Hen­rik Galeen, Fa­ther o the Hor­ror Film

Forward Magazine - - FOREGROUND - By PJ Grisar

We all know the story of Ju­dah Loew ben Beza­lel, the leg­endary rabbi of Prague who, from the mud of the Vi­tava River, willed his fa­mous Golem into ex­is­tence. But what of Hen­rik Galeen, the Aus­trian Jewish hor­ror maven who first com­mit­ted the story to the sil­ver screen? In Galeen’s hands, the servile ter­ra­cotta en­forcer at­tained a new level of con­scious­ness. As crafted by a Euro­pean Jew, the tale of the Golem be­comes an al­le­gory of alien­ation and an out­sider try­ing to fit in.

On Jan­uary „…, „†„‡, in Ber­lin, the first film about our peo­ple’s most fa­mous mon­ster was un­leashed on an un­sus­pect­ing Ger­man pub­lic. Silent but shud­der­wor­thy, “Der Golem” tells the tale of a Jewish junk mer­chant who re­vives the Czech Jew’s fa­mous pro­tec­tor with an amulet. When the earth­en­ware gi­ant falls in love with the an­tique dealer’s daugh­ter, he goes on a ram­page through the es­tate of a lo­cal count un­til, over­whelmed by her touch yet un­able to join with hu­man­ity, he hurls him­self from a rooftop, lost to the ages once more.

Un­for­tu­nately for us, save for four min­utes of footage, the full reel of

“Der Golem” is also lost. While it’s ru­mored that a com­plete print ex­ists, who­ever owns it has been stingy with the canis­ter, leav­ing cinephiles the world over to set­tle for two short frag­ments of an hour-long fea­ture. Thank­fully, Galeen col­lab­o­rated on the script for a pre­quel, the „†•– Ger­man film “The Golem: How He Came Into the World,” which sur­vives in its en­tirety.

But even from the „†„‡ film’s lim­ited footage, the viewer can sense the unique hand­i­work of the co-writ­ers, di­rec­tors and stars: Paul We­gener — who plays the Golem with com­i­cal Prince Valiant hair — and Galeen him­self — who plays Troedler, the junk dealer, in side­locks and a yarmulke.

“He was drawn to all kinds of mon­sters. Peo­ple who are in be­tween iden­ti­ties, peo­ple who want to be some­thing else. This so­cial po­si­tion of some­one who wants to get in but is rec­og­nized as ‘other’ was very at­trac­tive to Jewish film­mak­ers,” film scholar Ofer Ashke­nazi, au­thor of the book “Weimar Film and Mod­ern Jewish Iden­tity,” said in a phone in­ter­view with the For­ward. “His mon­sters are not so mon­strous.”

Galeen was born Hein­rich Wiesen­berg in „œœ„ in Stryj, in what was then the Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian Em­pire. Ashke­nazi be­lieves he picked up the sur­name “Galeen” af­ter trav­el­ing as an ac­tor through the Swiss prov­ince of St. Gallen.

Af­ter “Der Golem,” Galeen scripted the „†•… hor­ror an­thol­ogy “Wax­works,” which fea­tured a ter­ri­fy­ing Jack the Rip­per a full five years be­fore G.W. Pabst spooked au­di­ences with the fa­mous mur­derer in “Pan­dora’s Box.” But Galeen is best re­mem­bered for his screen­play for F.W. Mur­nau’s “Nos­fer­atu: A Sym­phony of Hor­ror,” the de­fin­i­tive vam­pire film.

It turns out the stature of “Nos­fer­atu” in cin­ema stud­ies is due partly to a mis­taken im­pres­sion on Galeen’s part. While the film is un­am­bigu­ously in­spired by Bram Stoker’s “Drac­ula,” its in­deli­ble con­tri­bu­tions to the vam­pire myth stem from Galeen’s belief that the Stoker novel was still un­der copy­right and not el­i­gi­ble for di­rect adap­ta­tion. Stray­ing from the novel al­lowed for the bat­like look of the char­ac­ter of Count Or­lok and the no­tion that the light of the sun can evap­o­rate vam­pires to wisps of smoke. In the book, Count Drac­ula ap­pears hu­man and is merely weak­ened by the sun’s light.

“At some points in the film it’s not re­ally clear if Nos­fer­atu or the good Ger­man char­ac­ter is the mon­ster,” Ashke­nazi said. “It’s an in­ter­est­ing idea com­ing from a Jewish scriptwriter to make the mon­ster so hard to grasp.”

In „†•¡, Galeen co-wrote and di­rected “The Stu­dent of Prague,” about a poor scholar, Bal­duin, who sur­ren­ders his re­flec­tion to the devil for wealth and the love of a count­ess. Like “Der

Golem” and “Nos­fer­atu,” the film is an­other tale of some­one on the fringes striv­ing to as­sim­i­late.

But per­haps Galeen’s most fas­ci­nat­ing fea­ture was the „†•œ film “Ar­laune,” a pseudo-sci­en­tific med­i­ta­tion on na­ture ver­sus nur­ture that out­does this year’s sur­prise doc­u­men­tary hit “Three Iden­ti­cal Strangers” in its strange­ness. The film is based on Hanns Heinz Ew­ers’s novel of the same name, and fol­lows a young woman who is the re­sult of the ar­ti­fi­cial in­sem­i­na­tion of a pros­ti­tute with a man­drake root. It ex­plores psy­cho­sex­ual im­pulses and won­ders at the in­ter­play of ge­net­ics and so­cial con­di­tion­ing. Galeen’s was not the first movie made about the story, but was cer­tainly the most sym­pa­thetic to­ward the fe­male lead.

“He took this femme fa­tale and turned her into some­one who re­ally wants to be one of the club,” Ashke­nazi said.

When the specter of Hitler’s Re­ich de­scended on Ger­many, Galeen im­mi­grated to Swe­den and Eng­land for a time be­fore re­lo­cat­ing per­ma­nently to Amer­ica.

In the United States he suc­ceeded in do­ing some­thing to which his char­ac­ters of­ten as­pired: wed­ding no­bil­ity. He mar­ried a baroness and ran a bak­ery in New York with his son be­fore re­tir­ing to Ran­dolph, Ver­mont, where he would die in „†…†, at age ¡œ.

‘He was drawn to all sorts of mon­sters.’


FLESH OF HIS FLESH: For ‘Nos­fer­atu,’ above, Galeen took lib­er­ties with the story of Bram Stoker’s ‘Drac­ula.’ Op­po­site page: a 1915 poster for ‘Der Golem.’

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