This month Spectacle theater is showing both parts of Fritz Lang’s epic epic Die Nibelungen - Part I: Siegfried, full of dwarf treasure, heros and dragons, and the very aptly named Part II – Kriemhild’s Revenge, in which you get exactly what the title promises. Both halves are visually gorgeous, with vast sets recreating Iceland’s sunny midnights, deep caves filled with treasure, and the roving kingdom of the Mongol hordes. Add on top of that dazzling costumes done in full-on German Expressionist style with a hint of Medieval modeling, and you have what I want to wear the rest of my life. Behold the glory that is the outfits in Die Nibelungen!
If the name sounds familiar, Die Nibelungen is based on the same source material Wagner’s Ring Cycle operas came from, the epic poem Nibelungenlied. The basic gist of the movie is hunky and surprisingly shirtless hero, Siegfried, goes around being boss at everything and winning kingdoms and treasures left and right. And yet, he still wants more. Hearing tales of the beauty of Burgundian princess Kriemhild, he vows to marry her. En route to Burgundy he incurs the wrath of the dwarf king, who promises Siegfried his vast treasure trove in exchange for not being slain, then gets slain anyway when he tries to kill Siegfried while Siegfried’s distracted by shiny things. As he dies the dwarf king curses his treasure to bring woe and death to whoever has it (this theme was emphasized more heavily by Wagner). Still, Siegfried gets a treasure (cursed or no) and the dwarf king’s magic veil that turns you into whatever you want, or invisible. It’s magic; it can do what it wants.
Siegfried shows up at the castle and declares his intent to the Burgundians. What a coincidence, he wants to marry the King’s sister, King Gunter wants to marry Brunhild, the Icelandic warrior queen whose hand must be won by beating her at three challenges, if you can even manage to get to her stone fortress in the middle of her fire field. Siegfried’s great at that stuff! So, off they go to win the queen. Brunhild is a clear favorite of mine and not just because of her amazing headgear:
…but also because she takes no guff. Her challenge is to THE DEATH, so if suitors show up they best come correct. Unfortunately King Gunther’s as hard as Haagen Daas on a hot day, so he has Siegfried turn invisible and win the challenges for him. Brunhild rightly suspects foul play, but they’re already on the amazing swan-ship back to King Gunther’s court, so too late!
Siegfried and Kriemhild all lovey-dovey in amazing white tunics and zig-zag accessories.
A double-wedding takes place, but King Gunther’s having trouble in the bedroom. In that whenever he steps in his wife easily beats the crap out of him. He asks Siegfried if he could be a pal and beat Brunhild into submission. Siegfried dons the magic veil and, in the guise of the King subdues her, accidentally snagging her bracelet on his cloak in the process. Later, Kriemhild finds the bracelet and pops it on.
Plotting never looked so good. Check out that metal necklace.
Brunhild, still suspicious about the king and Siegfried, decides to pull rank at church. Donning the Queen’s Jewels (which, as new queen she has a right to wear) she marches in looking amaaaaaaaazing and blocks Kriemhild from going in before her since she thinks Siegfried’s just a lowly vassal. SHE IS QUEEEEEEEN!
BAM. Also: those earrings.
Kriemhild’s not about to take this lying down; Siegfried’s got about 12 kingdoms at this point and no way this outlander’s going to push her around. Things reach a boiling point and then…Brunhild sees her bracelet on Kriemhild’s arm. ABSOLUTE PROOF it was Siegfried and not her husband who subdued her. Brunhild flips out and DEMANDS REVENGE. When her wuss of a husband’s all ‘eeeehhhh…’ she says Siegfried didn’t just subdue her, he deflowered her. Shit just got real.
Various shenanigans result in Siegfried getting killed by the King and his bird-hatted Man-At-Arms Hagen.
insert your own Freebird joke here.
A shocked vassal sees Siegfried’s body and runs to tell Kriemhild. She immediately realizes Hagen’s responsible and demands retribution.
Unfortunately Gunther decides now is the time for honor and defending friends, and refuses to turn Hagen over. Brunhild laughingly telling the king she lied so he’d kill his best friend, then runs off to commit suicide next to Siegfried’s body. THAT IS WHAT YOU GET FOR MESSING WITH BRUNHILD. And that’s not even the worst of the womanly wrath in this tale, no. Now it’s time for….KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE!
The movie opens with Kriemhild mourning her husband’s death, spending all day looking absolutely fabulous in his tomb and giving away the Nibelungen treasure begging her people not to forget her husband was murdered by a man still walking free. Rightly angry her entire family’s defending her husband’s murderer, Kriemheld sees the perfect opportunity for revenge when Attila the Hun proposes to her. She says yes, on the condition he help her kill Hagen.
Note she’s gone from white to black, from simple, light, and open crown to a heavy, weighty chunk of metal. Even her braids are wrapped in black! Kriemhild is all set for VENGEANCE!
Her brother the King’s nervous about her impending nuptials, suspecting it probably has something to do with her blinding, all-consuming need for avenging her husband’s wrongful death. Kriemhild joins Attila in his distant kingdom, and so begins her long-term plan to exact revenge. Also look at that outfit. Damn right those two guys bow down to her.
There’s plenty of plotting, planning, promises held to and broken, all leading to an epic, fiery vengeance in which none are spared, but LOOK AT THAT CROWN/NECKLACE. That thing must weigh 50lbs and looks absolutely worth the slipped discs!
If you like Metropolis, or Lord of the Ring, I cannot recommend either movie enough. They’re lush, beautiful fantasies, with the latter a bitter meditation on vengeance destroying the avenger as well as their targets. Spectacle is showing both movies back to back in an operatic-style screening (with intermission) Sunday, July 28th. Read more about it here.