Notes for the Sixth Lecture

DER MŰDE TOD: ein deutsches Volkslied in sechs Versen

(The Weary Death: A German folksong in 6 verses)

This is, like Intolerance, a film with several stories. Unlike Intolerance which runs the stories simultaneously, this film runs them basically sequentially. Like Intolerance, the stories are in different places and times. One is a modern story, another a story set in an Islamic city, one Italian and one Chinese. Unlike Intolerance, the same actors appear in all three stories in equivalent roles. Think about what that means (universality - compare it with the nameless of the characters in Intolerance). Watch for similar problems in other films Sunrise why sound would have ruined this). There are many complexities to the film that you need to watch for. Can you decide on what its "message" (subtext) is? (Fatalism? Power of love? JUSTIFICATION OF TYRANNY? ie. a tyrannnical government is fated or inevitable) Problems of watching foreign films. The question was raised in Broken Blossoms. about cultural context. Do you expect a film maker from another country to explain the cultural context of the story in that culture? How does that affect your interpretation of the film? There are two approaches to viewing foreign films

(a) Watch the picture as a 21st Century American and make what you will out of it
(b) Go out and earn enough about the culture in which the film was made, the culture of the film maker’s story (if it isn’t modern.
Consider the problem of the German students not understanding American films of the 50’s dealing with students being taught to dive under tables if they was a flash. The German students said their grand parents had told them about that but hey find it inconceivable, However they all think they understood Shakespeare (baptized 26 April 1564 - 23 April 1616) . So something from 50 years ago was inconceivable, but Shakespeare from years ago was clear! Really?

Do we understand our own past? "The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there." is a quote from L.P. Hartley’s 1953 novel "The Go-Between". The quote reflects on how we understand the past and how we come to terms with our own memories. It suggests that the past is different from the present and that people in the past had different ways of doing things. So for this film, we have to go (as was the case for the others) more than 100 years and in this case to Germany and maybe to three other countries.


Analysis has, as I mentioned earlier this term, many approaches some are sociopolitical economic interpretations (within this for example, are Marxism and functionalism); some are psychological - Freudian, Jungian; some symbolic (but not psychological Freudian) some structural (Levi Strauss and binary oppositions) and so on. There is always a question of where the meaning of the film or the subtext comes from - the filmmaker or the analyst. There is a question of whether the "hermeneutics" are the authors or the analysts. Are we reading out of the text or into it?

One writer, Siegfried Kracauer, author of From Caligari to Hitler is best known for proposing a link between the apolitical and escapist orientation of Weimar-era cinema (The Weimar Republic,[b] officially known as the German Reich, was a historical period of Germany from 9 November 1918 to 23 March 1933,during which it was a constitutional federal republic for the first time in history; hence it is also referred to, and unofficially proclaimed itself, as the German Republic) and later German totalitarianism. (Totalitarianism is a form of government and a political system that prohibits all opposition parties, outlaws individual and group opposition to the state and its claims, and exercises an extremely high if not complete degree of control and regulation over public and private life. It is regarded as the most extreme and complete form of authoritarianism.) Kracauer seems to believe that Germans are fatalistic - a belief that things are predestined by "Fate", to happen. Fate (or in this case the title "Destiny") is a dominant force for this period. Things are predestined and in effect when your time is, it is up and nothing you can do will change it. Whether this is uniquely German or not is barely open to debate. The idea that Gőtterdāmmerung or Ragnerők - The Twilight of the Gods as an idea is peculiarly German (or Scandinavian) is contested by the Christian idea of the rapture or the cycle of the end of the word in Mayan religion, some Australian aboriginal religions. In almost all (but perhaps not the Christian one) the time winds up with a series of catastrophes in which the world is destroyed, people destroyed and often the world is flooded and completely submerged, But it emerges again and the cycles starts over. This idea of cycles is not unusual, the day, the year with its seasonal cycles and on the basis of analogy some greater period cycles as well. (One wonders if the Big bang and potential implosion of the universe is not another version – perhaps of reality). There is, certainly, in some German films, a sense of inevitability. Remember the Norns (from Scandinavian mythology or the fates from Greek mythology who are in the back of Intolerance behind the woman rocking the cradle. It is they who deal out the fate of people. One measures one weaves and one cuts.

Predestination has been a problem not only in Germany but in the west in general.It appears in Calvinism:Some "(How did original sin happen? Was it also predesttined? If so how are Adam and Eve responsible if they have no choice? Biblical scholars have wrestled with the problem that If God knows everything including the future, then the future is predestined in which case how can god hold people responsible for their actions when they are all predestined? The film itself is divided in a set of "verses"e;complex ways. A stranger arrives in a town purchase a plot of land next to a cemetery. A young couple meet with the stranger whose land has a huge doorless wall around it.

In terms of symbolism what might this imply?

The wall seems to open in some fashion to let the spirits of the dead in. But they don’ t come back out. Do you interpret the wall as a kind of metaphor for death? The living when they die cross through it, but the dead cannot exit.

The boy and girl drink from a cup that allows both to drink simultaneously. He hits her accidentally in the nose when his taking a drink rotates the spoon up on her side, There will be abother drink later when the girl attempts to commit suicide by drinking poison.In the first they join with both drinking. In the second she "drinks" alone. The first (together) is positive, the second (alone) negative. Again an opposition of love and death The mysterious man (clearly death) eats with the couple at an inn and the young girl "sees" the glass turn into an hour glass with sand running through it,

Symbolism again - this time "the sands of time are running out". The young man and Death are no longer there when the girl returns from the kitchen to the table, She realizes death has taken the man and she attempts kill herself by drinking poison. She appears appears at the wall through which spirits of the dead move freely and she herself now can pass through. She meets death and attempts to get him to return her fiancé to her. Death it seems is weary of his role (Hence the title "The Weary Death") and shows her the candles which indicate people’s lives. When the candle goes out the person dies. Compare this to the cloth woven by the fates hinted at in Intolerance where one weaves, one measures and one cuts - with the weaving equalling a person’s life) Lang’s mother was Jewish but converted to Catholicism. The imagery of the candles is similar to what one might see in a Cetholic Church.

Death gives her a chance to sae the life of any of three men whose candles are burning low. If she can do that, she can retrieve her lover. The stories which folow detail the lives of the three men all of whom die, Thereby come the three stories incorporated into the film. In each one (Italian, one in an Islamic city and Chinese), she fails to save the man) and hence loses the lover.

At this point the cup with the poison is smashed from her hands. The apparent death and three following stories have all happened in her mind in the split second between the moment she puts the cup to her lips and is about to drink the poison and the moment the cup is smashed.

This raises a question about the "author" of the images. In a sense the three stories are all constructs of the young woman’s mind. Although the story leading up to this point seems to be that of an interested observer, the audience does see what the woman sees when the glass turns into an hour glass. So we are seeing what she sees This is basically a point of view shot which is internal. That is since no one else sees the transformation we see it because we are "in her head". This makes the film’s narration somewhat unstable A similar problem exists in the " Caligari" The minds distortions play out more and more during the three stories within the main overarching story

Death says if she can bring him one soul she can in effect exchange with her lovers she can redeem him.
She tries to convince several people - the old pharmacist, a beggar whose life is miserable, some eldery sick people in a hospital all of whom refuse to die to reunite her with her lover. No matter how horrible one’s life may be, the perrson wants to live,.But death is inevitable. This is perhaps the most fatalistic part of the film.
Finally she comes upon a building on fire from which all the inhabitants are thought to have been rescued. Then a baby is heard still on the building with the mother desperate to save it (although she makes no move to). The young woman rushes into the burning building and grabs the baby at which point Death appears and reaches out for the baby which will be the exchange for her lover. She starts to give him the baby in return for her lover’s life,but is unable to bring herself to do it and instead lowers the baby to the crowd below, So the lover is lost. She dies as the building collapse. Death then takes her spirit to her lover and they are reunited in death,

Is this a fatalistic film about predestination? Certainly the idea of death as inevitable it there. But is there more?

What is the films statement about "And the power of love is greater than the power of death"

German expressionism, in which the distortions of the mind are made mannifest on the screen through odd sets, distorted camera angles as appeared prehaps most strongly in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (The Cabinet of Dr. Calgari); Robert Weine, director) and Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu); F.W. Murnau, director.

Kracauer in his book holds the film is a justification of tyranny - it is inevitable. He indicates that the opposite is chaos - there is no middle ground in the German mindset of the time of the film and in a sense tries to explain Germany’s move to Nazism. His sociopolitical arguments are complex and need not be gone into here (Go read the book if you like). The question is while there is certainly justification for the film being fatalistic in terms of individual death, it seems to operate at many levls and with rather different topics being examined. The Chinese fantasy section of the film inspired Douglas Fairbanks to make Thief of Bagdad (1924), an "oriental"fantasy complete with magic carpets and flying horses. The film was remade with the same title Thief of Bagdad in 1940 with John Justin, June Duprez Sabu and Conrad Veidt,. Similar expressionistic images are found in Der Műde Tod as well, again giving indication to the mental state of the characters in the film.