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The Spiders (Die Spinnen) @ Cinémathèque / Palette

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Artists of the Silent Screen Special Event!

The Spiders (1919)

(Die Spinnen) - Cinémathèque

Thursday, January 19, 7 p.m.

Germany, 1919-20, Fritz Lang

If Fritz Lang had directed Raiders of the Lost Ark, the result might have been something like The Spiders. Envisioned as a four-part serial (though only the first two feature-length episodes were shot), this adventure epic from the director of Metropolis and M recounts the daring exploits of Kay Hoog, a San Francisco adventurer (and a man, by the way).

In part one, The Golden Lake (Der Goldene See), Hoog travels to Peru in search of buried Incan treasure. But the nefarious secret criminal organization “The Spiders” tries to get there first. Scott Tobias of The Onion A.V. Club calls The Golden Lake “a breathlessly paced treasure hunt with one action set piece barreling into another.”

Part two, The Diamond Ships (Das Brillantenschiff), finds Hoog wrestling with the Spiders for possession of a powerful diamond that gives the bearer control of Asia. The Spiders was long considered a lost film, but a color-tinted 35mm nitrate print was discovered in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s and then preserved and restored with a new music score. That is the version we will show. 16mm. Total 137 min.

THE FILM – 7 p.m. – Cinémathèque, Cleveland Institute of Art - 11141 East Boulevard – just east of the Cleveland Museum of Art. Meet in the entrance hall near the theater door 10 minutes ahead of time or look for the group inside the theater. We’ll try to save seats in the lower section, center. The flick is 2 hours, so expect to be out around 9:30 p.m. Seats at this venue are somewhat hard so you may want to bring a stadium cushion.

Meet at the entrance door 10 minutes ahead of time or look for the group inside the theater. This will be well attended so it is advisable to arrive early or purchase tickets on-line to avoid missing the start. We will sit in the lower level, center that is the best viewing position. The flick is 137 minutes, so expect to be out around 9:30 p.m. You may also meet us afterward outside the auditorium. If you RSVP, we will wait for you. If you do not have a photo posted, you will have to find us.

9:30 p.m. - AFTER MOVIE DISCUSSION – Depending on the group’s wishes, and because the film ends so late on a weeknight we will probably defer the discussion to our post-film dinner at Lockkeepers after we screen the 2011 silent film - The Artist - on January 21st. For night owls who would like to socialize, The Palette at The Glidden House ( would be our destination. Be aware that Palette offers wine, cocktails and coffee while food service is from Sergio's next door. The kitchen closes promptly at 10 p.m. so depending upon our arrival, we may not have a food option. Palette Lounge in the Glidden House, 1901 Ford Drive, just south of Sergio’s, offers a warm Victorian atmosphere and some wonderful food (from Sergio’s menu). They have a small, private parking lot between Glidden House and Sergio’s restaurant.

Depending on the weather, we may take the 3-minute walk east along the alleyway from the theater to the rear of the grotesque Gehry-designed Peter Lewis buildin .

Trailer: Die Spinnen (

Synopsis –

Die Spinnen: Das Brillantenschiff
(The Spiders: The Diamond Ship)

The movie opens with a bird's eye view of the House of Steel. There is a burglary in progress and the robbers are all top-hatted gentlemen. Next we see the evil Lio Sha and a Chinese man ina luxurious room looking at diamonds. They watch from above as more diamonds are brought in by disreputable men to a woman in a downstairs room. A dumb waiter arrives with the diamonds but it does not contain the "lost stone".

Kay Hoog wants revenge against Lio Sha and has arranged a raid on a suspected Spiders house. He parachutes down from a biplane onto the roof while the police break in from below. They must dynamite the doors and kill the Samurai guard. Hoog secretly takes an ivory key from the guard's body. He later studies the diamond ship paper he obtained in Der Goldene See and takes it and the key to an old antiquarian who tells him the key is to a secret underground city beneath Chinatown.

Kay Hoog enters the secret city guarded by live tigers and sees Lio Sha talking with the captain of the "Storm Bird". He hides in an opium den and overhears her telling the captain that the diamonds from the Steel House heist are useless because they aren't the lost "Buddha-Head" diamond. Kay Hoog is discovered and imprisoned in an underground chamber which is rapidly filling up with water. The rest of this portion of the film is lost.

In India two men are told by a blind Yogha that Terry London's pirate ancestor stole the Buddha-headed diamond. We see Hoog being smuggled into the Storm Bird in a luxuriously furnished crate complete with a library, lights and wine. In the radio room he discovers that the legend of the diamond is that the stone was stolen 400 years before and that a princess would return with it to Asia and all of Asia would free itself of foreign tyranny. The captain of the Storm Bird has made a deal to deliver secret documents to England with Lio Sha. She leaves to find Terry London.

At Terry London's home, the butler lets in the gang and they search in vain for the diamond. They then kidnap his daughter Ellen. On the ship, Hoog is discovered and is forced to escape and swim to shore. He sees a notice about the kidnapping and visits Terry London. Kay Hoog finds information that the stone is on the Falkland Islands and discovers that the butler is "Four-Finger John", a member of the Spiders. They offer him a reward and he tells them that Ellen is on the Storm Bird. They lock him up, but while they are gone he sends the Storm Bird a carrier pigeon warning.

We are next in the Falkland Islands. Hoog finds a cave with the stone and skeletons of the original pirate crew. He is overcome by the Spiders and tied up. During the night the cave fills with poisonous gas and Hoog is able to escape with the diamond.

Back in London, Hoog gives the diamond to Terry Morgan who tells him that Pinkerton's thinks that his daughter is in a trance in a London hotel. Meanwhile, the Storm Bird captain tells the Spider leader that Lio Sha died in the Falklands. They go the hotel and are followed by some Hindus. The Spider Leader says to have a diamond cut to look like the Buddha-head diamond as they have no chance of getting it back from Kay Hoog. The Hindus overhear them and kill them and then Kay Hoog and Terry Morgan attack the Hindus. Ellen Terry is rescued and is revived and remembers nothing of her ordeal and the picture ends.

This is the last of the Spiders serial that was made and the last time that Carl was directed by Fritz Lang or appeared with Ressel Orla. Gilda Langer is credited with appearing in this picture, but either she was edited out or the attributions are wrong. Ressel Orla died of a mysterious lingering disease in 1931 at age 41; Gilda Langer died of influenza in 1920 at age 24.

Historical Commentary

Made in 1919 for the German Decla film studio, Spiders (Spinnen) was director Fritz Lang’s third feature film. A huge box office success, Spiders established Lang’s international reputation. Newly re-mastered by film historian David Shepard from 35mm materials, with an organ score by the great Gaylord Carter, this new version of Spiders is far superior to Kino on Video’s 1989 edition. Lang made two chapters of Spiders, which were intended to be shown separately; two more chapters were planned, but never made. Part one, released in 1919, titled Der Goldene See (The Golden Sea), introduces the mysterious, secret organization Die Spinnen and their nefarious plot to steal the gold of the dying Inca civilization.

The story begins in San Francisco as adventurer and yachtsman Kay Hoog (Carl De Vogt) discovers a note in a bottle, the plea for aid from a Harvard anthropologist held captive by the remnants of the Incas. The efforts of the intrepid Hoog are opposed by the evil forces of the vampish Lio Sha (Ressel Orla).

The Golden Sea proved so immensely popular that Lang was pulled from his next project—The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (ultimately directed by Robert Wienne)—in order to direct its sequel, Das Brillantenschiff (The Diamond Ship), released in 1920. The proposed third and fourth chapters were to have been titled The Secret of the Sphinx and For Asia’s Imperial Crown—a disappointment for silent film fans!

While Lang’s muse of Spiders was Feuillade, whose raw and irreverent serials such as Les Vampires impressed Parisian audiences, the thriller format of Spiders feature the many important artists of the German cinema involved in its production. Among them was set designer Hermann Warm—renowned for his work on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari —created elaborate Oriental-inspired sets for Spiders, borrowing exotic designs from the Ethnological Museum of Hamburg.
— The Silents Majority
The first episode of the adventure series, The Adventures of Kai Hoog in Known and Unseen Worlds, according to Der Kinematograph (8 October 1919), was to be the first film "produced by Decla film company, recently put back on its feet again by a massive capital injection." As customary in the period following the end of hostilities [of the First World War], there is a sentence to the effect that everybody is "very proud to produce work which may also attract attention abroad." "The Decla Company," the notice continues, "intends with this series to become a rival to the American film industry, which makes mainly Westerns… Our film industry can be proud of this film work and other countries will acknowledge with envy the advances we have been making, when they see this film."

The tone of this article must be attributed partly to its appearance in a trade journal; partly to the massive inferiority complex of a country defeated in the war, and heightened by the difficulties of breaking into foreign markets. (As late as 1921 Caligari had to be called Austrian in order to get a showing in Paris.) Hence the talk about "massive capital injection" and the assertion that people in foreign countries, faced with the brilliant novelties from the German film market would not be able to close their eyes to the fact that in spite of all the fateful happenings of the past, the Germans remain efficient and take pride in their work and are "clever fellows" still….

The reasons for the fading away of the serial and the abandoning of the proposed further episodes was evidently internal, and in no way indicated a lack of interest on the part of the audience: indeed, reviewers did not hesitate to predict success for the second film on account of its "skillful dramatic effects." But against Lang’s protests, shooting of Das Brilliantenschiff (originally named Sklavenschiff) was not begun until the autumn… and because of bad weather conditions, filming had to be transferred from the Hagenbeck grounds to the studio. Angry, Lang severed his contract with Decla [Studios] and signed a new one with Joe May [Studios].
— Lotte H. Eisner, Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang might have been dreamed up as the stock image for the imperious European film director. Aloof, even terrifying, the patrician Lang actually did affect a monocle. Filmmaking was for him a clinical business: His scripts and sets were carefully planned; his movies more a matter of architecture than of inspiration. To actors, he was generally a terror; most, although they knew the films they had done with him were among the best they’d ever be associated with, chose not to work with him again. Lang’s iciness made people shudder.

And yet his films are among the most vivid investigations of the varieties of evil the screen has given us. Most famously, there is the totalitarian mastermind of METROPOLIS, sitting at the controls of his television monitor, watching the city and the millions of proletarian slaves who labor for him in its underground galleries. But there is also the spitting, self-righteous bloodlust of the mob in FURY, the inhumanity of the State in YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, the elegant, poised Nazis of MAN HUNT, MINISTRY OF FEAR, and HANGMEN ALSO DIE, reminding one chillingly of Lang himself.

But Lang was an anti-Nazi exile. In his version of the story, he had fled Germany the morning after being offered command of the Nazi filmmaking apparatus by Josef Goebbels, speaking on behalf of Hitler, who, said Goebbels, greatly admired METROPOLIS. Lang knew evil well, up close and personal. It is no surprise, therefore, that in Lang’s cinematic world, evil is never banal, as Hannah Arendt would have it, meek and officious. Instead, it is passionate, ambitious, dreaming of power layered upon power. Lang’s villains are almost always far more interesting than his heroes, demonic protagonists who want more, always more—more ill-gotten money, more sadistic thrills, more hapless subjects. Some of them, like "Carl Buckley," the hulking train yard supervisor in HUMAN DESIRE (1954) patrol dusty little criminal domains, and dream of penthouses; others, like THE BIG HEAT’s gangster "Vince Stone," already have the penthouse, and want the city. "Tomorrow the world" is their call, no matter how small or great the world about them is.
— Kevin Hagopian, Penn State University – The Writers Institute (

It’s very important to RSVP early and cancel your dinner reservations if you can’t attend. Please be respectful of the Organizers and the Restaurants we patronize.

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Cinémathèque, Cleveland Institute of Art, ( 11141 East Boulevard – just east of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
PARKING: They have a free parking lot. Use the East Boulevard entrance.