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Reviews of silent film releases on home video.
Copyright © 1999-2020 by Carl Bennett
and the Silent Era Company.
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The Golem
(1920)

 

The Golem: How He Came Into the World (1920) is a film well known to horror enthusiasts. It is a film that follows not only the traditional Jewish story of a magical clay man but also Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein. In its way, The Golem lays cinematic groundwork for the 1931 Frankenstein motion picture. Somewhat in character design, direction and wardrobe do the two monsters seem to resemble each other, right down to the platform shoes to make the actors appear taller. Many of the interactions between the monsters and their creators share dynamics: ebb and flow; submission, tension and rebellion.

A 16th century Jewish rabbi is driven to extreme measures by an emperor’s edict to evict all Jews from their ghetto. The rabbi turns to black magic and builds a huge clay man to protect his people from the emperor’s oppression, which comes to life through the device of a secret word given to the rabbi by the demon Astaroth.

The barrel-chested clay man, portrayed by the film’s director Paul Wegener, follows the orders of the rabbi to eventually intimidate and ultimately save the emperor who revokes his edict. But before the magic that animates the clay man can be sent back to the dark forces from which it came, the golem is misused and runs rampant, terrorizing the people he was intended to protect.

The fun eeriness of the brief Astaroth invocation is among our favorite silent era sequences. And we remain fascinated with Wegener’s facial expressions as the golem.

Greta Schröeder of Nosferatu (1922) appears as rose-bearing maiden in the foreground of the Rose Festival scene.

As has been documented in the home video editions released by Kino Lorber in 2020, The Golem has survived in three different versions: in prints originating from the original German release version negative, in prints originating from the USA release version negative (which itself originated from the German release version), and in prints originating from the export version negative (which was utilized for prints intended for other world markets). — Carl Bennett

coverKino Classics
2020 Blu-ray Disc edition

The Golem [German release version] (1920), color-tinted black & white and color-toned black & white, 76 minutes, not rated,
with The Golem [USA release version] (1920), black & white, 59 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, K24620, UPC 7-38329-24620-4.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region A Blu-ray Disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in pillarboxed 16:9 (1920 x 1080 pixels) progressive scan AVCHD MPEG-4 format, 33.3 Mbps average video bit rate, 1.5 Mbps audio bit rate (music) and 256 Kbps audio bit rate (commentary), LPCM 48 kHz 16-bit 2.0 stereo sound (music) and Dolby Digital 48 kHz 2.0 monaural sound (commentary), German language intertitles (German version) and English language intertitles (USA version), optional English language subtitles (German version), 10 chapter stops (German version) and 7 chapter stops (USA version); standard BD keepcase, $29.95.
Release date: 14 April 2020.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 9 / audio: 8 / additional content: 7 / overall: 9.

This Blu-ray Disc edition from Kino supplements their previous DVD edition and has been mastered at 4K high-resolution from the 2018 restoration of the German release version by Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung. The comparison featurette included on this disc quickly makes apparent that the recent restoration of the German version contains more image detail and a broad, balanced and far less contrasty greyscale range as compared to the export version which is documented in Kino’s earlier home video release. The source material for this restoration was a 35mm negative held by the Cinémathèque Royale de Belgique film archive, with some missing footage inserted from other materials. The results are generally excellent, with the inserts being very-good to good in quality. The color tinting is controlled and not at all distracting, as it is in Kino’s 2002 DVD edition. The visual quality is so good that the only thing keeping us from rating this a 10 in video quality are the inserts.

The disc includes a presentation of the 1921 USA release version of the film (which originated from the German domestic negative, not from the export negative), which has been scanned from a preservation negative photochemically duplicated by the George Eastman Museum in 1970 from a 35mm nitrate positive (which has since decomposed). No digital restoration work has been performed on the 2018 scan, so there is the usual amount of dust, speckling, scratches, scuffing, emulsion damage and other flaws. The source print for the scan, which is likely to be four steps away from the original negative, is a little flat with blasted-out highlights and plugged up shadows. There is some aliasing to be seen, mainly is some of the intertitles. The good to very-good quality of the source print makes this presentation look only slightly better than those from budget video publishers who utilize 16mm reduction prints. If this were the only surviving material on the film, we would still be happy with the quality; but it is not and it is overshadowed by the tremendous quality of the German version.

This Blu-ray Disc edition accompanies the film with four new music scores: one performed on piano and digital keyboards by Stephen Horne, another performed on synthesizers by Admir Shkurtoj, and a third performed on synthesizers by Lukasz ‘Wudec’ Poleszak (German release version), and a very-good music score performed on violin by Cordula Heth (USA release version).

The supplementary material includes an informative audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas; a video featurette comparing the differences between the German release version and the USA release version (22 minutes); and a presentation of the USA release version of the film. The version comparison presents several examples of alternate angles and alternate takes between the two films.

We enthusiastically recommend this remastered edition of The Golem as the best-looking home video edition of the film.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region A Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region A Blu-ray Disc edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverKino Classics
2020 DVD edition

The Golem [German release version] (1920), color-tinted black & white, 76 minutes, not rated,
with The Golem [USA release version] (1920), black & white, 59 minutes, not rated.

Kino Lorber, K24619, UPC 7-38329-24619-8.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 1 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? Kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 48 kHz 8-bit 2.0 stereo sound, German language intertitles, optional English language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $19.95.
Release date: 14 April 2020.
Country of origin: USA

This remastered DVD edition from Kino supplements their previous DVD edition and has been mastered at 4K high-resolution from the 2018 restoration from Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung. The comparison featurette quickly makes apparent that the recent restoration of the German version contains more image detail and a broad, balanced and far less contrasty greyscale range as compared to the export version which is documented in Kino’s earlier home video release.

This edition accompanies the film with four new music scores: one by Stephen Horne, another by Admir Shkurtoj, and a third by Lukasz ‘Wudec’ Poleszak (German release version), and a music score by Cordula Heth (USA release version).

The supplementary material includes audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas; a video featurette comparing the differences between the German release version and the USA release version (22 minutes); and a presentation of the USA release version of the film (which originated from the German domestic negative, not from the export negative).

We recommend this remastered edition of The Golem as the best-looking home video edition on DVD.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverKino on Video
2002 DVD edition

The Golem [export version] (1920), color-tinted black & white, 86 minutes, not rated.

Kino International, K132DVD, UPC 7-38329-01322-6.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 4.7 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 Kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 48 kHz 8-bit 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 10 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $24.95 (reduced to $19.95).
Release date: 5 October 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 7 / audio: 9 / additional content: 5 / overall: 8.

This DVD edition has been prepared from 35mm restoration materials spawned predominantly from a 35mm print, duplicated from the export negative (not the negative utilized for USA market prints), that the Museum of Modern Art acquired from UFA in 1936. Six shots have been added from a 35mm print preserved by Gosfilmofond in Russia, with additional footage supplied by Munich Filmmuseum and Cineteca Italiana. The restoration print from the Cineteca del Comune di Bologna (with lab work by L’Immagine Ritrovita) is very-good, and color tints have been based on the tinted Cineteca Italiana print.

Our previous assumption was that The Golem has not survived in ideal prints, which turns out not to be true. With the release of the remastered Kino editions noted above, we now have home video editions of the original German release negative and the USA release version, originating from the German negative but shortened and reedited, in addition to the export version which was the original source of this version of the film. The restoration source material for this edition was this export version, which is often contrasty, with detailless highlights and plugged up shadows. (Yet, several shots hold surprising highlight detail — for example, the shots of the black cat walking across the rooftops and of Florian riding over a bridge hold enough highlight detail to faintly render passing clouds in the sky, which was difficult for the filmstocks of the day). Irregardless of blasted highlights, the additional image detail in the middle greytone ranges provided by the 35mm prints, which ranges from very-good to excellent, makes this edition with its full-frame video transfer a definitive improvement over other home video editions that utilize 16mm reduction prints for their transfers. The print is very lightly speckled and has moments of slight exposure fluctuations, with a few inked print markings, dust and other minor flaws. Color tinting is a good choice for contrasty prints as it diminishes the bright whites of lost highlight details, making for a satisfactory viewing experience.

As is noted in the disc’s program notes, sixteen intertitles were supplied by the Gosfilmofond print with the balance taken from 1931 censor office records. The intertitles have been translated into English by Robert Gray, and care has been taken to emulate the original German titles, with their gothic typefaces, in this English edition.

This edition features a new small orchestra music score composed by Aljoscha Zimmermann, which is in turns appropriately somber and spry, and adds tremendously to the viewing experience. The music is clearly rendered in digital stereo.

The supplementary material includes an exerpt from a rough 1937 American print of Julien Duvivier’s Le Golem (1936) (6 minutes), a comparison of creation sequences from diverse sources such as Wegener’s The Golem (1920), the Chayim Bloch book The Golem (1925) and F.W. Murnau’s Faust (1926), and a gallery of stills, illustrations and promotional materials (15 images).

We recommend this reasonably-priced home video edition of The Golem for its very-good picture quality and excellent musical accompaniment. While this is an older home video edition, this Kino DVD can stand next to the recent Kino remastered editions as a record of the export negative version.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverEureka Video
2003 DVD edition

The Golem (1920), black & white, 84 minutes, not rated.

Eureka Video, EKA40065, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, single-layered?, Region 2 PAL DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? Kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 48 kHz 2.0 stereo sound, German and English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, £19.99.
Release date: 22 September 2003.
Country of origin: England
This quality British PAL DVD edition has been transferred from high-quality print materials.

The edition includes audio commentary by film historian R. Dixon Smith and a photo gallery.

North American collectors will need a region-free PAL DVD player capable of outputting an NTSC-compatible signal to view this edition.

 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark at right to purchase
a Region 2 PAL DVD of this edition from Amazon.co.uk.
coverAlpha Video
2002 DVD edition

The Golem (1920), black & white, 85 minutes, not rated.

Alpha Video, ALP 4047D, UPC 0-89218-40479-4.
One single-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 5.0 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 Kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 48 kHz 8-bit 2.0 stereo sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 5 chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $6.98 (raised to $7.98).
Release date: 24 September 2002.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 4 / audio: 4 / additional content: 0 / overall: 4.

This budget DVD edition from Alpha Video features a slightly letterboxed video transfer prepared from a very-good but, at times, quite contrasty 16mm reduction print. As in all 16mm prints of The Golem that we have seen, there are moments when the picture is so contrasty that eyes and mouths become dark slashes floating in a totally white face. There are other moments when the contrast range is more evenly distributed throughout a greyscale range, rendering a passable image. The print, which features a blurry presentation of the original German main title, is flecked with the usual amount of speckling, dust, scratches and other light damage.

The film is accompanied by a canned orchestral music score that is largely unrelated to the film’s action.

Despite this edition’s at times passable quality, we still recommend that collectors purchase the superior Kino edition noted above.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
United Kingdom: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.co.uk. Your purchase supports Silent Era.
coverElite Entertainment
2000 DVD edition

The Masterworks of the German Horror Cinema (1920-1922), black & white, 175 minutes total. not rated,
including The Golem (1920), black & white, 68 minutes, not rated.

Elite Entertainment, EE 4376, 7-90594-43762-6.
One double-sided, single-layered, Region 0 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, 7.0 Mbps average video bit rate, 192 Kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 48 kHz 8-bit 2.0 mono sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, 8 chapter stops; two-disc DVD keepcase, $54.95 (reduced to $49.95).
Release date: 22 February 2000.
Country of origin: USA

Ratings (1-10): video: 3 / audio: 0 / additional content: 7 / overall: 3.

When this DVD collection of gothic horror films was announced for release, both excitement and apprehension went through my mind. The first appearance of The Golem in a DVD home-video edition was certainly something to be excited about. But both The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu had already been released on DVD, and in respected high-quality editions. How would this DVD edition from Elite Entertainment compare?

The film material utilized for the DVD video transfer was a constrasty 16mm reduction print. Occasionally the grey values and details of some shots are pretty well maintained, but the overall impression of this print is that it is contrasty, with light speckling and a lot of exposure flaring (which looks as though the film has been lit by a firelight). Very little detail remains in either the highlights or the shadows. At times (as in the shot 23 minutes into the film) highlights are completely obliterated. This is the fault of the manufacturers of the 16mm reduction print, not of the transfer house or Elite. The print features the original German main title. The packaging notes that the Astaroth sequence has been restored, but we have never seen a print without it.

The film has been transferred at the sound speed of 24 frames per second. Action is faster than is natural but is rarely disconcerting. The framing is open, even generous, for a 16mm print. The intertitles are always readable and are not cut off by the framing. Of this transfer we can say that it is better than any other we have seen on home video (all of them transferred from 16mm prints).

We recently saw exerpts from a 35mm print of The Golem, which looked at least as sharp and detailed as other surviving prints from 1920. It is a disappointment that with better-looking surviving prints of The Golem available, this first DVD edition should look like this.

We commend Elite for providing source material information on the packaging exterior to aid consumers in their purchasing decisions. The Golem is listed on the box as being without a music soundtrack. We do want to know ahead of time that we are getting a DVD product transferred from either 16mm reduction prints or substandard 35mm materials. At least, consumers can make informed purchasing decisions and there won’t be any surprises.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 0 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
coverTriton Multimedia
2001 DVD edition

German Silent Masterworks (1920-1924), black & white, ? minutes total, not rated,
including The Golem (1920), black & white, ? minutes, not rated.

Triton Multimedia, unknown catalog number, unknown UPC number.
One single-sided, dual-layered, Region 1 NTSC DVD disc, 1.33:1 aspect ratio image in full-frame 4:3 (720 x 480 pixels) interlaced scan MPEG-2 format, ? Mbps average video bit rate, ? Kbps audio bit rate, Dolby Digital 48 kHz 2.0 mono? sound, English language intertitles, no foreign language subtitles, chapter stops; standard DVD keepcase, $9.99.
Release date: 16 October 2001.
Country of origin: USA
We have not viewed this DVD edition.

Its budget cost and three film content indicates that the disc has been prepared from modest-quality materials.

 
USA: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.com. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
 
Canada: Click the logomark to purchase this Region 1 NTSC DVD edition from Amazon.ca. Your purchase supports the Silent Era website.
Other silent era PAUL WEGENER films available on home video.

Other GERMAN FILMS of the silent era available on home video.

Other HORROR FILMS of the silent era available on home video.
 
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