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Der Golem

New Podcast: MOTION PICTURES #5 – ‘The Disney Paradox’ (Frozen II)’

The latest episode of my podcast about cinema with my friend and podcast buddy, Carl Sweeney.

Motion Pictures is designed to be more of an informal, free-flowing chat about movies, geared around a topic of the week. There will also be choice episodes around an idea, whatever takes our fancy really! It’s an exciting project.

As Frozen II arrives on the scene, we’re this week discussing Disney.

After decades producing some of cinema’s most beloved and well known animation, the House of Mouse have over the last decade under CEO Bob Iger expanded their dominant reach across Hollywood – Pixar, LucasFilm, Marvel Studios and most recently 20th Century Fox all now fall under the Disney umbrella.

But what does that mean for cinema itself? Disney now control a significant proportion of the global box office for 2019. They have just launched their streaming service in the States, Disney+, releasing original movies such as their life-action remake of The Lady and the Tramp as an exclusive for the service. They are actively curtailing screenings of certain classic pictures they now own by independent cinema chains as control over lucrative IP tightens.

Is their corporate hegemony likely to finance bigger and better franchises, providing exciting and varied entertainment to the masses? Or is it part of a creeping cinematic dystopia? A corporate subsuming of original ideas, vibrant talent, and cinematic revolutions which led to some of the greatest film movement of the last 100 years?

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Blu-Ray Review: DER GOLEM (1920)

It is entirely possible that Der Golem aka The Golem, 1920’s German expressionist trend-setter from director Paul Wegener (and co-director Carl Boese), can actually be classed as the first cinematic franchise, given this particularly well-regarded effort stands as the third time Wegener portrays the titular Golem. It may also be the first cinematic prequel.

Don’t quote me on that. Far harder cinephiles may well be able to pull an obscure 1910’s example out of the hat to prove me wrong, and naturally Der Golem never directly clues you in to the fact this was set before the previous Golem films, but Wegener & Boese’s movie is at the end of the day an origin story. Set in the Jewish ghetto in 16th century Prague, it focuses on a small village where an enterprising Rabbi (played by Albert Streinruck) forges a Golem via black magic to protect the people from a tyrannical Emperor (Otto Gebuhr), only for the creature to ultimately turn destructive when he is used for personal gain. It is, in that sense, a cautionary tale of playing God, of man creating monster, and I know what you’re thinking: Frankenstein. The inspirations are clear but, in truth, they work both ways.

While Wegener & Boese undoubtedly would have been in some way influenced by the Gothic literature of Mary Shelley, the legend of the Golem stretches back into Hebrew myth and you can entirely see the inspirations in the work of James Whale and his own seminal, early 1931 Hollywood take on the Frankenstein story. These stories all have their place in romantic narrative and, in the case of Der Golem, a formative part of ‘Weimar Cinema’ in pre-Nazi Germany.