Thursday, 20 July 2017

Der Mude Tod (The Weary Death) aka Destiny (1921)

“Splendid Presentation of a Silent Classic”

       Fritz Lang’s ambitious, exotic grown-up fairytale about love and death gets a dual format DVD & Blu-ray release of its 2k restoration courtesy of Eureka.

       A young couple (Lil CABINET OF DR CALIGARI Dagover and Walter Janssen) travel to a village where Death (Bernhard Goetzke) has built a wall around the land adjacent to the local cemetery with no way in and no way out. At the inn, Lil is distracted by kittens and puppies while her fiancé leaves in the company of Death because it's apparently his time to go.

       Lil finds her way into Death’s walled-off cathedral, where Death admits he is weary of witnessing the suffering of men. He gives her three opportunities to save her lover by placing the two of them in three different stories which we see played out - one set in the Middle East, one in Vienna, and one in China. All she has to do is save her fiance’s life in one of these situations and he will be returned to her.

       Unfortunately, all three stories have unhappy endings. Back in his candle-filled cathedral, Death gives Lil one last chance - if she can find someone willing to die in her fiance’s place Death will restore him to her. Cue lots of old people refusing to part with even a second of their remaining life despite all her pleading. I’ll leave you to find out how it all ends.

       A remarkable piece of work (and Fritz Lang’s breakthrough film), DER MUDE TOD has been given a beautiful restoration job here, with every sequence tinted and the picture looks as great as one imagines it ever will. Extras on Eureka’s disc include a helpful video essay by David Cairns which contextualises the film within Fritz Lang's life and body of work. We get the kind of detailed factual commentary anyone familiar with the work of Video Watchdog’s Tim Lucas has come to expect of him, and he makes an immediate second viewing of the film essential.

       The accompanying booklet features a detailed new essay by Philip Kemp as well as plenty of stills from the movie. My only complaint about an otherwise excellent package is that the music score (by Cornelius Schwehr and performed by the Berlin Symphony Orchestra) doesn’t really fit the action and often feels too upbeat and almost frivolous compared to what's happening onscreen. Next time I’m going to turn the sound down and put some James Bernard on. 

Fritz Lang’s DER MUDE TOD is out in dual format from Eureka on Monday 24th July 2017

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