Der Müde Tod (Destiny)
Fritz Lang’s pictures M and Metropolis are well known worldwide among even novice cinema lovers. A young woman (Lil Dagover) is given three chances to rescue her fiancé (Walter Janssen) from Death in this remarkable restoration of the Austrian filmmaker’s 1921 silent movie Der Müde Tod (Destiny). Death’s arrival in the opening scene is quite an imaginative way to introduce the first of six verses.
The couple drinks from the bridal cup, a tradition at the Golden Unicorn, before the woman is distracted by adorable house pets, which allows the Grim Reaper to whisk her fiancé away. She searches everywhere before she passes out in exhaustion. When she reads “for love is as strong as death” from a book and drinks an elixir she comes face-to-face with Death in a gorgeous scene that begins with her ascending a staircase. Death sends her to the exotic locales of ancient China, Persia and Venice to try to rescue her fiancé in three vastly different tragic scenarios.
The new score by German composer Cornelius Schwehr is at times ominous and other times uplifting, sometimes recalling chamber music and sets the tone perfectly. Clarinet and piano are very prominent as is trumpet fanfare. The romantic mood at the beginning and the later feeling of despair when combined with daring special effects perfectly blend with Schwehr’s original score.
The director of photography credit is shared by Erich Nitzschmann, Hermann Saalfrank and FA Wagner, and all three deserve a round of applause. The framing and design of each shot is exquisite. The colour tinting palette is so varied, incorporating green, orange, pink, black and white and purple while using yellow and blue tints for longer stretches.
The German intertitle cards, whose font changes with each new verse and are often difficult to read, are the originals from 1921. Unfortunately, some of the German to English translation is not 100% correct, but for understanding purposes it’s good enough. Only those who speak German will notice the slight things left out or altered. The beginning titles explain that the original black and white negatives used in the 1921 editing were lost so duplicates were created since the 1930s from two export negatives, which were then tinted to emulate the original film’s tinting.
Art restorer Anke Wilkening from the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung restored this important silent feature using sources from MOMA NY, the Cinematheque de Toulouse and the Munich Film Museum. Any true lover of cinema should not miss out on this overlooked early Fritz Lang masterpiece.
Der Müde Tod is released in selected cinemas on 9th June 2017.
Watch the trailer for Der Müde Tod here: