Provides an aesthetic and historical overview of and new critical insights into Paul Wegener's great 1920 film, recognized at the time as a breakthrough in German cinema.
Actor and director Paul Wegener released his 1920 silent film The Golem, How He Came into the World in the aftermath of Germany's defeat in World War I. The film's innovative cinematography, lighting effects, modernist architectural design, and thrilling plot all led contemporaneous viewers and critics to pronounce that Germany had finally succeeded on the film front if not on the battlefield. The Golem, How He Came into the World, Wegener's third golem film, narrates how Rabbi Loew, here an astrologer and sorcerer as well as a spiritual leader, forms and animates an artificial clay anthropoid in order to save the Prague Jewish community from an edict of expulsion. Maya Barzilai situates the 1920 film in the historical and social context of post-World War I Germany, taking into consideration Wegener's violent and traumatic service on the Western front. She closely analyzes the film's expressive sculptural aesthetic, enhanced through poetic cinematography, arguing that Wegener's animation of cinema also served a postwar ethical purpose: revealing the human face of the golem and offering a redemptive escape from the the film's Christian-Jewish conflict through nature on the one hand and Zionism on the other.