Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Student of Prague (1913) Review

The Student of Prague posterDirector: Stellan Rye
Stars: Paul Wegener, John Gottowt, Grete Berger, Lyda Salmonova
Genre: Horror, German Expressionism

The Student of Prague is arguably the first German Expressionist film, or at least the first film to have expressionist qualities.

It's a Faustian tale about a sorcerer who offers to trade a young man riches for anything he desires in his room. The young man doesn't hesitate to accept the offer, since there was nothing in the room of much value anyway, or at least not of equal value of what he was being offered. But, the sorcerer was a clever one. The sorcerer took the young man's reflection in the mirror! Which allows for two of the same person to exist, but the reflection, which is now the sorcerer's property, is a very sinister being and stops at nothing to ruin the young man's image.

This seems to be the first film to have a doppelganger. It's also said to be the first feature-length horror movie. The story is very loosely based on the Edgar Alan Poe short story, William Wilson.

The film's story is a really cool idea, and at first I found to be very interesting, but it kind of gets a bit boring after awhile. I think it could have been much better; you'd expect a doppelganger running around being mischievous would be very fun, but unfortunately it was kind of boring. I think the film would have benefited from being a bit more fun, not really in a silly way, because it is a serious film, but in a way that would have at least been interesting.

I guess the main problem I had with it was that there was a lot of melodrama and I would have liked to see more horror or fantasy. I'm not really a fan of melodrama but the melodrama in here wasn't even good melodrama.

I did think the ending was pretty awesome though. 

The Student of Prague film still

The sets here aren't as dazzling and surreal as the Expressionism films that were still yet to come, but they weren't bad. There's some nice scenery in here. 

I really liked the devil character, or the sorcerer or whatever he was called. He was genuinely creepy looking and his costume design and image were fantastic and memorable. The film in general actually has a very really creepy parts, not many, but a few, which is pretty impressive being that this is a very old film. The one part that creeped me out was the part in the cemetery (or at least it looked like a cemetery) when the doppelganger appears and stares at the original for a few seconds.

I also liked the text that they repeat throughout the film; "I am not God, nor can I be the Devil, but I pronounce your name with contempt! Because wherever you are, I will be until your last hour and, in front of your headstone, I will sit on your grave."

The main antagonist, referred to as the sorcerer, is essentially Satan though. It is a 'deal with the devil' movie after all. The young man's reflection could either be looked at as his soul (kind of like in the way that vampires have no reflection because they have no soul) or it could be seen simply as his opposite, i.e., the Hyde to his Jekyll.

Paul Wegener in The Student of Prague

The sorcerer, or the devil, or Scapinelli as he's called, was played by John Gottowt, who also had roles in other great films of the genre, such as Nosferatu, Genuine: A Tale of a Vampire, and Waxworks.

There's a few different versions of this film floating about. Most websites mark it as a 85 minute film, but it doesn't seem that an 85 minute version still exists. A lot of people watch the Alpha Video version, which probably has the best visual quality, but is only 41 minutes long. The particular version I watched was 55 minutes long.

The version I watched, I believe, has the film's original score. The score is actually really good, composed by Josef Weiss, it's probably some of the best original music I've seen in a silent film. It's some really haunting music that suites the film.

Paul Wegener plays the lead role, the same guy who went on to direct the popular German Expressionist film, The Golem.

It's a solid film and undoubtedly historically significant, and it had the potential to be really great, but it's a bit disappointing in a few departments. 

 Purchase The Student of Prague on Amazon: DVD

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