Hans Poelzig’s and Marlene Moeschke’s work on Paul Wegener’s 1920 film of ‘The Golem’

 

ba003488.jpg

I’ve long held a passion for Paul Wegener’s 1920 film of The Golem, based on the Jewish legend of the biddable man made by Rabbi Loew out of clay. (Though of course things don’t go quite as intended and the creature conjured into life develops a mind of its own.)

images-3

Wegener recruited architect Hans Poelzig as set designer for what would turn out to be the most extraordinary depiction of a Jewish ghetto made in the style that’s now described as ‘Plastic Expressionism’ after the modelled shapes and textured surfaces of the sets, as opposed to the previous ‘German Expressionism’ used by historian’s for films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in which the sets were flat surface constructions with all elements, from the skewed architecture to the angled shadows and shafts of light, painted onto them.

D4CAE20B180F4A329CCCADED8B8A186F_f019922_slg_poelzig_gole18a.jpg

Poelzig’s atmospheric sketches from his Golem project-book were translated into a Prague Ghetto of perspective-defying labyrinthine streets, alleyways and courtyards where high gables and witch’s hat rooftops twist out of true over buildings that slouch and slump under the weight. Wegener filled it with roiling rivers of extras in a horrifying crush of humanity and it’s hard to believe the crammed effects were achieved with any degree of safety for the participants.

 

3c762a88f00c61a7d810ab2a1afe9316

DT770MPW0AATeY3 (1)

 

 

DT77wF_XUAEJmLF.jpg

 

hqdefault (1).jpg

17835142bx_wdjmso4zs_5pktngl34c3owlb4pvcxqqwhd01xjrfxevlzlprod9mx5ha3ghntcyybjh04gqpbbksvfyoq.jpg

Below: a meandering street of the Jewish ghetto seen here under construction. As the director’s fixed position cameras would be set up to film from carefully selected angles, the buildings could be created as thin facades over scaffolds.

ChShfTsW0AQ9b8l.jpg

der-golem-wie-er-in-die-welt-kam-foto-dif-frankfurt-250.jpg

 

images-1

 

Below: this image demonstrates the wonderful textures of plasterwork on the sets for The Golem as carried out by the UFA scenic department.

u-g-Q10TSOC0.jpg

 

481d5b2127f654b68166e22be9a7d760.jpg

For the interiors Poelzig turned to a sculptor – and later wife – Marlene Moeschke, who shaped rooms for The Golem resembling the ribbed and arcing interior forms of seashells.

gol_5_full.jpg

 

Above: Moeschke’s model for the Rabbi’s laboratory, and below, the set.

tumblr_pplmgbG1cf1ueapts_540.jpg

The laboratory was a particular triumph when meticulously recreated at full scale for the filming. Though it’s been over half a century since I first saw fragments of  The Golem as a teenager, the images still make the hairs at the nape of my neck stand on end. Marlene Moeschke’s contribution to the film has rather too often been overshadowed by Poelzig’s, so it was heartening to see her acknowledged and her models foregrounded in the excellent 2016 exhibition ‘Golem’ at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

 

The Golem_3c.jpg

4 thoughts on “Hans Poelzig’s and Marlene Moeschke’s work on Paul Wegener’s 1920 film of ‘The Golem’

  1. As an admirer of Poelzig and of the legend of the Golem, I was delighted to see this post in my inbox! By the way, have you read Gustav Meyrink’s original novel? It meanders in places, but many passages are exceptionally phantasmagorical and visionary. His other novel, THE ANGEL OF THE WEST WINDOW, has been on my to-read list for the best part of five years now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s