Siegfried is dead, and his wife, Kriemhild, knows who the murderer is.
Whatever mythic qualities Part I had are gone. When the mythic character of Part I died, the mythic qualities died along with him. Gone are the Dwarves, Dragons, and magic abilities that define the first half of the tale, and in their place are an unwavering look at obsession and hatred.
Siegfried was a larger than life character, a man blessed by an unseen force and possessing items with magic properties which gave him superhuman abilities. Kriemhild, however, is simply a madwoman driven to the edges of her mind by the injustice done to her husband by the members of her own clan.
The only possible hints of fantasy or myth that remain in the film are manifested in the character of Attila the Hun, who, upon learning about the death of Siegfried, sends a courier into the Kingdom of Worms to ask for Kriemhild’s hand in marriage. She agrees but only on the condition that if she were ever dishonored in the Hun’s great hall that he would do justice for her. The courier binds not only himself, but Attila into this oath by pledging their word on the sharp edge of his sword.
When Attila finally sees Kriemhild in person, and when he learns of the oath he has been bound into without his knowledge, he does not seem upset. Instead Attila is so pleased that tells the courier to choose any kingdom from the lands controlled by the Huns for his own.
Kriemhild seems to have the shroud of death hanging around her. Firstly, the death of Siegfried is partially her own fault, and then because of Siegfried’s death she sets out to ruin not only her family in the Kingdom of Worms, but Attila in the aftermath of her little game. By the time the film is completed it is fairly clear that no hero is left standing in the aftermath, leaving only piles of dead and manipulative people laying in the dust.
The film features many exciting set pieces, and ends with a battle of such scale that one wonders how it was possible to film — much less how it was possible to film in 1924. But this is really where the real magic of Die Nibelungen is made clear: in many ways it is a spectacle film. I imagine people sitting in dark theaters, eating popcorn and being awed by the images being shown to them on the screen. At its brightest Die Nibelungen (and this goes for both Parts I and II) is a film of pure entertainment on a scale that is unmatched by nearly any other movie that I have ever seen. But at its darkest Die Nibelungen is a film which seems to peer into Heroic Myth and then deconstruct it piece by piece until all we are left with is death and destruction.
Essentially Parts I and II of Die Nibelungen aim to show us how myths are created and then take that, turn it on its head, and show us what actually stands behind the myth. In Part I of the film Siegfried is supposedly given magic abilities by bathing in the blood of a dragon. But what we must realize (and this did not dawn on me until I had finished Part II) is that we aren’t seeing these things happen to Siegfried, we are having them told to us by the Bard in the Castle at Worms. In other words, the film is using a framing device to tell us the myth surrounding the real Siegfried and his rise to power.
Was Siegfried invincible? Did he actually have some sort of magic power? Or was that simply how people explained his successes? When Siegfried is killed is it because his one true weakness (his “Achilles’s heel”) was discovered, or could he have been killed anyway? Was Siegfried killed by exploiting his weakness, or had his luck just finally run out?
Part II takes the mythic elements and peels them away layer by layer. Showing that what at first appears to be a woman’s heroic journey to avenge her husband’s murder, is just madness. At the end of the day, behind the myth there is just a woman was pushed to the edges of her mind. When you take the mythic elements out of the myth, all you are left with is bloodshed.
Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen is one of the greatest films I’ve ever seen. Part I is one of the all-time greatest fantasy epics I have ever watched (if not the greatest), and Part II is a powerful and cruel deconstruction of what fantasy epics are. Lang takes legend and he builds it up to the apex of what is possible, and then he tears it down, revealing it to be an illusion.
Anyway, now that I have that out of the way: Kriemlied’s Revenge is not as enjoyable a watch as Siegfried — at least not on a first viewing. Siegfried is a fun movie, whereas Kriemlied’s Revenge is a painful experience at times because of how malicious its main character is. That isn’t to say it is bad, that’s just to say that it’s not as enjoyable. As a whole the films work wonders together, but taken on their own Siegfried is the stronger of the two.
The first thirty minutes of this film run a tad bit slow for my liking, and overall this film takes longer to get going. But once it grabs its momentum it is a non-stop experience that will have you glued to the screen, watching every betrayal and back stab all the way through the film’s finale.
The Masters of Cinema YouTube channel has the battle with the Dragon uploaded in HD, so I’m going to provide it for you guys to watch. Enjoy.
Read the 1909, public domain translation of “The Song of the Nibelungs” online here: