Century Film Project

Celebrating the movies our ancestors loved

Tag: Paul Wegener

The Golem (1920)

This German feature film directed by Paul Wegener enters our History of Horror among the first movies modern fans easily recognize as “really” a horror movie. But its place in history remains disputed, with many possible interpretations available, so let’s take a closer look.

The movie begins with a shot of a starry sky above gnarled rooftops, with seven stars in a strange over-lapping configuration. We cut to an old man atop one of those rooftops, peering through a telescope and learn in an intetitle that he is Rabbi Loew (Albert Steinrück), and that he sees bad days ahead for the Jews of Prague in the stars. Close-ups then introduce us to his household – an assistant named Famulus (Ernst Deutsch) and a daughter named Miriam (Lyda Salmonova, in reality the wife of Wegener). These two are both young adults, and they gently flirt as they assist on some alchemical experiment or other. Rabbi Loew interrupts to tell them of his prophecy, then he puts on a tall peaked hat and goes out to inform the other elders of the Ghetto. He advises them to begin a 24-hour vigil of prayer to avert coming disaster. Since he’s a  respected rabbi, the community elders follow is advice.

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Student of Prague (1913)

Student of Prague

Original Title: Der Student von Prag

Director/Star: Paul Wegener (co-directed by Stellan Rye)

What defines a horror movie? If it can be defined by the presence of a supernatural antagonist which threatens the protagonist and other characters with death, then this movie qualifies as an early example (though probably not the first). In it, Paul Wegener (later to direct and star in “The Golem” and its several remakes/sequels) stars as the eponymous student, a carefree, hard-living lad, until he falls in love with a local noblewoman, betrothed to her own cousin to preserve the family line. He makes a deal with a Magician, who may or may not be the Devil (and looks like sort of a cross between Georges Melies and Dr. Caligari) in order to possess her. The deal seems innocent enough – our student simply agrees to let the Magician take away his reflection in the mirror. But, this results in the existence of a dangerous doppelgänger, who seems bent on destroying the student’s happy life. Wegener really goes to town, portraying the sinister reflection and the horrified student, and there are some neat camera tricks to allow them to interact. I also noticed that the camera moves in this movie more than in most I’ve seen from the period, if only to keep up with actors as they move out of frame, which gives it a more modern feel than, for example “The Avenging Conscience.”

Run Time: Supposedly, 85 min originally. There is an 83 minute “restored” version I haven’t seen, and the one I have seen is 41 min.

You can watch it for free: here