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Classics of German Expressionist Cinema

Thursday, March 8, 1979
7:30 p.m. Destiny (Der Mude Tod)
Fritz Lang (Germany,1921)

One of the early triumphs of German Expressionist Cinema, Destiny was Fritz Lang’s first internationally acclaimed picture, and had a direct influence on Douglas Fairbanks’ The Thief of Bagdad as well as other American silent movies. The film is a visually impressive parable of Death, rendered in highly symbolic dream images that suggest the inevitability of Fate and the mortality of Love. An unearthly Stranger joins a happy couple at an eerie Transylvanian inn, and later the young boy disappears behind a huge wall protecting the Stranger’s domain. In despair, the girl experiences a three-part dream set in fabulously conceived replicas of Renaissance Venice, a Moslem city, and China; each dream relates the story of a young couple pursued by a cruel tyrant and separated by an Angel of Death. As in many German silents, the pictorial beauty and architectural majesty of Lang’s compositions are expressed in a series of images that follow one another in an almost anti-climactic fashion, at least if one considers montage the essence of cinema.

• Directed by Fritz Lang. Screenplay by Thea Von Harbou. Photographed by Fritz Arno Wagner. Sets by Robert Herlth, Walter Rohrig, and Hermann Warm. With Bernhard Goetzske, Lil Dagover, Walter Janssen. (1921, 110 mins, German intertitles with Live English translation, Print Courtesy of Goethe Institute)