In its way even more astonishing than his Metropolis, Fritz Lang's silent blockbuster (available on Kino if you can't make these screenings) is based not on Wagner's Ring Cycle but on Wagner's source: the 13th-century epic DasNibelungenlied. In a nutshell: Siegfried arrives at the Rhineland city of Worms and woos Kriemhild, and her brother Gunther gives his consent on condition that Siegfried help him woo the Icelandic Amazon Brunhild, which Siegfried does, and there's a double wedding, but Gunther can't subdue Brunhild, so Siegfried (disguised as Gunther) does it, but Brunhild finds out and tells Kriemhild she slept with Siegfried, and Kriemhild tells Gunther, and Gunther has his vassal Hagen kill Siegfried. Only then does Brunhild tell Gunther she lied (but did she?) about doing it with Siegfried. Brunhild starves herself to death; Kriemhild lives to seek a hideous revenge on her brother, marrying Attila, king of the Huns, and setting his people against the visiting Gunter and Hagen and their retinue. Sexual jealousy, treachery, greed — think of it all as The Real Housewives of Burgundy.
The two films were, and remain, controversial, especially in Part II, where a handful of tall, noble Germans, refusing to hand Hagen over to Kriemhild, hold out against the small, non-Aryan-looking Huns. (Heil, Adolf!) But it's mostly the script (by Lang's wife, Thea von Harbou) that leans the Nazi way. Lang in his visuals is as impassive and visionary as his source (to which he hews closely), and the actors trump the Metropolis ensemble, with Paul Richter a fresh, impetuous Siegfried, Margarete Schön an obsessed, implacable Kriemhild, Theodor Loos a (properly) wimpy Gunther, Hanna Ralph a sharp, scornful Brunhild, Hans Adalbert Schlettow a heroic if unprincipled Hagen, and Rudolf Klein-Rogge samurai-lite (also properly) as Attila. The effective original score is by Gottfried Huppertz; the "mediæval" décor is weirdly suggestive of Gustav Klimt, but it works. And the subsequent 85 years of cinema have scarcely improved on the closing scene of Siegfried, which sees Brunhild and Kriemhild draped at opposite ends of their beloved's body.
PART I: SIEGFRIED | 143 MINUTES | HFA: DECEMBER 11
PART II: KRIEMHILD'S REVENGE | 148 MINUTES | HFA: DECEMBER 12