As the British Film Institute’s Gothic Festival draws to an end, the Hyde Park Picture House played host to a live score of Fritz Lang’s Destiny. The film itself was born in the early 1920s and without achieving huge critical acclaim at the time, is looked back upon fondly as a stepping stone in the auteuristic director’s illustrious career. This is a man, and more specifically a film, that inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s move into film and made highly influential surrealist filmmaker Luis Buñuel claim how he “came out of the Vieux Colombier (cinema) completely transformed. Images could and did become for me the true means of expression. I decided to devote myself to the cinema”.
The story documents a young woman’s attempts to bargain back her deceased husband from ‘Der Tod’, Death. She is offered the chance to save him from a merciful Grim Reaper, but to do so she must save the life of another in one of three fantastical realms; Persia, Renaissance Italy and China. A sharp and well-crafted original score by Paul Robinson, and performed live by his HarmonieBand helped ease the temporal flow of the narrative. This was achieved by a repetition of particular passages, including a tolling piano sound. In the programme, Robinson notes that this “is heard at various points in the score and reflects the women’s detachment from immediate reality”. The music carefully mirrored the story and made the event accessible to all, not just those already familiar with the German Expressionist movement. The narrative guided us into three dimensions. These episodes developed quickly, leaving the audience very little time to develop strong emotional bonds with the characters. Many would defend this criticism by claiming that presenting the themes in this way champions the universality of these ideas. We are no longer investing simply in a human, but observing a comment on the human condition.
A precursor to so much noir, horror and naturally neo-expressionism, Destiny is stylistically perfect. It combines brave editing with content reminiscent of the fashionably morbid Victorian photographer Henry Peach Robinson. Its fascination with gothic culture also makes clever use of innovative special effects. The multiple in-camera exposures pioneered by Georges Méliès, although simple by today’s standards, were incredibly effective and reflected the preternatural and transcendental figure of death wonderfully.
This, Lang’s first real look into fate and moral ambiguity, which would go on to become major themes in his work especially throughout the Weimar years, was received with a hearty applause by all on Monday. It’s events like this that reiterate Hyde Park Picture House’s proud reputation. After catching up with composer Paul Robinson, he pointed me in the direction of HarmonieBand’s next show, a scoring of Dreyer’s Vampyr at Middleton Hall, Hull on Friday the February 28, which is certainly not one to be missed.