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By Tamar Barzel
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Indiana University Press, 2015

ISBN 978-0-253-01557-0

328 Pages

PURL 1.2. "The Golem" (1920, dir. Paul Wegener and Carl Boese) with original solo guitar soundtrack; music by Gary Lucas and Walter Horn.

Media reference: p. 39   

About this recording

"The Golem" (1920, dir. Paul Wegener and Carl Boese) with original solo guitar soundtrack; music by Gary Lucas and Walter Horn. 10-minute excerpt. The full Golem soundtrack [on Gary Lucas, Skeleton at the Feast (Enemy Records, 1991)] and DVD are available at Audio and video courtesy Gary Lucas and Walter Horn.

Guitarist Gary Lucas and keyboardist Walter Horn debuted their soundtrack to the silent film, The Golem: How He Came Into the World at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival in 1989. Lucas subsequently developed a solo version of the piece and set it to a colorized version of the film, from which this excerpt is drawn. On the soundtrack, Lucas creates an atmospherically swirling, echoing soundscape, playing electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and a vintage steel resonator guitar (not heard in this excerpt) and processing the sound through a combination of vintage analog pedals, digital delays, and two guitar amplifiers.

In Jewish legend, the golem is a humanoid being shaped from soil and brought to life through magic to serve its creator or to protect his community from danger. The walled Jewish ghetto of sixteenth-century Prague, the setting for one of the iconic golem stories, is also the setting for the film. Faced with the threat of violent expulsion, the Chief Rabbi creates a golem out of clay, but his creation runs amok, and so he must reverse the spell he had used to animate it.

In this excerpt, Lucas uses a quotation from "Ha-Tikvah" (4'22") to accompany a scene in which Jewish men have gathered in prayer, beating their breasts in a penitential gesture, to ward off the doom of an impending expulsion. Another well-known melody also plays a part in this excerpt: Richard Wagner's "Ride of the Valkyries," the instrumental prelude to the third act of the opera Die Walküre. In film, this melody has a history of accompanying scenes of destruction and racial violence, and Wagner's own antisemitism as well the Nazi embrace of his music are well known. Lucas alludes to all this by using the ominous "Ride of the Valkyries" melody (5'25") to announce the edict the emperor has just handed down, banishing Jews from the city.

In an unpublished essay from 2001, entitled "Me and the Golem," Lucas wrote:

For many years, I've had an intense, intimate relationship with the Golem.

What I mean is, over a dozen years now, I've been assiduously working with the 1920 Paul Wegener/Carl Boese silent film Der Golem--How He Came Into the World, having composed a score to accompany it live on electric and acoustic guitars, played in real time through many secret electronic effects (no samplers or sequencers here).

I've played with this film in over fifteen countries around the world since debuting the score in NYC. . . . Night after night, it's like peering into a telescope at a microcosm of sixteenth century Prague, the Jews stooped and shuffling their way through Hans Poelzig's gnarled and misshapen ghetto mise-en-scène like some fantastically garbed Mummer's parade, strolling the streets and moving into the synagogue for evening prayers. I love witnessing the dramatic arc of the story enfold time and time again, the tale of the actual historic Rabbi Jehudah Loew and his kabbalistic magical prowess, and how he created the Golem, a man molded from shapeless clay, to become a servant of the Jewish people, to protect them from annihilation--the ultimate revenge for love of his daughter Miriam as the Prague ghetto is consumed by flames, caused by a Golem run amuck. I delight in the foppish antics of the lustful Junker Knight Florian, the sly machinations of the servile sorcerer's apprentice Famulus, and Wegener's all-too-human portrayal of the hulking juggernaut, the Big Fella himself. . . . I have played my music to this film literally hundreds of times, and I never get tired of it, I keep seeing new things within it, and it keeps haunting me, keeps drawing me back.