First Lang's 1921 feature Der müde Tod which translates to The Tired Death is better known in English speaking countries as Destiny, the title that Kino have chosen to reissue it under for this Blu-ray release. The premise of the film is simple enough: a beautiful young woman (Lil Dagover) does not want her fiancé (Walter Janssen) to die, though he does. She kills herself to enter death's domain and there, Death (Bernhard Goetzke) gives her three chances to hopefully stop three candles from going out, that will in turn prevent her fiancé's death from happening.
As this plays out, we witness three stories involving love and death. The first takes place in the Baghdad of years past where a young man (Janssen) is condemned by the Caliph (Eduard von Winterstein) for attempting to get romantic with his sister (Dagover). The second story takes place in the Venice of the seventeenth century where a man named Girolamo (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) schems to murder another man, Giovanfrancesco (Janssen), so that he and he alone can win the heart of the lovely Monna Fiametta (Dagover). The third and final story takes place in Imperial China. Here a wizard named A Hi (Paul Biensfeldt) abducts a couple, Liang (Janssen) and Tiao Tsien (Dagover), to use for the amusement of the Emperor (Charles Puffy) who is otherwise far more intrigued by A Hi's shapely apprentice. Of course, all of this plays into the conflict that was set up in the opening.
If this isn't Lang's most riveting feature from a narrative perspective, it's nevertheless a pretty interesting look at the technique he'd go on to perfect in the coming years. The visuals here are very impressive, with Lang placing the camera in unexpected locations and using some very bizarre looking gothic inspired backdrops to create some inspired mood and atmosphere. Case in point? When our heroine initially enters Death's domain, we see her climb a huge stairway lit from the top down. Lang uses this in each of the stories to interesting effect. We also see some early special effects work here and there, the best example being the scene where she spies her departed fiancé amongst a collective of spirits that walk through a wall.
The movie doesn't really subscribe to one particular genre. It mixes elements of romance, drama, fantasy and horror and gives everything a very folksy feel. Each of the three ‘exotic' locations used in the trilogy of stories of love versus death are beautifully rendered in the picture. If nothing else, this is a feast for the eyes. The art direction, handled for this picture by Walter Rohrig and Hermann Warm who had previously made The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, is top notch and the lighting employed in pretty much every shape does an amazing job of accentuating all of this.
As it is in many silent films, the acting in Destiny is very exaggerated. This doesn't take away from the movie's effectiveness and it is in keeping with the acting styles of the day. Lil Dagover is quite fetching as the female lead and it is interesting to see how she brings different quirks and personality traits to the other female characters that she plays in each of Death's vignettes. Likewise, Walter Janssen follows suit, giving each of the male characters he plays his own traits. The rest of the cast are also interesting to watch but it's Bernhard Goetzke who really steals the show here. As Death, he's an eerie figure but not entirely without feeling for the plight that Dagover's character is coping with. He's quite expressive with his body language, his eyes seemingly sunken back in his head, occasionally covered under the darkness of his wide-brimmed hat. If Destiny isn't as gripping or suspenseful as some of Lang's thrillers like M, The Big Heat or the Dr. Mabuse films nor as massive in scope and scale as something like Metropolis there's still a lot to appreciate here, particularly for those who appreciate revisiting films from the early days of cinema.The Blu-ray:
Destiny arrives on Blu-ray from Kino Lorber in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer framed at 1.27.1 on a 50GB disc that gives the movie a pretty solid bit rate "restored by Anke Wilkening on behalf of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung." As such, there aren't any compression artifacts to note. Print damage is obvious throughout the film but it's quite a good looking transfer all things considered. Contrast on the black and white image does occasionally bloom but that's an occasional issue rather than a constant and it would look to stem back to the photography. Black levels are strong here but there are spots where this buries a bit of the shadow detail. Detail is about as good as it's likely going to get here and it varies from scene to scene but is generally speaking pretty decent.Sound:
Kino provides a "newly-composed score by Cornelius Schwehr as a commissioned composition by ZDF / ARTE performed by the 70-member Berlin Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra under the direction of conductor Frank Strobel" in LPCM 2.0 format. It sounds excellent with strong clarity, proper balance and some very clean, clear sound music with nice depth and resonance. The intertitles in the film are presented in German with English subtitles and are clean, clear and easy to read.Extras:
The main extra on the disc is an audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas. It is a well-researched track (Lucas quotes interviews conducted with the late director) that offers up a lot of interesting information in regards to the history of the film and the different themes and motifs that Lang explores here. There's also a fair bit of talk about bringing ‘Death' to life the way that Lang does in this film and what studio lots were used for the sets (he's able to tie the movie into the far more recent Captain America: Civil War in this regard!). He also provides plenty of interesting background information on the key cast and crew members as well as some anecdotal information about the shoot. He also offers up plenty of critical analysis and insight into some of the film's key scenes. All in all, this is thorough and very well put together and quite a nice addition to the disc.
Aside from that the disc also includes a 2016 re-release trailer for Destiny, a sixteen minute long restoration comparison that shows how the elements were cleaned up and what went into the color tinting, static menus and chapter selection.Final Thoughts:
Destiny is an impressive film. It deals with some interesting subject matter, offers up some impressive and memorable performances and some absolutely stunning imagery. Kino's Blu-ray presents the film beautifully restored with a great score and an excellent commentary from Tim Lucas. Recommended!