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October 9, 2013

FMWL Indie Spotlight - The Golem (Full Sound DVD/CD by HobGoblin)

A 93 year old movie is not typically what I cover when it's time to look at independent productions, but the good folks over at November Fire (who last year released the fantastic retrospective The Complete Bob Wilkins Creature Features) have provided an interesting twist on classic silent horror with their latest two part project, which aims to bring new eyes to The Golem, one of the titans (no pun intended) of the German Expressionist movement in early horror cinema.

This new release is a two part project, as director Strephon Taylor and his November Fire associates have provided a new soundtrack for the film, which comes to us in the form of a two disc CD package, and a "full sound" DVD of The Golem, which adds the soundtrack to the film - along with new dialogue and sound effects that make the film - kind of - a talkie. This is the third release of this kind that November Fire has produced - previously adding sound to Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - but it's the first chance I've had to check out one of these updated classics.

If the idea of adding dialogue via new actors sounds like blasphemy to you, you might not be interested in this release. As a classic film fan, I have to admit that I paused at the idea of adding sound and dialogue to this film and others. The title cards are part of the charm of silent cinema to me, and having them omitted and replaced by voice actors is difficult for me to stomach. Taylor has said that the project is intended to help silent film find a new audience - pointing out that younger viewers and TV stations have picked up these products since they are no longer silent - and I see his point, even if it's not my personal preference. There's an argument about right and wrong that I won't get into here - because I really don't care to be that guy - and I will say that it's an interesting twist to present these silent classics in a new way.

I guess I should comment on the movie, although people who are interested in it probably already know what they need to know. The Golem tells the story of a rabbi who creates a large clay creature that comes to life to help protect the Jews of ancient Prague from the Roman Empire. The creature, a hulking mass played by co-writer/co-director Paul Wegener, doesn't work out exactly as its creator planned, and the result is a lot of carnage, because that's what happens when a faulty clay goliath is on the loose. I've never really thought The Golem was extremely impressive - especially compared to those other two German classics I mentioned earlier - mostly because The Golem itself hasn't aged very well and the plot is also a bit dated. Nosferatu is timeless, Caligari is always interesting from a visual standpoint, but The Golem starts strong and kind of wears out its welcome before a big finish.

The film still has some iconic imagery, and November Fire's presentation does an excellent job of keeping the visuals strong. The film is tinted with colors and looks very good, even if it's not fully remastered through any high tech process. With the title cards removed the movie only runs 64 minutes long, which makes it a quick watch and good for those newcomers that the project is targeting. As for the voice acting, it's hit and miss. I'm not sure the tone the actors used was always serious enough, and it might be too over-the-top for some viewers. As someone who treats silent cinema with a bit of reverence - even when the film isn't among my very favorites - I found the sound to be distracting sometimes. I don't expect this to be the case for everyone, but it's another warning I have to put out there for purists.

On the other hand, the soundtrack that has been added by musical group HobGoblin is definitely the highlight of the package. It's got a definite rock/metal edge to it, but never seems to be abrasive and rarely seems like a distraction from the movie. There's a nice balance between classic horror score and modern rock here - with a little funk too - and I feel comfortable saying that the folks in HobGoblin definitely knew what they were doing here. It's another touch that will certainly appeal to new viewers, and I'd even say that it made The Golem - which I've seen and been a little bored by before - seem more engaging this time around.

I'm not in love with what this version of The Golem offers on a personal level, but I think that my reservations come more from my own cinematic experiences and the fact that I've never been entirely in love with The Golem either. (I'm interested to check out their versions of Nosferatu and Caligari, which I do love, just to see how their vision compares to my experience with those films.) I wouldn't necessarily recommend this product to people who haven't seen The Golem if they're silent film fans, but I agree with Taylor and company that this is a nice way to catch new viewers who haven't really experienced silent horror due to reservations. If nothing else, I hope that these sound versions of silent classics will open up the minds of new viewers and get them interested in what that era of horror has to offer them.

You can check out the DVD and CD releases (and the other mentioned products at the November Fire site I linked in the opening, as well as at Amazon (DVD here, CD here) and other retailers. Check them out, and keep classic horror alive!

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