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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2014 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
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The Golem
(1920)
 

The Golem: How He Came Into the World (1920) is a film well known to horror enthusiasts. It is a film that follows not only the traditional Jewish story of a magical clay man but also Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. In its way, The Golem lays cinematic groundwork for the 1931 Frankenstein motion picture. Somewhat in character design, direction and wardrobe do the two monsters seem to resemble each other, right down to the platform shoes to make the actors appear taller. Many of the interactions between the monsters and their creators share dynamics: ebb and flow; submission, tension and rebellion.

A 16th century Jewish rabbi is driven to extreme measures by an emperor’s edict to evict all Jews from their ghetto. The rabbi turns to black magic and builds a huge clay man to protect his people from the emperor’s oppression, which comes to life through the device of a secret word given to the rabbi by the demon Astaroth.

The barrel-chested clay man, portrayed by the film’s director Paul Wegener, follows the orders of the rabbi to eventually intimidate and ultimately save the emperor who revokes his edict. But before the magic that animates the clay man can be sent back to the dark forces from which it came, the golem is misused and runs rampant, terrorizing the people he was intended to protect.

The fun eeriness of the brief Astaroth invocation is among our favorite silent era sequences. And we remain fascinated with Wegener’s facial expressions as the golem.

Greta Schröeder of Nosferatu (1922) appears as rose-bearing maiden in the foreground of the Rose Festival scene. — Carl Bennett

2002 Kino on Video DVD edition

The Golem (1920), color-tinted black & white, 86 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K132DVD, UPC 7-38329-01322-6.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 4.75 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 10 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $24.95 (reduced to $19.95).
DVD release date: 5 October 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 9 / additional content: 5 / overall: 8.

This new DVD edition has been prepared from 35mm restoration materials spawned predominantly from a 35mm print that the Museum of Modern Art acquired from UFA in 1936. Six shots have been added from a 35mm print preserved by Gosfilmofond in Russia, with additional footage supplied by Munich Filmmuseum and Cineteca Italiana. The restoration print from the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna (with lab work by L’Immagine Ritrovita) is very-good, and color tints have been based on the tinted Cineteca Italiana print.

We can assume that The Golem has not survived in ideal prints. The source materials for the restoration print were often contrasty, with detailess highlights and plugged up shadows. (Yet, several shots hold surprising highlight detail — for example, the shots of the black cat walking across the rooftops and of Florian riding over a bridge hold enough highlight detail to faintly render passing clouds in the sky, which was difficult for the filmstocks of the day). Irregardless of blasted highlights, the additional image detail in the middle graytone ranges provided by the 35mm prints, which ranges from very-good to excellent, makes this edition with its full-frame video transfer a definitive improvement over other home video editions that utilize 16mm reduction prints for their transfers. The print is very lightly speckled and has moments of slight exposure fluctuations, with a few inked print markings, dust and other minor flaws. Color tinting is a good choice for contrasty prints as it diminishes the bright whites of lost highlight details, making for a satisfactory viewing experience.

As is noted in the disc’s program notes, sixteen intertitles were supplied by the Gosfilmofond print with the balance taken from 1931 censor office records. The intertitles have been translated into English by Robert Gray, and care has been taken to emulate the original German titles, with their gothic typefaces, in this English edition.

This edition features a new small orchestra music score composed by Aljoscha Zimmermann, which is in turns appropriately somber and spry, and adds tremendously to the viewing experience. The music is clearly rendered in digital stereo.

The supplementary material includes an exerpt from a rough 1937 American print of Julien Duvivier’s Le Golem (1936) [6 minutes], a comparison of creation sequences from diverse sources such as Wegener’s The Golem (1920), the Chayim Bloch book The Golem (1925) and F.W. Murnau’s Faust (1926), and a gallery of stills, illustrations and promotional materials [15 images].

We highly recommend this reasonably-priced home video edition of The Golem for its superior picture quality and excellent musical accompaniment.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2003 Eureka Video DVD edition

The Golem (1920), black & white, 84 minutes, not rated.

Eureka Video, EKA40065, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 PAL, one single-sided, single-layered? DVD disc, Region 2, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, German and English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, £19.99.
DVD release date: 22 September 2003.
Country of origin: England
This edition has been transferred from high-quality print materials.

The edition includes audio commentary by film historian R. Dixon Smith and a photo gallery.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark at right to purchase
a Region 2 PAL DVD of this edition from Amazon.co.uk.
2002 Alpha Video DVD edition

The Golem (1920), black & white, 85 minutes, not rated.

Alpha Video, ALP 4047D, UPC 0-89218-40479-4.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 5 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 5 chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $6.98.
DVD release date: 24 September 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 4 / additional content: 0 / overall: 4.

This budget edition from Alpha Video features a slightly letterboxed video transfer prepared from a very-good but, at times, quite contrasty 16mm reduction print. As in all 16mm prints of The Golem that we have seen, there are moments when the picture is so contrasty that eyes and mouths become dark slashes floating in a totally white face. There are other moments when the contrast range is more evenly distributed throughout a grayscale range, rendering a passable image. The print, which features a blurry presentation of the original German main title, is flecked with the usual amount of speckling, dust, scratches and other light damage.

The film is accompanied by a canned orchestral music score that is largely unrelated to the film’s action.

Despite this edition’s at times passable quality, we still recommend that collectors purchase the superior Kino edition noted above.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
2000 Elite Entertainment DVD edition

The Masterworks of the German Horror Cinema (1920-1922), black & white, 175 minutes total. not rated,
including The Golem (1920), black & white, 68 minutes, not rated.

Elite Entertainment, EE 4376, 7-90594-43762-6.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one double-sided, single-layered DVD disc and one single-sided, single-layered DVD disc, Region 0, 6 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 8 chapter stops, two-disc DVD keepcase, $49.95 (originally $54.95).
DVD release date: 22 February 2000.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 3 / audio: 0 / additional content: 7 / overall: 3.

When this collection of gothic horror films was announced for release, both excitement and apprehension went through my mind. The first appearance of The Golem in a DVD home-video edition was certainly something to be excited about. But both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu had already been released on DVD, and in respected high-quality editions. How would this DVD edition from Elite Entertainment compare?

The film material utilized for the DVD video transfer was a constrasty 16mm reduction print. Occasionally the gray values and details of some shots are pretty well maintained, but the overall impression of this print is that it is contrasty, with light speckling and a lot of exposure flaring (which looks as though the film has been lit by a firelight). Very little detail remains in either the highlights or the shadows. At times (as in the shot 23 minutes into the film) highlights are completely obliterated. This is the fault of the manufacturers of the 16mm reduction print, not of the transfer house or Elite. The print features the original German main title. The packaging notes that the Astaroth sequence has been restored, but we have never seen a print without it.

The film has been transferred at the sound speed of 24 frames per second. Action is faster than is natural but is rarely disconcerting. The framing is open, even generous, for a 16mm print. The intertitles are always readable and are not cut off by the framing. Of this transfer we can say that it is better than any other we have seen on home video (all of them transferred from 16mm prints).

We recently saw exerpts from a 35mm print of The Golem, which looked at least as sharp and detailed as other surviving prints from 1920. It is a disappointment that with better-looking surviving prints of The Golem available, this first DVD edition should look like this.

We commend Elite for providing source material information on the packaging exterior to aid consumers in their purchasing decisions. The Golem is listed on the box as being without a music soundtrack. We do want to know ahead of time that we are getting a DVD product transferred from either 16mm reduction prints or substandard 35mm materials. At least, consumers can make informed purchasing decisions and there won’t be any surprises.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
2001 Triton Multimedia DVD edition

German Silent Masterworks (1920-1924), black & white, ? minutes total, not rated,
including The Golem (1920), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Triton Multimedia, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
Full-frame 4:3 NTSC, one single-sided, dual-layered DVD disc, Region 1, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops, standard DVD keepcase, $9.99.
DVD release date: 16 October 2001.
Country of origin: USA
We have not viewed this DVD.

Its budget cost and three film content indicates that the disc has been prepared from modest-quality materials.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other silent era PAUL WEGENER films available on home video.

Other GERMAN FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

Other HORROR FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
 
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