Algol

The Weimar-era German film Algol, or Algol – Tragödie der Macht (Tragedy of Power) is a singular bit of celluloid for all sorts of reasons. For one, it’s a science fiction movie dating from 1920, making it among the very first of the genre. It predates Metropolis by seven years but like that film, its depictions of oppression from above and uprising from below are very much a reflection of contemporary political concerns.

Algol was shot in Berlin, with some exterior shots among the palaces and other cast-offs of Prussian glory in nearby Potsdam. The studio, Deutsche Lichtbild-Gesellschaft, had been set up during the First World War to make documentary propaganda films and the same year as Algol they were still making films with titles like Barmen – Germany’s Ribbon Weaving Town and How Pencils Are Made.

The angular sets for Algol‘s interior shots are by Walter Reimann, fresh from working on the hugely influential Cabinet of Dr Caligari, made earlier the same year. Algol‘s cast members would go on to star in three further landmark Weimar-era movies. John Gottowt, who plays an alien inhabiting the titular star, appeared in Nosferatu two years later, the same year that Hans Adalbert Schlettow, who has a double father-son role in Algol, featured in Dr Mabuse. Emil Jannings, here a coal miner who ends up as the most powerful man on earth, would turn up as the luckless professor in The Blue Angel ten years later.

All of this would be remarkable enough, but towards the end comes a tumultuous celebration, and the dance put on as entertainment is something very special indeed. What, you will in all likelihood ask, what is this spectral vision of writhing, lascivious, satanic, vampiric glamour? This black-hearted, blasted bastard child of a temple whore and a hound of hell? This spaced, wasted, serpent-hipped, anthracite-eyed, poison-kiss-curled, demonic divinity, upstaging the sleaziest rock gods decades before they were even born? Why, it’s our old friend Sebastian Droste!

Honestly, it’s one of the most amazing dance performances I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen Grace Jones hula-hooping).

Update: the original YouTube videos (in eight instalments) were taken down, but thankfully you can now see Algol in one go. Naturally I’d urge you to watch the whole thing but if you’re keen to see Droste, he first appears at the 1:47:16 mark.

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18 comments

  1. My jaw dropped! Was that a wedding? A wake? A last night on earth party?

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  3. khys

    I don’t have a specific comment, but just wanted you to know that I continue to look at strangeflowers eeveryday– you have taught me so much– best thing on the web. Thanks. C

  4. I’d never even *heard* of this movie. Again, you make me feel like a nitwit – but it’s worth it 🙂

  5. I found your site a few months ago and have really enjoyed your daily post, keep’em coming! Algol is a movie treasure, my friend and I really enjoyed it. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to watch it!

  6. The opening credit appears to say “tragödie de Nacht” not “Macht” — is there another place the tile appears? I haven’t watched all the way through. Blogging about it today and sending folks here.

    • You’re right, the title credit does say “Nacht”, although every other reference I’ve seen renders it as “Macht” (which also fits the story better). I can only presume it’s a mistake.
      Thanks for the write-up!

  7. Ah, cheers — I expected that might be the case. This is an incredible find! Thanks for sharing it. Now to find the time to watch the whole thing and not just bits.

  8. a.platz

    Maybe anybody have subtitles in english?

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  10. TvLudescher

    Excellent film! Do you know of any scholarly research done on this film? Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any.

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