Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Labyrinth of Lies

October 15, 2015

Labyrinth_of_Lies

Labyrinth of Lies, directed by Giulio Ricciarelli, from a script by Ricciarelli and Elisabeth Bartel, is a fictionalized depiction of the events leading up to the Frankfurt Auschwitz Trials of 1963-65. The story begins in Germany in the late 1950’s. Johan Radmann (Alexander Fehling) is a young prosecutor who gets involved in the case of a school teacher who is accused of having been an SS officer at Auschwitz. The case leads Radmann to discover that other former Auschwitz officers and guards are living free. He persuades the Attorney General, Fritz Bauer (Gert Voss) to let him begin bringing criminal cases against these people. Radmann encounters resistance, both from the government and from his fellow lawyers against the prosecutions.

The German title of this film, Im Labyrinth des Schweigens, literally translates as “In the Labyrinth of Silence”, which is a more accurate title. It becomes clear that the problem is not so much lies as the fact that people simply refused to discuss what had happened. The film is implicitly critical of the Adenauer government, with its “time to move on” philosophy. (At one point the film suggests that some members of the West German government helped Josef Mengele to avoid capture.) The result of this is virtually a form of historical amnesia. In one scene, someone asks some young Germans if they have ever heard of Auschwitz, and they answer no. During his first interview with an Auschwitz survivor, Radmann is astonished to learn that hundreds of thousands of people died there. “What did you think it was, a summer camp next to a lake?” a survivor sarcastically asks him.

The main problem with Labyrinth of Lies is its heavy reliance on standard storytelling techniques. For example, it follows the time-honored Hollywood tradition of including a romantic subplot: Radmann has an affair with a free-spirited girl, Marlene (Friederike Becht). These scenes are in and of themselves not objectionable, but they seem somehow inappropriate within the context of the film’s disturbing subject matter. There are also some dream scenes in which Radmann is shown following Mengele through the latter’s laboratory. These are clearly meant to be emotionally powerful, but they seem merely trite: we’ve seen these sorts of dream scenes too many times in other films. This raises the question of whether standard storytelling techniques are adequate for dealing with such an enormity as Auschwitz.

Despite its flaws, Labyrinth of Lies is a revealing portrait of post-World War II Germany.

Hannah Arendt

March 1, 2014

Hannah_Arendt_Film_Poster

Margarethe von Trotta’s 2012 film, Hannah Arendt, deals with the writing of Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem and the ensuing controversy that it caused. The film is fictional, but it includes actual film footage of Eichmann’s trial. Arendt’s book was controversial because of its notion of the “banality of evil”, which many historians objected to (and still object to). This idea has remained in currency, however, perhaps because it doesn’t seem far-fetched to a generation that grew up under the cloud of a nuclear arms race. The book also angered people because of its criticism of Jewish Leaders in Eastern Europe during World War II.

This film is mostly sympathetic in its portrayal of Arendt (played by Barbara Sukowa), but it does not portray her as flawless. She ignored pleadings that her comments about the Jewish leaders were insensitive and should be left out. (She felt she had to discuss it, because the issue came up during Eichmann’s trial.) Some of the characters accuse her of being arrogant, and the film subtly implies that there was some truth in this.

There is also a sub-plot about Arendt’s relationship with the philosopher, Heidegger, who was once her lover. This part of the film was unsatisfying because Trotta doesn’t seem to know what to say about this aspect of Arendt’s life.

Hannah Arendt is that rare type of film that deals with the life of the mind. It is also interesting portrayal of the German-Jewish emigre community in the U.S. following World War II.

The Lives of Others

October 14, 2013

Leben_der_anderen

The East German Stasi were cavemen compared to the NSA. Their low-tech and labor-intensive bugging of individuals’ apartments seems crude and childish compared to the NSA’s wholesale monitoring of the Internet. Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s 2006 film, The Lives of Others is an un-nostalgic trip back to those more primitive days of government spying.

Captain Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is a Stasi agent who has been assigned to spy on Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) a highly regarded East German playwright whom the Culture Minister, Minister Bruno Hempf (Thomas Thieme), suspects of having disloyal thoughts. The Stasi plant listening devices in the apartment that Dreyman shares with Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). Wiesler proceeds to listen in on their private conversations. At the beginning of the film, Hempf tells Wiesler that “people don’t change”. (This is about as un-Marxist a statement as one could possibly make.) Yet as Wiesler learns about the tender relationship between Georg and Christa-Maria and about Georg’s grief over the suicide of a friend who was blacklisted by the government, he begins to change. He ends up falsifying his records to conceal the fact that Georg is planning to smuggle a document out of the country.

The Lives of Others is an understated film that creates suspense through the emotional states of the characters. It is also a film that affirms the possibility of human redemption. I consider it one of the best films of the last decade.

The film critic, Carrie Rickey, has claimed that The Lives of Others influenced Edward Snowden, but I have not been able to find any statements by Snowden that confirm this. In a way, though, this film does bear a similarity to the Snowden case, in that it depicts a government spy who comes to realize the wrongness of what he is doing.

Downfall

June 25, 2013

215px-Der_Untergang_-_Poster

Downfall is a 2004 German film about the final days of the Third Reich. It was directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel from a screenplay by Bernd Eichinger (who also wrote the screenplay for The Baader-Meinhof Complex). The film mostly takes place in the bunker where Hitler(Bruno Ganz) and other members of this government are hiding out as the Soviet army surrounds Berlin.

Ganz’s performance in this film caused some controversy. Some people objected to the idea of portraying Hitler as human. This argument doesn’t make sense to me. Hitler was human. Does it make sense to portray him as a supernatural monster? Would that help us to understand what happened? Obviously not.

One thing that struck me as I watched this film was how out-of-touch with reality the German leaders seem. (Himmler (Ulrich Noethen) talks about negotiating a ceasefire with Eisenhower. He wonders whether he should give him the Nazi salute or shake his hand.) The generals talk about “loyalty to the Fuehrer”, even after he accuses them of betraying them. At the end of the film, reality finally asserts itself in the form of Russian soldiers swarming over the city.

More than any other film I’ve seen, Downfall brings home the sheer lunacy of Nazism. Children and old men are sent into battle. Civilians are shot or hanged as “traitors”. We see Magda Goebbels (Corinna Harfouch) methodically murder her own children, because, she says, “life is not worth living without National Socialism”. Some of the scenes in this film have a surreal quality to them. We see drunken officers laughing and playing cards outside Hitler’s private quarters, while their Fuehrer is planning his suicide. And we see a drunken orgy in a hotel lobby while the Russians are closing in on the city. The scene is almost like something out of Bosch.

Downfall is a great film, and arguably the best film about World War II. Watching this film, however, I kept thinking “How did people like this come to rule an entire country?” It would be interesting if someone were to make a film about how Hitler became the Fuehrer.

Hangmen Also Die

March 9, 2013

Hangmen_Also_Die_1943_poster

Hangmen Also Die is an entirely fictionalized account of the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, one of the leaders of Nazi Germany. This 1943 film was directed by Fritz Lang, from a screenplay by John Wexley, based on a story by Bertolt Brecht and Lang. This was the only Hollywood film that Brecht worked on for which he received an on-screen credit. Lang had originally intended to have Brecht write the screenplay, but he apparently changed his mind due to aesthetic, political, and personal differences between himself and Brecht that made it increasingly difficult for them to work together.

The film is set in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War II. Svoboda (Brian Donlevy) has just assassinated Heydrich, and he is fleeing down a street. Mascha (Anna Lee) sees him. When the Gestapo ask her where he went, she points them in the opposite direction. Svoboda, who is hiding nearby, observes this. Desperate for a place to hide, he follows her to her home, where he manages to persuade her to take him in, even though he knows that by doing so, he is placing her and her family in danger of retaliation by the Gestapo.

Lang and Brecht did not get along well when they were working on the story for Hangmen Also Die. Brecht thought some of Lang’s story ideas were unbelievable. He complained, for example, of one scene in which Lang had the leader of the Czech resistance evade the Gestapo by hiding behind a curtain. (I found this hard to believe myself.) Yet Lang was right to reject Brecht’s idea that the mistakes of the underground “are corrected by the broad mass of the people”. Brecht’s, influence, however, can perhaps be seen in the fact that one of the film’s chief villains is a Czech collaborator who is also the wealthy owner of a beer brewery. And there is some dark Brechtian humor in the moment when, in the midst of interrogating someone, a Gestapo officer pauses to squeeze a pimple on his face. (That’s something you don”t often see in Hollywood movies.)

John Wexley and Hanns Eisler (who composed the music) were both later blacklisted. Eisler was eventually deported because of his left-wing political views. Brecht left the country after being questioned by the HUAC.

Despite its contrived and melodramatic moments, Hangmen Also Die does touch upon some complex moral and political questions, such as whether terror tactics, like assassinations, are ever a good idea. In the film, the Gestapo begin carrying out random executions in retaliation for the assassination. What happened in real life was even worse. The Nazis destroyed the Czech city of Lidice, killing most of its inhabitants or sending them to concentration camps.

Although it is not one of Lang’s best films, Hangmen Also Die is nonetheless one of the more interesting films to come out of World War II.

The Baader Meinhof Complex

December 31, 2012

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The 2008 German film, The Baader Meinhof Complex, directed by Uli Edel from a screenplay by Bernd Eichinger, tells the story of the Red Army Faction, better known as the Baader Meinhof Group, a terrorist group active in Germany from the 1970’s through the 1990’s. The group had broad support in its early years. It appealed to young people disillusioned with post-war German society. They were particularly opposed to the Vietnam War and the West German government’s passive support for it, which they viewed as being analogous to Germans who had allowed the Holocaust to happen. The death of Che Guevara had also inspired many of these people.

The film begins with a demonstration against the Shah of Iran during his visit to Berlin in 1967. The police attack a crowd of student demonstrators, resulting in the death of Benno Ohnesorg. Shortly afterwards, Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) fire bomb a department store, protesting the political complacency of German society. Baader is eventually arrested by the police. A journalist, Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), interviews him in prison. Meinhof is frustrated by what she sees as the inability of her journalism to bring about any change. Meinhof agrees to help Baader to escape from prison, which she does. She then joins Baader’s gang, which he has christened as the Red Army Faction (RAF).

The rest of the film starts out as farce and ends as tragedy. The RAF leaders flee Germany to a Fatah camp in Jordan, to be trained in guerilla warfare. The RAF consider themselves to be in support of “Third World” liberation struggles. Once in the camp, however, they begin behaving like a bunch of spoiled teenagers. (This is the best way I can describe it.) They quarrel with the Fatah leaders, and they violate Palestinian social norms by, among other things, doing nude sunbathing in the middle of the camp. They return to Germany, where they carry out a series of daring bank robberies and bombings. However, the police capture or kill members of the RAF one by one. They eventually capture Baader, Meinhof, and Ensslin. However, a “second generation” of RAF members springs up. They use terror methods to try get their leaders released, culminating in the highjacking of an airliner in 1977. When army troops succeed in freeing the hostages, Baader and the others despair of ever getting out of prison, so they kill themselves.

Edel and Eichinger try to compress a complex series of historical events into a two-and-a-half hour film with predictably uneven results. New RAF members suddenly appear out of nowhere, and at times it’s hard to tell who is doing what. The film touches upon some complex issues without addressing them in satisfying ways. For example, some people have raised reasonable doubts as to whether the RAF leaders actually killed themselves, suggesting that they might have been murdered. (According to Wikipedia: “… Baader was supposed to have shot himself in the base of the neck so that the bullet exited through his forehead; repeated tests indicated that it was virtually impossible for a person to hold and fire a gun in such a way. In addition, three bullet holes were found in his cell: one lodged in the wall, one in the mattress, and the fatal bullet itself lodged in the floor, suggesting that Baader had fired twice before killing himself. Finally, Baader had powder burns on his right hand, but he was left-handed.”) While the film mentions that there were doubts about the suicides, it doesn’t really discuss this matter. Also, the film ends with the RAF’s killing of the industrialist, Hans Martin Schleyer in 1978, although the RAF remained active well into the 1990’s.

This film is a grim reminder that terrorism doesn’t work. Germany is not a better place today because of the Baader Meinhof group. The 9/11 attacks resulted in the expansion of U.S. imperialism. Terrorism actually strengthens the state by providing it with an external enemy. (“War is the health of the state”, as Randolph Bourne once put it.) Only mass movements have ever brought about any progress.

Even Dwarfs Started Small

November 19, 2012

    I believe the common denominator of the universe is not harmony; but chaos, hostility and murder.
    – Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog’s 1970 film, Even Dwarfs Started Small (Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen). This film was shot with a cast consisting entirely of dwarfs. According to Herzog, he did this to show that “the world is created in a way that is not theirs”. The objects around them are designed for full-sized people. In one scene, for example, Hombre (Helmut Döring) tries unsuccessfully to climb onto a bed. “The dwarves in the film are not freaks,” Herzog says; rather, “[they are] well proportioned, charming, and beautiful people.” It is the world around them that is freakish. The film is a critique of our consumer culture. The characters are surrounded by over-sized chairs, motorcycles, cars, and other objects that they can’t really use. When this film was released, it was banned in Germany for being “anarchistic and blasphemous”. Some claimed the film was meant to ridicule the student movement of that time. Herzog certainly was not sympathetic to the movement. He once said:

    Contrary to most of my peers, I had already been much further out into the world. I had traveled, I had made films, I had already taken on responsibilities that very few people my age had. For me, this very rudimentary analysis that Germany was a fascist and repressive prison state, which had to be overpowered by a socialist utopian revolution, seemed quite wrong. I knew the revolution would not succeed because it was rooted in such an inadequate analysis of what was really going on, so I did not participate.

The characters in this film certainly don’t have any analysis of their situation. They seem to act purely on impulse, which eventually becomes a form of nihilism.

The film is set in an institution whose purpose is never made clear. One day the inmates rise up and take over the place. The director (Paul Glauer) is holed up in his office. He has taken one of the inmates, Pepe (Gerd Gickel), hostage. The inmates amuse themselves by playing games, which are fairly innocent at first, but which gradually become destructive. They kill a pig, pull down a palm tree and set fire to flowers. They torment two blind inmates. In a scene that is clearly meant to be sacrilegious, they “crucify” a monkey by tying him to a cross, which they then parade around the yard. (No doubt it was this scene that got the film banned in Germany.) The director eventually goes mad and runs away. In the last scene, we see Hombre laughing stupidly while a camel kneels in front of him and defecates.

This film is disturbing to watch, yet there are moments that are actually funny in a dark sort of way. Herzog has alternately called this film “darkest of comedies you can imagine” and “a very profound…collective nightmare”. In Herzog’s comedy and horror are never far apart. There are even funny moments in Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Violence and megalomania are appalling and yet grotesquely humorous.

During the filming of Even Dwarfs Started Small, one of the actors suffered a mild injury. Herzog promised the cast that if they made it through the rest of the filming without any more injuries, he would jump into a large cactus plant. He later kept his promise. Incidents such as this have made Herzog an almost mythical figure in contemporary cinema. The 2004 mockumentary, Incident at Loch Ness seeks to exploit this. It is purportedly a documentary about Herzog making a documentary about the Loch Ness monster. Although it has amusing moments, it feels a bit familiar. It’s only been twenty-eight years since the making of This is Spinal Tap, yet already the mockumentary is becoming cliché. How about a mockumentary about the making of a mockumentary?

Dr. Mabuse

November 11, 2012

Fritz Lang made three films about the super villain, Dr. Mabuse. This character was clearly inspired by Conan Doyle’s Dr. Moriarty, as well as by Allain and Souvestre’s Fantômas. Like these two, Mabuse heads a criminal gang that carries out daring and elaborately planned crimes. (And, like Moriarty, Mabuse is a scientist.) Like Dr. Caligari, he is an expert hypnotist. Mabuse, however, has the added twist that he has the ability to perform telepathic hypnosis, making people do things against their will, sometimes simply by looking at them, even when they have their back turned on him. The character of Mabuse was created by the novelist, Nobert Jaques, but he is best remembered for the Fritz Lang films in which he appears.

The four-hour Dr. Mabuse the Gambler was released in 1922 in two parts. Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) uses his hypnotic abilities to swindle wealthy men at card games. With the riches he makes, Mabuse plans to make himself the most powerful man in the world. His activities arouse the suspicions of the courageous, but not overly bright, State Prosecutor Wenk (Bernhard Goetzke). The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they eventually catch up with Mabuse. At the end of the film he goes mad, and the police take him away to an asylum.

In The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933), the good doctor has been treated at the asylum by Prof. Baum (Oscar Beregi, Sr.). Through a special form of hypnosis, Mabuse begins to control Baum’s mind. Baum then forms his own criminal gang. He identifies himself to his henchmen, who are not allowed to see him, as “Dr. Mabuse”. After Mabuse dies, he seems to completely takeover Baum. Whereas, in the first film, Mabuse’s aims were pecuniary, Baum/Mabuse shows no interest in making money. His crimes are committed merely for their own sake. This time he is opposed by Inspector Lohmann (Otto Wernicke), who is a little sharper than State Prosecutor Wenk. Lohmann foils Baum/Mabuse’s plan to release a cloud of poison gas over Berlin. At the end of the film, Baum/Mabuse voluntarily commits himself to his own asylum.

The 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) was the last film that Lang made, before he retired due to failing eyesight. At the beginning, we are told that Mabuse died in 1932, yet a criminal named Mabuse is now operating in Berlin with a new gang. It seems that the spirit of Mabuse lives on and has occupied another body. (I won’t say the name of the actor who plays him, since part of the suspense of the film is that it is unclear which character is actually Mabuse, although the cover of the DVD that I have effectively gives it away.) Mabuse controls the Luxor Hotel in Berlin. There are cameras installed in every room, which he uses to acquire information he can use for crimes. He has set an elaborate trap for Henry Travers (Peter van Eyck), an American industrialist. His aim is to take over Travers’s company so he can build a stockpile of nuclear weapons with which to take over the world. (Yes, that’s right, the hero of this film, Travers, is a nuclear arms manufacturer. That was the Cold War for you.)

It has often been argued that Dr.Mabuse the Gambler anticipates Hitler. At times, Mabuse does express a megalomania that is strikingly similar to Hitler’s. It seems to me that a more plausible explanation is that Mabuse represents a type of cynicism that was common in Europe (and particularly in Germany) following the horrors of the First World War. Hitler’s Weltanschauung happened to be an extreme form of this cynicism.

Mabuse can also be viewed as a Nietzschean, particularly in his attitude towards women. At one point he cruelly tells his lover that there is no such thing as love, only desire. Lang’s biographer, Patrick McGilligan, claims that this was Lang’s own view, even though the screenplay was actually written by Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou. This raises serious questions in my mind about the reliability of McGilligan’s biography.

In The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Baum/Mabuse speaks of creating an “empire of crime”. This reportedly prompted Goebbels to ban the film, because he feared that people would see it as a criticism of the Nazis. (It didn’t have its German premiere until 1961.) This makes me wonder: did Hitler, Goebbels, and other Nazis see themselves as creating an “empire of crime”? If so, what does this tell us about the historical conditions that created the Nazis?

In hindsight, there is something eerie about the fact that Mabuse tries to use poison gas as a weapon of mass murder. This is no doubt a coincidence, but one can’t help noting it.

In The 1000 Eyes of Mabuse, made after the Second World War, Lang makes an explicit connection between Mabuse and the Nazis. We are told that the Luxor Hotel was used by the Gestapo, and Mabuse employs secret rooms and cameras that they used. No doubt this idea came to Lang in response to the enormity of what had happened. It makes this film an unsettling diminuendo to what is perhaps the greatest film trilogy ever made.

Two Early Films by Werner Herzog: Heart of Glass and The Engima of Kaspar Hauser

October 28, 2012

Werner Herzog’s 1976 film, Heart of Glass, can charitably be described as a failed experiment. This film is most notorious for the fact that Herzog had the actors hypnotized before each scene. He claimed this enabled them to express themselves more freely, although you would never guess that from watching this film. The actors seem stiff and wooden. They look past each other, and at times they seem to be about to fall asleep.

Another problem is that this film doesn’t have much of a story. It is set in a Bavarian village during the 18th century. The town has gotten wealthy by manufacturing ruby-colored glass. The factory foreman, Muehlbeck, is the only person who knows how to make the special glass. He dies without revealing the secret to anyone. (This is far-fetched, to say the least. The story is reportedly based on a German legend.) Realizing that their livelihood is now threatened, the townspeople become increasingly prone to violent or extreme behavior. The factory owner, Huttenbesitzer (Stefan Güttler) goes mad. He convinces himself that the secret ingredient in the ruby-colored glass is human blood, so he kills his servant, Ludmilla (Sonja Skiba). Immediately after that, he sets fire to his factory. Oh, and there is a seer named Hias (Josef Bierbichler, who was fortunate enough to be the only actor who wasn’t hypnotized), who makes apocalyptic prophecies. That’s pretty much all that happens. Herzog fills out the film to feature length by including long, brooding shots of the Bavarian countryside. There is also an interesting scene of glassblowers working in the factory that will teach you some things about making glass objects.

Strong performances might have compensated for the weakness of the story, but Herzog made sure that wouldn’t happen with his hypnotism. One can only conclude that the hypnosis was a gimmick. Herzog has always been a bit of a huckster (which is actually part of his aesthetic), but in Heart of Glass his carny impulses went a bit too far.

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, made two years earlier, is a superior film in many ways, not least because there was no hypnosis. The German title for this is Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle (Every Man for Himself and God against Everyone). Herzog has said that he “loved” this title, but nobody else seemed to like it. (I side with the nobody else.) As the American title indicates, this film is based on the life of Kaspar Hauser, the foundling who was reportedly raised without any human contact. This film presents Hauser’s account of his life as true, although many historians have come to believe that he was a clever impostor. The abrupt and mysterious nature of Hauser’s death does not lend itself to tragedy, so Herzog tries to play it for irony. At the end, we see doctors performing an autopsy on Hauser’s body. They find that his cerebellum and part of his liver are enlarged, and that the left side of his cerebrum is smaller than the right side. (Strangely, the doctors don’t seem to notice that his brain looks as though it is made out of moldy cheese.) A government official writes all this down and then gleefully scurries off, satisfied that the mystery of Kaspar Hauser has finally been “solved”. As a satire of bureaucracy, this seems merely contrived and tacked on.

Herzog cast Bruno Schleinstein (also known as Bruno S.) as Kaspar Hauser. (Even though Scheinstein was 41, and Hauser was only 17 when he was “found”.) Schleinstein was a Berlin street performer who was said to suffer from severe psychological problems. Herzog once claimed that he found Schleinstein when the latter broke into his car and fell asleep in it. Later, it turned out that Herzog had actually learned about Schleinstein from a documentary about Berlin artists. This just goes to show that Herzog has a bit of Kaspar Hauser in him. Anyway, Schleinstein, who allegedly had no previous acting experience, gives a very strong performance in this film; he is the main reason to watch it. He had what Hollywood types call “presence”. Perhaps this is something he acquired from his experience as a street performer. It’s hard to take your eyes off him. He makes his character’s odd behavior completely convincing. Unfortunately, Schleinstein only appeared in a few films (one was Herzog’s Stroszeck), reportedly because he was difficult to work with. A shame.

The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb

October 24, 2012


These can perhaps be regarded as typical of German movie poster art of the 1950’s.


It was left to the Italians to show them how to do it right.

By the late 1950’s, Fritz Lang’s Hollywood movie career had come to end. There were no more studio executives left for him to piss off. It was at this time that the German film producer, Artur Brauner, approached Lang and suggested he do a remake of his silent film The Indian Tomb, (which had been completed without Lang’s supervision). Lang agreed, and the resulting work was released as two films: The Tiger of Eschnapu and The Indian Tomb. They were two of the last three films that Lang made before he retired due to failing eyesight.

Lang regarded film as a visual art form rather than as a form of literature, so he had no reservations about using “genre” subject matter: science fiction, detective stories or, in the case of these two films, Orientalist fantasy. In this respect, he is similar to such contemporary directors as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and James Cameron. Unlike them, however, Lang’s films are never coy or campy. He always treats his subject matter seriously and with respect. For that reason, I consider Lang’s work to be artistically superior to that of these other directors.

From the moment one begins watching The Tiger of Eschnapur, one can see right away that this is an example of what the late Edward Said called “Orientalism”. More than once some character mentions that Europeans can never really understand India. (It doesn’t help that most of the Indian roles are played by Europeans in brown face.) This “Mysterious Orient” nonsense was, of course, used to justify Western imperialism. (The “clash of civilizations” is a more sophisticated, contemporary version of this argument.) This film is based on a 1918 novel written by Lang’s former wife, Thea von Harbou, who wrote the silly story for Metropolis and who later joined the Nazi party (although, interestingly, she secretly married an Indian man). One can, however, enjoy these films on their own terms without worrying about the politics of it. It is simply a remnant from a defunct way of looking at the world.

Harold Barger (Paul Hubschmid) is a German architect who has been hired by Chandra (Walter Reyer), the maharajah of Eschnapur, to design public buildings for his kingdom. On his way to Chandra’s palace, Harold meets Seetha (Debra Paget), a temple dancer with whom the maharajah has fallen in love. The carry out a secret affair, which Chandra eventually discovers. Chandra throws Harold into a pit with a man-eating tiger, but Harold manages to kill it. (The tiger is obviously fake. Don’t worry, no animals were harmed in the making of this film.) Chandra then tells Harold that he has until sunrise to leave Eschnapur. Harold, however, has an assignation with Seetha in a temple, and the two of them flee into the desert. There, they are overcome by the heat and dust. Harold deliriously shoots at the sun just before he collapses. A message then flashes across the screen promising that we can see the miraculous rescue of the lovers in the sequel, which will be “more grandiose” than the first film.

The Indian Tomb is, indeed, more grandiose. Seetha and Harold are rescued by a caravan. Shortly afterwards, however, they are captured by Chandra’s soldiers. True love eventually wins out, though not without a lot of people getting killed in the process.

These are not among Lang’s best films, but they are nonetheless entertaining movies to watch. Lang directed them in a beautiful manner, although he clearly had to deal with a limited budget. Some of the sets and costumes are not quite convincing. And some of the special effects are embarrassing, such as the fakest looking cobra you will ever see. On the other hand, Debra Paget gives not one, but two, erotic dances. Paget, an American, was, like Lang, a refugee from Hollywood. She had refused to abide by the rules of the studio system, so she was blacklisted. She had to go to Europe to find work. I’m told that in her later years Paget became a born-again Christian, and she had her own religiously themed TV show. I wonder if she ever discussed temple dancing on her show.