from the hotel, her admirers swarming around her. She sees Vigo, and notes his rustic leggings. He grins at her sheepishly, almost in a parody of bashfulness, while Diotima gets into her car and calls him over. “Did you see me dance? What did you enjoy most?” Vigo does not answer. Instead, he takes her scarf from her and puts it around his head, grinning and winking ludicrously, effeminately. Diotima finds this uproariously funny and she laughs as the car whisks her away. As she disappears into the darkness, her grinning face takes on a skull-like quality, for one fleeting moment.

    [20]Vigo’s grotesque “drag show” with the scarf is an instance of a recurring element in Fanck’s films. His chief male protagonists generally tend to be in the “Friend” mode: simple, laconic, and spiritually virile. Often, however, they are contrasted with another male who is portrayed as appealing, yet fundamentally unmasculine. One sees this same pattern in The White Hell of Piz Palü and Storm Over Mont Blanc (in which Petersen also appears in drag!). Vigo is portrayed as weaker than the Friend, and as barely more than a boy. The scene with the scarf communicates in as direct a manner as possible his androgyny and lack of masculine strength. (The Friend would never have put on such a performance!)

    An intertitle informs us: “But the friend rushes upward, high into his mountains, to become master of his overwhelming impressions.” We now see the Friend trudging up into his world of ice and snow – intercut with Diotima in her dressing room, gazing out the window at the mountains. The suggestion is that she is aware of his presence. Most of the interiors of The Holy Mountain were shot in UFA’s Berlin studios, at the exact same time that Lang’s Metropolis and Murnau’s Faust were being shot on other soundstages. The mountains outside Diotima’s window appear to be a painted studio backdrop, illuminated now and then by flashes of light.


    1. Jürgen Trimborn, Leni Riefenstahl: A Life [21], trans. Edna McCown (Faber and Faber, 2007), 36.

    2. Quoted in Trimborn, 35.

    3. Julius Evola, Meditations on the Peaks: Mountain Climbing as Metaphor for the Spiritual Quest [22], trans. Guido Stucco (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1998), 19.

    4. Quoted in Trimborn, 29.

    5. The Holy Mountain [2] was released on DVD in America in 2003 by Kino International. This restored version features intertitles newly translated into English. However, as is the case with a number of Kino’s other silent German releases, the translation is often very loose, and sometimes flat-out wrong. I have therefore re-translated many of the intertitles for this essay. Where I thought Kino’s translation adequate I have simply quoted it, as is the case with this long passage. Aside from the errors in translation, I can highly recommend this DVD. The quality of the print is excellent. The restored version with original German intertitles is available from a German company and viewable (for American audiences) only on a region-free player. However, the entire German version is currently available on YouTube (as Der Heilige Berg), divided into seven segments: [23]

    6. And this is why North Face [4], for all its technical sophistication and good intentions, ultimately fails to reproduce the excitement and immediacy of a Fanck film. (It makes up for this, however, through dramatic depth.)

    7. The original score for the film was written by Edmund Meisel, a very important figure in early European film music. However, for its DVD release Kino commissioned a new score by Alijoscha Zimmerman, perhaps because the Meisel score has been lost. Zimmerman contributed effective scores for Kino’s releases of The Golem and Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler. At first, I found his Holy Mountain score to be jarring and a trifle entartete. However, it grew on me. Zimmerman’s music for Diotima’s dances on the stage of the Grand Hotel Zermatt is particularly beautiful.

    8. Leni Riefenstahl, Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir [24], no translator credited (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992), 105.

    9. Julius Evola, The Metaphysics of Sex [15] (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1983), 119.

    10. Plato, Symposium [16], trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1989), 58 (210D-E).

    11. Evola, The Metaphysics of Sex [15], 122.

    (Review Source)
  • The White Hell of Pitz Palü, Part 1
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    [1]4,097 words

    Part 1 of 2

    1. Introduction

    The White Hell of Piz Palü (Die weisse Hölle vom Piz Palü, 1929) is considered by many to be the finest of Arnold Fanck’s mountain films. As pure cinema, this may well be the case. Though the film does not have quite the philosophical richness of Fanck’s The Holy Mountain, there is definitely more here than meets the eye. The main focus of The Holy Mountain was a quasi-Traditionalist account of the absolute metaphysical difference between the sexes, and their inherently tragic relationship.

    Piz Palü also deals, in the form of an allegory, with the relation between the sexes — but this time in their degenerated, modern form. Piz Palü, in fact, is the second installment of what I see as a trilogy of films by Fanck dealing with the nature of man and woman, and how the state of their relationship affects the health of a nation. (The third film is Storm Over Mont Blanc, 1930.) At the very end of this essay, I will offer some reflections on how these themes figure in Piz Palü.

    (This essay is the third in a series dealing with the mountain films. See my review [2] of North Face for an overview of this genre, its principal characteristics, and why it should interest readers of Counter-Currents.)

    Between 1926’s The Holy Mountain and Piz Palü, Fanck was busy with other projects. He had originally planned to follow up The Holy Mountain with an epic titled Ein Wintermärchen (A Winter Fairytale) With a budget equal to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (which had practically bankrupted UFA), Ein Wintermärchen was to feature Leni Riefenstahl and Luis Trenker, stars of the highly-successful Holy Mountain. This was not to be, however, thanks to the ill will of the notoriously egomaniacal Trenker. After the release of The Holy Mountain, Trenker gave a press conference at which he rubbished both Fanck and Riefenstahl, referring to the latter as eine Ziege (a nanny goat). Present for Trenker’s remarks was Dr. Roland Schacht, an influential film critic. Schacht’s subsequent review of The Holy Mountain savaged the film and repeated most of Trenker’s derogatory claims.

    In spite of the film’s many good notices, UFA took Schacht’s review very seriously, and began to have misgivings about their association with Fanck. As a result, they canceled Ein Wintermärchen and requested that Fanck produce a screenplay for a shorter, cheaper film. (This would not be the last time, incidentally, that Trenker’s actions caused one of Fanck’s projects to be scuttled.)


    Leni with nanny goat in "The Big Leap"

    The result was 1927’s Der große Sprung (The Big Leap), a comedy set in the alps. In an example of Fanck’s wit, Leni Riefenstahl played a goatherd accompanied by a nanny goat. (It was in this film, by the way, that Riefenstahl famously climbed mountains barefoot.) Because Trenker was proving to be good box office, Fanck swallowed his pride and cast him in the film as well, in the role of a peasant (“Typecasting,” Riefenstahl later said).

    After this, Fanck severed his connection with UFA (Piz Pal Palü would be distributed by Aafa-Film AG). In 1928 he filmed Das weisse Stadion (The White Stadium) a documentary about the Winter Olympics at St. Moritz. That same year he scripted Der Kampf ums Matterhorn (The Battle for the Matterhorn) from a novel by Carl Haensel. The film was directed by Mario Bonnard and Nunzio Malasomma, and starred (who else?) Luis Trenker.

    Following these projects, Fanck (along with collaborator Ladislaus Vajda) turned his attention to writing The White Hell of Piz Palü which, as the film itself tells us, was inspired by “a brief newspaper report about some young mountain climbers who lost their way in a rock face near Innsbruck and fought for their lives for seven days.” As his leading lady, Fanck again chose Riefenstahl, with whom he was still deeply in love (a love that would remain unrequited).

    However, despite the success of her earlier films with Fanck, Riefenstahl was not eager to star in another. For one thing, she was tiring of Fanck’s unwanted attentions (by her account he constantly showered her with love letters and gifts). His films were also extremely physically demanding and often dangerous. Perhaps most importantly, however, they left Riefenstahl unfulfilled as an actress. She was the first to admit that Fanck’s direction of the skiing and climbing sequences was brilliant, but he paid comparatively much less attention to the actors. (The performances in The Holy Mountain have frequently been criticized as stilted and overripe.) By chance, Riefenstahl ran into G. W. Pabst one day, and had an inspiration.


    G. W. Pabst

    Pabst (1885–1967) was the highly successful director of a number of important silent films, among them The Joyless Street (1925) with Greta Garbo, Secrets of a Soul (1926) with Lili Damita, The Loves of Jeanne Ney (1927) with Brigitte Helm, and Pandora’s Box (1928) and Diary of a Lost Girl (1929) both of which starred the American actress Louise Brooks.

    Riefenstahl admired Pabst’s work and found that she liked him as a person. On an impulse, she suggested that he co-direct Piz Palü with Fanck. Pabst could direct the “acting scenes,” while Fanck could handle the climbing and skiing sequences. Pabst thought this a great idea, but Riefenstahl wasn’t so sure that Fanck would go along with her scheme.

    To her great surprise, Fanck readily agreed, as did producer Harry Sokal (who was also in love with Riefenstahl — though, as so often happens, his love would turn to hate). It is extremely rare in films for two directors to work together, and while Fanck and Pabst’s collaboration was not without conflict, the result was spectacularly successful.

    In late January of 1929 the cast and crew set up shop on the on the Morteratsch Glacier in the Engadine Valley. The area was experiencing a record cold snap at the time and temperatures hovered between minus 28 and 30 degrees centigrade throughout filming. Riefenstahl’s legs became so frostbitten at one point that she had to drop out of filming for several weeks to undergo radiotherapy. All members of the cast suffered, but perhaps Gustav Diessel most all, as he had to perform a number of outdoor sequences wearing only shirtsleeves.

    Some of the exterior locations were created artificially — but always outdoors. For the scene where Riefenstahl and friends are trapped on a high mountain ledge, Fanck found a low-lying ledge, about the height of a house, and sprayed it with water to create ice. At times the cast were subjected to propellers, which Fanck used to create high winds and to blow ice and snow onto the actors. A great deal of cognac was consumed by all.[1]

    Pabst’s sequences were much easier to shoot, and were completed in a month. In her memoirs, Riefenstahl stated that she performed much better under Pabst’s direction than under Fanck’s. She said that this was partly because Fanck projected onto her his ideal of “a naïve, gentle type, a sort of ingénue, very different from me.”[2] (This statement is rather unfair, as she is certainly no “ingénue” in Storm over Mont Blanc or, especially, in S.O.S. Eisberg, as I shall discuss in subsequent essays.) Further, Riefenstahl claims that it was Pabst and not Fanck who realized that she had potential as a director. (Interestingly, after Fanck had edited the film for German theaters, Sokal hired Riefenstahl to edit it for release in France. Her first work as an editor pleased Sokal, and enraged Fanck.)

    Riefenstahl also reported that she found Fanck’s advances increasingly hard to bear during the making of Piz Palü. One evening she had had enough and tried to escape, venturing out of the cabin in which the cast were staying and into a blizzard. Blinded by the snow, Riefenstahl lost her way and might very well have lost her life also, had she not been found by a guide. Once again, just as in The Holy Mountain, the off-screen conflicts and dangers were almost as compelling as those on screen.

    The original negative to The White Hell of Piz Palü has been lost, though prints in good condition have survived. In 1997 the film was restored by Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek in collaboration with Taurus Film in the Federal Archive/Film Archive. The following year, Kino International released the film on videocassette, and on DVD in 2005. For this release, Kino commissioned a new score by the Australian composer Ashley Irwin. For the most part, the score is highly effective, and received top honors from the Australian Guild of Film Composers.

    2. Föhn

    The opening credits of The White Hell of Piz Palü describe it as “A film by Arnold Fanck,” despite the fact that the very next card credits direction to both Fanck and Pabst (in that order). Sepp Allgeier and Hans Schneeberger, who also worked on The Holy Mountain, are credited as cameramen, along with Richard Angst. (By this point, a romance had developed between Riefenstahl and Schneeberger, and they were living together.)


    Gustav Diessl

    The real star of Piz Palü was not Riefenstahl, but Gustav Diessl. An Austrian, Diessl had a prolific career in German cinema until he died of a stroke in 1948 at the age of 48. He also starred in Fanck’s S.O.S. Iceberg, but is perhaps best-known for his role in Fritz Lang’s The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1932). In Piz Palü, he plays the enigmatic Dr. Johannes Krafft, a name Fanck would re-use in S.O.S. Iceberg, for a character played by Sepp Rist. (In Piz Palü, Diessl’s character is also referred to by the nickname, “Hannes,” which is also the name of Sepp Rist’s character in Storm over Mont Blanc.)

    Riefenstahl received second-billing, after Diessl. Her name is followed by Ernst Petersen. A nephew of Arnold Fanck, Peterson also appeared in The Holy Mountain and Storm over Mont Blanc. “Pilot Ernst Udet” follows in the credits (more about him in a moment), followed by “Mountainguide Spring.” This odd way of listing actors by their real-life profession was typical of Fanck (see my discussion of this in the Holy Mountain essay). Spring, whose first name was Otto, plays a fictitious mountain guide named Christian.

    The initial intertitle of Piz Palü, which was to be Fanck’s final silent film, reads “Föhn,” in wispy, stylized letters suggesting what Föhn is: “a warm alpine wind.” Kino’s American release DVD actually adds these explanatory words to the intertitle.[3] The film opens with spectacular, ominous shots of the Föhn lashing the faces of Piz Palü (a mountain in the Bernina range in Switzerland and Italy).

    We next see the smiling, handsome face of Gustav Diessl as Dr. Johannes Krafft. He is exploring the mountain’s icy slopes with his wife Maria (an uncredited Mizzi Götzel) and Mountainguide Christian. She wears what appears to be an angora sweater and matching cap. It is apparent that Krafft and Maria are very much in love. A minor avalanche occurs near them, but Krafft doesn’t even stop kissing Maria to pay it any notice. “Don’t be cocky up here, Hannes!” admonishes Christian. Krafft is tempting fate.


    Gustav Diessl as Dr. Johannes Krafft

    With a rope about her waist, Maria ventures close to an enormous crevasse. Krafft grabs one end of the rope, confident that he has a secure hold on her. Suddenly, another, much greater avalanche comes tumbling down. Krafft screams in horror as Maria goes plunging into the crevasse. He pulls on the rope frantically, only to realize that it has broken. He stands holding the frayed end of the rope, a look of utter disbelief and devastation on his face. Diessl’s performance here is excellent — a model of good silent film acting — and the scene still has the capacity to shock audiences.

    Acting quickly, Krafft lowers Christian down into the crevasse on another rope, so that he can look for signs of Maria. Christian calls up to him: “The rope does not reach far enough down — ! Wait here, I’ll run down to the valley to get help.” He leaves Krafft alone with his thoughts, to wait for his return.

    “Suddenly — the mountain is silent.”


    A grief-stricken Dr. Johannes driven mad by dripping icicles

    Unable to do anything other than wait helplessly, Krafft sits by the edge of the crevasse. The minutes pass slowly, and Christian is a long time in coming. A brief but beautiful montage of dripping icicles now plays on screen. Krafft hears (or imagines that he hears) the sound of their dripping, and he becomes obsessed with it, and increasingly unhinged. He begins to tap one finger against his face in time with the drip drip drip of the icicles. When he can no longer bear it, he covers his ears, his face contorted in grief.

    Years pass, and “Once again, two young people stand in front of this mountain.” It is Leni Riefenstahl and Ernst Petersen, playing an engaged couple, Hans Brandt and Maria Maioni. (The fact that Riefenstahl’s character has the same first name as Krafft’s dead wife is obviously significant, though nothing is made of it in the film.) Hans has his arm around her, and they both look impossibly fresh and young. They have just made it to the Diavolezza Hut, which faces the mountain, situated at a height of 2977 meters above sea level. (The actual hut appears in the film. In reality, it was in a state of serious disrepair. Still, members of the cast and crew did stay there for awhile during filming.)

    Hans and Maria enter the hut together and soon find that they will be “roughing it” there, to say the least. As Hans unpacks, Maria inspects the kitchen area, sticking her fingers into a greasy pot, then discovering the bent silverware in the cupboard. He sets her frilly slippers down on the floor between pairs of hiking boots, then hops on the great straw bed with a “come hither” look that manages to be naïve and innocent at the same time.

    Maria is clearly determined to resist temptation, however, and rushes outdoors with a broom, where she begins brushing snow off of the picnic table. She then lies on the table, as drops of cold water fall on her hand from icicles on the overhanging roof. Hans joins her, playfully turning her head so that the water falls on her face. They then chase each other, and he showers her with snow, bent over and flinging it at her from between his legs, like a dog digging in it. In truth, Hans and Maria behave more like brother and sister than a man and woman in love. We will soon see their love put to the test.

    3. Udet


    Udet buzzes the Diavolezza Hut

    Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a biplane appears and begins circling round and round and doing somersaults. Hans and Maria know exactly who the pilot is: “Udet! Udet!” they cry enthusiastically. An object falls from the plane attached to a parachute, just before the plane zooms away. Hans goes to retrieve it, and we see that it is a bottle of champagne. Wrapped around the bottle is a cartoon of Hans and Maria kissing and pilot Udet over them, depicted as a kind of flying man, with wings for arms. The caption reads “All the best to the engaged couple!”

    Ernst Udet (1896–1941) was a German flying ace of the First World War. His 62 confirmed victories were second only to Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron himself, under whom Udet served. Raised in Munich, Udet was fascinated by airplanes from a very early age. At only 5 feet 3 inches, he was rejected by the army when war broke out in 1914, but after receiving private flight training (at a cost of 2,000 Marks) he was accepted into the German Army Air Service in the spring of 1915. His terrific skill as a pilot (and the number of kills he kept racking up) earned him an invitation to join Richthofen’s Flying Circus. There, he was soon given command of his own fight squadron, Jagdstaffel 11, which had formerly been commanded by Richthofen himself.


    Udet in the First World War

    Udet idolized the Red Baron, who, after 80 combat victories, was killed in April 1918. His successor as commander of the “Flying Circus” was none other than Hermann Göring, who was not popular with his men. (Nevertheless, Göring ended the war with a respectable 22 confirmed kills.) After the war, Udet became renowned as a stunt pilot and man-about-town. (He had a reputation as a lady killer.) In fact, the plane he flies in Piz Palü was named after him. The Udet U 12 Flamingo was a plane specially designed for stunt piloting and flight training. The plane sold well due not just to Udet’s fame as a war hero, but also to the notoriety of Udet’s wild aerial acrobatics (one of his stunts consisted in picking a handkerchief off the ground with the tip of a wing).

    Though he was far more interested in living the good life than in ideology, Udet joined the NSDAP in 1933 after Göring promised him two American Curtiss Hawk II biplanes. These were carefully studied by Udet and others, and influenced the development of the German Stuka dive bombers. In 1936 Udet was given command of the research and development branch of the Reich Air Ministry. In 1938 he was made Generalluftzeugmeister (Director of General Air Equipment) in the Luftwaffe.

    With the advent of the Second World War, however, Udet had great difficulties with German industry, which, due to shortages of materials, simply could not keep up with the demand for aircraft. When the Luftwaffe was defeated in the Battle of Britain, Göring apparently tried to shift some of the blame onto Udet.


    Udet in his Luftwaffe uniform

    The result for the unfortunate Udet seems to have been a mental collapse. On November 17, 1941 he shot himself. His suicide note (the content of which is disputed) is said to have included the words “Reichsmarschall, why have you deserted me?” Udet’s suicide was not revealed to the German public. Instead, he was said to have died while testing a new plane. He was given a funeral befitting one of Germany’s greatest war heroes, and was buried next to Manfred von Richthofen.

    It was Leni Riefenstahl, in fact, who got Udet involved in Piz Palü. One day, in the early stages of planning the film, she was on the street in the pouring rain trying to find a taxi. A man approached Riefenstahl and, recognizing her from her films, offered to drive her home. It was Ernst Udet. Riefenstahl knew who he was, as did just about everyone else in Germany at that time. She took an immediate liking to “Erni” (as friends called him), who was renowned for his wit and sunny disposition. Just as had happened with Pabst, Riefenstahl had a sudden inspiration and invited him to appear in Piz Palü. It didn’t take much to convince Fanck to go along with this idea, as he knew well that Udet’s fame could only help them.

    Udet would go on to appear in Storm over Mont Blanc and in S.O.S. Iceberg, always playing himself. He also had a reputation as a skillful cartoonist, and the drawing that appears in Piz Palü was almost certainly by Udet himself. Riefenstahl recalled in her memoirs that he would often amuse her with his caricatures of Göring, which she described as “masterful.”[4]


    The Udet U12 Flamingo

    She introduced Udet to Schneeberger, and the two became good friends. However, when Schneeberger began accompanying Udet to nightclubs and wild parties (where Udet was always surrounded by beautiful women), Riefenstahl grew uneasy. And rightly so. Shortly after filming concluded on Piz Palü, Schneeberger broke things off with Riefenstahl, explaining in a curt note that he had met another woman. Riefenstahl, who had been deeply in love with him, swore that she would never allow herself to fall for another man.

    4. The Ghost of the Mountain

    To return to our story, shadows pass over the mountains as Hans and Maria drink Udet’s champagne. “You know, suddenly all that ice up here seems forbidding,” Maria says, and then a shadow passes over her face. Back inside the hut, Hans presents her with a cake surrounded by lit candles. “Today we are alone for the first time, Maria,” he says. But their privacy will soon be invaded. She finds a book labeled “Log of the Diavolezza Hut,” signed by all who have stayed there. One inscription is dated October 6, 1925, by Dr. Johnannes Krafft and wife Maria. And there is a notation next to the wife’s name: “died by accident in the Piz Palü glacier.” She shows this to Hans.

    “Don’t you know the story of Dr. Johannes Krafft?” he says, implying that it must be a famous tale by now, at least among alpinists. “It happened at Piz Palü — the pale mountain.” Maria gets a faraway look as Hans tells her the sad tale. “. . . And since then he goes as a restless, solitary wanderer over all the ridges and faces of the Palü. The local community calls him the ghost of the mountain.”


    Krafft, Hans, and Maria in the Diavolezza Hut

    Just then, very dramatically, the door either blows or is flung open, letting in a blast of bitter wind which blows out the candles surrounding the cake. Dr. Johannes Krafft stands outside, pick in hand. He wears a cap, a tweed blazer and slacks, and a rope wound from shoulder to hip. Krafft enters, taking his cap off, and sits down with them in grim silence. They eye him warily as he takes some cheese from his bag and cuts himself a slice. No introductions are necessary: it is apparent that Hans and Maria know exactly who he is. And it is apparent that Maria feels great sympathy for the unfortunate Dr. Johannes (as he is frequently referred to in the film).

    Maria gets up to make tea, but has trouble cutting the wood to make kindling for the fire, hacking at it ineptly with an axe. With a slight but benevolent smile, Krafft takes the piece of wood from her and, using his pocketknife, whittles the end of it into ribbons. Maria watches him with evident fascination as he lights the wood and places it in the stove. It is a small but significant gesture of the archetypal male mastery of the material realm. Hans brings in buckets of snow to use for water, and Maria places some of it in the rapidly-warming pot. There follows a simple but indescribably beautiful shot of the snow as it melts on the stove (this sort of touch — which finds beauty in simple things, neglected by modern people — is typical of Fanck). Maria offers Krafft a cup of tea, and he seems touched by this simple gesture.


    Maria gazes at Dr. Johannes

    But it seems that Krafft can never find peace. He hears an icicle dripping outside the hut, forming a puddle on the ground, and is reminded, of course, of the agonizing moments following the loss of his wife. Krafft becomes increasingly agitated, tapping his fingers as in the earlier scene. Then, when he can stand it no longer, he goes outside with his pick and angrily obliterates the icicle. Hans and Maria watch as he does this, and seem slightly frightened by his intensity.

    When Krafft returns to the cabin, Hans goes outside to cut more wood, leaving his fiancée alone with the strange man. She is fascinated by him, but somewhat afraid. At last she screws up her courage and asks him “Why do you go to this mountain again and again? And why do you wander always alone?” He is distressed by this question. She puts her hand on his, as he tells her his story.


    1. Riefenstahl gives a brief account of making the film in her memoirs. See Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir, no translator credited (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992), 67–72.

    2. Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir, 69.

    3. In general, Kino’s English translation of the German intertitles of Piz Palü is reliable (unlike their translation of the Holy Mountain intertitles). I have sometimes altered the translation to make it more literal. The entire German version is available currently on YouTube: [14]

    4. Leni Riefenstahl: A Memoir, 68.

    (Review Source)
  • The Journey to Tilsit:A Song of Two Movies
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    [1]7,194 words

    Many people consider F. W. Murnau’s Sunrise: Song of Two Humans (1927) to be the greatest film of the silent era. But most are unaware that it was remade under Hitler as Die Reise nach Tilsit (1939), and directed by the notorious Veit Harlan.

    Both films were based upon a novella – titled Die Reise nach Tilsit (The Journey to Tilsit) – by Hermann Sudermann. Largely forgotten today, Sudermann (1857–1928) was at one time an extremely popular and widely-acclaimed German playwright and novelist.

    His first great success was the four act play Die Ehre (Honor; 1889), which is said to have been influenced by Nietzsche. Sudermann followed this with Heimat (1893) translated into English as Magda (the name of the heroine), one of the most successful plays of the fin de siècle. The story depicted the conflict between personal independence and duty, and was also filmed during the Hitler period (in 1938, by director Carl Froelich, starring Zarah Leander). In fact, more than 30 films were made in the last century based on plays or stories by Sudermann.


    Hermann Sudermann

    In 1894 Sudemann published a novel, Es War (It Was), whose title is a reference to a passage from Nietzsche’s Untimely Meditations. In 1926 it became the basis for the classic Greta Garbo-John Gilbert film The Flesh and the Devil (released in Germany as Es War). Sudermann was a nationalist, whose writings often celebrated ethnic identity and, of course, Heimat. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the German war effort during the First World War, penning a Kaiserlied (Song of the Kaiser). For his efforts to boost public morale during the conflict he received the Iron Cross Second Class in 1918. He died in 1928 of a lung infection.

    “The Journey to Tilsit” is set in Memel, which had been part of Prussia but later came under the control of Lithuania. It is known today as Klaipeda. I will have more to say about the region’s relation to Germany later on, when I deal with Harlan’s Die Reise nach Tilsit, which was shot in Memel. The story concerns an unhappily-married couple who sail one day from Memel to Tilsit on an errand. Tilsit had also been part of Prussia, but following the Second World War it fell into Soviet hands and is known today as Sovetsk. Sudermann was born in this region, and went to school in Tilsit and in nearby Königsberg (now known as Kaliningrad). Both film versions differ in a number of significant ways from Sudermann’s story, but rather than summarize three versions of the same tale I will merely indicate now and then how the films differ from the original. (Indeed, I will only summarize Sunrise at any length, as the plot of Harlan’s film differs from it very little.)

    Both films are very interesting for ideological reasons, and can be said to be strongly conservative in their “message” (at least, they look conservative today). Both can be seen as celebrating the traditional family, and such virtues as faithfulness, monogamy, and forgiveness. Both films also set up an opposition between provincial life, and provincial people and their virtues, as opposed to city life, and its deracinated cosmopolitanism. Though one would expect this of Harlan’s film, given that it was made under Hitler, the interesting thing is that these elements are much more pronounced in Sunrise.

    Sunrise: Song of Two Humans


    F. W. Murnau

    F. W. Murnau is best known as the director of Nosferatu (1922). Sunrise (which is usually referred to sans its corny subtitle) was the first film Murnau made in the United States. (His last film before leaving Germany was Faust, 1926.) It was producer William Fox who had convinced Murnau to emigrate. Fox (born Wilhelm Fried) was the founder of the Fox Film Corporation, which later became Twentieth Century Fox (after its 1935 merger with Twentieth Century Pictures).

    Murnau, however, planned Sunrise while still in Germany. The screenplay, based loosely on Sudermann’s original story, was by Carl Mayer, who had penned The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, among others. The film’s striking, Expressionistic sets were designed by German director Rochus Gliese. In short, though the cast was American (as were cinematographers Charles Rosher and Karl Struss), this was a very German film. And Murnau very consciously made the film in the style of German Expressionism – apparently at the urging of William Fox.

    Indeed, I realized the first time I watched Sunrise that if I had missed the opening credits I would have assumed that this was a German film with intertitles translated into English. Such a mistake would be possible not just because of the stylistic elements in the film, but also because Murnau and Mayer chose to set it in an indefinite time and place. The unnamed city depicted in the film could be New York – or Berlin, or London. The little village in which the husband and wife reside is a sort English-Continental blend, and doesn’t look at all like a small American town. All of these settings, by the way, were constructed for the film at great expense (the vast “city” set is supposed to have cost around $200,000, an enormous sum in those days). Even the characters are indefinite, as they have no names. The three major protagonists are referred to only as “The Man,” “The Wife,” and “The Woman from the City.”


    Murnau’s vast city set

    Here is the story: The Man and his Wife live on a farm in a small village with their young son and a couple of servants. Their village – for unnamed reasons – seems to be a vacation spot for city folk looking to get away from it all. One summer, however, long after the departure of the other “vacationists” (as they are referred to in the film), a glamorous “Woman from the City” lingers on. We soon learn why: she is having an affair with the Man. (In Sudermann’s original story, the Man – who actually does have a name – is having an affair with a family servant.) He seems, indeed, to be literally bewitched by her. She comes to the window of their house and whistles for him just as his Wife (played by Janet Gaynor) is setting the table for dinner. He struggles with himself but ultimately rushes out, while his Wife labors in the kitchen.

    There follows a justifiably famous sequence in which the Man goes to meet the Woman in a kind of a marsh. Murnau sets up an elaborate tracking shot which follows actor George O’Brien out of the house, into the woods, over a fence, and into a clearing where the Woman waits for him in the moonlight. The Woman (played by Margaret Livingston) is heavily made up and dressed to the nines. In an amusing sequence earlier in the film, we find that she is renting a room from an old local couple. Murnau shows the Woman in her slip, fussing with her hair and staring into a mirror with a cigarette dangling from her lips. When she exits the room we find ourselves in a classic Expressionistic setting: the old couple are seated at their table having dinner – only the table is tilted up at an odd angle, and the lamp hanging overhead is tilted with it creating an unreal effect. (Rather than have actual soup in their bowls, the surface of which would, of course, have remained parallel to the floor when tilted, Gliese painted the inside of the bowls to look like they contained soup.) Wearily, the old lady gets up and polishes the Woman’s shoes, while the Woman blows smoke in her face.


    Expressionism — the old couple at dinner, as the Woman of the City emerges from her room

    The Woman from the City is, in short, a real Vamp. This is, of course, short for “Vampire.” And once upon a time the full word was used to describe . . . well, that kind of woman. In 1909 when architect Frank Lloyd Wright left his wife for another woman, one Chicago newspaper ran a story about Mrs. Wright’s reaction with the headline “Spouse Victim of a Vampire.” And indeed, when the Man meets the Woman in the moonlit clearing in the woods, she clutches him and bares her teeth, looking quite like the real thing. Murnau reminds us here that he was the director of Nosferatu.


    The vamp as vampire

    “Leave all this behind. Come to the City,” the Woman pleads. The intertitle that follows repeats the last three words in a larger font: “COME TO THE CITY.” It is a kind of siren’s call. And then she begins to tell him of life in the city and how wonderful it is. Over the gray sky above them, Murnau projects images of his generic city – images which appear to be a combination of paintings and models. It is a bright neon, twisted, hellish cacophony. And after a moment the scenes of the city fade into composite shots of a loudly-dressed brass band playing and gyrating manically. The scene fades back to the Woman, who has begun to move to the imaginary music – writhing and twisting like she’s suffering from Saint Vitus Dance.


    Come with me to the city! To the City!

    Unnerved, the Man pulls her towards him. “What about my wife?” he asks her. Grinning like a ghoul, the Woman answers “Couldn’t she get . . . drowned?” The words of the intertitle begin drooping as if water-logged (an effect which would no doubt amuse today’s audiences), and the Man has a vision of pushing his Wife into the water from a small boat. Horrified by this, and by the Woman’s cruelty, he tries to strangle her. But, in the end, her magic is too powerful for him, and he is unable to refuse.


    Murnau next shows the woman’s high-heeled shoes trudging through thick mud – suggesting the tawdriness of the whole thing. She is collecting bulrushes from the marsh. The plan is that the Man will go out onto the river with his Wife, push her overboard, and capsize the boat. He will use a bundle of bulrushes as a life preserver, which he will scatter once he reaches shore. The whole scenario has a simplicity that reminds one of a Bible story. The next day, the Man asks his Wife to sail with him to the city. Thinking that he wants to make amends, she is overjoyed and quickly agrees.

    However, as they set sail in their small boat, a remarkable event occurs. The family dog suddenly goes wild, leaps into the bay, and swims after them. The Wife is amused, but the Man is not. George O’Brien plays the Man as if he is in a kind of trance. It is evident that although he is determined to kill his wife, it is as if he is acting under the influence of a spell, rather than through his own free will. In an earlier scene, the Man sits and broods guiltily about the planned murder, while, through a double exposure, Murnau shows the Woman caressing him with her claw-like hands and whispering in his ear, as if haunting him.


    The Man and Wife pull the dog into the boat, and the man rows back to shore. Moving like a zombie, he leads the dog back onto the property and ties it up. As he does so, we see his Wife sitting in the boat smiling, evidently delighted by the dog’s fierce loyalty. But then suddenly her expression changes and the light goes out of her eyes. Suddenly she understands what the dog’s behavior means – that it was acting to protect her. And as the Man approaches the boat we see that the Wife now understands that he means to kill her. All of this is conveyed entirely through Janet Gaynor’s facial expressions. One can see the exact moment when she realizes what her husband’s intentions are. It is an acting tour de force, and I was reminded when I saw it of the words of the immortal Norma Desmond: “We didn’t need dialogue. We had faces!”

    En route to the city, the man does indeed behave as if he is about to throw the Wife overboard. She cowers in fear, but he is suddenly overcome with self-loathing and cannot go through with the deed. When they reach the other shore, she rushes from the boat, trying to get as far away from her husband as possible. The Man pursues her, pleading “Don’t be afraid of me!” She clambers up a hill and into the woods.

    It is then that we enter into a kind of fantasyland. A tram appears from the city – though what it is doing out in the woods is not clear. The Wife boards it and the Man soon follows, jumping on just as the tram begins to move. She cowers, avoiding his gaze, while the Man desperately tries to make amends. But his efforts are in vain, for the Wife is deeply traumatized. Both terrified and hurt, her world seems to be in ruins.

    Via process shots, Murnau shows us the progress of the tram along its route. It leaves the woods and suddenly we enter a nightmarish industrial landscape that becomes progressively more and more threatening and inhuman. When it reaches the city, the Wife bolts from the tram, with the Man pursuing her. He guides her into an elegant café and bids her to eat. When she tries to eat a piece of bread, she begins weeping uncontrollably. The Man and Wife leave the café and move aimlessly through the streets. She continues to shrink from him, as he tries ever more desperately to reach her.

    Finally, they enter a church while a wedding is taking place, sitting in one of the pews near the back. As he hears the groom promise to protect his bride from all harm, the Man begins weeping. “Forgive me,” he implores his Wife. And now, at last, she does so, embracing him and kissing him tenderly as the church bells ring.


    I have already commented on Janet Gaynor’s performance, and here I must say that George O’Brien is really splendid as well. His emotion – and tears – in this scene appear to be quite genuine, and the entire sequence of scenes I have just described is really quite moving.


    George O’Brien

    O’Brien was, I suppose, an unlikely choice for this role, for he was basically a Hollywood “hunk” at the time. A former Navy man, O’Brien had served on a submarine in World War One and had been decorated for bravery. Near the end of his Navy career he had been light heavyweight boxing champion of the Pacific Fleet. Almost forgotten today, O’Brien was a popular star in the ’20s and ’30s, who specialized almost exclusively in Westerns. He re-enlisted in the Navy when the Second World War broke out, and thereafter made only a few films (several of them directed by John Ford, who was particularly fond of the actor). (An interesting footnote is that O’Brien’s father was Chief of Police of San Francisco, and was famous as the man who ordered the arrest of Fatty Arbuckle in September of 1921.)

    After the scene in the church the mood of the film shifts dramatically, and becomes joyous – ecstatic, even – and lighthearted. As they walk through the streets, arm in arm, the Man and his Wife completely lose all sense of their surroundings, and imagine that they are moving through a sunlit grove. Their reverie is abruptly brought to an end when they realize that they have carelessly walked into the middle of a busy street, and are surrounded by cars blowing their horns. This and the rest of the city sequences continually contrast the simple, honest naturalness of the couple, with the manic chaos and degeneracy the city.

    A vast, elegantly-appointed barber shop is the couple’s next stop. The man is immediately planted in a large chair and tipped backwards, while a bored and slightly effeminate barber massages his face. The Wife is left in the waiting area, where she keeps a close eye on him. A pretty, flirtatious manicurist approaches the Man and coos, “You’d look grand with a high polish.” He shoes her away, much to his Wife’s relief. But as the Man gets shaved, the wife has her own problem to contend with: a classic Hollywood “cad” has decided to cozy up to her in the next chair. The Man watches him from the barber’s chair, becoming increasingly alarmed. Once the shave is finished, he approaches the cad, steps on his shoe and threatens him with a pocket knife.


    George O’Brien

    O’Brien plays this bit very straight and is genuinely menacing. The effect is to contrast the truly masculine Man and his healthy male possessiveness, with the effete, citified cad who is incapable of violence, largely because nothing much really means anything to him. Here we must reflect on the significance of our main characters being called simply “Man” and “Wife.” These characters are archetypes of masculinity and femininity. The Wife represents one aspect of the feminine, what Julius Evola calls the “Demeter type,” or the archetype of the mother. The Woman from the City represents the “Aphrodite” type, or the lover archetype.[1]

    As the Man and Wife leave, the manager tells them “Come again.” Thinking this is something more than an insincere pleasantry, the Wife responds “Thank you! And you must come and see us some time.” Again, the sincerity and genuineness of the couple is contrasted with the falseness and superficiality of city folk. There follows an amusing sequence in which the couple has their picture taken by a professional photographer, then it is off to a fabulous amusement park. The establishing shot of its enormous entrance is accomplished through trick photography, and reminded me of the effects in Lang’s Metropolis, released that same year. Inside, predictably, the Man excels at the carnival games. But his Wife wants him to take her for a spin in the grand dance hall.

    Before they can get there, however, there is some hilarity involving an escaped pig that gets drunk by licking up a puddle of wine. When everyone else proves helpless, the Man easily captures the pig – again demonstrating his naturalness, and masculine capability. In the dance hall, the city folk all eye the rustic couple with evident amusement. The band strikes up a piece titled “Midsummer (Peasant Dance)” – identified by the sheet music that appear in one shot – and the crowd urges the couple to dance. The Man hesitates first as he clearly feels – correctly – that the others are ridiculing him. The Wife doesn’t care, however. And so the two begin to dance in a kind of expressive, exuberant peasant style that seems vaguely Russian. There’s quite a lot of kicking, and the Man swings his wife around as if she were a feather pillow.


    The dance sequence

    Later that night, exhausted but deliriously happy, the couple make their way to the tram. It takes them back into the forest and to the shore, where their little boat awaits. Sailing home on the calm waters, the Wife rests in her husband’s arms, and both seem absolutely at peace. All is forgiven, and they are beginning a new life together. One wonders at this point what will happen tomorrow – how will the Man deal with the Woman from the City. Will he confront her, and tell her to leave the village? Suddenly, however, the scene shifts back to the city, which is being whipped by a powerful wind. Seconds later, the sky over the river breaks open and rain pours down heavily on the couple. The wind begins to rage and the water churns ever more ominously.


    The man starts rowing and soon we can actually see the dock of the little village. But one of the oars breaks, and the water now rocks the little craft so violently it looks as if it’s about to capsize. The Man suddenly remembers the bundle of bulrushes he had secreted under a blanket – the bulrushes that were intended to buoy him up after he had murdered his Wife and turned the boat over. But now he is no longer thinking of himself: he ties the bulrushes to his Wife. And it is a good thing he does, for a great wave comes up and capsizes the boat. The Man and Wife are separated. He manages to swim to shore, where he calls for her repeatedly. (It occurred to me at this point that a good lip reader might be able to tell what name he is calling – but all I can say is that it clearly consists of two syllables.)

    The Man now enlists the aid of the entire village in looking for his Wife. Every boat is launched, and they fan out in all directions, sweeping lanterns over the dark surface of the water, desperately looking for any sign of the Wife. When he finds the bulrushes floating in the water, the Man begins to despair. After a long search, they give up hope and lead the emotionally-shattered man back to his house, where a grief-stricken female servant awaits, holding his little son. But then Murnau lets us in on something: we see the Wife floating on the water, apparently alive, but completely missed by the search party.

    And now the dramatically inevitable occurs. The Woman from the City emerges from her room to see what all the commotion is about. Perched catlike on a tree overhanging a road, she watches as the Man is led home by the villagers. Once they have all departed and the Man is left alone with his grief, she approaches the house and, just as before, whistles to signal to him that she is outside. The man is bent over his bed, his head in his hands, weeping. But when he hears the Woman’s whistle, he slowly lifts his head – and we see that there is murder in his eyes. He emerges from the house and slowly approaches her. No words have to be exchanged. She sees the look on his face and flees. The man pursues and catches her. Her wraps his finger around her throat and begins to strangle her.


    It was at this point that I realized what a genius Murnau was in showing us moments earlier that the wife was still alive. When I first saw that earlier shot I thought “Why does he reveal it to us now? Why not keep us in suspense a little longer?” But then I realized that Murnau was setting up a new, and heart-wrenching suspense situation. The Man had almost murdered his Wife – almost destroyed the most precious thing in his existence. But then he came to his senses and redeemed himself. To then have the wife drown accidentally is tragic enough. But think how much more tragic it would be if he murdered the Woman, not realizing that his Wife still lives! He would go to prison or be executed, and their beautiful, new life together would be destroyed, and their son would be without a father. I really cannot adequately describe the emotional intensity of these scenes. I have never seen this film with an audience, but I doubt that at this point there could be a dry eye in the theater.

    Just as it seems the Man is about to throttle the life out of the wicked temptress, we see the grief-stricken servant appear at the front door. Murnau shows her in extreme close up, tears streaming down her face, as she calls to him, telling him that his Wife lives. Just in time, the Man releases his grip on the Woman, and she goes scuttling away. Now the Man and Wife are reunited. The Wife is exhausted after her ordeal, but looks radiant nonetheless. Early next morning, the Woman of the City is shown in the back of a wagon, leaving town with her trunks full of finery. She looks bitter and defeated. The film ends with the Man and Wife gazing lovingly into each other’s eyes and kissing, as the picture fades to a stylized sunrise.

    The foregoing description has probably made the film’s themes rather obvious. As I have noted several times, Sunrise systematically contrasts city life and city folk with country life and country folk, and finds the former lacking. The city is portrayed as glamorous and enticing, but also as overwhelming, chaotic, inhuman, and ultimately hellish. City folk are portrayed as false and effete. Country folk as genuine and strong.

    [16]“Neurasthenia” is the malady of the city dwellers here. This was a kind of catch-all “syndrome” that was widely employed as a diagnosis beginning in the 19th century, finally falling out of fashion in the 1930s. It was thought to be caused by the overstimulation of modern life, and was even colloquially referred to as “Americanitis.” (The Rexall drug company actually marketed an “Americanitis Elixir” for a while.) The symptoms were fatigue, depression, and insensitivity to pleasure – meaning that the sufferer had to seek out more and more intense sources of stimulation in order to feel anything at all. This certainly describes the Woman of the City, and her Jazz-age gyrations near the beginning of the film. Why, we must ask, has she spent so much time away from her beloved city in order to bewitch a hayseed and destroy his marriage? Evidently because it is an exciting new form of stimulation for her – a new game. And the people we encounter in the city sequences seem bored, creepy, and detached.

    The film begins with an epigraph that actually seems deliberately intended to undercut its stark contrasts between city and country: “This film of the Man and his Wife is of no place and every place; you might hear it anywhere at any time. For wherever the sun rises and sets – in the city’s turmoil or under the open sky on the farm – life is much the same; sometimes bitter, sometimes sweet.” But this is decidedly not the message the film conveys! Apparently, Murnau did not have control over the intertitles created for the film. They are credited, in fact, not to screenwriter Carl Mayer but to Katherine Hilliker and H. H. Caldwell.

    The first half hour of the film contains quite a few intertitles, and they are generally rather corny. Blessedly, they are few and far between in the rest of the film. The epigraph does seem deliberately intended to blunt the film’s obvious criticism of the city, perhaps so as to avoid the accusation of being an apology for what Marx called “the idiocy of rural life.” Or to avoid offending city-dwellers. Murnau’s intentions, therefore, had to be sacrificed on the altar of American egalitarianism and relativism.

    In addition to the above, the film is obviously a hymn to the importance of marital fidelity, and to love of one’s own. It calls upon us to resist the lure of modern busy-ness and dislocation, and to remain true to home, homeland, and family.

    On another level entirely, Sunrise is about a man’s awakening. And it can be interpreted on both a mystical and a (relatively) mundane level. The title of the film, in fact, refers to this awakening. In the earlier parts of the film, George O’Brien plays the Man as if he is sleep-walking. And in a way he is, of course: he is under the spell of the Woman, and almost completely oblivious of everything else. As suggested already, the Woman can be interpreted as a harbinger of modern decadence. Or as maya, an ephemeral dazzle which captivates and involves the man. Maya renders him unconscious of what is truly real: of the eternal logos (represented by the unchanging, cyclical verities of rural life) and of truth and beauty (and the truth is that the Wife is far more beautiful than the Woman).

    On a less “mystical” level, Sunrise is about a man poised to destroy all that is dearest to him – who then “wakes up” and realizes what really matters in his life, just in the nick of time. Human beings often find themselves in the odd predicament of not realizing just how dear certain things are to them, until they are lost, or almost lost. Sunrise is about a man’s redemption; a man’s realization of what matters most. Anyone who has ever thrown away something dear to them, only to realize — when it was too late to go back — just how dear it was, will be greatly moved by Sunrise.

    Before moving on to the Harlan remake, I should note that it is a bit of a misnomer to describe Sunrise as a “silent film.” In fact, it was the first film to employ the Fox Movietone “sound-on-film” system. This was a precursor to the processes we use today to synchronize a soundtrack to a film. But in this case, no dialogue was recorded, only a musical score (by an uncredited Hugo Riesenfeld) along with some sound effects. I don’t care much for the Riesenfeld score (though it has its defenders). The recent Blu-ray release of Sunrise [17] contains a new score by Timothy Brock. I found this score so effective, I can’t imagine watching the film without it. (The Blu-ray is actually a UK release, but is playable on American machines.)

    Die Reise nach Tilsit


    Cover of the pressbook for Die Reise Nach Tilsit

    Veit Harlan’s 1939 film is ostensibly a new adaptation of the Sudermann story. However, it replicates almost all of the changes Mayer made to the original tale (most notably the ending: in Sudermann’s version the husband, who is unsympathetic throughout, accidentally drowns). Thus, it has to be considered a remake of Sunrise. Indeed, in Sweden it was released under the title Soluppgång, or Sunrise. Publicity materials also prominently featured a stylized sunrise motif. One has to remember that Harlan’s film was made only twelve years after Sunrise, and many people must have remembered the original film.

    However, the difference between the two productions is striking. First of all, Harlan chose to make a realistic film, eschewing the Expressionist and “magical realist” elements in Sunrise. This was a wise decision, for it would have been impossible to have topped Murnau’s approach, and would have prompted invidious comparisons to the earlier film. However, it was also Harlan’s belief that in a certain sense his approach made Die Reise nach Tilsit superior to Sunrise. He remarked years later:

    I was a friend of Murnau when he was in Germany, and of course saw Sunrise when it came out. But I didn’t see it again before making my film. Murnau made his whole film into a piece of scenery, all in the studio. I did my version in Memel, where the story takes place. Murnau’s Sunrise was a poem, but if you’ll excuse me, mine was a real film.[2]


    Poster art for Die Reise Nach Tilsit–note the sunrise motif

    That the film was shot in Memel is a fact of some significance. As noted earlier, Memel is called Klaipeda today, and is part of Lithuania. Originally, it had been Prussian. Under the Treaty of Versailles it was detached from Germany, and eventually came under the control of Lithuania. Memel (or Klaipeda) thus became one of the territories Hitler sought to re-acquire upon coming to power. Parties that were favorably disposed to rejoining Germany won majorities in all elections in the Klaipeda parliament. But the Lithuanian authorities fought back, imprisoning more than one hundred and fifty National Socialists, allegedly for conspiring to overthrow the government (they were later released due to German pressure). On March 20, 1939, German Foreign Minister von Ribbentrop issued an ultimatum to Lithuania, demanding that the territory be ceded to Germany. Lithuania complied, and Klaipeda again became Memel, and German again, on March 22, 1939.

    Now, this raises the interesting question of when Harlan shot his film in Memel. It was premiered on November 15, 1939 (I will have more to say about that event later, by the way). Given the simplicity of the production and its low cost (about $140,000), it is entirely possible that the film could have been shot in Memel following its return to Germany in March, and that all post production work could have been completed by November. Indeed, this is quite likely, since it seems doubtful that Lithuanian authorities would have given permission for filming prior to bowing to Ribbentrop’s ultimatum.[3]

    When we take this into consideration, Die Reise nach Tilsit emerges as a film with much greater political significance than an uninformed viewer would expect. Further, in Harlan’s film the Woman of the City is Polish. (And she has a name – Madlyn Sapierska – as does everyone else in the film.) At the time, of course, German relations with Poland were poor, as the Poles refused to return Danzig to Germany. And there was much discussion of injustices and atrocities committed by the Poles against the German majority in Danzig. So, here is Harlan’s political twist on Sunrise in a nutshell: a Polish woman, whose countrymen are busily persecuting ethnic Germans, arrives in a disputed territory that had belonged to Germany and attempts to destroy the happy marriage of an ethnic German couple.


    Söderbaum and von Dongen

    The couple here is named Endrik and Elske Settegast, and they are played by Frits von Dongen and Kristina Söderbaum (the wife of Veit Harlan; see my essay on the film Opfergang [21]). Dongen was a Dutch actor, born Hein van der Niet. When World War Two began, shortly after completion of Die Reise nach Tilsit, he fled Europe and settled in Hollywood. There he underwent a further name change (to Phillip Dorn) and continued making films into the 1950s. There is no reason to summarize the plot Die Reise nach Tilsit, as it follows Sunrise fairly closely, so I will simply comment on a few of the differences between the two films.

    The screenplay for Die Reise nach Tilsit was written by Harlan and Wolfgang Schleif, who was assistant director on several of Harlan’s films, and also edited Jud Süß and Kolberg. I have already mentioned that their approach is quite different from Sunrise – realistic, rather than stylized. However, “realistic” should not be taken to mean “naturalistic”: the film, like all of Harlan’s productions, is Romantic through and through. One significant difference between the two films is that the Woman, Madlyn Sapierska, is portrayed a good deal more sympathetically. In Sunrise one gets the feeling that the Woman of the City is playing games with the lives of the Man and his Wife. In Die Reise nach Tilsit, Madlyn is depicted as genuinely obsessed with Endrik, and as somewhat unstable. In one scene, she confronts Elske and asks her to give Endrik up. The contrast between the two in this scene could not be more striking: Elske is the plainly-dressed Hausfrau, while Madlyn appears in mink. Though Madlyn is brazen in this scene, there is no hint of malice on her part.

    Another major difference in characterization is the portrayal of Endrik. In Die Reise nach Tilsit he is much colder than is the Man in Sunrise. Indeed, he openly flaunts his affair in front of Elske, seemingly unconcerned with her feelings at all. In Sunrise, the Man sneaks out of the house to be with the Woman. In Die Reise nach Tilsit, Endrik does not make even a token attempt at concealing his affair. And here something must be said about the differences in the performances of the two leads. In the role of Elske, Söderbaum is a bit cloying and, indeed, verges on being rather too chirpy and wholesome. (This tends to be the case with many of Söderbaum’s performances, though she is usually likable.) One can almost (almost, but not quite) sympathize with Endrik for cheating on her with a woman who is not only more glamorous, but also more emotionally complex.


    Poster for the Swedish release of Die Reise Nach Tilsit

    But the real oddity here is the performance of von Dongen. Like O’Brien, he plays the part as if he is a man hypnotized (though he is a good deal more subtle than O’Brien). However, he maintains this quality throughout the entire film. So that even in the city scenes, even after he and Elske are reconciled, von Dongen still seems remote. O’Brien, by contrast, is positively exuberant in the city scenes, perfectly fitting the mood of that portion of the film. The – perhaps unintended – effect of von Dongen’s performance is to make us doubt if he really has been entirely cured of his love for the other woman. (In O’Brien’s case, there is no doubt of this.) In Die Reise nach Tilsit the change in Endrik almost seems as if it might be purely the result of a moral realization. Whereas in Sunrise, it is clear not only that the Man has realized the immorality of his actions, he has also awakened to the true and profound love he feels for his Wife. The result, in Die Reise nach Tilsit, is a much more low-key, much less joyous film.

    The film introduces a number of characters not seen in Sunrise, including Elske’s father. Learning of his son-in-law’s infidelity, he confronts Madlyn and (offscreen) flails her with a small whip. Also, there are some notable differences in how the events of the plot unfold. First of all, the comic relief of the city sequences in Sunrise is almost entirely missing here. There is no drunken pig, no flirtatious lechers, no merry peasant dance. The last half hour of the film follows the sequence of events in Sunrise, but with some interesting differences. Just as in the earlier film, their boat capsizes and Endrik fears that Elske is lost, as does everyone else. Just like the Man, Endrik is devastated – but here, in his grief, he actually “confesses” to the village, saying “I murdered her, because of Madlyn Sapierska!” Later on, rather than being found by a fisherman, Elske washes up on the beach – where she is found by a clearly contrite Madlyn. (She refuses Madlyn’s help, and the “other woman” flees the town, evidently out of shame.)

    [23]So, what of the different “themes” of Sunrise – the critique of city life, and so forth? Are these to be found in Die Reise nach Tilsit? Yes, but in very muted form. Discussing both films with a friend recently, I said that if I knew nothing about who had made them and when, and was asked which one was made by a National Socialist I would say Sunrise, without hesitation. This is odd, but quite true. The emphasis of Harlan’s film is really more on marital fidelity, and the contrast between city and country life is not drawn nearly as starkly as it is in Sunrise. Part of the reason for this is that Memel is not (or was not) exactly “the country.” It is not a small village as depicted in Sunrise, it is a city of some 40 square miles. Thus, the decision to set the film in Memel effectively eliminated any Sunrise-like contrast between city and country.

    In sum, the “message” of Die Reise nach Tilsit is far simpler, and much less interesting than Sunrise. Instead of a stark contrast between city life and rural life, the emphasis here is, in a sense, on “the local,” wherever that may be. The film celebrates fidelity to one’s own – one’s own family, one’s own place. But Die Reise nach Tilsit could have been set in Hamburg – a city of some 290 square miles and more than a million inhabitants – and the message would have been the same. One has to remember that the Nazis were not back-to-the-land agrarians. (Nor was Murnau, a thoroughly decadent citified homosexual – though it is harder to imagine a more anti-urban film than Sunrise.) The Nazis were essentially archeo-futurists, who sought to overcome the problems of the cities through social reforms and an increased sense of national unity, aimed at minimizing class distinctions.


    Veit Harlan and his wife Kristina Söderbaum

    None of the above is meant to suggest that Die Reise nach Tilsit is a bad film. It is simply less interesting than Sunrise. But how could it be anything else? Sunrise is widely thought to be one of the greatest films ever made. As noted earlier, Harlan very wisely chose not to try to compete with Sunrise, but instead to make a respectable, dramatically realistic, and absorbing film. And he certainly succeeded. Indeed, the film has been praised by some post-war critics, who usually have nothing good to say about films made during the Third Reich.

    For example, one film historian has written that Die Reise nach Tilsit is “uncommonly well made.” He continues: “Although Sunrise is one of the great films of all time . . . the Harlan version is no pale shadow. . . . [It] is a beautifully produced work, stunningly photographed by Bruno Mondi, scored sensitively by Hans Otto Borgmann.”[4] It was well received on its premiere on November 15, 1939 – by everyone except Magda Goebbels, that is. A scandal was created when Frau Goebbels stormed out of the screening, evidently because in her eyes the situation in the film bore too close a resemblance to her husband’s recent affair with the glamorous Czech actress Lida Baarova. (An affair that came to an end when Hitler had the actress deported.)


    On the boat — Die Reise Nach Tilsit

    As noted earlier, Sunrise is available in a beautiful Blu-ray [17] release, with a number of extras. The same cannot be said, predictably, for Die Reise nach Tilsit. The film is available – with optional English subtitles – from [26]. Unfortunately, it looks like a bad VHS copy of a copy of a copy. It’s the only edition I could find – and that German War Films could find, apparently. The company has to be commended, however, for making this film available (in whatever form) and adding meticulously-translated subtitles. (The company has many other inexpensive DVDs of Third Reich films available, along with much else.)


    1. Julius Evola, The Metaphysics of Sex, trans. anonymous (Rochester, Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1983), 125.

    2. Quoted in David Stewart Hull, Film in the Third Reich (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1969), 153.

    3. Of course, the film had to have been conceived, scripted, cast, and the interiors designed months prior to March 1939. Originally, the plan was probably to have some other city double as Memel. But when the actual location became available, Harlan decided to film there instead. However, I can find no information on exactly when the film was shot, or when the decision was made to film in Memel.

    4. Hull, 153–54.


    (Review Source)
  • From Odd John to Strange Love Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love the Bomb
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    [1]4,887 words

    Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [2]
    Director: Stanley Kubrick; written by Peter George, Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern
    Columbia Pictures (1964) 

    General “Buck” Turgidson: Hmm . . . Strangelove? What kind of a name is that? That ain’t no Kraut name is it, Stainesey?

    Mr. Staines: He changed it when he became a citizen. Used to be ‘Merkwürdigliebe.’

    General “Buck” Turgidson: Well, a Kraut by any other name, uh Stainesey?

    The German word “Gemeinschaft” means “A spontaneously arising organic social relationship characterized by strong reciprocal bonds of sentiment and kinship within a common tradition.” In this context the discussion of the post-apocalypse society living in mine shafts at the end of the film presents an interesting double-entendre. Dr. Strangelove’s remarks about the participants in the new society spontaneously accepting new social norms and having “bold curiosity for the adventure ahead” is especially germane. Also, General Turgidson’s admonition to “not allow a mine shaft gap” at the end is a particularly vivid pun.[1]

    Toward the end of my reflections on Olaf Stapledon’s queer utopia, Odd John, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb [3] put in a brief appearance.[2] I think a closer look at how the movie appears in the light of our reflections would be interesting.

    I would suggest that despite its status as a classic “black comedy,” and whatever the intentions of its creators to reveal the modern world as a dystopia, the film can be seen as presenting a series of increasingly perfected — though somewhat claustrophobic — utopian Männerbunde.[3]

    Each is a group of men (with one small exception to the rule[3]), cut off from the rest of the world, operating by its own rules. As we’ll see, the B-52 is a closed tube in the upper atmosphere, with oxygen masks for emergencies; we only see it open up when Maj. Kong forces open the bomb bay doors to his doom. Burbleson Air Force Base is, cinematically, nothing but Gen. Ripper’s office — even his en suite bathroom is unseen — with some second unit cut-aways to show the storming attack. Then there’s Gen. Turgidson’s motel room, followed by The War Room, which is obviously sealed off and perhaps underground; Turgidson freaks when the Russian Ambassador enters (“He’ll see the Big Board!”); then Strangelove’s mine shaft vision.

    Each unit includes one outsider, like “Fido” at John’s colony: RAF Captain Mandrake, Turgidson’s female “assistant,” James Earl Jones as the anachronistic black pilot,[5] and the Russian Ambassador whose appearance in the War Room freaks out Turgidson.

    Additionally, each utopian segment ends with a symbolic ejaculation, a destructive opening to the outside: the iconic scene of Maj. Kong riding the bomb down, “Bat” Guano shoots the Coke machine and gets a spurt of soda in the face; Turgidson’s last words in the motel room are “Blast off!”; a climactic pie-fight was cut from the War Room scene, which now ends with the compulsively saluting Strangelove rising erect from his wheelchair; his utopian vision ends with the equally iconic montage of phallic mushroom clouds.

    Each, in some sense, fails, but as we’ve seen with Odd John, this is just a genre convention of utopian writing; the final group will succeed beyond its own imagination. And each climaxes with a big smile.[6]

    For once, TV Tropes has got it exactly wrong:

    World Gone Mad [4]: Every single group of people are various sorts of insane, incompetent, and/or incapable of focusing on the important subject at hand. Except for the bomber crew, who are all well-trained and manage to adapt to the various obstacles in their path. Too bad they’re the one group that desperately needs to fail.

    1. Burpleson Air Force Base

    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Colonel! Colonel, I must know what you think has been going on here! […]

    Colonel “Bat” Guano: I think you’re some kind of deviated prevert. I think General Ripper found out about your preversion, and that you were organizing some kind of mutiny of preverts. Now MOVE!

    Or in practice, the executive office of Base Commander Gen. Jack D. Ripper. Apart from a couple cutaways during the Army’s attempt to retake the base, and the business with the Coke machine and the telephone booth in the corridor, we are entirely with Gen. Ripper’s private realm. Although the rugby balls and Greek grammars have been replaced with bombs, rifles, and bullets

    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Shoot it off! Shoot! With a gun! That’s what the bullets are for, you twit!

    the atmos’ is more like a British public school. Gen. Ripper commands not men but “my boys.”

    General “Buck” Turgidson: [reading Gen. Ripper’s last communication] “My boys will give you the best kind of start, 1,400 megatons worth, and you sure as hell won’t stop them now.”

    There’s even intra-mural rivalry:

    General Turgidson, with all due respect for your defense team my boys can brush them aside without too much trouble.

    And while the base troops do eventually surrender – “My boys let me down” [7] – we’ll see that at least one plane in the Attack Wing will get through.

    General “Buck” Turgidson: Mr. President, if I may speak freely, the Russkie talks big, but frankly, we think he’s short of know-how. I mean, you just can’t expect a bunch of ignorant peons to understand a machine like some of our boys. . . . if the pilot’s good, see, I mean, if he’s really…sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low [he spreads his arms like wings and laughs], you oughtta see it sometime, it’s a sight. A big plane like a ‘52. VRROOM! There’s jet exhaust, fryin’ chickens in the barnyard.

    President Merkin Muffley: Yeah, but has he got a chance?

    General “Buck” Turgidson: Has he got a chance? Hell, Ye…ye…

    So Peter Sellers’ role as Group Captain Mandrake, ex-RAF pilot, is quite appropriate here. He’s a slightly slow on the uptake senior boy, getting some private tutoring from the Headmaster;[8] it’s a reversal of the Boy’s Own Mag world of Stalky & Co., where the playing fields of Eton have simply become the theatre of war.

    Base Commander Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, in the name of Her Majesty and the Continental Congress come here and feed me this belt, boy!

    The lesson Ripper imparts is, of course, his famous “purity of essence” meme, the original “conspiracy theory.”[9] Along the way, though, he gives Mandrake a history lesson that will become important at the end:

    General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you recall what Clemenceau once said about war?

    Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: No, I don’t think I do, sir, no.

    General Jack D. Ripper: He said war was too important to be left to the generals. When he said that, 50 years ago, he might have been right. But today, war is too important to be left to politicians. They have neither the time, the training, nor the inclination for strategic thought. I can no longer sit back and allow Communist infiltration, Communist indoctrination, Communist subversion and the international Communist conspiracy to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids.

    As Trevor Lynch has noted here on several occasions: in the modern world, only madmen are allowed to articulate the truth.[10]

    Burpleson is ultimately taken back by the Army, and General Ripper, true to the public school ethos, “does the right thing, old chap” and commits suicide.[11] This is the darkest utopia (note the cinematography) but even so, it’s, as we’ve said before, only a genre convention, not an admission of defeat.[12] Indeed, we’ll see that Ripper’s vision — rule by the elite — will come to pass.

    To lighten the mood, and provide the real ending, we have Mandrake’s monkeying around with the pay phone, and “Bat” Guano’s encounter with the Coke machine. It’s the audience that can be expected to smile when “Bat” fires his rifle and gets a Coke facial in return — “a Coke and a smile,” as the ad would say a few years later.[13] Meanwhile, the utopian, anti-economic scarcity note is again sounded as Mandrake doesn’t have enough money for the phone, and “Bat” sneers at the idea of “going into combat with loose change in my pocket.”

    1a. The Motel Room

    The Motel Room is an odd little scene, that does little but show us Gen. Turgidson being summoned to the War Room in the midst of a tryst with his “assistant.” It’s as much a closed environment as Ripper’s office — later we’ll see Ripper enter the bathroom to shoot himself, here Turgidson enters the scene from the bathroom. More connections: Premier Kissoff will be caught in a similar tryst during the War Room scene, and the General’s “assistant” will turn up in the Playboy centerfold viewed by a crew member onboard “The Leper Colony” (her ass covered with an issue of Foreign Affairs, nudge nudge) and presumably is the unwanted caller to Turgidson in the War Room,

    General “Buck” Turgidson: I told you never to call me here, don’t you know where I am? . . . Well look, baby, I c-, I can’t talk to you now . . . my president needs me!

    but otherwise it has little to do with the rest of the film. I suspect it’s here to establish Gen. Turgidson’s, and by extension the rest of the “boys’” hetero cred; otherwise we might be suspicious, since he contemns Kissoff for his tryst as a “degenerate” (another “prevert” for the “Leper Colony” no doubt) and other than shouting “Blast off!” he doesn’t seem to have much interest in Miss Foreign Affairs, prefering to answer the call of his President.

    2. “The Leper Colony”

    The men will cheer and the boys will shout
    The ladies they will all turn out
    And we’ll all feel gay
    When Johnny comes marching home.

    The B-52 and the War Room are the most famous segments. I say “the” B-52 since although Ripper clearly orders a “wing attack” and we see dozens of vectors on The Big Board,[14] but only one plane is ever shown. The B-52 is code-named “The Leper Colony,” which “designates the crew as incompetent, even degenerate,”[15] but also sounds Odd John’s themes of island utopias of physically deformed social outcasts that seem retarded but get lots of high-tech things done.

    Major T. J. “King” Kong: Stay on the bomb run boys, I’m gonna get those bomb doors open if it harelips everyone on Bear Creek.[16]

    As IMDB noted above, the crew is actually quite competent, even heroic and self-sacrificing; an ideal Männerbund. It’s impossible not to be rooting for them, and unlike IMDB, I think Counter-Currents readers, at least, will find their goal quite admirable. And what Aryan male wouldn’t want to go out riding an ICBM onto Laputa?[17]

    The precise function of Plan R, and the CRM 114 coding device, which is not to be able to receive, recalls Odd John’s use of psychic techniques to confuse anyone — as here, both Soviets and Brits — nosing around the island. We can’t tell from the angle but he might be taking his iconic bomb ride on the one designated “Dear [Odd?] John.”

    3. The War Room

    The culminating utopia, in many senses, is of course the War Room. Several of the themes we’ve noted are tied together here. It’s a macho environment where women only intrude from the outside: first, Gen. Turgidson receives an unwanted call from (presumably) the woman — his secretary, not his wife — we saw him with earlier (in another closed environment — a motel room — where another unwanted call sends him to the War Room).

    General “BuckTurgidson: I told you never to call me here, don’t you know where I am? . . . Well look, baby, I c-, I can’t talk to you now… my president needs me!

    Then, to bring the Russian premier to the Hot Line requires the Ambassador to reveal his secret rendezvous:

    Russian Ambassador: Our Premier is a man of the people, but he is also . . . a man, if you follow my meaning.

    Gen. Turgidson erupts with outrage at the Premier being a “a degenerate atheist commie!” which is odd, since, apart from the hypocrisy, the Ambassador’s comment should be lessening the homoerotic implications of Turgidson’s spurning his girlfriend to serve his President’s needs.

    Perhaps he is offended by the implication of Kissoff (note the name) actually consummating the act, since Turgidson never seems to:

    General “Buck” Turgidson: I know how it is, baby. Tell you what you do: you just start your countdown, and old Bucky’ll be back here before you can say “Blast off!

    Maj. Ripper earlier clarified the code of the Männerbund:

    Base Commander Jack D. Ripper: Women, er, women sense my power, and they seek the life essence. I do not avoid women, Mandrake . . . but I do deny them my essence.

    Only in the “modern world” would this be construed as madness or, heavens, “repressed.”[18]

    But don’t get them wrong; when needed, under the appropriate conditions, these boys can get the job done!

    President Merkin Muffley: Is there really a chance for that plane to get through?

    General “Buck” Turgidson: Mr. President, if I may speak freely, the Russkie talks big, but frankly, we think he’s short of know-how. I mean, you just can’t expect a bunch of ignorant peons to understand a machine like some of our boys. . . . if the pilot’s good, see, I mean, if he’s really. . . sharp, he can barrel that baby in so low [he spreads his arms like wings and laughs], you oughtta see it sometime, it’s a sight. A big plane like a ‘52. VRROOM! There’s jet exhaust, fryin’ chickens in the barnyard.

    President Merkin Muffley: Yeah, but has he got a chance?

    General “Buck” Turgidson: Has he got a chance? Hell, Ye . . . ye . . .

    And a good thing, because they will be called on to perform heroic service. That’s because despite all the cheers and smiles all around, the recall efforts end in failure, and “The Leper Colony” gets through. But wait, this isn’t the end, really; there’s more! This leads us to the Final Utopia, Strangelove’s “post-war future.”

    4. Strangelove’s “Astonishingly good idea”

    As all the Gloomy Guses sit around waiting for the Doomsday Machine to blanket the Earth in a “radioactive shroud,” something remarkable takes place. Despite “acting as cartoonishly evil [5] as possible,” Strangelove is suddenly revealed as the smartest, and sanest, man in the room.

    [T]here’s a brief scene with the president demanding to know who would create a doomsday device; the camera lingers on Strangelove, calmly smoking in the shadow, the president off-screen. A few minutes later, Strangelove casually suggests the mine shaft survival plan, a new system of government, including who lives and who dies. For all intents and purposes, he takes over the US government right then and there, in front of its actual leaders, who are oblivious. Nobody said the Only Sane Man [6] has to be a good person.

    Just like Odd John,

    He looks and speaks like a Looney Tunes [7] character, but everything he says is coldly rational.

    Strangelove’s dark glasses recall John’s “eyes like caves.”[19] Although his mechanical arm with a life of its own references both Rottwang and Robot/Maria from Metropolis (another curdled utopia); not only mad scientist but like Robot/Maria he seems to have two natures, embodied in the mechanical arm, not unlike Odd John’s ability to operate on two levels of consciousness, personal and communal.[20]

    While we might imagine his arm was injured in an experimental accident, like Rottwang, or that he was crippled in the war, like Baron Evola, none of this is made explicit; Strangelove, like one of the freaks in John’s troupe, could have just been born that way. In any event, the prospect of nuclear annihilation — “brighter than a thousand suns” — literally erects him, just as Baron Evola asked to be wheeled to a window so that he could die like his Aryan ancestors, upright and facing the rising sun.

    But is it the end; death and destruction? Before that climax, Strangelove has narrated his seemingly well-rehearsed utopian dream, which deserves to be quoted in full:

    Dr. Strangelove: I would not rule out the chance to preserve a nucleus of human specimens. It would be quite easy. . . heh, heh . . . at the bottom of ah . . . some of our deeper mineshafts. Radioactivity would never penetrate a mine some thousands of feet deep, and in a matter of weeks, sufficient improvements in dwelling space could easily be provided.

    Muffley: How long would you have to stay down there?

    Dr. Strangelove: Well let’s see now ah . . . cobalt thorium G. . . . Radioactive halflife of uh, . . . I would think that uh . . . possibly uh . . . one hundred years.

    Muffley: You mean, people could actually stay down there for a hundred years?

    Dr. Strangelove: It would not be difficult, Mein Führer! Nuclear reactors could, heh . . . I’m sorry, Mr. President. Nuclear reactors could provide power almost indefinitely. Greenhouses could maintain plant life. Animals could be bred and slaughtered. A quick survey would have to be made of all the available mine sites in the country, but I would guess that dwelling space for several hundred thousands of our people could easily be provided.

    Muffley: Well, I, I would hate to have to decide . . . who stays up and . . . who goes down.

    Dr. Strangelove: Well, that would not be necessary, Mr. President. It could easily be accomplished with a computer. And a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, sexual fertility, intelligence, and a cross-section of necessary skills. Of course, it would be absolutely vital that our top government and military men be included to foster and impart the required principles of leadership and tradition. Naturally, they would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. Ha, ha. But ah, with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way back to the present Gross National Product within say, twenty years.

    Muffley: But look here doctor, wouldn’t this nucleus of survivors be so grief-stricken and anguished that they’d, well, envy the dead and not want to go on living?

    Dr. Strangelove: No, sir . . . excuse me . . . When they go down into the mine, everyone would still be alive. There would be no shocking memories, and the prevailing emotion will be one of nostalgia for those left behind, combined with a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead! [involuntarily gives the Nazi salute and forces it down with his other hand] Ahhh!

    Turgidson: Doctor, you mentioned the ratio of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn’t that necessitate the abandonment of the so-called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?

    Dr. Strangelove: Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious . . . service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.

    Russian Ambassador: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.

    It’s all there, the whole National Socialist utopia, complete with self-selected elite and selective breeding.

    While Strangelove is conventionally seen as a “black comedy” in which the post-war doctrine of “mutual assured destruction” (MAD) is ruthlessly satirized, we can see, in the light of our earlier reflections on the utopian genre, that once Kubrick or his co-writers settled, likely unconsciously, on the multi-utopian structure, he was committed to the fact that the logic of utopia leads to an apparently – but only apparently – disastrous conclusion.

    The final segment then, is not really a fiery Götterdämmerung, at least not for Strangelove and Co.[21] It is not Strangelove’s comeuppance, but his triumph.

    We Will Meet Again: The memorable final montage plays the song of the same name over images of atomic explosions, implying the two superpowers are destined to trade blows ever after.[22]

    A sappy WWII Brit tune; we’ve met the Nazis again; we [today] will all meet again — this time the “Allies” will wipe out each other, and the only German (“a Kraut by any other name”) in the room is the only one still standing.

    We don’t know how much time passes from Strangelove’s exultant “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk”[23] and his initial baby steps,[24] to the Doomsday machine going off. Strangelove & Co. are presumably already protected in the War Room, and may have had time to put together some version of Strangelove’s mineshaft utopia.[25]

    If so, Kubrick’s film has foreshadowed Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (which returns the favor by ending with a hapless soldier riding a V-2) which Dale Carter has analyzed[26] as presenting the posthumous triumph of the Third Reich in the form of the Kennedy-led space race:

    In this book, Carter draws on Thomas Pynchon’s novel ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ to define the post-World War Two period as the ‘Rocket State’, a social form salvaging elements of the defeated Nazi ‘Oven State’ to create a totalitarian capitalist order. The rocket, based on Nazi military technology, is a central element of this as the launch vehicle for both nuclear weapons of mass destruction and the Apollo programme, highest point of the propagandist spectacle or, as Carter calls it ‘the Orpheus Theater’ where at the conclusion of Gravity’s Rainbow the spectators watch the screen as the rocket heads towards their destruction.[27]

    Much as Strangelove & Co. must have watched the Big Board, we watch the final montage. Muffley himself recognizes the ominous parallels:

    Muffley: I refuse to go down in history as the greatest mass murderer since Adolf Hitler.

    Turgidson: Perhaps it might be better, Mr. President, if you were more concerned with the American people, than with your image in the history books.

    Each utopia has superficially failed, but each sets up the final one (the final solution?) which has succeeded, although the logic of the utopian genre requires, as we saw, that this one too apparently fail, spectacularly.

    Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.[28]

    Fail Safe?[29]

    In a final, ironic — or rather, utopian — reversal, the bombs are dropped on the Allies, and after this new “holocaust” all the messy aspects of eugenics — exterminating the unfit — are left behind, leaving only the pleasurable eugenic tasks of Kraft durch Freude, with the males called upon to perform heroic services on specially selected females. Everyone is smiling in anticipation, and even Ambassador de Sadesky joins in:

    Russian Ambassador: I must confess, you have an astonishingly good idea there, Doctor.

    See, if you squint at Dr. Strangelove through the utopian lens we’ve provided, where the apocalypse is just a genre convention, it’s clear that the Nazis come back, and this time they win![30] I like to think this would bring a smile to Savitri Devi herself.[31]


    1. An anonymous bit of “Trivia” at the Internet Movie Database, here [8].

    2. “‘The Wild Boys Smile’: Reflections on Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John,” especially footnote 10 of Part Three, here [9].

    3. Each of the main three would have featured Peter Sellers, playing the “Only Sane Man [6]” each time, “but a sprained ankle prevented him from getting into and out of the B-52 set, so Slim Pickens was added to the cast to play ‘King’ Kong.” TV Tropes, Acting For Three: [10]Peter Sellers [11].

    4. “Fanservice [12]: Precisely one female character appears in this movie. General Turgidson’s mistress and secretary, heard in one scene and seen in a bikini in another. She is also a Playboy [13] centrefold.” – TV Tropes

    5. Like the “Tuskegee Airmen,” black pilots are a modern Liberal myth; see Paul Kersey’s Stuff Black People Don’t Like, passim, such as “Black History Month Heroes — Sky Marshal Tehat Meru of Starship Troopershere [14].

    6. Kong’s “yippe-yi-ay” on the bomb, Turgidson’s “Blast off!” to his secretary, Strangelove’s iconic Risus sardonicus. Ripper’s suicide would not seem to fit; this is why, as noted, the segment has two endings. When “Bat” Guano takes the Coke stream to the face, the audience can be expected to laugh — it’s a “black comedy” after all — and this ties in with what Murphy said about the Wild Boys’ smiles — they invite the audience into participation.

    7. “A Father to His Men [15]: When the base falls Ripper feels let down and remarks that the soldiers were like his children. It rings as true as anything else he says. Mandrake manages to obliquely mock him.

    Mandrake: I’m sure they all died thinking of you, every man jack of them . . . Jack.” – TV Tropes

    On the contrary, I would suggest that “man jack” suggests the utopian union of Jack Ripper and his boys, symbolized by Mandrake, as does Mandrake’s fake nostalgia for earlier helping Ripper with the machine gun: “You said, ‘feed me’ and I fed you Jack . . .”

    8. And we know where that’s going: “No Sense of Personal Space [16]: As Ripper gets drunk, he starts getting uncomfortably close and hands-on toward Mandrake, suggesting a possible [17]explanation [18] for his sexual issues.”

    9. At the time a well-known hobby horse of the Right, it’s surprising how it continues to be a kind of cargo cult on the Left. Concern about using early PR techniques “after the war” as Ripper correctly notes, to convince local governments to allow a poisonous industrial waste product into the water supply, seems tailor made for the Left, especially after all the Rachel Carson business and modern concerns with GMOs etc. Apparently, the “commie plot” angle led it to become a shibboleth, like the “innocence” of Hiss or authenticity of “folk” music, constantly invoked as a test of loyalty (oddly enough, the Right had the same idea about loyalty tests). Only Alexander Cockburn, Stalinist that he was, seemed to have the guts to challenge the Left. Indeed, good-thinking sites like HuffPo now attack anti-GMO activists as “creationists of the Left;” GMOs, fluoridation and even circumcision, if not climate change, seems to be one of those “scientific facts” only known to American Leftists, puzzling the rest of the world.

    10. “Dangerously Genre Savvy [19]: General Ripper may be demented but he knows his trade; he’s shown as an experienced and competent leader who invokes, anticipates and discusses very relevant tropes.” – TV Tropes.

    11. Even a light-hearted romp by a Catholic author ends with Lord Peter himself recommending, successfully, suicide to the club bounder in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club [20] (1928).

    12. The bathroom suicide recalls the one in Advise and Consent which we discussed here [21].

    13. The comedy is so deliberate that “the actor’s head was too high when the stream began to spew toward him, and he can be seen lowering his face down into it to produce the full comedic effect.” – IMDB, “Goofs [22].”

    14. “Bombers on the Screen [23]: The primary purpose of The Big Board [24].” – TV Tropes.

    15. “Dark Roots: Humor and Tragedy in Doctor Strangelove [25]” by Caran Wakefield.

    16. No one since seems to understand WTF Kong is talking about, but I note the connection to the harelipped “Tooth Fairy” in Manhunter, which I referenced before in discussing the ugliness and deformity of Odd John’s horde.

    17. “La puta” of course is “the whore,” in line with the obsessive sexual symbolism of the film, but also a reference to Swift’s airborne utopia of scientific cranks; as we’ll see next, taking out Laputa will make way for Strangelove’s very different, solidly based ge-mineshaft utopia.

    18. See Andy Nowicki’s meditations on the demeaning subtext of the macho “Game” theorists; for example, “Trouble in Twilight” here [26].

    19. “Cool Shades [27]: Dr. Strangelove’s teashades.” – TV Tropes.

    20. “Evil Hand [28]: Dr. Strangelove has one, which seems to act on Strangelove’s violent and Nazi subconscious. The portrayal was so influential that the real life condition “alien hand syndrome” is also known as “Dr. Strangelove Syndrome”. – TV Tropes.

    21. Cf. the iconic boys’ book, Kipling’s Stalky and Co.

    22. TV Tropes, Dr. Strangelove [29].

    23. Strangelove’s lapse into German links him to the equally deceptive failure at the end of Hesse’s Demian: “In the very last sentence of the novel Sinclair addresses Demian, his recently departed friend and mentor, as ‘mein Führer’.” Mark Harmon, review of Gunnar Decker’s Hesse: Der Wanderer und sein Schatten in the TLS (14 September, 2012); available here [30].

    24. “Physicist Isidor Rabi noticed Oppenheimer’s disconcerting triumphalism: “I’ll never forget his walk; I’ll never forget the way he stepped out of the car . . . his walk was like High Noon . . . this kind of strut. He had done it.” — [31].

    25. Itself an obviously phallic notion: satirizing the “missile gap [32]” — a lie about the aged Eisenhower that helped put virile Kennedy in the White House; Turgidson demands that “Mr. President, we must prevent a mineshaft gap!”

    26. Dale Carter, The Final Frontier: The Rise and Fall of the American Rocket State (New York: Verso 1988).

    27. An outdated webpage at [33] which also includes an excerpt from Carter’s book.

    28. Samuel Beckeyt, Worstward Ho (1983).

    29. In a replay of the whole “Incredibly Strange Creatures” kerfuffle that we referenced before, “Fail-Safe and Dr. Strangelove were both produced by Columbia Pictures. . . . Director Stanley Kubrick, adapting Peter George’s [34] novel Red Alert [35], insisted the studio release his movie first (in January 1964). “Fail-Safe” so closely resembled Red Alert that George filed a plagiarism lawsuit. The case was settled out of court.” — [36].

    30. Albeit an underground triumph, which does fit in with many “Nazi survival” mythologies.

    31. Although she wouldn’t like that bit about “animals raised and slaughtered.”


    (Review Source)
  • German Cinema Classics Heimat (1938)
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    [1]9,830 words

    Heimat is one of the finest productions of Third Reich cinema, and by any standard it is an excellent film. The title means “homeland,” and in the minds of many the word Heimat is closely associated with National Socialist ideology. Indeed, a close study of this film can give us priceless insights into the true nature of that ideology. But the results may surprise you.

    In fact, Heimat is based on an 1893 stage drama of the same name, by the celebrated German playwright and novelist Hermann Sudermann (1857–1928). I have written of Suderman’s work before [2]. He was the author of the novella Die Reise nach Tilsit, which was filmed by F. W. Murnau as Sunrise in 1927, and the again by Veit Harlan in 1939 (as Die Reise nach Tilsit).

    Heimat was Sudermann’s most successful play, and indeed it was one of the most popular plays of the late 19th century. For English-speaking audiences, it was translated under the title Magda, the name of the main character. And Magda was played by such luminaries as Sarah Bernhardt and Eleanora Duse. In the film version, she is played by the great Zarah Leander, about whom I will have more to say later.

    [3]When Heimat was filmed, Sudermann had only been dead for ten years, and his novels and plays were still well-known to the German audience. As a result, the film is a relatively faithful adaptation. However, a number of significant changes were made – most of which are improvements on the original. The major change is that the story is given a much more satisfying ending. But are any of the departures from Sudermann’s original attributable to ideology?

    The fact that the play was chosen for filming by the state-controlled UFA studio indicates that its themes were at the very least seen as compatible with National Socialist ideology. Heimat is very much a “play of ideas,” and those ideas are indeed in keeping with the spirit of the times – of the Third Reich, that is. But not in the way that uninformed viewers (or critics) would expect. Heimat is, first and foremost, an anti-bourgeois drama. And it celebrates, in a way that is genuinely moving, the triumph of natural sentiments over middle-class repression and priggishness.

    The Story of Heimat

    In what follows I will summarize the events of the film, mostly ignoring differences between the film and the play.


    Heinrich George as Colonel Leopold von Schwarze

    Our story begins in Ilmingen, a small German principality, in 1885. An old widower Colonel Leopold von Schwarze pays a visit to his wealthy sister-in-law, Fränze von Klebs. Fränze has made a fortune writing hack romance novels but thinks she is a great “poetess.” She is a big fish in the very small pond that is Ilmingen. The Colonel regards her with a mixture of affection and contempt, and coming to see her on this day is a great indignity for him.

    You see, his daughter Marie (referred to by the nickname Mieze throughout the film) is in love with a young lieutenant, Max von Wendlowsky. But according to the custom of the time, the family of the bride-to-be must pay a “deposit” in order for her to marry an army officer: the ungodly sum of 60,000 Marks. The Colonel has only a few thousand, plus his pension. He appeals to Fränze to pay the deposit so that her niece can marry young Max, with whom she is very much in love.

    But Fränze is not only a bad writer, she is also a social-climbing tightwad, who would rather spend the money on various projects that will catch the eye of the local royals and bring her more favor at court. The Colonel pleads with her, referring to Mieze as “the only child left to me.” But Fränze reminds him – and the audience – that he has another daughter: Magda, who ran away from home eight years earlier. “Please!” he cries in anguish. “We will not speak of this other daughter. Magdalena no longer exists for me.”

    The scene now shifts to an elegant meeting room, at which Ludwig, Prinz von Ilmingen is presiding over a committee that has been formed to organize an upcoming music festival. Needless to say, Fränze is a member of this committee. The Prince is an amiable chap, and as is often the case with royalty, he is much less pretentious than the middle-class stuff shirts who make up his committee. With great delight, he announces that he has succeeded in attracting the internationally-renowned singer Maddalena dall’ Orto, currently attached to the Metropolitan Opera in New York. She will sing the role of Orpheus in Gluck’s Orpheus und Eurydike, as well as one of the solo voices in the Bach St. Matthew Passion.

    The Prince’s committee members are not happy with this choice, however. The first to object is Franz Heffterdingk, the cathedral organist, on the grounds that dall’ Orto is an American. “For Bach, we need a German singer,” he says to the Prince, quietly but firmly. Heffterdingk is merely expressing a bit of healthy, national pride – and we will soon see that he is one of the most positive characters in the drama. The others who chime in, however, are moved simply by snobbery.

    Next to speak is Herr von Keller, the bank director. He describes himself as a “convinced man of the church” (whatever that has to do anything). But when he speaks we are immediately suspicious, not just of his unctuous manner, but of the three prominent dueling scars that give his face its only touch of real character. (Herr von Keller, we shall see, is the truly blackhearted villain of the piece.) And, of course, Fränze weighs in rather comically. The Prince has had enough, however, and declares the matter closed. The participation of Madame dall’ Orto in the festival will be a great coup for Ilmingen, he believes.

    When the lady herself arrives by train some days later, she is greeted by the Prince and by a large crowd. In their midst is the ever-curious Fränze, who becomes quite excited when she sees Madame dall’ Orto. The Prince, thinking she is an American, addresses her in English (these lines are not subtitled in the original version of the film). But the beautiful Madame dall’ Orto, wrapped in luxurious fur, reveals that in fact she is German.


    Leo Slezak as Rohrmoser, with Zarah Leander dressed as Orpheus

    The Prince is delighted and states that now there can be no more objections. The diva is puzzled by this remark, and the Prince explains dismissively that some “petty bourgeois” had objected to her, on the grounds that she is American. Her companion and mentor, the crusty but benign Rohrmoser, explains that for eight years she had tried to become an American – without success, he assures the Prince! (It is worth noting that Heimat was banned by the American occupiers for a few years after the war – no doubt because of the perceived “anti-Americanism” of these lines in the film’s first reel.)

    When Madame dall’ Orto is left alone with Rohrmoser a little later, the suspicions we have formed thus far are confirmed: Maddalena dall’ Orto is indeed Magda von Schwarze, the Colonel’s wayward daughter. She has clearly accepted this invitation to Ilmingen because she wants to be reconciled with her father. But it is going to be difficult: in eight years, he has never answered any of her letters. There is much that is left mysterious at this point in the drama, however. For example, Rohrmoser must depart hurriedly to be with someone, and Magda asks him to give this unnamed personage “my love.” Who can this be?

    Meanwhile, Fränze is scurrying off to tell Colonel von Schwarze that she believes she just saw Magda at the train station; that Maddalena dall’ Orto is really the daughter for whom he secretly pines. Predictably, what has impressed Fränze the most is not that Madga is now a famous opera singer, but that the Prince kissed her hand at the railway station. The Colonel dismisses all this as “fairy tales.” And yet, we perceive that he is interested. Can it be true? Has Magda returned?

    Meanwhile, Magda sends a note to her sister Mieze, asking to meet her that evening outside the cathedral. However, she signs the note “Maddalena dall’ Orto.” When Magda arrives at the appointed spot, however, she finds her sister’s fiancé, the likeable yet stiff and conventional Lieutenant Wendlowsky. Mieze had not thought it appropriate to come herself, in response to a stranger’s note. When Wendlowsky politely makes it clear that Magda will not see Mieze and that she must convey her message through him, Magda smiles and simply says “Greet my sister for me.” Max is thunderstruck, yet his insistence on “proper form” does not waiver. He will report this news to Mieze (and the Colonel), but he can make no promise as to whether or not Magda will be reunited with her family. He salutes her and abruptly departs, leaving her sad and confused.

    Magda hears the sound of the cathedral organ being played, and enters the building. I have not been able to determine where these scenes were shot – but the location is clearly an actual church, and not a set. Its interior is stunningly beautiful, with the large organ sitting on an exposed upper level, accessible by twin spiral staircases, apparently of marble. Franz Heffterdingk, seen earlier, is at the keyboard rehearsing. Aside from what appears to be an elderly church deacon, the cathedral is otherwise deserted. In a beautifully atmospheric shot, we see Magda walking down the aisle, casting a long shadow, as the fussy deacon appears to shoo her away. Heffterdingk stops playing and is stunned when he sees her. “Magda von Schwarze!” he cries, and races down one of the spiral stairways to greet her.

    It becomes apparent from their exchange that the middle-aged, bookish Heffterdingk was in love with Magda years earlier. She delights in surprising him with the news that she is the famous Maddalena dall’Orto. He says, rather pathetically, that he has waited for her all these years – but it rather obvious that his love was unrequited (she still addresses him with the formal “Sie”). Heffterdingk is shocked to learn, however, that Magda has not yet been to see her father. He encourages her to do so, but she is afraid – afraid that he will ask her how she “managed” all these years on her own. (We know at this point that Magda has some secret she is hiding, but we still have no idea what it is.) Heffterdingk promises that he will go to the old Colonel and ease the way to a reunion.

    Meanwhile, Max is telling Mieze about his encounter with Magda. The younger sister is shocked. “Shouldn’t we go to her at once?” she says. But Max, like her father, is the stalwart voice of middle-class morality. “People will talk,” he says. “If we go now it will be the talk of the town in two hours.” Incensed, Mieze sits down at the piano and begins playing a gay little tune, knowing that her father has forbidden this (not wishing to be reminded of Magda, and the music that once filled their home). The Colonel enters and literally locks the piano, saying to Mieze firmly but gently, “I don’t want any music in my house.”

    The scene now shifts to an elegant reception at the palace, which the Prince has organized in honor of Magda – or, of Maddalena dall’ Orto. Members of the local nobility and the town’s most prominent burghers are in attendance. They are a sorry, small-minded lot. One elderly army officer says to another gentleman, “They make a fuss over her, like she was a member of the royal family.” Then the officer questions the practical value of a music festival. Predictably, the older women are envious of Magda’s beauty and finery and so there is a great deal of clucking about her morals. One old bitty remarks to a second (clearly a member of the aristocracy), “These are modern times, Your Excellency. Morals tend to relax.” The old prune responds: “But not in Ilmingen, if I may say so.”

    The Prince then introduces Magda to her own aunt, Fränze, who produces, he says with pride, “One novel every year. Each more sad and more beautiful than the last.” But Magda doesn’t recall her aunt with any fondness. “How do you do?” she says in English, and sweeps away. Magda must endure a succession of small interrogations by these pillars of society. One says to her “The public in America must be very mixed, suspicious characters.” “Of course,” she responds in an ironic tone. “Negroes, dishwashers, and frauds.”

    We discover that Fränze is not the only one who suspects that Maddalena dall’ Orto is really Madga von Schwarze. The local pastor thinks he has recognized her as well. And at last Fränze confronts her. With evident disdain for the old busybody, Magda reveals her true identity before everyone. “Your Highness, it can no longer remain a secret. I am Magda von Schwarze.” The Prince is delighted: “Then you are a child of our land. That’s charming!” he says, kissing her hand.

    The Prince sits down at the piano and tries to persuade Magda to perform one of her cabaret numbers. (She had been a cabaret singer – was für ein Skandal! –before becoming an opera diva.) The grand dames are shocked, needless to say. As the Prince begins to play, Magda leans against the piano and leers at the old women (who all look as if they are dressed for a funeral). She becomes, for a moment, the whore they all imagine her to be. And, as she begins to sing, they turn away in horror. It’s a highly amusing sequence – and Leander sings one of her best songs: “Eine Frau wird erst schön durch die Liebe” (A Woman First Becomes Beautiful Through Love). The only element that mars the scene is that when Leander begins singing, we hear a full orchestra backing her up! But this is a small quibble. It’s a delightful sequence which can be seen here [6]. When her song comes to an end, Magda wishes them all a good evening – and rushes out of the room.

    Prince Ludwig pursues Magda, and congratulates her on her courage in facing this roomful of narrow-minded, middle class nobodies. The Prince is a minor character, but an interesting one. He is likable insofar as he as he sees the bourgeoisie for what they are. But he is not offered as an unqualifiedly positive character. The Prince represents, in fact, the decadent upper class, which is “above” the priggishness of the petty bourgeoisie not because its moral sense is more advanced, but rather because it has lost all moral sense. (Thus tying it, ironically, to its diametrical social opposite: the rabble, or underclass.)

    Meanwhile, Heffterdingk is visiting the Colonel. He will receive Magda – but he will accept no conditions. He means to question her about the last eight years, and how she managed. “That is my right, my duty,” he says. “I must know if she has led a decent life. If she is still decent enough to enter my house.” It is clear that the Colonel was deeply hurt when Magda ran away from home. “Does she want my forgiveness?” he asks angrily. “I’ll tell you what she wants. She wants to impress us!”

    Heffterdingk sees through all this bluster. He points out that the Colonel should be proud of how far his daughter has risen in the world, solely through her own hard work. “It is you who are defiant and proud, Herr von Schwarze. I know exactly what your trouble is. You want to have something to forgive, and you are annoyed that there is nothing to forgive here.” This seems to make the Colonel stop and think. He will offer her his hand – if she comes, he says. As to what his attitude will be when he is reunited with his daughter, the Colonel promises Heffterdingk only that he will be “just.”

    When Heffterdingk gives Magda an account of this conversation later in the evening, she despairs and swears never to go to her father. But later on, when she is being taken back to her hotel by carriage, Magda impulsively asks the coachman to take her to Sophienstraße, where her father and sister live. Max has left for the evening, and Mieze has gone to bed, leaving the old Colonel alone with his newspaper, muttering about news of the great Bismarck. “Authority! That’s what’s needed! Authority over all [Authorität über alles]!”

    Magda’s coach pulls up to the Colonel’s house. A light snow is falling. From the street, we see the Colonel pacing back and forth in his study. Something moves him to look out the window. He sees the coach. At this point we hear the lovely melody of Leander’s song “Drei Sterne sah ich scheinen [7]” – which she sings over the opening titles, in a powerful arrangement. What now unfolds is one of the most dramatic, and emotionally moving sequences in the film.

    At first, just after alighting from the coach, Magda hides behind one of the pillars of the great (and symbolic) iron fence that surrounds the house. The Colonel takes a kerosene lamp and steps out onto the terrace. “Magda!” he calls. He does not see her; he has sensed her presence. Magda now goes to the gate and opens it, rushing up the walkway and to her father’s side, who stands there gaping at her, not believing his eyes. There is a moment of silence between them. Then, she simply says “Vater . . . .” “Bitte,” he responds quietly, motioning for her to enter.


    Magda and her father are reunited

    An odd but beautiful scene follows, reminiscent of the famous sequence in Queen Christina, where Garbo moves about the room in which she and John Gilbert have just made love, memorizing everything, not wanting to forget any detail. Instead of speaking to her father, Magda moves from object to object, lovingly embracing everything with her eyes, as memories of long ago come flooding back. Overcome, the Colonel sits down in his chair. Finally, Magda goes to him. She kneels and places her head on his knee, then looks up and studies him, her hands stretching to his lapels. “You’ve turned all white,” she says. “But you’ve become beautiful. I’m so happy to be here again.” On the verge of tears, the Colonel caresses her shoulder gently and says, “Why didn’t you come at once?”

    Soon the door opens and Mietze enters. This reunion is much more joyful – not tinged with sadness. And the Colonel’s mood now brightens, until finally we see him positively giddy. When Magda speaks about returning to her hotel, he insists that she stay the night in her own home. Mieze offers her sister her bed. And as they are just about to retire, Magda embraces her father once more and says tenderly, “Gute Nacht, Vater.” “Gute Nacht, mein Kind (Good night, my child),” he responds, fighting back tears. (And I’ll wager that if any in the audience are not fighting back tears at this point, they are made of stone – or, what is worse, they are cynics.)

    Before bed, Mieze explains her situation to Magda: how she is unable to marry Max until the deposit of 60,000 Marks is (somehow) paid. Magda, who has made small fortune as a singer, immediately promises to come to her aid. The next morning, the Colonel is being served breakfast by his gentleman’s gentleman, Christian (probably his old batman from the army). He tells the Colonel that when he tried to retrieve Magda’s luggage from the hotel, there were some protestations from Magda’s own servant. “These Americans!” says Christian. “But it’s not a Negress.” “Then we can count ourselves lucky,” replies the Colonel. (Interestingly, both references to Negroes are not expressions of “Nazi racism” but illustrations of bourgeois petty-mindedness.)

    When Magda arrives a moment later, dressed to the nines, her father invites her to breakfast. But she explains she is on her way to the bank to take out 60,000 Marks for Mieze. Madga is ebullient, but the Colonel’s reaction is rather cool. He is evidently still concerned with what kind of life his daughter his lived, and how she got so much money. “You were poor when you left here,” he says pointedly. “Yes, but I managed,” she responds, wanting to brush the whole thing aside. But the Colonel won’t let her: “But how?” he asks. “I’m afraid, Magda. You’ve kept your good heart, but in your eyes I see something I don’t like.”

    This awkward scene is conveniently interrupted by the Prince, who has ridden to the house on horseback to greet Magda. Both father and daughter rush outside to meet him. Magda politely refuses his invitation to go riding, and uses the opportunity to escape her father for the moment, saying that she must go to the bank. Left alone with the Colonel, the amiable Prince invites him and his family to the grand ball, to be held that evening as the first major event of Ilmingen’s music festival.


    Keller and Magda

    At the bank, the cashier is surprised by Magda’s request to cash a check for so much money, and says that she must first speak with the bank manager, Herr von Keller (seen very early in the film, the “convinced man of the church” with the dueling scars). When Magda enters Keller’s office, she stops dead in her tracks as soon as she sees him. As for Keller, he too looks shocked (just barely holding his monocle in place). “So this is what you’ve become,” Magda says ruefully. “A pillar of society.” Unnerved by the encounter, Keller immediately authorizes that her check be paid out in full.

    The ensuing conversation now reveals that eight years earlier, when Magda was first on her own, the two of them had had a love affair in Berlin. The heartless Keller recalls the whole thing very casually, as if he is being reminded of a pleasant vacation he took long ago. Magda studies him with unconcealed hatred. She had loved him then (though this strains the viewer’s credulity, I should add), but he had merely used her. The result? “You haven’t asked about your child,” Magda says. “Liar, coward!” she throws at him. Keller had disappeared from her life before ever learning that he had become a father. He is stunned at first, but quickly recovers.


    Magda and her daughter Poldi

    And now we know Magda’s secret – the real reason why she had so feared an interrogation at the hands of her father. And we know now who Rohrmoser was rushing off to meet early in the film, the person about whom Magda was clucking so much: her little girl. Magda rises and starts to leave. Astonishingly, Keller moves towards her and says leeringly, “But Magda, we could meet sometime . . .” When the cashier returns with a receipt for her transaction, she flees – leaving Keller pensive and bemused. Obviously, he is planning something.

    When Magda returns home she is relieved to find Heffterdingk waiting for her. She has been shaken by her encounter with Keller, and needs her old friend to help her keep up a brave front before the Colonel. The old gentleman and his loyal servant have retrieved some bottles of champagne from the wine cellar to celebrate the engagement of Mieze and Max. Whatever qualms he may have had about Magda paying the deposit, he has now forgotten them and is positively joyful. And he takes a mischievous pleasure in informing Fränze that Magda has come to the rescue and paid the exorbitant deposit.

    At the grand ball that evening, Keller asks Magda to dance. Not wishing to arouse suspicion, she agrees. As they dance, Keller confirms her worst fears. He asks when they can meet next (implying that it will be for the purposes of a love tryst). When Magda refuses to see him, Keller advises her “One shouldn’t endanger one’s secrets. You wouldn’t want to make an enemy of me.” He means to blackmail Magda into resuming their sexual relationship – fully aware that Magda is terrified lest her father find out that she has an illegitimate child. When she threatens to make a scene then and there, Keller releases her.

    Keller is actually a favorite topic of conversation among the other attendees. The Prince privately announces that he is to be made a privy councilor, but the old officer seen earlier raises questions about Keller’s “womanizing.” The Prince has no illusions about him. He watches Keller dancing with Magda and remarks that this “pillar of Christian society” is evidently seething with lust. And across the room, Fränze is talking with one of the grand dames we’ve seen before. “I’ve entrusted my entire fortune to him,” Fränze says. The older woman assures her that Keller is reliable, but this exchange immediately tips the viewer off that something is rotten in Ilmingen. We know that Keller is a scoundrel. And we foresee that this penny-pinching “poetess” will soon get her comeuppance.

    Meanwhile, Colonel von Schwarze is seated at a table full of retired officers – all of them wearing their old dress uniforms festooned with splendid decorations. They are drinking great tankards of beer and one officer proposes a toast to “our old comrade Colonel von Schwarze, who has returned to our midst.” It is evident that the Colonel has spent these last eight years in a state of depression and isolation, longing for his lost daughter. But now he has returned to life. “Thank you. I am extraordinarily happy! I am extraordinarily happy!” he cries. It is a touching scene.

    The old officer we first saw at the reception the previous evening tells von Schwarze, “Yesterday your daughter showed such courage, as if she were leading a cavalry attack.” The Colonel delights in this, and we can see that at this point in the film he seems to have decided to accept his daughter and to take pride in her accomplishments, regardless of his doubts about her past. (And it helps that the Prince and his old comrades have accepted her.) Brimming with good will, the Colonel suggests that he and some of the officers take a sleigh ride to Oberwald the following day, prior to the opera.

    Heffterdingk (who is present at the ball, but cannot dance) finds Magda alone in one of the salons, collapsed on a divan. “What’s wrong?” he asks her. “I’m being trapped,” she says. She then proceeds to tell him everything. Heffterdingk is shocked at first, then asks where the child is. “In Oberwald,” Magda responds. “I want to see the child,” he says. “What do you want with me and child?” she asks. “To love you. You and the child,” he says tenderly, stroking her arm. But Magda says nothing.

    The following morning, the Colonel and his friends have travelled up the snow-covered paths to Oberwald, in three sleighs. A beautiful little blond girl, about seven or eight years old, sees them and rushes up to the Colonel’s sleigh. Still in his joyful mood, he immediately offers her a ride. But then suddenly our old friend Rohrmoser appears and cries, “Stop! Let go of the child.” He tells the Colonel (whom he does not know), “I am responsible for the little girl.” And now we know, needless to say, that this is Magda’s child (whose name is Poldi). But the Colonel has absolutely no idea that the little girl he has immediately taken a shine to is his own granddaughter. (A testament to the power of genetic similarity, one supposes.) He invites Rohrmoser to join them, saying that he and the child can return from Ilmingen on the noon train. Rohrmoser accepts, and hops aboard the sleigh to join Poldi.

    When the Colonel arrives home later in the day, he finds Magda arguing with Keller in the living room. The blackguard has just proposed marriage to Magda, causing her to order him out of the house. Her father stands and gapes incredulously. Prior to calling on Magda, Keller had met with Fränze and another of his clients, both of whom have complained of large sums missing from their accounts. Keller is an embezzler, and his interest in Magda is now more than merely sexual: he wants a rich wife to bail him out.


    Magda confesses the truth to her father

    Magda flees the scene, leaving her father alone with Keller. With exquisite politeness – and absolute coldness – Keller refuses to discuss the matter with the Colonel, and takes his leave. Von Schwarze rushes upstairs to confront his daughter. He begs her to tell him the truth. He knows that Keller was in Berlin around the same time that Magda was, years earlier. “Did he have the right to speak to you this way?” the Colonel asks, frantic with worry. Finally, Magda tells him the truth – the whole truth.

    The Colonel explodes. “You’ve betrayed us. You’ve soiled your father’s coat. You’ve despised the morality and order which are law in this house!” He has reverted to his default position, to the conventions which constrain him as securely as the iron bars that surround his house. The joy he exhibited earlier has vanished. We can forgive him for being conventional. But where is his compassion for his daughter, who has suffered so much at the hands of Keller?

    Magda is defiant. “There is only one law for me,” she says. “The honesty of my feelings, being true to myself.”

    “A very comfortable law,” her father responds. And, actually, he has a point. It is at this juncture that the audience begins to see things from the Colonel’s perspective; to see that the fault does not lie entirely with “bourgeois convention.” Magda’s “individualism” is flawed as well. We realize that Heimat is turning out to be much more morally complex than we thought.

    Magda promises to leave Ilmingen, but her father refuses to let her. “You will not leave here until your child bears its father’s name!” (Note that at this point he has not expressed any interest in his grandchild at all; he does not even ask what sex it is.) This horrifies Magda. “You can’t force me to agree to that!” she says. “This concerns my life.”

    “This concerns your honor, and my honor!” he responds, and then rushes out of the room, promising Magda that she and Keller will most certainly be wed. The Colonel dons his overcoat and prepares to go out, but not before unlocking a drawer in his desk and removing a pair of dueling pistols. At this point, Max enters. He and Mieze had been listening at the bottom of the stairs, and have more or less figured things out. Max, believing that the Colonel is off to challenge Keller to a duel, offers to stand in the old man’s place, saying that he has a right to.


    The Colonel wields his dueling pistol, while a concerned Max looks on

    But the Colonel asks if he wants to marry into a dishonored family. Max says he will stand by Mieze. “So what do you want to do? Take off your regimental tunic and become a travelling salesman?” the Colonel asks. It is crucial for today’s audiences to understand what is at stake here, or little of the drama will make sense. If it became known that Magda has a bastard child, not only will she be shunned in Ilmingen, so will her entire family. Is this just? No, but that is nonetheless the reality of the situation. (And such practices are a necessary evil in a society that wishes to minimize the occurrence of out-of-wedlock births.)

    The Colonel, whose entire life has been built on honor, would lose his honor. His pension could even be cut off. (This is not mentioned in the film, but in the time period it was a definite possibility.) As to Mieze, who will marry the sister of a woman so completely disgraced? Max? But if he stands by her, the Colonel is quite correct to say that his military career would be at an end. (Who one marries, and whether one is married, is to this day a matter of some significance for the career of an officer – though standards have fallen, needless to say.) We see in Max’s face that he recognizes the truth of what the Colonel is saying.

    Von Schwarze orders Max to never again enter his home – not unless its honor is restored. Then he departs. Max explains the situation to Mieze. “It’s over. Everything is over. Do you imagine I could remain soldier in a town where the likes of a Herr von Keller brags about Colonel von Schwarze’s daughter?” And then Magda rushes down the stairs and out the door, distraught, bidding them both “Farewell.”

    Magda returns to Rohrmoser and her daughter, who are being visited by the ubiquitous Heffterdingk. She embraces Poldi, weeping, then asks Rohrmoser to tell the servant to pack their things. They will be leaving immediately. Heffterdingk stares down at her. “And what about our work, Magda?” he says softly. “You are singing tonight and tomorrow.” Magda is uncomprehending: “I have to sing?!” she says, tears streaming down her face.

    “Yes, sing. You want to flee from Keller. Are you that weak?” Heffterdingk asks. He reminds her of her obligation to her art.

    “You speak of art, but it’s a matter of my life!” she cries.

    Now it’s Rohrmoser’s turn: “Since when does that little life come before art, Magda?”

    It doesn’t. Not for the true artist. And Magda does indeed stay and sing. But she says she will leave immediately after she has discharged her obligation to the music festival. Backstage, prior to performing the third act of Gluck’s Orpheus, Magda argues with her sister. “I can’t stay, Marie,” Magda says, pacing the room nervously in costume and makeup. “Yes, maybe I’m a coward. But I would die if I stayed here. Here with these people. It would be the end of me.”

    “Your leaving would be the end of us all!” Mieze cries.

    “But Marie, you cannot force me to give everything away: my happiness, my art, my whole life, and for what? For this thing which is called ‘honor’ in Ilmingen?”

    “For us, Magda,” Marie says quietly. It is a highly significant exchange, as we shall see. Mieze tells her sister that if she leaves again, their father will probably kill himself. When Magda again asks her sister “but what about me?” Mieze answers selflessly, “I don’t really think it matters what becomes of the two of us. But there must be order!” (Aber es muss doch Ordnung sein). A queer lot, these Germans.

    Zarah Leander performs one of the best-known pieces from Gluck’s opera, the “Lament of Orpheus” (“Ach, ich habe sie verloren”). As one relatively fair-minded historian of Third Reich cinema has put it, Leander’s performance here (and in the Bach St. Matthew Passion, which comes later) is “creditable” – meaning deserving of praise, but not necessarily outstanding.[1] Leander is a wonderful singer of first-rate popular songs, but operatic pieces are a bit beyond her range. Under the circumstances, her performance here is admirable, as well as enjoyable. The audience in the film is most impressed. And there is a brief, touching shot of the local pastor and his family, who are genuinely moved by Magda’s performance.

    Meanwhile, Keller returns home and immediately instructs his housekeeper to pack his bags, for he most go away on urgent business. We sense that Keller is about to skip town, but the housekeeper informs him that a “gentleman” has been waiting for him for some time. When Keller enters his luxurious (really, positively decadent) parlor, he finds Colonel von Schwarze, still in his overcoat, pacing the floor. Keller is extraordinarily cool, and begins by asking if Magda approves of her father’s visit. “Stop your babbling! I know how to deal with you!” the Colonel explodes, pulling out one of his dueling pistols.

    Keller, for the first time, is unnerved. “You aren’t going to shed blood, are you Colonel?” he asks. Keller thinks that the Colonel is there to either kill him, or challenge him to a duel. When the old man instead asks whether or not he intends to marry Magda, Keller is both relieved – and at the same time, it appears, slightly amused. “Herr Oberst [literally, “Mr. Colonel”],” he says, “I have the honor to ask for your daughter’s hand in marriage.” Now it is von Schwarze’s turn to be shocked. He hadn’t imagined it would be this easy. But Keller has his doubts as to whether Magda will go along with the arrangement. “You have my word of honor [mein Ehrenwort] that Magda will marry you,” the Colonel says, and then departs.

    After Magda’s performance, the Colonel’s carriage comes to fetch her. Von Schwarze sits next to his daughter, looking utterly devastated. There is silence between them, until finally Magda says: “I’m staying. I’ll do everything that you want.” “I haven’t expected anything else,” he responds, without looking at her. There is no arrogance in the Colonel’s tone. As the daughter of an officer, and a citizen of Ilmingen, she is now acting as he knew she eventually would: from duty. ”Keller comes to visit tomorrow,” he says, and Magda stares straight ahead, looking like a woman going off to the gallows.

    The next morning, Keller arrives as scheduled, complete with a bouquet of roses. He is rather shocked when Magda reveals that she has given her savings to her sister (to pay the deposit necessary for her to marry Max). “At last, an honest emotion!” she cries with delight. “You are such a bad actor.” But Keller still means to marry her. She will have to give up her career, he informs her. And when he is made privy councilor they will move to a new residence and live in grand style. However, Magda points out that he has forgotten one thing: “the child on whose behalf this marriage will take place.”

    But Keller has this figured out as well. He announces that “naturally” the child will have to remain a secret, and certainly cannot live with them. “We’ll send it away, somewhere abroad. We can visit it now and then, and later when it is grown we could adopt it on some pretense.”

    Magda can barely believe what she is hearing. She stares at him in horror. “What kind of human being are you?” Then she becomes hysterical, screaming for her father. Von Schwarze rushes in. “I was ready to lower myself, to sacrifice myself. But not my child! Never!” Magda cries, begging her father to throw Keller out. Then she falls onto the sofa, weeping. Though the Colonel stands firm in his decision that his daughter must marry Keller, even he is appalled by the man’s heartlessness. Still, he reaffirms the promise he has made Keller, and then politely asks him to leave.

    Left alone with his daughter, von Schwarze orders her to accompany him to his study. Meekly, she obeys. Once there, the Colonel moves to the open box containing his dueling pistols. Magda stands frozen, watching him. Quite calmly, her father tells her “Either you swear on your child’s life that you will marry its father. Or neither of us will leave this room alive.”

    At this very moment, Keller has returned home only to be informed by his housekeeper that two policemen called for him while he was out. They will return later, she says. Keller is clearly unnerved. And then the doorbell rings. We see that it is in fact Max who is at the door this time, but of course Keller assumes it’s the police. Keller refuses to allow the old woman to open the door. When Max begins pounding on it, she cries “You can’t do this Herr von Keller. All the neighbors will come out!” And she moves to open the door.

    Director Carl Froelich now handles things with a series of rapid cuts, moving back and forth between the tense scenes in both the von Schwarze and von Keller households.

    We see the Colonel collapsed in his chair pleading with his daughter. Froelich captures Zarah Leander in a close-up so beautiful she seems almost unreal. “No,” she says simply. Magda (her father’s daughter) is resolute, but we see that she is also terrified.

    Then we see Keller sealed in his parlor, his face illuminated by an oil lamp. He knows it is the end for him. His sardonic smile seems to say “The game is up. It was good while it lasted.” And in a poetic touch, he blows out the oil lamp, plunging the room into darkness.

    Darkness has also fallen over von Schwarze’s study. “May God have mercy on us,” he says. Then, suddenly, he rises from his chair and grabs one of the pistols. “Magda!” he screams, and collapses in her arms.

    At just that point, we hear a loud gunshot and the scene jumps to Max entering Keller’s apartment. It is such a quick cut we aren’t immediately sure what has happened. Did the Colonel fire his gun? But when Max breaks into Keller’s parlor we see exactly what has occurred. Keller has taken his life with his own weapon, and lies dead on the carpet (near what appears to be a huge polar bear skin rug).

    Magda helps her father into his chair. It is clear that he has undergone an emotional crisis – and turning point. He is exhausted, and perhaps now realizes how close he has come to committing an absolutely senseless act in the name of honor (a perennial Germanic problem). He had almost committed murder and suicide, and almost deprived a child of her mother, all because of what the neighbors might say. (And the insanity of it is that the neighbors probably would think that a family with a murder-suicide to its name is less dishonorable than one with a bastard child.)

    As the bells of the cathedral begin ringing, Heffterdingk arrives on the scene. He replaces von Schwarze’s pistol in its case, then addresses the old Colonel. Their exchange is highly significant:

    HEFFTERDINGK: What kind of world do you live in?

    VON SCHWARZE: In a world where there is still some honor left.

    HEFFTERDINGK: In a world where even a tough man like you can’t overcome his fear of other people. In a world that stifles living feelings, where dead phrases reign. In a world full of lies, Colonel, in a bad world.

    VON SCHWARZE: I have grown up in that world. I know no other world.

    HEFFTERDINGK (very passionately): But you do, Herr von Schwarze, you do know this other world. It rises up with new faces, and a new honor. It throbs against our hearts. The life that murmurs in you is too big, too powerful. It will break loose of those old forms. And you feel it quite well. You just don’t want to admit it.

    None of this exchange is in Sudermann’s play – it is entirely original. The Colonel is too exhausted to argue with Heffeterdingk. He asks them all to leave. Magda, who also seems spent, simply says, “The Passion.” She is referring, of course, to Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, which she will sing that evening.

    The scene now shifts to the cathedral, and to the most elaborate, impressive, and moving sequence in the film. The orchestra and choir are placed on the upper level, as seen earlier. Heffterdingk conducts, with Magda sitting at his right. As the orchestra plays, Froelich’s camera, mounted on a crane, slowly rises from the pews to the level at which the performers are seated. Practically the entire town has turned out to hear Magda perform.

    Froelich cuts together a number of scenes from the entire St. Matthew Passion, beginning almost at the very start of part one of the piece. Cued by Heffterdingk, Magda sings:

    Buß und Reu, Buß und Reu
    Knirscht das Sündenherz entzwei.

    (Repentance and regret, repentance and regret
    rips the sinful heart in two.)

    The jumps from one segment of the piece to another are eased by intercutting other, brief scenes. In the first, we see Rohrmoser arriving with little Poldi. They sit in a pew near the back of the church. Next, we see Max informing the Colonel (who is still sitting at home) of Keller’s suicide, and what precipitated it. This causes the Colonel to change his mind, and we soon see him approaching the cathedral, accompanied by Max and Mieze. They enter, and sit at a pew near Rohrmoser and Poldi.

    Poldi now recognizes the old man from the sleigh ride the previous day (though the timeline here, as in many dramas, is a bit unclear). She goes over to him. “Don’t you know me?” she says with a mischievous gleam. The old Colonel is very tired, and all his anger seems to have left him. He puts his arm around the little girl – and as the music rises gloriously, Froelich cuts to an exterior shot, panning up the cathedral’s spire.


    The climax of Heimat, grandfather and granddaughter meet

    We now move forward in time, and the Passion is reaching its climax, with the death of Jesus. Poldi points to Magda and says to the Colonel, proudly, “My mummy!” Von Schwarze is stunned. Throughout the entire crisis, which centered on Magda’s child, he had not thought of the child herself – and that he might love her. He stares into Poldi’s little face. Then he looks towards his daughter and, smiling, caresses Poldi’s cheek, hugging her close. Both of them listen in silence to Magda’s singing. The Colonel closes his eyes, profoundly touched by the music, and by the newfound love he feels for his granddaughter.

    The film closes with Magda and chorus singing a somber but lovely passage:

    Wenn ich einmal soll scheiden,
    So scheide nicht von mir,
    Wenn ich den Tod soll leiden,
    So tritt du denn herfür!
    Wenn mir am allerbängsten
    Wird um das Herze sein,
    So reiß mich aus den Ängsten
    Kraft deiner Angst und Pein.

    (When I must depart one day,
    do not part from me then,
    when I must suffer death,
    come to me then!
    When the greatest anxiety
    will constrict my heart,
    then wrest me out of the fear
    by the power of your anguish and pain.)

    The Meaning of Heimat

    As I indicated in my introduction, Heimat is useful for understanding the nature of National Socialism itself. The most conspicuous thing about the film is its relentless critique of bourgeois manners and morals. There is hardly a scene that lacks at least some sort of dig against stuffy, middle-class morality. Some of this quite amusing, but at times it is horrifying – as when we see von Schwarze come narrowly close to murdering his own daughter in the name of his “honor.”

    But it is not just the middle class that is under attack here, but the entire rigid Wilhelmine social order. The top echelon of this hierarchy is only accessible by birth, and it is largely degraded and useless. The middle class prides itself on its “morals,” yet shamelessly seeks the favor of the decadent aristocrats. The upper level of the bourgeoisie is also, generally speaking, entered only through the birth canal. But exceptions are sometimes made for those who manage somehow to make or acquire a great deal of money, and who then dress and live in the style of the haute bourgeoisie. In truth, anyone can enter the middle class on at least some level, provided they have the cash. And yet the snobbery of the middle class often far exceeds that of the aristocracy.

    Character and achievements and real virtue matter little to anyone in this system. All that matters is birth and wealth. And the status that comes with both is arbitrary. These distinctions divide a people. They set class against class, German against German. Ironically, the left-wing socialism that sought to remedy this elsewhere only succeeded in perpetuating class warfare. The core of National Socialism was the realization that neither system is right for a nation, and that what binds a people together is the realization and celebration of membership in the whole that is the people itself, das Volk. As Heimat dramatically illustrates, a social hierarchy based on birth and wealth, with its attendant ethos of “keeping up appearances,” serves to mask (or to erode) the natural sentiment of racial or national fellow-feeling.

    The major conflict in the film is between the stuffy, conformist “what will the neighbors think?” morality of Ilmingen – versus the ethos of the free-spirited individualist, represented by Magda. Both are flawed, because both thwart the expression of natural sentiments. How the social morality of Ilmingen does this is more clearly illustrated in the film. Heffeterdingk is exactly right when he accuses von Schwarze of cowardice: he had been a tough and brave soldier, but he cannot get over his fear of the neighbors. He is so hemmed in by Ilmingen’s “code” that he is willing to condemn his daughter to marry a manifestly evil man – and then, when she demurs, he is willing to kill her and himself. Only a day before, prior to learning Magda’s dark secret, he had actually given free expression to his love for children, in responding to a little girl who was, in reality, his own granddaughter. And yet, ironically, once he learns Magda’s dark secret he shows no interest or concern for his grandchild at all – so fearful is he of what the neighbors will say when they find out that his daughter has committed an indiscretion.

    The flaws in Magda’s moral viewpoint will be less obvious to today’s audiences – because the ethics of “self-realization” (i.e., selfishness and hedonism) is now the only permitted ethos. But Magda too denies and dishonors her own natural sentiments – and unchosen ties and duties. What did she think she was doing in coming to Ilmingen? Did she think she could just waltz in, exchange a few hugs with her father, and then go on her merry way? Magda wants to see him but only if he will not “interrogate” her. In the tender scene in which they are reunited, she actually asks him at first not speak (!), a detail I did not mention earlier.

    Magda wants things on her own terms. She wants to be a “gypsy,” as Rohrmoser characterizes the two of them early on. When Magda reminds him that this “dump” (as he puts it) is her Heimat, he responds “We gypsies have this here for our Heimat. And in this here there can be no disappointments.” But Magda cannot be a gypsy, because she has roots in Ilmingen – ties to people she loves, ties she did not choose. She would prefer to have everything on her own terms: to be able to do what she likes, and go where she likes. She wants no sadness and no disappointment; to be able to heal the wounds of the past with a quick trip through town, and a gift of 60,000 Marks. But in the end she cannot deny the love she feels for her family, and the obligations she feels to them. And, yes, the love she feels for dear, old, imperfect Ilmingen.

    So what is the third moral alternative here – the alternative to the unfeeling ethics of status and honor and hierarchy on the one hand, versus the free-spirited ethics of self-actualization, with no unchosen bonds? It is the ethics of moral sentiments; an ethics that affirms the ties we feel to others close to us – to our family and to our people. This ethics affirms that our situatedness in various networks of human relationships creates duties and feelings of obligation and loyalty. We cannot deny these, not because to do so is a sin, but rather because to do so is to deny part of our very identity (which is constituted in and through those networks of relationships) – and such denial goes against our honest feelings, which we ignore at our peril. (In truth, “self-actualization” is only possible in concrete social contexts, and can only be achieved through the cultivation and affirmation of our sentiments, including our feelings for others, and our feelings of obligation.)

    Hegel can be useful to us here, as he so often is. In The Philosophy of Right, he delineates three moments of what he calls “ethical life” (Sittlichkeit): family, civil society (bürgerliche Gesellschaft, literally “middle-class society”), and state. All three are contexts in which modern persons define themselves, and realize their “ethical life,” in the form of duties, obligations, and codes of conduct. The family is a social whole united by love, and genetic similarity. In it, we first learn obligation as such: our duties to our parents, siblings, to the family name, etc. Civil society is the antithesis of the family: this is the work world, where social relations are divisive and based on competition, not love. But here too there is ethics: professional codes of conduct, loyalty to a company or a guild, etc.

    Now, if we stopped here we would pretty much have a clear picture of what the modern world has become. Most people have two sides to their lives: family, and work (and there is precious little ethics in “work”). But Hegel says that the antithetical moments of family and civil society need to be reconciled in a third “belongingness”: belonging to the state. This does not mean “government.” Instead, what it really means is the nation. And though it goes beyond the two moments of family and civil society, it does so in part by combining aspects of them. In being a member of the state I am related to other members, who are independent and (mostly) unrelated adult individuals – as in civil society. But what binds me together with others in the state is fellow-feeling; a higher (or, perhaps, “broader”) kind of love: love of my fellow countrymen, of another man simply because he is a member of my nation, my tribe, my people.

    Hegel’s concept of the state (Staat) comes very close to the National Socialist idea of the Volk. In the end, what Heimat is about is the ethics of love of one’s own, simply because they are our own. (And we don’t always get to choose them.) This is the central tenet of National Socialism as well.

    Is Heimat a “propaganda film”? No, it is a film of ideas. It is a brilliant fictional presentation of the ethos of National Socialism. In fact, it is an allegory: with Magda representing the new, young (selfish, hedonistic) Germany, and her father the old, calcified, Wilhelmine remnant – both of them coming to consciousness of the fact that it is blood ties and love that matter most, and will lead to happiness and self-realization.

    In the end, National Socialism is really about love. This is perhaps the most deliberately provocative thing that could be said about it. After all, most will say, isn’t it about hate? But, quite simply, one cannot have love without hate. One cannot love one’s own without being keenly aware of who is one’s own, and who is not – and who is a friend to one’s own, and who an enemy. (It is Carl Schmitt who will help us with this latter point, not Hegel.) “Hate” is really the wrong word here. One cannot have love, let us say, without a keen awareness of difference. One does not have to hate the other – but one must put one’s own first, and recognize that so long as there is another there will always be opposition of some sort.

    Now, Heimat is not just a skillful presentation of National Socialist ideas. It is also an extremely fine piece of cinema. Director Carl Froelich was one of the pioneers of German cinema, shooting his first film (Richard Wagner) in 1913. Heimat is brilliantly photographed (by cameraman Franz Weihmayr). Mention must also be made of Theo Mackeben’s excellent score, which includes two of Zarah Leander’s best songs. His underscore calls to mind some of the best film music of Bernard Herrmann. The Ministry of Propaganda awarded Heimat the distinction of being “Politically and Artistically Meritorious.” The film also won the director’s award at the Venice Biennale (1938) and the German Nationalen Filmpreis (1939).


    Zarah Leander

    But what is truly outstanding about Heimat is the performances of its two leads: Zarah Leander, and Heinrich George (as Colonel von Schwarze). I intend to devote a separate article to Leander. If you have never seen one of her films, I can promise you a revelation. (See Heimat first – it is her best film, and her own personal favorite.) It would be very accurate to liken her to a singing Garbo. Though I might even go so far as to say that she is more beautiful than Garbo. Certainly she is far warmer; less remote. Standard histories of Third Reich cinema usually dismiss Leander (who was Swedish) as the Nazi answer to Marlene Dietrich, who abandoned Germany for America. But the truth is that Leander is far more beautiful, a better actress, and a much better singer.

    Heinrich George also shines as von Schwarze. Indeed, this is his best performance. He was a staple of German cinema, appearing in countless films from 1921 on (he has a small role in Lang’s Metropolis, as Grot, foreman of the Heart Machine). George specialized in playing blowhards – sometimes hateful (he plays the abusive communist father of little Heini in Hitlerjunge Quex, 1934), sometimes benign (as in Kolberg, 1945), sometimes a bit of both, as in Heimat. Rumored to have been a communist in his early days, ironically he died of starvation in a Soviet concentration camp shortly after the war. (As to Leander, she was shunned for a time – but she revived her singing career in the 1950s, remaining popular until her death in 1981. Click here for a video of Leander in her old age, performing the Beatles’ “Yesterday [15].”

    Heimat is available with English subtitles from Rare Films and More [16] (formerly German War Films). The entire film, without subtitles, is available on YouTube [17].


    1. David Stewart Hull, Film in the Third Reich (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), 143.

    (Review Source)
  • Are You an Übermensch? Take This Simple Test & Find Out!
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    [1]1,925 words

    I suppose you’re reading this website because you care about the fate of Western culture and the race that produced it. Perhaps you are, in your own way, trying to do something to preserve your heritage and your people. Like me, you realize the terrible menace posed to the West by non-white immigration, and by all the isms that twine around each other in the noisome innards of Political Correctness: multiculturalism, egalitarianism, feminism, relativism, etc.

    I want you to imagine for a moment that you are able to see into the future and know with absolute and total certainty that we will lose. For example, not only will whites become a minority in America and Europe, they will eventually be wiped out. Imagine for a moment that you know – again, with complete certainty – that white people and the civilization they created will be completely obliterated.

    I want you to think of some aspects of Western civilization that you love or revere. Take the works of Plato for instance. Suppose you know that in the future there will be no one who will be interested in reading and preserving Plato. Oh, he’ll be around in libraries staffed by Asians, but eventually more and more voices will be heard calling for an end to teaching “dead white males” like Plato, who are simply no longer “relevant.” After several generations, new editions of Plato will cease to be printed. In a few hundred years, the old editions will have disappeared. In time the works of Plato will be completely lost. Now, simply apply the same pattern to Aristotle, Shakespeare, Beethoven, Wagner, Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Goethe, Kant, Mozart, Rodin, Bach, Botticelli, and Blake. Imagine the works of these men simply disappearing from the earth, because no one cares to preserve them.

    We need not restrict ourselves to high culture. Imagine your favorite films, which you suppose will always be around on DVD, Blu Ray, or whatever new gimcrackery gets invented, simply vanishing from the face of the earth: Birth of a Nation, Citizen Kane, The Holy Mountain, Vertigo, Metropolis, Fanny and Alexander, La Dolce Vita. Wait, that’s high culture too. All right: imagine all the James Bond, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones films simply vanishing.

    Imagine a world left with nothing but rap and salsa music, the Madea films, Telemundo, ghetto fiction, and donkey shows.

    Please do not nit-pick. Please do not tell me “Well, it’s implausible to think that all of it will be lost. . . .” No, actually, it is not implausible. I put this scenario to someone once who said to me (I kid you not), “Oh, the Jews and the Asians will preserve our culture.” I will admit that if white, gentile, European people died out the hope for preserving our (high) culture would lie in the Jews and the Asians. But suppose they are not able to contain and control the dark tide after all? They imagine that they will be able to, but suppose not. I am inclined to believe that once superior peoples mix with inferior, it is only a matter of time before the superior is degraded and done in. In another essay [2] published on this website, Derek Hawthorne quotes D. H. Lawrence writing in The Plumed Serpent:

    And all the efforts of white men to bring the soul of the dark men of Mexico into final clenched being have resulted in nothing but the collapse of the white men. Against the soft, dark flow of the Indian the white man at last collapses, with his god and his energy he collapses. In attempting to convert the dark man to the white man’s way of life, the white man has fallen helplessly down the hole he wanted to fill up. Seeking to save another man’s soul, the white man lost his own, and collapsed upon himself.

    Besides, this is my thought experiment, and I get to make the rules. So, to repeat: imagine that it is all lost. I am not saying I think it really will be lost, and that everything is hopeless. I don’t actually believe that; I think that there is real reason for hope. But my thought experiment asks you to imagine, just for a moment, that in fact things are completely, and totally hopeless; our culture irreversibly dying out. Everything great and beautiful that the West has every created is done for. Gone, as if it had never existed.

    Suppose that were the case – what would you do? When I first considered this scenario, I was filled with an almost indescribable sorrow. I felt as I imagine a man would feel on being told he has only a year to live. Why do anything at all, if it is all futile, if everything is for naught? Would you be able to continue listening to Wagner, or would it now be an unbearably painful experience, knowing as you do that soon Wagner will never be performed again? Would you stop reading Plato? Perhaps most significantly, would you stop trying to do your part to preserve your culture and your people? After all, what’s the point? You’ve seen the future, and you know that there isn’t a point.

    For Nietzsche, you are an Übermensch if you are able to look the eternal return squarely in the face and say “yes” to it. This also involves a thought experiment. Imagine that everything that has happened and is happening now – including all the really awful things (e.g., Madea’s Big Happy Family) – are destined to happen again an infinite number of times in exactly the same way. If you think about this carefully, it’s truly horrifying. But the Übermensch is able to say yes to this awful prospect: to will that everything happen over again infinitely, including all that he has done. This constitutes a supreme act of self-assertion: to will that one’s own acts be repeated infinitely, unalterably.

    My thought experiment, of course, is different. But how you respond to it also determines whether or not you are an Übermensch.  Are you able to see the future as bringing the destruction of all that we hold dear – and still live in this world and enjoy all those things while they last? If so, you have learned how to deal with death as a dying man does – enjoying all those things he values, in the time he has left. This is important, but it does not make you an Übermensch. Here’s the real question: are you able to see the future as bringing the destruction of all that we hold dear, and still act to defend and preserve our culture?

    Yes, suppose you know for sure that all will be lost: will you still fight to save it all? If you respond by saying “What for?” then you are not an Übermensch. No indeed, you are the Last Man. If you think the best course is to take a Spanish class, or develop a taste for rap, or, worse yet, fry your brain on Political Correctness and decide that “it’s really all for the best,” then you are not even the Last Man. You’re not a man at all.

    Faced with the prospect of a dark (in more ways than one) and dreadful future, the only honorable choice is to fight to preserve your culture and your people even if your efforts come to nothing. Many of us are doing that, soldiering on even though we remain pessimistic. Despite all the pessimism, however, we still hope. What I am asking you, however, is whether you could act to do what is right even if you are certain of failure. If you not only can do that, but find it impossible to imagine what else you could do with your time, then you are an Übermensch. In other words, if the only option for you is to fight for what’s right even though you believe you will fail, then you have passed the supreme test of character, and are more than merely human.

    This perspective draws as much from the Bhagavad-Gita as it does from Nietzsche. (For more information, see Derek Hawthorne’s masterful review [3] of Julius Evola’s The Metaphysics of War.) Informed by the god Krishna that his future contained nothing but a nullity, the great warrior Arjuna fought on because it was his duty to fight. For a man like Arjuna – who was, again, more than a mere man – there was simply no other option.

    To repeat, I am offering you only a thought experiment. I do not, in fact, believe that all is lost and that our situation is hopeless. Quite the reverse, in fact. If you have understood my thought experiment, however, you will see that it can be a source of tremendous strength. Too often individuals like us become dejected, and slide into do-nothing-ism. Some drop out of the cause entirely and wind up raising children and backyard chickens in some isolated, majority white (for now) hamlet in the boonies. But if you have understood what I have said, you will not be able to settle for this. In moments of dejection, when you feel that all is lost, you will remind yourself that even if all as lost you must act anyway, and that no other course is possible. That is, if you wish to retain your self-respect. If you do not wish to retain your self-respect, then we have nothing to say to each other.

    “All this may be true,” I can hear some good souls saying, “but what, concretely, can I do?” This is our central problem. We all want to do something to fight the good fight but what can I, as an individual, do exactly? Well, some write, some speak, some organize meetings, some talk to and try to “convert” as many people as they can. Some ambitious folks with the luxury of time have started organizations, magazines, and websites. If you can’t do any of these, then you can at least help those that are.

    In other words, you can give them money. I am Counter-Currents’ top donor. I give them a modest amount of money on a monthly basis. I do this because I believe that of all the “movement” outfits around today, the approach of Counter-Currents is the most promising. So many of the other groups deal only with matters like IQ, demographics, etc. One gets the impression they think that all we have to do is expel all the non-whites and paradise will return. This is extremely misguided. A culture that would allow our sorts of problems to arise in the first place is seriously warped. What we truly need is nothing less than a seering, all-encompassing critique of the whole post-Christian, Western world. Counter-Currents aims to establish an American version of the French New Right – one that is engaged not just in ivory tower intellectualism, but with a critique of popular culture and the creation of an alternative community. (Read the Counter-Currents mission statement here [4].)

    I didn’t start this essay thinking I would end it with a fund-raising plea, but here goes. How much do you spend on Hollywood movie tickets a month, or on buying DVDs, or on a cable subscription, or on Starbucks coffee, or on tamales, or fried chicken? Is it $25 a month? $50? That money goes to support our enemies. Why not send it to Counter-Currents instead [5]? Just how much is saving Western civilization worth to you? Be an Übermensch. Invest in hate. Now [5].

    (Review Source)
  • Lennart Svensson’s Science Fiction Seen from the Right
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    3,946 words

    [1]Lennart Svensson
    Science Fiction Seen from the Right [2]
    Manticore Books, 2016

    “Ursula Le Guin wrote about socialist utopias. Heinlein fought against them. There you have Science Fiction Seen from the Right in a nutshell.”

    Readers of Counter-Currents will be familiar — and likely agreeable to — the notion that despite what you heard in school, most all the truly great writers of the twentieth century were “men of the Right.” This has been the theme of books like Kerry Bolton’s Artists of the Right: Resisting Decadence,[1] or Jonathan Bowden’s Western Civilization Bites Back.[2]

    Bowden also gave us Pulp Fascism,[3] with its subtitle “Right-Wing Themes in Comics, Graphic Novels, and Popular Literature” and including coverage of Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Sarban’s The Sound of His Horn, and Brian Aldiss’ Moreau’s Other Island; why not then SF as a genre, tout court?

    As if in response, comes now this book; with a title like Science Fiction from the Right, one can consider this an automatic purchase for anyone on the “Alt Right.” If you’re looking for a well-informed study of the SF genre that’s decidedly not from the hard or soft Left perspective that seems de rigueur for both academics and SF writers themselves, this book is for you. Svensson, however, has grander ambitions, and that’s where the book begins to be a bit of a disappointment.

    Despite its title, Svensson is not really interested in “the Right” as such; he is interested in tradition, or, as he sometimes spells it, Tradition. And therein lies a perhaps unconscious indication of the problem: is it tradition, or Tradition?

    Svensson is certainly straightforward from the start:

    My definition of “right,” “a man of the right,” is “a man adhering to traditional, eternal values.”

    These eternal values can be exemplified as: duty, honor, honesty, accountability, selflessness, modesty, fidelity, faith, courage, justice, mercy, clemency, compassion, magnanimity, equanimity — values that are in harmony with the eternal natural law, with Dharma and Tao, with Physis and Lex Nauralis.[4]

    And to clarify: to merely advocate limited government, personal responsibility, moral values and productivity . . . is not to be a traditionalist. It’s a start, but it’s not enough. There has to be an esoteric element present, a connection with the causal realm in which all of existence can be anchored in the Platonic World of Ideas. Here, ultimately, the eternal values have their footing.

    To vindicate these ideals is what I do as a man of the right. I honor Tradition. To systematically embrace eternal values within a spiritual framework of Christianity, Hinduism and the Ancient way of the West, of esoteric strains in Greek, Roman and Norse thought, is called traditionalism. . . . There you have my outline of traditional values and their sources.

    And if that’s not clear enough, he adds that

    For a textbook rendering of the Perennial Thought intimated above, see René Guénon, . . . The Crisis of the Modern World, Julius Evola, . . . Revolt Against the Modern World, or Sri Dharma Pravartaka Acharya, . . . The Dharma Manifesto. Another lion of traditionalism currently alive, is Seyyed Hossein Nasr.[5]

    He is equally forthright about his intentions in what follows:

    My focus in this book is on conservative, right-wing SF and fantasy, of fantastic stories having the character of being based in eternal values as the ones sketched above, fantastic literature having some discernable relationship to Tradition.

    Putting all this together, we get, as an example:

    Frank Herbert’s Dune, dealing with meditation, courage and honoring your fathers, in the framework of this study, is an SF story of “the right-wing” kind, a story rooted in Tradition.

    Now, it’s interesting that Svensson chooses Dune as his exemplar. It’s not the first book/author he looks at; that’s Heinlein, who is, as he says, the “most iconic right-wing SF author ever.” But it is the first — and pretty much the only — book/author that fits the notion of “having some discernable relationship” to capital-T Traditionalism.[6]

    See, Svensson is operating with two rather different notions of tradition, which we might call majuscule and miniscule. Miniscule tradition — what he derisively calls “the Conservapedia definition” — could indeed be “exemplified” by that list of virtues but it, and them, have nothing in particular to do with majuscule Tradition.

    Now, I’m not saying Guénon, for example, would reject those virtues, not at all; but they would be merely “finite,” pertaining only to social organization in the Kali Yuga. They may be necessary for a society in which Tradition is preserved and handed down; they may also be a necessary first step in moral training for the path of Realization; but no more than that. The “Perennial Thought” is a matter of metaphysics, not morals.[7]

    To illustrate my point, consider that both Mike Hammer and his creator, Mickey Spillane, are certainly “men of the Right” in Svensson’s small-t traditional sense; Hammer, as even Ayn Rand perceived,[8] is, however violent and brutal, a man with a solid ethical code that he deviates from not one whit, and uses any means, however violent or illegal, to make sure no one else does either. And his creator was, to a remarkable degree, essentially the same man.[9]

    But — to make the contrast clear – the film version of Kiss Me Deadly is, however accidentally, and despite being conceived as an attack on everything Hammer and Spillane represented, a work embodying and bodying forth Traditional themes, while The Girl Hunters, though written and even starring Mickey Spillane himself, is just another thriller, though an excellent exemplar of Hammer’s sadistically chivalrous values.[10] By contrast, Svensson would have a hard time defending Kiss Me Deadly as even small-t traditionalist, since the filmmakers portray Hammer not as a White Knight[11] but as a moronic sadist.

    Svensson needs his two kinds of tradition, because unless he can shift from one to the other, he doesn’t have much of a book left.[12] It would be extremely interesting to find Traditional themes in SF;[13] but that’s because it seems, on the face of it, unlikely.

    So mostly, Svensson falls back on miniscule tradition; Heinlein, for example, is hardly a Traditional thinker, even before his ’60s-hippie phase, but he certainly meets the “right-wing” criterion.

    Svensson has also given himself another arrow for his quiver. Those who fail or refuse to acknowledge eternal values are defined here as “nihilists.” Those who stand against them, however, fall into two classes: those who passively observe their effect on society, and those who take up arms and by opposing (sometimes) end them.[14] The latter are praised, the former chided or condemned. Thus, authors as different as Heinlein and Lewis can be bracketed together for praise of their stand against nihilism.

    The reader might think I’m condemning the book outright, but that’s not really the case. It has the virtue of its vice; with so broad a canvas, the value here rests in whatever Svensson can find to say about some book or author, and if the reader persists, he will find much value here.

    Take this bracing insight on Ray Bradbury, which applies to many other areas of the Right:

    We all know that Ray Bradbury (1920-2012) was a man longing for years gone by, for the American 1920s with T-Fords, striped cotton suits and icecream sundaes. But this kind of sentimentality can’t be tolerated in a study like this. Tradition isn’t about being sentimental, it’s about acknowledging Eternal Values, values that still can lift us, inspire us and guide us, offering an alternative to the current materialism and nihilism. For in essence, sentimentality is a form of nihilism.

    Again, while J. G. Ballard is clearly an “active nihilist,” who, by “not putting up a credible counter-image to the forces of evil” has “superficially, nothing … to say to a radical conservative,” he is praised for at least being an honest skeptic, seeing through and rejecting the clichés of the liberal order. Svensson “gets” Ballard where so many don’t, seeing how Ballard goes on to find the creepy beauty of the new; Cambridge is just “a bicycle rack in front of Gothic backdrop”; the real action is at the US air base nearby, “with its concrete runways and landing lights.”

    There’s beauty in the Ballardian urban landscapes and the Jüngerian Marble Cliffs.[15] This we sorely need, anything except the left-liberal chewing of General Buzzword No. 1: pity the weak.

    Symbols abound, arresting hieroglyphs. Like the burnt-out shell of a B-29, its tailfin like a billboard advertising its own squadron. And the incomparable haze over the pale fields, antitank ditches and mounds, the same light seen after the dropping of the bomb, heralding the end of the war and the beginning of the next.[16]

    So, another WWII story? No, not by far. This is the new kind of SF the 1960s sometimes gave us: “speculative fiction,” a free rendering of the modern world with all its symbols and attitudes, condensed into a more urgent narrative. . . . By 1964 his literary attitude had gained a sense of necessity and tragedy not reached by any other contemporary author, inside or outside the field.

    One positive feature of this omnium-gatherum approach is that the reader finds himself introduced to new names and new books. For example, Karin Boye, and her novel Kallokain, apparently considered a Swedish modern classic for all to read, like our To Kill a Mockingbird, perhaps.[17] Svensson, in his brief chapter, makes me want to read this work of a Swedish poet/Valkyrie.

    Another book/author unknown to me is Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood (1985), where the protagonist finds a primeval forest which is “a dimensional crossroads” where mental intentions interact with mythic energy, “co-creating” the intended results.

    By contrast, the following chapter on the expected Orwell, Huxley, Zamyatin, and (perhaps less expectedly, the Metropolis of) von Harbou, really has nothing to say, although students will appreciate the suggestion that they need only read Chapter Three of Brave New World to get the gist of it. But by and large, the hits outnumber the misses.

    One major misstep here is that Svensson seems to swerve from his basic theme and give in to the desire to present a kind of encyclopedia of SF matters. A chapter on SF illustration seems pointless without illustrations, and one on the origins and history of SF publishing delves into such thrilling matters as the evolution of pulp magazine binding techniques. The author would have been well advised to leave such matters aside and follow his own taste in the novella format,[18] concentrating on a few major figures and making his arguments tighter.

    One has the impression that Svensson started with a list of authors — some essential, like Heinlein, some not that well known, like Boye, some ringers, like Marinetti or Castaneda — along with some topics, like war and nihilism; then he set to work writing something about each one, sometimes finding something to say on their literary or esoteric value, sometimes not.

    In the end, one wonders why Svensson burdens his book, and himself, by bringing up the whole Traditionalist business. SF, as already intimated, doesn’t on the surface seem very “Traditionalist” at all.[19] I think the answer is hinted at here:

    The ideal of SF, according to Holmberg, is this: man exploring nature with science and technology, thus conquering and understanding his universe, and in the process gaining insights leading to some kind of transcendence. As an esotericist I fully embrace this definition of SF. It’s about venturing out Beyond the Beyond and Within the Within.

    Nor are the Beyond and the Within merely two, distinct aspects; Svensson notes several times his agreement with SF master Norman Spinrad, that the key motif of SF in space travel, but adds that to really travel in space requires inner transformation; otherwise, one may travel to the moon but only bring back some rocks.[20]

    The Apollo project went to the moon, a much sought-after event, only to bring home a sample of rocks. In his diary Jünger wrote about this: “the only found a desert because they had the desert inside.”

    But while SF may think of space exploration as requiring inner transformation, the Traditionalists themselves refuse to see any such link. Indeed, they are infamous for their contempt for mere technology or even science itself; Traditional societies, says Guénon in the book Svensson directs us to, had better things to do than waste their time with such toys. “Exploring nature with science and technology” and “thus conquering and understanding his universe” is nothing but “dispersion into the horizontal realm” rather than vertical ascent to the Beyond.[21]

    So the connection Svensson sees between SF and Traditionalism is at best one-way. If SF leans toward something like Traditionalism, what’s really going on?

    We find a clue here in a kind of reflex that Svensson retains from the Traditionalists: the use of the term “titanic” or “titanism” as a derogative, as in fact a synonym for nihilism. Lewis is praised for battling it, while Heinlein is rebuked for yielding to it. That should tell you something’s off here; isn’t Heinlein the “iconic” SF writer? Isn’t SF essentially Promethean, from Frankenstein (“The Modern Prometheus”) on, and even further back, to the various utopias that take inspiration from Plato’s Myth of Atlantis (the realm of Atlas)?

    I suppose the Titans are “nihilists” not because they deny any “connection with the causal realm” but because they boldly reach out and grasp it for themselves, “storming Heaven” and “winning the Grail by violence.” The process of self-transformation that Svensson refers to is not so much a matter of Traditionalism as it is of Hermeticism, as even Evola admits.[22]

    This “Ancient way of the West, of esoteric strains in Greek, Roman and Norse thought,” finds its “framework” not with Traditionalism but with something along the lines of Jason Reza Jorjani’s Prometheus and Atlas, where both science and SF are confronted and assimilated in the Titanic mode of the West.[23]

    Periodically, Svensson drops the ill-fitting Traditionalist garb and promotes a doctrine of Will-Power as something against which SF authors are evaluated (the shift from the one to the other is eased because remember, one must not only diagnose nihilism but fight it!). This emphasis on the training of the Will so as to develop the ability to bring about changes in accordance with will (as Crowley would say) justifies the publisher’s reference to Colin Wilson.[24]

    Indeed, interviewed elsewhere, Svensson sounds an awful lot like that modern exponent of the Hermetic Tradition Neville Goddard himself:

    [Q] Man’s life is short. The border is always near. How can be a man educated in such a short period of time to understand the main things of life?

    [A] Indeed, life is short. But any man can learn the two words, “I AM”. Christ said them seven times in the Gospel of John (“I am the light of the world, I am the door into the sheep, I am the good shepherd” etc.), as such a mirror of the” I Am That I Am”– saying of God in the burning bush of Exodus fame. And if the individual does the same, says “I am”, he acknowledges his eternal, divine nature, of being a spark of the eternal light. This I touch upon in Borderline[25] and this is the succinct summation of my creed: I AM. Modern man, if he so chooses, can reach spirituality this way. The I AM-saying is my formula for a more spiritual life, taught to “the man in the street.”[26]

    To stay on the “man in the street” level of physical detail: the book has the quality we’ve come to expect from a Manticore publication; nicely proofread and typeset, with a sturdy binding and an atmospheric wrap-around cover illustration. The translation is serviceable, but another pass or two might have smoothed things out more and made it read a bit less like, well, a translation. Also, in a work of this sort, covering many names and topics, an index would have been appreciated.

    In the end, one wishes Svensson would trust his Titanic instincts more, and liberate himself from his Olympian chains. Nevertheless, the reader will find much here that is provocative and truly thought-provoking; a book which not just looks at literature “from the Right” but raises questions about what, ultimately, is the Right itself.


    1. Edited by Greg Johnson; San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012.

    2. Edited by Greg Johnson; San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014.

    3. Edited by Greg Johnson; San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015.

    4. To anticipate a bit, I must point out that “natural law” has little or nothing to do with Tradition; it originates in Stoicism, which Evola, in the book Svensson later cites, dismisses as an “oriental” current alien to Aryan culture, and in its Christian form results from a further misunderstanding of the Greek concept of law as equivalent to “YHVH’s command.” The Stoic advising “live according to nature’s law” is more like our life coaches counselling “You should eat more organic” than a Bible-thumper screaming about da fegz. For more on this, see my essay “A Review of James Neill’s The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies” ( Kindle Single, 2013).

    5. For more on Nasr as a “lion of traditionalism,” see my review of Al-Rawandi’s Islamic Mysticism, “The Bad Samaritan: A Glance at the Mohammed Mythos,” here [3].

    6. Guénon would no doubt approve of its Sufi elements, but ultimately dismiss it as mere “syncretism;” Evola might have approved the emphasis on jihad. One must also point out that C. S. Lewis, whose works Svensson also considers exemplars of tradition, would surely have condemned Traditionalism as a blasted heresy and one of the worst tricks of the Devil.

    7. Traditionalist would point to a similar mistake made by Jung and others who try to assimilate Tradition to psychoanalysis: the Path is not a method mental healing, but rather assumes an undivided and controlled mind as a starting point.

    8. “Despite their apparent differences, Rand admired Spillane’s literary style, and Spillane became, as he described it, a ‘fan’ of Rand’s work.” See McConnell, Scott, ed., “Mickey Spillane,” 100 Voices: An Oral History of Ayn Rand (New York: New American Library, 2010), pp. 232-39.

    9. See my “A Hero Despite Himself: Bringing Mike Hammer to the Screen,” here [4].

    10. See, of course, my essay “ ”Mike Hammer, Occult Dick: Kiss Me Deadly as Lovecraftian Tale,” here [5] and reprinted in The Eldritch Evola … & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014); for comparison of the films, see my “Essential Films . . . & Others,” here [6].

    11. Svensson approves the use of plate armor in the Lord of the Rings films, since it recalls the image of “knights in shining armor.”

    12. “But I also admit that there are SF authors in this study hard to categorize. For instance, J. G. Ballard isn’t an author you would think of as a traditionalist. Rather, he’s some kind of modernist. But he isn’t explicitly Marxist.” Later, Ballard’s “The Atrocity Exhibition hasn’t got much to say about Tradition, the theme of this study. But taken for itself this is a great read.” Again, “It’s true that the praising of Tradition and the virtues of old don’t occupy center stage in Michael Moorcock’s novels.” Again, “Karin Boye was a left-leaning intellectual. But she still fits into this survey. Why? Because she wasn’t expressly anti-tradition.”

    13. As the reader will know, or have inferred by now, I myself have done a bit of such exploring, mostly in the realm of fantasy — see the essays collected in The Eldritch Evola. . . & Others: Traditionalist Meditations on Literature, Art, & Culture (edited by Greg Johnson [San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014]) — but also in SF, such as the works of Olaf Stapledon — see “A Light Unto the Nations: Reflections on Olaf Stapledon’s The Flames” in The Eldritch Evola, and “‘The Wild Boys Smile’: Reflections on Olaf Stapledon’s Odd John” in Green Nazis in Space! New Essays on Literature, Art, & Culture (edited by Greg Johnson [San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2015]). Oddly enough, Stapledon does not appear in Svensson’s book. Stapledon was of course a parlor pink, but — and admittedly it’s an ironic point — his novels are filled with traditional and even Traditionalist themes, illustrating my point about the return of the Traditional in popular culture.

    14. “Nihilists! Fuck me. I mean, say what you like about the tenets of National Socialism, Dude, at least it’s an ethos.” Walther Sobchak, The Big Lebowski (Coen Bros, 1998).

    15. Svensson has written a biography of Jünger: Ernst Jünger — A Portrait (Manticore, 2014). The chapter on Jünger here seems like a condensed version, but it does make me want to see the full text.

    16. To anticipate a bit, cf. Jason Reza Jorjani, “Promethium Sky over Hiroshima,” Right On, Nov. 3, 2016, here [7].

    17. Amazon tells me that the University of Wisconsin put out an edition in 1966, in its dourly titled “Nordic Translation Series,” and a paperback in 2002 in its flashier “Library of World Fiction.”

    18. Constant Readers will recall many occasions when I have joined with Henry James in praising “the dear, the blessed nouvelle” format. Writing of Moorcock’s Elric novels, that originally appeared as slim volumes but now comprise 400 page collections, “Having the Eternal Champion books as separate, slim volumes make the saga into a random access myth, an epic where you can begin where you want, merely reading one book or two and then leave it with the sense of having seen an aspect of Multiverse, the whole mirrored in a facet, as it were…. Otherwise, the ideal of the fantasy novel is always ‘thick as a brick’ and this will not engender classics in itself.” He also praises Ballard’s “The Terminal Beach” as “an embryoic condensed novel” with a “condensed, urgent narrative.”

    19. Svensson gives himself another free pass by including the clearly more traditional if not Traditionalist genre of fantasy in his definition of SF; like the SF authors, his coverage varies from interesting – Tolkien, Lewis – to just going through the motions in the urge to completeness – Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany. I tend to agree with Kingsley Amis in New Maps of Hell; the two are best studied apart. Amis’s classic study – arguably the first truly serious critical work on SF – is not in Svensson’s bibliography, though he tells us that he intends his book to be “mapping out new lands,” and the publisher explicitly compares his book to Amis’s, as well as Colin Wilson’s The Outsider; possibly the first time both have ever been invoked at the same time.

    20. The key work here is 2001: A Space Odyssey, which Svensson calls “absolutely unique in the history of cinema” and scores as 60% Kubrick, but a necessary 40% Clarke. This point about “inner space” was often made by William Burroughs, who is mentioned but whose works — Nova Express, for example — are curiously absent.

    21. “[But to Traditionalists like Nasr] the events that produced the modern world are not signs of life in contrast to the cadaverous rigidity of Islam but signs of a Promethean betrayal that refuses the demands of heaven.” Al-Rawandi, op. cit.

    22. See, of course, his The Hermetic Tradition: Symbols and Teachings of the Royal Art (Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1995), especially Chapter One on the myth of Eden.

    23. Prometheus and Atlas (London: Arktos, 2016). See also the same author’s “Against Perennial Philosophy,” Right On, Oct. 21, 2016, here [8]. On the other hand, Prof. Jorjani might appreciate Svensson’s discussion of Heinlein’s use of parapsychological themes to challenge both science and SF.

    24. It also may explain the bizarre inclusion of Carlos Castaneda among the authors discussed; Carlos’ first wife was a disciple of Neville.

    25. Borderline: A Traditionalist Outlook for Modern Man (Numen Books, 2015).

    26. “Lennart Svensson: ‘The I AM-saying is my formula for a more spiritual life, taught to “the man in the street”’,” here [9]. Compare Neville, basically in any of his books or lectures; here [10], for example. On Neville and both Hermeticism and Traditionalism see “Magick for Housewives: The Not-so New (and Really Rather Traditional) Thought of Neville Goddard” in Aristokratia IV (Manticore Press, 2017) and my afterword to Neville’s Feeling is the Secret (Amazon Kindle, 2016).



    (Review Source)
  • Revolution from the Right in Terry Gilliam’s Brazil
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    [1]3,147 words

    Brazil is a 1985 genre-defining science fiction film from acclaimed director and writer Terry Gilliam. It has won numerous awards and is regarded as a cult classic and one of the best science fiction films ever made.This is somewhat of a loose association, as the “science fiction” elements of the film are relatively weak and rarely present, with the substance of the film being an examination of an industrial, consumerist society creaking under excessive bureaucracy – a damning satire on Western Civilization and one of the grimmest dystopias to ever grace the big screen.

    The central conflict of Brazil is man against the state, a war of the individual against assimilation. It is directly influenced aesthetically by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, in its gallows humor and absurdity by Monty Python, and in its bleak pessimism by THX 1138 and Blake’s 7. In the latter two dystopias, the populace had to be drugged into complacency, but in Brazil there is no such soma, and we are introduced to an urbanite, Orwellian, and absurd pastiche of Anglo-Saxon society. The world of Brazil, whilst seemingly entirely white, has run off the rails and become a mechanistic system of collective living. The civilization in Brazil is an aggregate of individual selfishness within a matrix of state-approved rights, responsibilities, and patents; a post-Enlightenment, 1970s society degenerated from classical liberalism into police-state welfare socialism.

    The protagonist of Brazil is one Sam Lowry – not average enough to be an everyman, but an embodiment of the more socially awkward, altruistic upper proletarian who finds himself out of place in the rowdiness of the lower classes and the status games of the upper. Brazil as a film squarely targets the self-imagined independent thinker who sees himself outside of the system, and so sits comfortably on the radical Right, despite its superficial glaze of “anti-authoritarianism” and anti-“traditionalism.” Liberals will no doubt read Brazil as the revolt of the individual against “fascism,” but looking through the trappings of shiny helmets and authoritarian architecture, it becomes clear that (intentionally or not) Brazil is a criticism of liberalism and the WASP model, not from the Left but the radical Right.

    Lowry is in love with the escapism of daydreams, the only place where he can realize his masculinity. Drifting off, he finds himself muscular, gifted with wings and flight, and emblazoned with face-paint – a display of the class of masculine aesthetics that have found a contemporary home in fashy memes and vaporwave; an extreme, self-aware, fantasy typecasting of the male and manly hero that is not erased or denatured by the vivid advertising colors and technocracy of the modern world, but is in command of them. Unlike the Soyboy Starbucks utopia of effete cosmopolitanism, Lowry longs to become a man empowered by technics; his wings are a contraption that make him a human-powered ornithopter, a sort of technofash Bowie, but upon being awoken by bleeping from a telephone-modem-come-switchboard-clustercuss, he is thrust, wings clipped, back into struggling to get by as a lowly administrative clerk. In Brazil, machines are only extensions of an overbearing bureaucracy, including swivel-eyed security cameras with lethal weaponry, implements of torture, malfunctioning elevators, pneumatic pipes that deliver constant paperwork – or else are consumer gizmos, whatsits, and doomahickeys that run amok. All of them are a menace, save for occasional usefulness in bureaucratic manipulation.

    His humdrum existence is upended by a series of cosmic coincidences that make him a fated man. Just as real life is filled with synchronicity and seeming tragic “rightness,” Brazil begins with a bureaucratic error that makes Lowry – already a spiritual nemesis of the system falling into apathy – fated to be its real-life revolutionary opposition. The identity of one Archibald Tuttle, “freelance subversive and heating engineer,” is confused in Information Transit by an insect, causing a machine hiccup. In his place, innocent husband and father Archibald Buttle is taken in a snatch raid that would make the Gestapo blush, and then tortured to death, as his heart condition did not appear in Tuttle’s file.

    [2]Tuttle appears throughout the film as a savior to Lowry, and after a rocky introduction, fixes his overheating apartment, only to reappear when his apartment is sabotaged by boiler-suited gremlins from Central Services, little plebes who exploit the remoteness of the bureaucratic system to inflict this environmental torture for the sadistic pleasure of having him completely under their thumb. Tuttle swaps their air-feed for the sewage feed, drowning the pair in bubbling feces. Tuttle is a man of action, having left Central Services because he “couldn’t stand the paperwork,” smoking cigars and brimming with mustachioed machismo. Tuttle traverses the dystopia of Brazil through zip-lines – disappearing between tower blocks like a paramilitary shock troop. To my mind, the image of Tuttle zipping into the darkness echoes the Italian Futurist celebration of speed and action; it is passingly similar to the famous Tullio Crali painting, Before the Parachute Opens.

    The Buttles had eked out a homely, traditionalist existence in their flat, nestled in the slum of Shangri-La Towers. The introductory shot shows a model of the tower blocks (with nuclear powerplant-type cooling vents lovingly painted sky blue with clouds) being loomed over by a street drunk – a sharp criticism of the modernist architectural wave of the 1960s and the idea of the person-as-commodity that animates both Western capitalism and Soviet Communism; in the words of Corbusier, the home is now “a machine for living in.” Despite the great strides the modernizers across the West and in Gilliam’s Brazil have made in erasing time-tested wisdom, historical consciousness, and ethnic heritage from architecture, they have completely failed to erase the social ills that plague society, exacerbating them beyond all sense by reducing the individual to an atomized legal entity in a grinding monolith. Ironically, in England, it was this futurist utopianism that gave birth to a great number of public lidos, which have since fought a losing battle to stay profitable. In both real life and Brazil, radicalism from both Left and Right has been usurped by managerialism veneered by a pseudo-Christian morality.


    In his dreams, Lowry is drawn to the cries of distress of a beautiful damsel imprisoned by hobbling monsters; as he is increasingly driven to dysfunction, tower blocks erupt from the green and pleasant dreamscape and imprison him in a sterile, cancerous urban hellscape. As he ventures through the improper channels to deliver a check to Mrs. Buttle for a misapplied heating bill (as part of being taken advantage of by his weak-willed, self-serving supervisor Kurtzmann), he encounters the girl of his dreams in reality – something that finally goads him into accepting the promotion he has so steadfastly refused – in order to track her down properly.

    He has to turn (despite his disgust) to his mother and her ridiculous social circle of twittering freaks to access Eugene Helpmann, head of Information Retrieval (a tidy euphemism for torture), to plead for the promotion his supervisor Kurtzmann has turned down on his behalf. Lowry’s mother knows “simply everybody” and is obsessed with restoring her youth through plastic surgery. Her surgeon is vulgar and classless, speaking loudly and drunkenly about “me and my little knife” (pronounced knoife) and Sam’s mother’s body. One of his mother’s friends is similarly obsessed with restoring her beauty and is progressively being dissolved in acid by a “pioneering” cosmeticist, simpering about how such wonderful skin tones can be achieved with this “technique,” her body disintegrating even as she remains ever-faithful to the empty promises of fashion and novelty.


    At the first gathering of Sam with his mother and her friends, the bombing campaign afflicting this blighted society strikes again; waiters bustle over the dead and dying and the band strikes up “Hava Naguila.” What could be more comically pathetic to a self-serving Jew than the stupid goyim bustling over frivolities and refusing to notice the bleeding and obliterated, even as they themselves were mere feet from becoming victims themselves? Our masters, of course, never engage in this “high” society or its absurdities, the grotesque spectacle of classless[1] [5] whites desperate to outdo each other in status symbols, trinkets, and baubles (Lowry’s mother is repeatedly seen wearing a hat shaped like an upside-down shoe). They merely supply it to the craven and degenerated goyim, whilst living in a separate, parasitic, and underground society of their own.[2] [6]

    Information Retrieval, he finds, is a “crack team of decision-makers” who relentlessly pursue their manager to make decisions for them. A cupboard-like room becomes a numbered cell, and he has to wrestle to prevent his table being stolen (through the wall!) by his odious and manic neighbor, Lime. “A girl, eh?” he repeatedly jibes. Jill Layton, Lowry’s dreamboat, is a trucker with cropped hair, work duds, and a leather jacket that fulfills a punk-grrl power archetype. She kicks him out of her cab on their first encounter. The feminist archetype and post-apocalyptic currents apparent in Brazil (1985) and Mad Max (1979) are synthesized and repeated in much lesser, later films of the genre – notably Tank Girl in 1995. Tank Girl, an ugly punk played by Lori Petty, fights against the oppressive “Water and Power” corporation with her mutant sidekick.[3] [7] Contra the perpetually adolescent and barren Tank Girl, Layton works as a trucker; when she and Lowry are able to snatch some time together in private and consummate their relationship, she blossoms (with the assistance of a stolen wig) into a woman. Her truck is first seen carrying a prefab home, something that makes a later appearance as a traditional cottage. It is her break with the state and her de-gendering, mechanistic job that liberates her femininity.

    Having discovered she is wanted for terrorism offenses through his paranoid friend and career torturer Jack Lint, he rushes to save her, and falls headlong into a chaotic, tumbling run from the authorities into the welcoming arms of dissidence. As Lowry becomes progressively more detached from his mundane existence and attached to Layton, the hallucinations which are his link to his daydreams of liberation begin to intrude more and more, causing him to behave increasingly erratically – but perhaps no more erratically than Lint, his friend and opposite number in Information Retrieval, who simply adapts to his boss mistaking his wife, Allison, for Barbara by calling her Barbara from then on.

    Lint (played by Michael Palin) is presumably an Aryan who has learnt to the play the Semitic game of status, cunning, and social manipulation: “You’ll never get anywhere wearing a suit like that.” He gives no indication that he enjoys his work as a torturer, but rather accepts it with blithe indifference as part of getting ahead. Completely clueless as to the source of the terrorist bombings (“now in their thirteenth year”) he imagines that Layton “must be working for somebody,” as she has been “making allegations” and running around trying to find who was responsible for snatching the innocent Buttle – even though Lint is fully aware that Buttle was innocent. “Cause and effect,” indeed. Oblivious to his own obliviousness, and utterly deaf to Lowry’s emotional pleas that Jill is innocent, he simply drops him as a friend and becomes another anonymous, black-hatted salaryman.

    The bombings, of course, are never explained other than being said to be the work of “terrorists.” They exist in Brazil as a means to accelerate the plot, justify the state’s use of torture and lethal force, and to demonstrate how anaesthetized and complacent the population has become (with all potential dissidents, like Lowry, already under deep investigation). Intentional or not, this state exists in Britain today; in all public discourse, Islamic terrorism must always be ascribed to “extremists” and “radicals,” and allowed no further political significance; bomb blasts, stabbing sprees, and acid attacks are chalked up to be the work of lone madmen with no ideological impetus. Like Lint and the state in Brazil, the British government is more concerned with chasing “freelance subversives” like YouTubers, people singing the “Osama Bin Laden” song, and the protest group National Action.

    With the film’s cast of heroes and villains fully assembled – from carol-singing policemen and Buttle’s broken wife and traumatized children to the collection of grotesques that make up the manipulative upper echelons of the machine, Gilliam’s trap is sprung, and Lowry is snatched for torture, while Jill is killed while resisting arrest (despite Lowry’s success in erasing her from the state’s computer system). The final sequence begins with Lowry the dreamer and man of emotional depth and longing confronted by Lint, who is furious that Sam has disgraced himself (and him, by association).


    As Lint is about to force a needle into Sam’s eye, he is shot in the head, and paramilitary forces descend to rescue Sam. Archibald Tuttle and his comrades wage a gunfight and pull Sam out of the torture chair, battling their way out of the building at the cost of all of Tuttle’s men – but once outside, Tuttle offers Sam a detonator, and they blow up the hated Ministry of Information. But as they make their escape, Tuttle is caught by paperwork blowing in the breeze, and eventually he is covered and swallowed by it. Sam flees the police to a church, where a funeral service for his mother’s friend – now fully dissolved in acid and a pile of mush and bone – is taking place. His mother has been fully restored to youth and takes on the form of Jill Layton when Lowry looks directly at her, but when the camera cuts away to Lowry’s escape through the coffin, the actors are switched, and Lowry’s actual mother momentarily appears.

    Lowry plunges through the coffin into the barren streets of his nightmares. Fleeing from police, shambling citizens enslaved to the Ministry, Information Retrieval agents, Buttle’s traumatized mother, and Eugene Helpmann, the crippled Deputy Head of the Ministry (dressed as Santa for Christmas), he clambers over a pile of concrete ruins and the ever-present ducting. Grasping a door handle in a brick wall, he escapes, slamming the door behind him and holding it shut against the terrors.

    To his amazement and joy, he finds himself in the prefab home that Jill was towing on the back of her truck. Together, they escape the sterile city and industrial wasteland to green and pleasant fields far, far away and begin anew – to the soaring, recurrent theme of “Aquarela do Bras­il,” their prefab home shown as a cottage, independent and free, settled in amongst a small farm with a cow and the truck being used to grow produce – before Eugene Helpmann and Jack Lint loom before the scene, the music stopping jarringly.

    The words are chosen masterfully: “He’s got away from us, Jack.” And indeed, Sam has – nearly catatonic, but humming the title theme, his escape a fantasy delusion to which his conscious mind has fled. Materially captured, he is yet spiritually liberated; “I think you’re right, Mr. Helpmann. He’s gone,” Lint replies.

    Lowry’s ambition throughout is to strike at the confines of bureaucracy, the inversion of the natural order and crass materialism. Whilst seemingly an everyman, against the sharp relief of the egalitarian, pencil-pushing system, he becomes a man who craves the liberation of the radical Right and becomes its representative. The whole edifice is upheld by complacency, mediocrity, and false, self-serving virtue – clearly recognizable today as the pseudo-morality of getting ahead at others’ expense in private, yet demonstrating supposedly refined tastes in public.

    Helpmann of the Ministry of Information urges people to “play the game,” condemning terrorism as “bad sportsmanship.” There is no presence of the political even as innocents are slaughtered indiscriminately. The overbearing state that regulates and monopolizes every aspect of life is overwhelmingly Leftist, yet has the trappings of authoritarianism that would have Leftists in hysterical howls of anguish. The social conservatism is completely moot as there is no presence of any kind of minority – sexual, racial, or otherwise in the film – despite being made in the mid-1980s, after the burgeoning of Rock against Racism in 1976 as a landmark in British racial history. Like today, there is no “fascism” of unifying identity or traditional mores; only unfettered, denaturing state capitalism, propped up by a pearl-clutching, bourgeoisie phobia of vigilantism and political liberty.

    This hard shell of a state is a regulatory system that enforces mediocrity. Brazil’s critique is that Rightist values of greatness, gender ideals, national pride, and an excellence derived from traditionalist rootedness (Lowry’s dream) or fascistic action and heroism (Tuttle’s paramilitarism) is impossible to achieve under a bureaucracy that regulates all aspects of life. Gilliam rages against the little men of the world who leverage legal power to enact vengeance on society, and the complacent, empty-headed nothings who go along with it – from Helpmann and Lint to Lowry’s disgusting mother and Lint’s secretary, all of which are “playing the game” as it is presented to them. It is a system that assimilates human material and degrades it to the lowest condition, taking men that would be heroes worthy of myth in other eras and reducing them to beaten-up desk jockeys, and the publicly insensitive, and taking women with faces that would launch a thousand ships and chaining them to a desk. Abstracts like truth, beauty, nobility, and heroism are the watchwords of the Right, and impossible to realize in a Leftist, commodifying world like Brazil’s.

    This arrogant managerialism (breathtaking in its chutzpah) has to be brought down, or at the very least gotten away from. Escaping from the clutches of the Ministy of Mediocrity means looking down on the materialistic mores and mawkish morality of the mainstream, going over instead to uncompromising radicalism. Lowry’s final vision is a mere dream; but what a dream it is: harmonious, timeless, and beautiful.


    [1] [9] Classless in the sense that our society has been shorn of any aristocratic, racial dimension (the two elements going hand in hand, and a refusal to acknowledge racial pedigree as being an abdication of one’s aristocratic class, i.e. Meghan Markle) and so purely materialistic, egalitarian, and given to chasing fads.

    [2] [10] Which has an art and cultural scene centered on depravity and mocking healthy norms – for example, Ryan McGinness, an artist featured in the Saatchi Gallery, who held fifty consecutive parties featuring his work as part of an “arts” project, of which John Podesta was an attendee and who was photographed covered in luminescent body paint. McGinness’ work can only be described as psychedelic past the point of being deranged, and Podesta is of Pizzagate ill-repute. McGinness was featured in USA Today: American Art from the Saatchi Gallery (2006), the editor of which was one Normal (((Rosenthal))). This is but one link in the spider-web-world of the international arts market and the Semitic scene.

    [3] [11] Whilst Petty’s ethnicity is denoted merely as “American,” she later played a Jewess Deputy Sheriff in the cop film The Glass Shield in 1994. “Nearly all the white characters are hypocrites or downright meanies,” Variety said [12]. “The Glass Shield emerges as a powerful moral drama that tries to deal with racism.”

    Source: [13]

    (Review Source)

Cross Walk

(Reviewers' Site/Bio)

  • Metropolis
    Movies from Film Forum, 03/21/02The other animated feature worth catching this month is for grownups only, and it may prove harder to find. Metropolis is a futuristic sci-fi epic that recalls Blade Runner, the Terminator films, and even the recent A.I. (Artificial Intelligence). Boiled down to its essential plot, it echoes the Bible's story of the tower of Babel, a connection acknowledged within the script.In the crowded, advanced, multi-layered city of Metropolis, the President is slowly losing power to an ambitious and deceitful man called Duke Red. The Duke plans to control the world using technological weapons that cause sunspot activity and threaten the earth with dangerous levels of radiation. At the same time, he employs a scientist to create a super-being—a robot girl named Tima—who will sit on a throne atop the city's tallest tower, the Ziggurat. When the Duke's jealous son tries to assassinate Tima, a kind-hearted journalist named Kinichi rescues her, and the two strike up an unlikely but touching romance.Metropolis's animation is a mix of flat, overly simplistic cartoons and convincing, three-dimensional CGI animation, some of the most dazzlingly complex visual imagery ever created for the big screen. Katsuhiro Ôtomo, who wrote the script for the famous and hyperviolent Japanese animated epic Akira, is responsible for adapting this script from a 1949 Japanese comic series. It's a more optimistic story than Akira, affirming the possibility that machine and humans can exist harmoniously and perhaps outlast the coming apocalyptic consequences of technology abuse.Ted Baehr (Movieguide) says, Metropolis is "visually stunning. … The story doesn't always make sense, however, and the animators lay on the violent metaphors a bit too thickly. The violence too frequently seems gratuitous. The apocalyptic ending is well worth seeing. The movie even cites the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, and Kenichi's uncle makes a positive reference to God in the movie's otherwise non-Christian dialogue." googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('gpt-ad-1'); }); Doug Cummings (Chiaroscuro), on the other hand, finds a lot of sense in the story as he compares it to the 1927 Metropolis film by Fritz Lang. He sends in this review:Lang's film was a thinly-disguised biblical allegory involving a city ruler (the head) who unites with the working class (the hands) through his intermediary son (the heart) in a Gothic cathedral, but it's remembered more for its grandiose visions of a futuristic city. The epic came during a time of severe economic depression in Germany and embodied the ideal merging of technological dreams and spiritual values that many hoped would produce a successful State.While the more recent animated film shares many of Lang's basic narrative setups (a city ruler hopes to unite the city's factions through an "anointed" being), its differences are noteworthy. The next 73 years of the 20th century suggested to many that technological utopias were quite possibly wholly unattainable, and because Japan is the only country to have experienced a nuclear bombardment, it's no surprise that much of its science fiction questions the integration of body, soul, and technology. Tezuka's Metropolis (directed by Rin Taro) may have a 'head,' but its son is a militant killer, its 'heart' is a naive kid who is in over his head, and its 'hands' are an assortments of abused machines and robots just waiting to malfunction. Nevertheless, the ruler decides an advanced robot fused with human emotions just might be the answer to all his problems, but the mixture of unchecked power, a lack of identity, and psychological vulnerability only spells certain annihilation. googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('gpt-ad-2'); }); if (gptClientWidth >= 992 && gptClientWidth <= 1000000) googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display('gpt-ad-3'); }); The film strips the original narrative of its Christian allegorical basis and reformulates its various parts to emphasize humanity's tenuous grasp on technology. The mounting chaos is brought to colorful life through a pastiche of visually elaborate backgrounds against simple caricatures, Japanese social settings to a score comprised of big band jazz numbers, future visions with touches of the 1940s, and cyberpunk ideas conveyed through retro, saucer-eyed faces. Nothing in the film seems to entirely match-up, making everything anachronistic. It's as if the animators themselves cannot contain the world in one aesthetic, but pile on a hodgepodge of styles and voices too numerous to unify, overwhelming the film with its lack of a fixed identity. Beautifully drawn and consistently entertaining, the film nevertheless feels like a massive technological experiment in search of a unified perspective—which is exactly its point, of course. ]]>
    (Review Source)

Jay Dyer1
Esoteric Hollywood

(Reviewers' Site/Bio)



  • Dark City (1998) – Esoteric...

    By: Jay I hate to harp on the same old thing, but the same old thing always manifests in films, and deserves to be harped on. Often what is considered...

    (Review Source)

VJ Morton1
Right Wing Film Geek

(Reviewers' Site/Bio)



  • Virginia Film Festival — part 1
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    Virginia Film Festival — part 1

    These are some of the films I saw last weekend at the Virginia Film Festival in Charlottesville, with the theme this year of Money.

    THE COOLER (Wayne Kramer, USA, 2003, 6)

    Interesting for a while and often very enjoyable (Alec Baldwin gives his best performance since GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS), but the premise ultimately leaves the film with nowhere to go. William H. Macy plays a “cooler,” a jinx hired by a casino to go to tables where someone is on a winning streak and “cool” his luck. But then his losing streak and thus his livelihood is threatened by a woman, his long-lost son and fate (the best scene is the funny montage of people winning and Macy’s puppylike distress, it’s like a not-quite-so-brilliant version of his being interrogated by Francis McDormand in FARGO). So as a result, the film thinks it can get away with any ending — if luck is so pervasive, how can one complain? Well, I can. The ending was arbitrary. Period. And there’s something just *wrong* with the notion, to which the film’s themes inevitably push you, of seeing the Rat Pack as “old money.”

    FOOLISH WIVES (Erich Von Stroheim, USA, 1922, 9)

    In his odd way, though Stroheim was widely considered at the time pornographic, vile and obsessed with the low, he really was a great Victorian. A conflicted one, sure, but he saw virtue and purity in the gutter like a Dickens did. He was intolerantly insistent on honor, even (especially) among thieves or the aristocrats fallen so low that they have to team up with them. But who are still aristocrats with honor. There’s also pomo jokes on textuality (in 1922?!?!), involving a book called “Foolish Wives,” written by Erich Von Stroheim, introduced into the action twice. I saw this “Europeans swindle innocent Americans abroad” story, with the musical accompaniment including a live vocalist and words, in addition to live sound effects (one of them being someone getting paged and having their named yelled out loud). I’d only seen a silent film with a word-inclusive score twice before, with the Vision of Light PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC and the Giorgio Moroder METROPOLIS. I theoretically resist the notion, but frankly a great silent film really can’t be damaged by a score done in good faith, especially when the words are used as sparingly as here.

    SCARFACE (Brian De Palma, USA, 1983, 8)

    Finally saw this modern classic all the way through, and it’s a bit obvious in wearing its cinematic antecedents on its sleeves (De Palma, really?). Michelle Pfeiffer was wasted (in several senses), but Al Pacino gives one of the great operatic ham performances in recent film — “Say hello to my lee-tul friend” and all that. Though the plot as a whole, in typical De Palma fashion, is a bit obviously stitched together and episodic in a predictable way, SCARFACE overflows with great set pieces, again in typical De Palma fashion — the first meeting with the Miami crime boss, the low-key first meeting with the mother and sister, the nightclub assassination attempt on Pacino and all the buildup, the assassination bid on the Bolivian activist, sitting in the jacuzzi, immigration interrogation, and … well, practically everything in the movie.

    THE ITALIAN JOB (Peter Collinson, Britain, 1969, 7)
    THE ITALIAN JOB (F. Gary Gray, USA, 2003, 7)

    Which film you prefer will depend entirely on what you’re looking for. If you want a suspenseful heist movie, the American film is far superior. There are two very well set-up and walked-through heist sequences at the beginning and end. Marky Mark’s inability to act for anyone but PT Anderson doesn’t destroy the film and his heist team mates are all give flavorful performances (Ed Norton and Charlize Theron in particular). But if you want a comic shaggy-dog time-capsule movie, go for the British film. I have no idea how the original could play to Americans or anyone else who didn’t live in Britain in the late 60s and early 70s (personally: born in Glasgow, 1966), but I just having a high old time listening to football supporters songs, reliving the “up your arse, ya weedy Continentals” attitude, and seeing Michael Caine and Noel Coward basically play themselves (and Benny Hill the same; though there wasn’t enough of him).


    NAT TURNER: A TROUBLESOME PROPERTY (Charles Burnett, USA, 2003, 4)
    Interesting enough as a historical intro to the topic (I’d never read Nat Turner’s Confessions), but quickly turns into leaden pomo nonsense. If you think it’s some mighty insight on textuality and the “universe” that people who disagree with each other disagree about a text that bears on the matters about they disagree, you will lap this up. Otherwise, another good reason not to watch PBS.
    WHEN IT RAINS (Charles Burnett, USA, 1995, 4)
    As a 20-minute short with a plot (“community leader” tries to help eviction-threatened woman raise the money for her rent by asking for it on the streets) it’s less ambitious than Burnett’s feature-length film, with which it played. It’s an enjoyable 20 minutes on Community when it isn’t being an obvious, schematic 20 minues on Money.

    SOLDIER’S GIRL (Frank Pierson, USA, 2003, 3)

    Scheduled to run on Showtime as a docudrama about the murder of a homosexual soldier, this film, which should have been titled SOLDIER BOYS DON’T CRY, was shown to the festival because Pierson was presenting DOG DAY AFTERNOON (on which he was the scriptwriter). You see the similarities here to one of the threads in AFTERNOON — the secret crossdressing gay lover. Not exactly terrible — as usual in this kind of film, the actors are quite good when not delivering Significant Speeches, which is unfortunately all Andre Braugher gets to do. It’s just entirely what you’d expect — a transparent bid for An Issue Emmy. Pvt. Barry Winchell is despised upon his arrival at his unit, for no discernible reason, and the drill sergeant is mean to him until I thought I was watching St. Sebastian in cammies. His death at the hands of a fellow soldier whom he’d bested in a fight was intercut with his boyfriend’s Annie Lennox song at a transvestite beauty pageant (maybe the two events did occur simultaneously; but it *feels* like Scriptwriter Coincidence.) One funny moment in the Q-and-A: Pierson was describing the first sex scene between the two men and said he told Troy Garity (playing Winchell) that “you’ve forgotten this person is not a woman; you’ve fallen in love with the person, and then with the body.” Take it away, David.

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Death Metal Underground Staff1
Death Metal Underground

(Reviewers' Site/Bio)



  • Sadistic Metal Reviews: Crush the Skull
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    What does any band deserve? A fair review. If the band is good, it should be said so, to what degree. If it just sucks, it also needs to be said. And that’s why we’re here with the latest edition of Sadistic Metal Reviews.

    Weekend Nachos – Still

    If their stupid name didn’t already clue you in, the atrocity that is Weekend Nachos represents a lesser acknowledged evil in the underground music scene: nu-grind, or powerviolence played by MTV2 jockcore fans. Similar to other Relapse bands like Benümb, except all the fast strummed “anger” is a holdover for later day “tough guy” or straight-edge 90s hardcore “everyone mosh on the dancefloor” gimmickry that preys on low IQs who don’t listen to music beyond “breakdowns.”

    Hate Forest / Ildjarn – Those Once Mighty Fallen

    The title on this may be ironic because it can apply only to Ildjarn, and only if the band ships something bad. This isn’t bad, but it’s an entirely different form of music. Where older Ildjarn was an idiosyncratic expression in equal parts ambient black metal, drone hardcore and forest Oi/Rac-influenced metal like Absurd, this new material is clearly designed to sound like black metal. Its songs use typical black metal intervals, develop according to the pattern, and even use vocals in the same rhythms as early Dimmu Borgir or other first-and-a-half wave bands. If you’re tuning in to Ildjarn, you expect something at least as lawless and feral as his later work on keyboards; this will be a problem for many listeners. As far as quality, it’s not bad at all and in fact is very natural-sounding, sort of like the first Dimmu Borgir or Graveland albums. Some have hypothesized that Ildjarn did not write the material, and the production changes and incorporation of additional instrumentation, in addition to the stylistic changes, suggest either a casual interest in this as a project to “stay in the game” or delegation of many musical tasks to a new team. Production sounds more recent than the early 1990s Ildjarn material. Use of background keyboards, faster bass riffing, textural discontinuities and other distinguishing effects show an interesting set of musical tools emerging, but the band may need to rediscover its voice. Hate Forest never struck me as being all that significant, but they make a very credible effort here, with production that matches the Ildjarn but is very carefully adjusted to sound as distinctive as possible. Their songs are fairly regulation black metal with an attempt to insert complex fills and transitions, and then to balance that, simplify the chorus riffs. The result is not atmospheric per se but achieves a relaxed atmosphere in which the focal point becomes the interruption, like a sunny sky with an intriguing cloud cluster. None of it is particularly distinctive but it’s not bad either. Songs maintain atmosphere well but there’s not a huge amount of development here, so the band sensibly rely on circularity to keep from appearing jagged. A rumored Ildjarn interview claims that this release was an early 1990s project between himself and Ihsahn of Emperor, which could explain the resemblance to post-Reverence Emperor material.

    Melvins – Bullhead

    Entropy embodied, this is the band that provided inspiration for Southern Lord’s entire catalogue of musical abortions. Deconstructive, linear riffs that seek to express nothing except ennui, combined with faux-crooning self-pitying lyrics ensure that this will continue to be a favorite band of mentally vacant children for decades to come. This is the mentality of grunge in a different form.

    Code – Augur Nox

    For a brief while, power metal (speed metal w/death metal drums) looked like it would save True Metal. The problem is, however, anytime you walk back up the metal family tree, you get back toward the stuff metal was formed to run away from. As I listened to the first tracks on this, I thought, they’ve got some interesting riff ideas — let’s see how long it last — however, they sound like they want to be a rock band that’s primarily about vocal performance and personal identification with the vocalist. About half-way through the album, they shifted to tap-dance rhythm riffs and soaring vocals, the combination meaning no ideas but how to rip through some 1960s material. Eventually it got so bad it sounded like Queensryche on a bad day as a disco combo covering old CCR B-sides. If you don’t have an idea, by definition, you are an imitator recycling the old in a new form, and we have a word for that: stagnation.

    Immolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy

    Continuing their decline, Immolation return to the bouncy simplicity of Harnessing Ruin, only this time they downplay the “nu” sounds and try to make it sound more aesthetically in line with their old sound. This doesn’t change it from being a predictable verse-chorus version of NYDM and shows Immolation in their most neutered form yet, trying to pander to a metalcore audience whilst retaining their trademark sound. After the last album, I reckon the only reason people see these guys tour anymore is to get a Failures for Gods longsleeve. Linear, predictable, and disappointing considering this group’s potential.

    Izegrim – Congress of the Insane

    After a few brave people direction-find their way to a new genre, in come the people who want to partake. They often bring superior skills but they don’t understand what they’re doing. Izegrim is a fine example. It’s chanty metal. When metal gets chanty, which is the nerdy equivalent of rapping, you know that a central narrative has been replaced by adherence to appearance and where that doesn’t work, filling in the gaps with the same old stuff. While this band is instrumentally superior to your average metal band, they don’t know what to do with the odd bits and ends they’ve assembled as songs, so they tie it all together with the simplest elements possible. That meants chants, crowd-pleaser but repetitive riffs, and lots of bombast to cover up for the big void within.

    Nachtmystium – Silencing Machine

    When a band wishes to play black metal without embodying any of its spirit, this is what’s produced. Lethargic, tremolo-strummed droning with ANGRY MAN vocals and uninspired drumming produces an album of tracks that are indistinguishable. Albums like these would be better off as hard rock, because at their heart that is what these musicians are aiming to create…though at least it’s not as bad as the the latest Satyricon abortion.

    Broken Hope – Omen of Disease

    After failing to become “Oppressor meets Deeds of Flesh” with their last couple albums, Broken Hope return after a long hiatus and have churned out what can best be described as a Unique Leader band covering mainstream hip hop tracks in double speed. Considering their “beefs” with death metal bands and Source Awards concert turn outs, it should be no surprise that this has more in common with Tupac than it does Suffocation, approaching death metal from the same “gangster” outlook that Six Feet Under did in the 90s.

    Secrets of the Moon – Seven Bells

    “Artistic” black metal, otherwise known as black metal watered down with fruity “post-rock” produces a product that is post-art. Designed for a generation that believes interrupting narration with pointless deviations is artistically viable, in form this shares for more in common with modern metal than with relevant black metal bands. Listen to this only if you enjoy consuming pumpkin spice lo-fat frappuccinos.

    Laibach – S

    These three tracks — “Eurovision,” “No History” and “Resistance is Futile” — comprise 2/3 of the EP S (which can be streamed here) released in advance of the new Laibach album to show where the band is at this point. Some might think it odd to review industrial music on a metal blog, but Laibach has been supportive of metal in the past, including the notorious Morbid Angel remixes and positive statements made in public. Further, industrial and metal share a root, which is that we deny the happy vision that came about in the 1960s of love, peace and uniformity that would save us from the horrors of the modern time. Our vision is to point out that the beast is within, and as long as humans refuse to discipline their minds, they will end up re-inventing the horror, futility and self-destruction of the near past and the ancient past, before civilization evolved. Both genres also point to a path outside of what is acknowledged as “higher values” or “the right thing to do,” seeing morality as confining and misinterpreted. That being said, it seems that industrial hasn’t changed much since the EBM days of the 1980s. In fact, much as Nine Inch Nails basically made a more pop form of that genre with added guitars, Laibach have simply made a more stern form, albeit a self-mocking one. What you will find: compelling beats, blasts of static, sampled voices, a surly European-accented voice almost chewing out the lyrics in a conversational growl, and even bits of other musics woven through the material. Ultimately, what makes industrial different than metal is that it knows how to pull off a good pop song and make it sound good, even with machine-ish touches, where metal tries to make something beyond what people consider music. As a result, these songs have heavy dead-beat grooves and build up to a compelling motion. There isn’t as much internal development as metal so there’s some question of whether a metal fan would enjoy hearing these repeatedly, but it’s hard to ignore the sheer pop power and terrifying view of the world brought up by this assault of music and (if you go to the site) imagery.

    Sepultura – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart

    Claiming to be inspired by the old science-fiction movie Metropolis, Sepultura collaborate with tone deaf AIDS guru Ross Robinson to create an album that, much like recent Sepultura, is high in pretension and low in musical payoff. Death metal sounds are utilized here but only serve as what sounds like Pantera or later Sacred Reich occasionally lapsing into a parody of Slowly We Rot at its simplest than anything from their 80s output. A guest appearance by Dave Lombardo doing a “tribal” drumming outro feels more like a marketing gimmick, lacking any of the imagination found in his instrumental track for Grip Inc. (incidentally, their only good song). Most of the songs devolve into effects laden meandering, which is to be expected considering the producer. Even then, nothing is gained or lost on this album. Sepultura is still like a fish out of water, churning out another vapid reiteration of their 1998 album that will piss off old fans and make no new ones.

    Cattle Decapitation – Your Disposal

    The first riff sounds like screamo, then clean vocals played over what sounds like a “post-black” abomination, then the breakdown with “eerie arpeggios”… this is metalcore. Looking past the “shocking” image stolen from early Carcass made to appeal to self-loathing Starbucks regulars, Cattle Decapitation now seem to be in direct contact with the same focus group Gojira employ when coming up with their gimmick ridden, indie rock friendly vapidity, eschewing the F-grade death/grind of their past for metalcore acceptance. Beyond the aesthetic drape of underground metal, this is nothing more than a random collage of parts “EXTREME” bands play for mainstream appeal under the pretense of having “matured” as “artists.”

    Twilight – Monument to Time End

    The “supergroup” of a bunch of hipsters that convinced Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth to ruin the genre alongside them, Twilight perverts black metal by using the treble guitar tone and anguished vocal styling to dress up what is middle of the road “post-sludge”. Members pool their collective inability to write metal into one product that comes off like a brain washing tool Scion would use to convince Gojira fans to purchase SUVs, all the while looking “edgy.”

    Cromlech – Ave Mortis

    This imaginative release explores the world of Iron Maiden-tinged power metal with an epic metal mindset, preferring extensive clean vocals, lengthy melodic parts and high-speed pickup riffs of the Maiden style. However, it also works in a fair amount of newer technique, sounding sometimes at the edge of later At the Gates. This is interesting material and an ambitious offering. However, this band has a few things it needs to work on. First, the vocalist is too present both in the composition and the approach to songwriting, and needs to go back to being one of the instruments. Second, this CD weighs in at 1:10 and is a B- album at that length, where if they boiled it down to 35 minutes would be closer to an A. (Note to bands: if you can’t listen to your own CD, while doing nothing else, on repeat for several times in a row, make changes). It has genre confusion problems that need to be resolved by getting more comfortable with its own style. Finally, Cromlech should learn from Iron Maiden and focus on making song structures clear: one intro, a theme, a countertheme, and some kind of developmental area where the melody grows before returning to the more predictable parts of songs. This is about their approach anyway, but it’s muddled by uneven application of technique. In addition, it wouldn’t kill them to look through for repetitive themes and excise or consolidate them. All in all, a great first effort, and I tack on all these suggestions because starting bands often need a push to fully develop.

    Gojira – L’enfant sauvage

    The biggest sham in metal to this day. Being a propaganda tool used by hippies to turn metal into rock music, Gojira continue what they’ve done since the beginning: making “heavy” parts out of rhythmic chugging with pick scraping sounds before playing “soft” parts that sound lifted from A Perfect Circle. Rock made for angry menstruating Deepak Chopra reading faux-guru hippies. Add the cringe worthy “deep” lyrics and it’s no wonder people thought the world was going to end in 2012 when both this album came out and a new record was set the world over in dolphins beaching themselves.

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    (Review Source)

Brett Stevens1

(Reviewers' Site/Bio)

  • Tron (1982)
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    Before William Gibson and the eventual cinematization of his ideas, The Matrix, but after Shockwave Rider and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Tron captured the imagination of the public with a movie that adapted the Star Wars series to take place inside a computer. More of a culmination of ideas and a reduction of them to a tangible form than an entirely new idea on its own, Tron defined the cyberpunk wave of science fiction by laying out the basic ingredients of all of its future drama. The result is a visually compelling movie that compares to Metropolis and Blade Runner for its graceful but imposing artistic representation of its topic.

    Set in approximately the same time in which it was filmed, this movie follows the path of a hacker trying to find proof that he wrote a massively successful video game which has been stolen by a 1980s style evil large corporate entity. The only glitch is that the secret exists only within the massive mainframe computer that, like the AIs in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Neuromancer, assists that corporate entity… and may partially control it. The mainframe is controlled by a program that resembles the early worms that conquered much of the internet in that it absorbs smaller programs and uses them, zombie-like, as its agents, slowly gaining power as it absorbs more code. In the process of trying to gain entry to the machine, the hacker is captured and digitized by it. Now he must break through its security to escape.

    At this point, it becomes necessary to point out that there are two movies in Tron. One is a science fiction story that summarizes much of the thinking about virtual reality from the previous decade, and another is a movie that — look at the logo on the cover — applies the Disney-style Hollywood treatment to make a story dramatic and yet accessible. The two do not completely integrate and the science fiction dominates most of the first two-thirds of the movie, at which point its storyline becomes obvious and Hollywood takes over for the touchdown. The great strength of this movie is that it made visualizations of computer concepts in the way that has always distinguished Disney productions; its most poignant image, perhaps borrowed a little bit from Thomas Pynchon, is of the neon-light modern city and how it resembles a visual representation of computer programs.

    Where Pynchon compared the lighted city skyline to circuit boards, Tron makes programs into lighted cityscapes that resemble circuit boards, but represent the interaction of programs, users and data. Gibson took this image further and removed the city from it, making it merely a cool-looking abstract space that overlapped with the city but did not directly represent it. Much as both Pynchon and Gibson were influenced by W.S. Burroughs, in this story the computer realm resembles Interzone, or a place where the symbolic becomes real and yet the real can be manipulated by symbols. If you need that dumbed down to a stupefactive level, go see The Matrix, which is 5,000 times more Hollywood-Disney than Tron and is designed to neutralize the power of these concepts.

    In Burroughs, Nietzsche comes to life (from On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense): words manipulate like program code written right into our brains, and the only solution is to decode the message and compare it to reality, at which point one can escape. The Matrix is like the French Revolution writ large onto the screen, in that some simplistic evil corporation keeps everyone in a state of illusion — much like movies and TV including The Matrix do — by creating a false reality. When they wake up, recognizing that the reality is false is enough, and suddenly everyone comes together and sings kumbaya and celebrates the fact that they are all free now. Sound familiar? Yes, it is the standard movie plot of everything from Revenge of the Nerds to Three Days of the Condor. It also compares somewhat to other movies from the same genre of mood as this one and the same time period, such as Blade Runner and Wargames, each of which involves a man fighting technology for liberation theme.

    The interesting science fiction movie within Tron starts at the moment that man is digitized into the machine. Most cyberspace dramas focus on the virtual becoming real, but in this case the real becomes virtual and must find a way to escape from the machine. The movie misses out on what may be the real story, which is how changing data in a machine can change real life, by putting the protagonist Flynn (Jeff Bridges, a spiral cut ham) into the machine. If one bit in your record at the DMV or credit bureau becomes changed, your life will take a radically different turn. By focusing on the escape itself instead, Tron manages to spin itself into an interesting tale where a man must play several video games and win before he can break out into the machine itself, circumvent its security measures and then disable the rogue program that controls it.

    This “escape” theme works well but disconnects real from virtual worlds, which makes it difficult to have any central narrative except the liberation of the machine itself, which conveniently also liberates the information Flynn needs. For the first two-thirds of the movie, Tron plays with its ability to visualize video games as if the participant were inside of them, and works out a few basic computer concepts in visual form as well, which was necessary to prepare the mainstream audience to understand the weird gadgets that were only just beginning to penetrate homes. When the Hollywoodization takes over, the final third of the movie becomes more like Star Wars and your typical 1980s adventure movie, which causes a somewhat incoherent sequence to segue into a happy ending.

    As a movie from its time period, Tron holds up brilliantly over thirty years later. The graphics still look believable and the basic metaphor of man in machine as a program fighting for survival against assimilation strikes a chord with our own struggle to avoid having our brains taken over by the endless memes, advertising, political promises, slogans and trends that keep our modern world under control. While the ending is both slightly confused, fairly derivative and moronically basic in the way only Hollywood can do, it does not detract from an otherwise intriguing and imaginative film that may be one of the more impressive works of quasi-apocalyptic cinema from that era.

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    (Review Source)

Ica Reviews1
Aryan Skynet

(Reviewers' Site/Bio)



  • Donald Jeffries on Cops and Robbers, Hollywood Style
    Conspiracy investigator and Hidden History author Donald Jeffries, in a recent column for American Free Press, offers a few remarks on the current state of Hollywood and television that warrant quotation. “While once prevalent genres like westerns and variety shows have come and gone, programs about police officers still hold a prominent place in every […]
    (Review Source)

Return of Kings Staff2
Return of Kings

(Reviewers' Site/Bio)



  • 3 Dystopian Movies That Have Been Uncannily Accurate About The Future
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    My father was a high-ranking student radical poobah and still thinks Castro was the bees' knees. Although I'm technically a red diaper baby, I've rejected all that baloney. I write off-the-wall fiction, and Righteous Seduction concerns next-generation game. My blog concerns "deplorable" politics, game, and my writing projects.
    (Review Source)
  • Social Engineering Was On Display At This Year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    Friedrich Nietzsche is a philosopher who is trying to make the Überman popular again. He is without a doubt the Antichrist.
    (Review Source)

PJ Media Staff1
PJ Media

(Reviewers' Site/Bio)

  • 4 Ways My Moviegoing Habits Changed After I Grew Up
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    Lifestyle I've been a movie buff all my life, but the way I consume movies (as the kids put it these days) has evolved.Sure, the technology has changed. Good thing I didn't "follow my dream" and become a film projectionist, because I'd be on the unemployment line. And I finally dumped my last box of old VHS tapes on the sidewalk the last time I moved.But I've changed, too.I've written about these changes here before, like how fogeyish it made me feel when I realized I no longer automatically identified with the teenagers in movies.Sometimes I miss the old me: the weird girl who scanned the new TV Guide with a red pen, hoping All About Eve was coming on, and who practically lived at our city's only "rep" cinema... class="pages"> previous Page 1 of 5 next   ]]>
    (Review Source)

The Weekly Standard Staff1
The Weekly Standard

(Reviewers' Site/Bio)

  • Strange Bedfellows
    (”Metropolis” is briefly mentioned in this.)
    Human-android love is a nonstarter. Period.
    (Review Source)

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