Monday, April 03, 2006

Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache

"Thank you, Kriemhild. Never were we one in love, but at last we are united, as one in hate!"

"Never was my heart more filled with love."

Some of the final (intertitled) dialogue in Fritz Lang's 'Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache' ('The Nibelungen: Kriemhild's Revenge', 1925). The first line is spoken by the king of the Huns, Attila (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), and the second is the response of the widow of Siegfried, Kriemhild (Margarete Schön). The two look on as their enemies within the clan of the Nibelungen burn up barricaded inside the Huns' palace and feast-hall. The clan's gesture is one of defiance — refusing to meet death on the blades of the Huns surrounding the keep — and of ultimate loyalty — not to the king proper, but to Hagen Tronje (Hans Adelbert Schlettow), a proto-Cheney in his "official" standing at court as regal advisor, although all affairs of state requiring the decisive execution of power are his to activate. This final blood-pledge, literal trial-by-fire of loyalty, comes at the end of a series of reneged oaths that runs throughout the two 'Nibelungen' films, and really pile up in the latter installment. Here Kriemhild/Schön accepts a proposal from Attila/Klein-Rogge on the sole basis that he will avenge her late husband's death at the hands of the king and his advisor. He gives his oath, and it goes unfulfilled; he refuses to commit the murders when the entire Nibelungen court arrive at the Huns' camp (with the purpose, no less, of taking Kriemhild back by force) and so must be treated in accordance with his people's rules of hospitality. Kriemhild approaches the serfs, who are, of course, all too eager to carry out her charge after she promises large sums of gold. She keeps her contempt for their filth in check; at home in Worms, she delighted in mixing with the underlings, standing at the side of Siegfried and heaping upon their subjects countless handfuls of Nibelungen treasure, moved by charity and goodness of heart. That treasure now, however, lies sunken in murky depths (not far from home); Kriemhild's heart is likewise consumed, enveloped and smitten with the promise of vengeance — a grand, architectonic vengeance — the mad vision of bringing an entire army down against her house. A desperate vengeance, too — at the first proposal of her marriage to Attila, she even enlists the matchmaker, an ambassador of Worms to the Huns, in a pledge to murder Hagen Tronje.

Perhaps Kriemhild could commit the murder herself — but that would deny the ritual with which the action must be suffused, the intrigue, the deception — the craftiness and, yes, the suggestion of certain wiles: the visual leitmotif associated with Kriemhild are the archways through which the characters pass, before which they confront one another — leering abyss, vagina dentata. All trajectories lead to climax: Even three levels of oaths defaulted seem somehow necessary for the degree of rapture she experiences standing before the deathly conflagration. Hagen Tronje had murdered Attila's heir shortly after the start of the hospitable feast, with a swat of the sword right there on the table. To watch Hagen Tronje burn is, for Attila, the vicarious act of revenge; for Kriemhild, it is something deeper, and darker: an avenging, and a final consummation with the -idea- of vengeance.

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