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Song of Death (1912)

Der Totentanz (original title)
Bella is married to engineer Burk who meets with an accident. To provide an income she starts as a performer, but happen to meet an infatuated, intriguing composer. On the brink of marital ruin, she kills the composer.


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Cast overview:
Asta Nielsen ... Bella Burk
Oskar Fuchs Oskar Fuchs ... Ingenieur Burk
Fritz Weidemann Fritz Weidemann ... Komponist Czerneck
Fred Immler Fred Immler
Emil Albes Emil Albes


A powerful story of love and jealousy, faithfulness and treachery, most ably acted and effectively scened. A young married man holding a good position is injured by an accident and rendered incapable of work for a long time. His money gives out and want knocks at the door. His wife goes to her former music teacher for advice and finds a well-known composer there. Hearing her voice he advises her to go upon the stage in his company. She does so, but only after the husband has exacted an oath that she will always be true to him. Her voice wins her fame and the composer falls in love with her, but she repulses him because of her oath. Her husband, jealous to see her name and that of the composer constantly united in the newspapers, determines to seek her and see how things are for himself. Events are thus precipitated in a most dramatic way. Written by Moving Picture World synopsis

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Short | Drama

User Reviews

Art as Death, Performance as Sex
12 February 2021 | by CineanalystSee all my reviews

These old Danish and German films--the two national industries being largely intertwined during this period and largely through the star of this production, Asta Nielsen--are quite interesting. They tend to be routine melodramas and tragedies, but a lot of them are reflexively about the art and performance of it. That they're among the earliest feature-length films ever made, this one originally 905 meters in length but with only 429 meters surviving, is secondary. Some of the best filmmaking in the world was going on here in the early 1910s.

Sometimes, this is evident on the technical side. Low-key lighting, for instance, was a prevalent practice--here we get an opening scene lit as though by a fireplace and, later, a dark hotel corridor. The restored tinting/toning helps, too. Although not usually known for it and although the usual, dated tableau style of the day is mostly followed, this one contains some decent scene dissection, as well as a bit of panning, to frame figures at a closer position, and even a little crosscutting and cutting on action. My favorite aspect of the mise-en-scene of the best of these pictures, though, is the use of mirrors. One of the still images shown here in place of lost footage features a performance by Nielsen as only seen through a mirror in the room with the on-screen spectators of her act. It gives a literal meaning to the cinematic reflexivity.

"Der Totentanz," translated as "The Dance of Death," stars Nielsen as a lute-playing singer and dancer. A love triangle forms with her lecherous piano player and her factory-working husband who is injured (read: made impotent) on the job. From the start of her career taking off, as hubby recovers, her performances are thus equated with sex and specifically sexual infidelity, which works well with the voyeuristic nature of theatrical and, especially, cinematic spectatorship. Later, with the death dance and the unraveling of the love triangle, this art about art comes to be equated, as well, with death, which as I've said before befits the art of film--a series of stilled images from life projected as ghosts on a screen. In this case, there's even a hint of necrophilia in the end.

(Note: Appreciatively reconstructed by the Munich Film Archive in 2012, stills are employed in place of missing footage, and there's considerable, if expected, scratches and decomposition in parts.)

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None | German

Release Date:

23 October 1913 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

The Dance to Death See more »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs


(2011 reconstruction)

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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