Tag Archives: Philip K. Dick

Silent Film Week: The Golem

The Golem (1920) is actually the third in a series of German films chronicling the Jewish folk character, though this is a prequel to the two previous films. Those two are considered ‘lost films’ however, so this is the rendering of the tale that most will think of if you are discussing a silent version.

golem dvd

The film sees the Jewish community of a city threatened with exile due to, among other things, their “magic”. In order to remedy this, the elders in the community bring back to life The Golem, as a saviour of their people. The character is in some ways an ironically Christ-like one. Obviously any film that has a Jewish community threatened is going to have a certain level of resonance, even one that preceded World War II by close to two decades. But it is impossible to watch the film except through that prism, which I think does imbue the film with a level of power. The film chronicles the struggle of the rabbis and their Golem to win their right to stay in the city through intimidation and various other means. One of the issues that I had with the film is that it was not always entirely clear what was happening. Neither it is entirely obscure, I just feel that in terms of coherence, the narrative could have been a little sharper. The film does weave a lot of magic into the narrative, with astrology giving a rabbi the first hint of trouble looming, as well as the Frankenstein-esque animating of The Golem from inanimate materials. The film also moves along at a really fast pace, the viewer is bombarded with plot developments and action, which is a little different to many silent films which traditionally took a more measured approach to pacing.

Paul Wegener, who in addition to playing The Golem, directed & wrote the film

Paul Wegener, who in addition to playing The Golem, directed & wrote the film

Without a doubt though the greatest technical achievement of The Golem is The Golem character itself. Even during its creation, the design and effects really are wondrous to behold. The close-ups of hands, working the clay like material that he is brought to life from look amazing. Not to mention the fact that when The Golem comes alive, he looks incredible. It is an iconic look and I would not have been surprised if James Whale and Boris Karloff took some inspiration from the figure when coming up with their Frankenstein (1931). If there was a 1940s American remake, Karloff would definitely have gotten the gig. The film more broadly does feel somewhat akin to the sensibility that Universal brought to the horror genre, as well as its more obvious connection to German Expressionism. Paul Wegener in the role of The Golem, makes this character just as iconic in appearance and rigid movement as Karloff would do numerous times in the decades that followed. The movement in particular is unsettlingly deliberate but also it is confronting because there is no way to know what the character is going to do next. The relationship between The Golem and his creator does take on an even more overt Frankenstein feel late in the film with the creation suddenly not particularly wanting to be switched off as his creator has the power to do. Thematically the later parts of the film do take on an intriguing turn, veering into the sci-fi esque notions of Shelley’s original novel and even suggesting some of the ideas that Philip K. Dick would later explore in his iconic writing.

Wegener in character

Wegener in character

Aside from the central figure, the other technical aspects of the film are a marvel given its vintage. The sets are reminiscent of Melies, who James discussed in yesterday’s post. They brilliantly convey a world that whilst grounded strictly in reality, is frequently witness to the fantastical. The lighting as well is really strong in the film and combines with the set design to create intensely strong imagery. I have to admit that my knowledge of Jewish folklore or even the history of the Jewish people more broadly is slight. So from that perspective it is difficult for me to entirely process the perspective that the film comes from. We see anti-Semitism from the local Christians who are the ones trying to rid the city of the Jews. Here the audience is clearly supposed to side with the Jews who are being so unfairly slighted. This part of the film feels like possibly a piece of Jewish propaganda or just a creative rendering of reality. But some later parts of the film can feel almost genuinely anti-Semitic, with an intense focus on the shifty reliance on magic amongst the Jewish leadership.

The Golem is pretty incredible stuff. The effects and ‘world’ that is created is pretty incredible to see over 90 years later. The narrative is slight and the ending rather absurd, which prevents it from reaching incredible heights. But it is still a very enjoyable film and one that all movie buffs should check out.

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

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The Arnie one, not the Colin Farrell one

Here in Australia, the remake of Paul Paul Verhoeven’s iconic sci-fi/action flick Total Recall (1990) opens tomorrow. So I thought this was an apt time to take a look at the original. First of all, check out the awesome trailer for it below.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is undoubtedly one of the biggest actions stars in movie history. In my humble opinion, he is also probably one of the top 5 worst actors to have made a living by being an actor. In this film, Arnie plays the most buff everyman in history. When our hero goes to have memories of wondrous vacations to Mars implanted, he ends up discovering that his real memory has been wiped and that he actually was a secret agent who worked on the red planet. The rest of the film follows him as he attempts to piece together his past and who he really is. Thankfully, despite Arnie’s shortcomings as an actor, he is surrounded by some more assured performer chief amongst them being Sharon Stone, who is fantastic as his wife.

Cover of "We Can Remember It for You Whol...

A collection of short stories by Philip K. Dick. Total Recall is based on the title story.

Total Recall is based on the Philip K. Dick short story “We Can Remember it for you Wholesale”. Dick is one of my favourite sci-fi authors and his fiction is generally concerned with ideas about identity, the future and many other things. But it is ideas rather than action that are at their core. It is a little strange then that so many films have been made of his work. Total Recall chooses to dispense with most of the ideas and instead focuses on the action. It is really an action flick with a dash of sci-fi sauce on top. But it is an extremely fun one. The action, despite the sci-fi trimmings, is extremely realistic with cool hand to hand fight scenes and a willingness to show a little blood. Actually a willingness to show a whole lot of blood – this is a very violent film. The film is also really quite funny. Often when it does not intend to be, but there are also some pretty inspired scripted comedic touches as well. The film is a little dated, but no sci-fi film predicts technology completely successfully. And some of the dated aspects are quite cool to see these days – the most 80s opening credits ever, and miniature work, which you never see in this age of CGI everything.

I have to say, I consider this film a fun action romp rather than any form of stone cold classic. Others who saw the film closer to its original release, may be able to give some insight as to why the film is so revered. One thing the film has done though is gotten me intrigued to see what they come up with for the remake. Especially given the replacing of the ultra-buff Schwarzenegger, with the more normally proportioned Colin Farrell and the apparent decision not to have any Mars based action.

So there are my thoughts on the original Total Recall. Definitely try and take the chance to see it before the remake opens near you, and please share your thoughts on both films.  

Verdict: Stubby of Reschs

Progress: 57/1001

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