The Nibelungs is a German two-part silent film directed by Fritz Lang and first shown at the UFA-Palast am Zoo in Berlin in 1924. The film is considered a landmark in the development of cinematography as art, as Lang and his team make stunning use of new advances in lighting and photography to great visual and aesthetic effect, combining this with exquisite artistic direction to produce a work of enormous beauty.
The original myth of the Nibelungs, which goes back to the 12th century, had been eclipsed by Wagner’s famous Ring cycle. Thea von Harbou’s script for the film sought to revive the original version, and is a mirror and a slave to its historic context, the harsh interwar years in Germany, whilst sharing the epic and romantic spirit of those earlier times. Lang, however, focused on the themes of revenge and the angry mob, a frequent leitmotiv in many of his films. All that is noble and pure in the first part becomes dark and morbid in the second. The final battle, violent and nihilistic, is a cruel and prophetic counterpoint to the Nazi ideology, for which reason the second part was distributed in a different, shorter version, its violence toned down, accompanied by Wagner’s music, to the director’s rage.
In order to marry Kriemhild, the sister of King Gunther, Siegfried must first defeat Queen Brunhild, for this warlike woman will only agree to wed the man who vanquishes her in combat. Using his magic arts, Siegfried disguises himself as Gunther and overcomes Brunhild. However, during the preparations for the double wedding, the queen discovers the trick and demands Siegfried’s life. Kriemhild swears revenge for the death of her beloved, and flees.
Kriemhild has married Etzel, whom she tries to persuade to avenge her for the death of Siegfried. Gunther and Hagen, his murderous servant, are invited to a banquet, during which Etzel’s men kill Gunther’s soldiers. Hagen then kills Kriemhild’s son, unleashing a violent massacre.
Gottfried Huppertz (Germany, 1887-1937) studied music in Cologne. Frequenting the world of theatre and film, he met Fritz Lang, who personally commissioned him to compose the music for both this film and his next project, Metropolis. Huppertz’s score for The Nibelungs achieves an intimate link between music and image, creating a choreography of light, rhythm, movement and impressive effects. That is why Huppertz is considered one of the great composers of music for films. However, due to his premature death, Huppertz was unjustly forgotten for many years.
This exemplary restoration, carried out by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, is the result of many years of research and cooperation with several film institutes, including the Catalan Film Institute. Now, The Nibelungs is presented in a new 35mm copy, accompanied by the original score, performed by the National Youth Orchestra of Catalonia (JONC). Images and music: a total spectacle.