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Der Müde Tod

Directed by Fritz Lang

Germany, 1921

HOME, 14 June 2017

Der Müde Tod

When a young woman tries to save her beloved’s life, she finds that she must offer Death another life in his stead.

To Baghdad, Venice and China she travels, all to no avail. All those in her small local town are fiercely possessive of their lives too. And she, holding an innocent dumb babe in her arms, is reluctant to part with it. She refuses to sacrifice the babe; the cost of another’s life is too great for her too. She learns that if she wants to save her beloved, she must give up her own life.

Fritz Lang’s early film, this restoration assembled from fragments found all over the world, has a magic still, though in places it now seems slow and ponderous. It would likely improve the film if you could hear the German poem read aloud, rather than it simply being presented with bland English subtitles. Of course some purists, those who prize above all else a kind of contrived authenticity, will see this as a despoilment of a classic silent film. Yet it would help restore the spiritual, ever so slightly sinister menace of the original, eroded by time and cultural difference.

It is an innovative film, yet it builds upon the iconography of Death in German art and poetry – in Totenamt and Der Tod und das Madchen, in Cranach and Durer and in the Nuremberg Chronicle – and is solidly part of this tradition. A landmark in world cinema.