DER STUDENT VON PRAG
(The Student of Prague)
Director: Stellan Rye
Production: Deutsche Bioscop GmbH (Berlin); black and white, 35mm, silent; length: 5 to 6 reels, 5,046 feet, later cut to 4,817 feet. Released 1913. Filmed at Belvedere Castle and on Alchemist Street in Prague and at Fürstenburg and Lobkowitz Palaces. Cost: 30,000 marks.
Screenplay: Hanns Heinz Ewers with Paul Wegener, epigraphs from Alfred de Musset's poem "The December Night"; photography: Guido Seeber; art director: Klaus Richter and Robert A. Dietrich.
Paul Wegener (
); Fritz Weidemann (
); John Gottowt (
); Lida Salmonova (
Lyduschka, country girl
); Grete Berger (
Margit, Countess Waldis-Schwarzenberg
); Lothar Körner (
Ewers, Hanns Heinz, with Paul Wegener, Der Student von Prag: Einführung und Protokoll , edited by Helmut H. Diederichs, Stuttgart, 1985.
Ewers, Hanns Heinz, Langheinrich-Anthos, and Heinrich Noeren, Der Student von Prag: Eine Idee von Hanns Heinz Ewers , Berlin, 1930.
Sadoul, Georges, Histoire générale du cinéma , Paris, 1946.
Kracauer, Siegfried, From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film , Princeton, 1947.
Bucher, Felix, Germany , London and New York, 1970.
Eisner, Lotte, The Haunted Screen , Berkeley, 1973.
Garbicz, Adam, and Jacek Klinowski, Cinema, The Magic Vehicle: A Guide to Its Achievement: Journey One: The Cinema Through 1949 , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1975.
Magill's Survey of Cinema: Silent Films , Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1982.
Schlüpmann, Heide, "Zum Doppelgängermotiv in Der Student von Prag, " in Frauen und Film (Frankfurt), February 1984.
Thüna, Ulrich, "Aus dem Reich der Toten," in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 5, no. 11, November 1988.
Veress, J., "A pragai diak," in Filmkultura (Budapest), no. 12, January 1993.
Holl, S., and F. Kittler, "Kabbale et medias," in Trafic (Paris), no. 22, Summer 1997.
* * *
Stellan Rye's version of The Student of Prague has been unjustly neglected in the 70 years since its production. Seen today, the film's technical facility, though not innovative in illustrating the Doppelgänger motif, is nevertheless particularly adroit, serving its subject with taste, restraint and subdued visual elegance. As a tale of the fantastic, the film looks both backward to similar thematic treatments in the Germanic legend of Faust and the tales of E. T. A. Hoffman (as well as Poe's William Wilson and Wilde's Dorian Gray ) and forward to the overtly Expressionist treatment of alter egos in the great films of the 1920s (Caligari and his somnambulist-slave Cesare, Maria and her robot double in Metropolis .) Expressionism as an art form was flourishing by 1910, but it had not yet taken hold in film by 1913
The director Stellan Rye was a Danish expatriate who had staged plays and scripted films in Copenhagen. Screenwriter Hanns Heinz Ewers was already celebrated for his supernatural tales tinged with elements of eroticism and sadism; today most critics view his work in light of his subsequent notoriety as official chronicler in prose and film of Nazi hero Horst Wessel. Paul Wegener, already one of the most famous actors of Max Reinhardt's Deutsches Theater, had long been fascinated by the artistic potential of film, and he found the inspiration for his cinematic debut in a series of comic photographs of a man fencing and playing cards with himself. Together with Ewers, Wegener concocted the story of Balduin, a student who sells his mirror reflection to the gnomish eccentric Scapinelli in exchange for fortune and the woman of his dreams. The reflection begins to haunt Balduin, appearing with greater frequency until the desperate student shoots it, and in the process, kills himself.
To effect the multiple exposure technique necessary to make Wegener's dual roles convincing, Rye enlisted the talents of cinematographer Guido Seeber, who was already considered a master. From a photographic standpoint, Seeber's work is an unusual mixture of the archaic and the innovative. Interiors are shot in a flat, uninteresting manner, but the exteriors feature exquisitely composed vistas of Prague's castles and courtyards. The scenes in which Balduin flees from his double through the deserted streets of Prague only to encounter him at every juncture are worthy of the nightmare images of films to follow in the wake of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari . Though no stylization is evident in the set design, Seeber's lighting technique becomes quite striking—indeed almost expressionist—in the gambling scene. Perhaps inspired by Reinhardt's productions, a simple overhead light illuminates Balduin's gaming table as, one by one, his card-playing adversaries lose, disappearing into darkness. Balduin remains alone for a few seconds until he is joined by his double who asks "Dare you to play with me?"
The Student of Prague was the most expensive film produced in Germany up to that time, and it was an enormous success both with the critics and audiences. Although Rye and Wegener were to work together on several more projects, the collaboration was cut short by Rye's untimely death in a French war hospital in 1914. The two remakes of the film have their individual merits: Henrik Galeen's 1926 version reteams Conrad Veidt and Werner Krauss (Cesare and Caligari) and is extolled by Paul Rotha for its exceptional pictorial qualities; the 1936 Arthur Robison version with Anton Walbrook gives human motivation to the demonic pact by making Scapinelli (Theodor Loos) a jealous rival of Balduin's. The original, however, remains most important to film history. The Student of Prague 's marriage of naturalism to the first glimmers of Expressionism in German film provides an eloquent signpost to the dark visions to come.