Silent Nights: German cinema, death and the fairy tale

Die Müde Tod [The Weary Death, a.k.a. Destiny, 1921] was my first success, the first picture where the people said, 'Here is someone.'  It doesn't take place in any specific time: a girl fights with Death for the life of her lover.  Death leads her into an enormous hall where millions of candles are burning.  Each candle is the life light of a human being, and he says, 'Here are three candles that flicker'--meaning that their lives will be extinguished shortly--'if you can save one of these three lives, I will return your lover to you.'  The picture plays between two strokes of a chime on a clock tower at midnight.  She has read the book of Solomon: 'There stands love as strong as death....'  And in her desire, she thinks love is stronger than death, so she fights, and the picture tells the story of the three candles.  Everything the girl does to save her lover creates his death--a fight against fate, against destiny. — Fritz Lang in 1965, interviewed by Peter Bogdanovich for Who The Devil Made It?

“The difference between the Germans and other races, said Clemenceau, is that the Germans have a taste for death, whereas other nations have a taste for life.  But the truth of the matter is perhaps—as Hölderlin implies in Hyperion—that the German is obsessed by the phantom of destruction and, in his intense fear of death, exhausts himself in seeking means of escaping Destiny.” — Lotte Eisner, The Haunted Screen, 1952

“When Death saw that for a second time his own property had been misused, he walked up to the physician with long strides, and said: ‘All is over with you, and now the lot falls on you,’ and seized him so firmly with his ice-cold hand, that he could not resist, and led him into a cave below the earth.  There he saw how thousands and thousands of candles were burning in countless rows, some large, some medium-sized, others small.  Every instant some were extinguished, and others again burnt up, so that the flames seemed to leap hither and thither in perpetual change.  ‘See,’ said Death, ‘these are the lights of men’s lives.  The large ones belong to children, the medium-sized ones to married people in their prime, the little ones belong to old people; but children and young folks likewise have often only a tiny candle.’  ‘Show me the light of my life,’ said the physician, and he thought that it would be very tall.  Death pointed to a little end which was just threatening to go out, and said: ‘Behold, it is there.’” — Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm, “Der Gevatter Tod (Godfather Death),” 1812 (trans. Margaret Hunt)

 “In these days, when people are afraid about so many things—look at the newspapers—I think that a happy ending, or what we call a happy ending, is more satisfactory for an audience than a terribly sad one.  The end of Destiny, for example, is that Death guides the boy and girl up to a heavenly meadow with lots of flowers and sunshine, into which they walk off together.  A business friend of mine asked, 'You think that's a happy ending?'  I said, 'Yes.'  Do you know his answer?  'But they can no longer fuck each other in heaven.'  That's one attitude. — Lang, in Who The Devil Made It?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, I'd like to see this. Does Death then offer her a bargain that involves her giving herself instead of her fiance? Sounds like a mixture of Greek myth and "Measure for Measure." :)