The Student of Prague (1913 film)
The Student of Prague (German: Der Student von Prag, also known as A Bargain with Satan) is a 1913 German silent horror film. It is loosely based on "William Wilson", a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, the poem The December Night by Alfred de Musset, and Faust. The film was remade in 1926, under the same title The Student of Prague. Other remakes were produced in 1935 and 2004. The film stars Paul Wegener in his film debut. It is generally deemed to be the first independent film in history.
|The Student of Prague|
|Directed by||Stellan Rye|
|Produced by||Paul Wegener|
|Written by||Hanns Heinz Ewers|
|Music by||Josef Weiss|
|Distributed by||Deutsche Bioscop|
The film takes place at the University of Prague in 1820, where a poor young man named Balduin is the city's wildest student and greatest swordsman. He becomes smitten with Countess Margit Schwarzenberg after rescuing her from drowning but knows he cannot pursue his love for her because he is poor. A sorcerer named Scapinelli offers Balduin 100,000 pieces of gold in exchange for any item to be found in the student's room. Balduin agrees, thinking he owns nothing, but is astonished when Scapinelli calls forth Balduin's reflection from the mirror and absconds with it. Balduin attempts to woo Countess Margit but is haunted by the appearance of his mirror double. Baron Waldis-Schwarzenberg, cousin to the countess and a rival suitor, challenges Balduin to a duel for her hand. Privately, the countess' father begs Balduin not to kill the Baron, as he is the last surviving heir to their family fortune. Balduin agrees but is thwarted when his double appears at the duel in his place. Balduin sneaks into Margit’s room and she confesses her true feelings to him. However, she is frightened by the appearance of the double, collapsing in a swoon. Dejected, Balduin returns to his room to retrieve a pistol. He fires at his double, only to drop dead himself. Scapinelli then comes into the room takes the contract Balduin signed with him tears it up, throws it like confetti and disappears out the door.
The Student of Prague is considered to be the first German art film, and it helped lift cinema from its low-class, fairground origins to a viable art form. It was a critical and commercial success. Audiences flocked to see the film, in part because it tapped into a very real sense of dissociation and alienation inherent in a society that was struggling with the burgeoning collapse of the German empire.
The film's star, Paul Wegener, was an avowed champion of the medium after realizing the potential of cinema to transcend the limits of conventional theater. Cinematographer Guido Seeber utilized groundbreaking camera tricks to create the effect of the Doppelgänger (mirror double), producing a seamless double exposure. Hanns Heinz Ewers was a noted writer of horror and fantasy stories whose involvement with the screenplay lent a much needed air of respectability to the fledgling art form.
The film also stimulated interest in the still very new field of psychoanalysis. Otto Rank published an extensive plot summary of the film in his article “Der Doppelgänger,” which ran in Sigmund Freud's academic journal Imago in 1914. Examples of the Doppelgänger are most prevalent in literature as a narcissistic defense against sexual love, according to Rank, who described how the mirror image of the student shows up in erotic situations to deny Balduin any progress in his attempts to woo the countess.
The fantastic themes of the film went on to become a major influence on Weimar cinema, continuing the exploration of social change and insecurity in the aftermath of World War I. Expressionism grew out of the tormented psyches of artists and writers coming to terms with their individual experiences. The use of chiaroscuro (sharp contrasts between light and shadow) was already established on the set of The Student of Prague, but was then carried further by Weimar productions like Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari.
References in popular culture
The film is referenced in the detective story "The Image in the Mirror" by Dorothy Sayers, in which Lord Peter Wimsey helps clear Mr. Duckworthy, a man wrongly suspected of murder. Among other things Duckworthy tells:
"When I was seven or eight, my mother took me with her to see a film called "The Student of Prague".(...) It was a costume piece about a young man at the university who sold himself to the devil, and one day his reflection came stalking out of the mirror on its own, and went about committing dreadful crimes, so that everybody thought it was him."
(In the story, Mr. Duckworthy had what seemed a similar experience - but Wimsey eventually proves that it had a rational explanation involving no supernatural agency).
- Der Student Von Prag - Film (Movie) Plot and Review
- Hedges, Ines (2009). Framing Faust: Twentieth-Century Cultural Struggles. SIU Press. p. 27-29. Retrieved 11 July 2017.
- The Student of Prague Archived 2013-10-22 at the Wayback Machine at Arte.tv (in German)
- Schlüpmann, Heide “The first German art film: Rye’s The Student of Prague (1913),” German Film & Literature, ed. Eric Rentschler, Methuen Inc., NY, NY, 1986, p. 9
- Brockman, Stephen. A Critical History of German Film, Camden House, 2016, p. 29
- Hake, Sabine, German National Cinema 2nd ed., Routledge, NY, NY, 2008 p. 22
- Hake, page 26
- Schlüpmann, p. 10
- Schlüpmann, p. 12-15
- Brockman, p. 45
- Brockman, p. 50