Original Gothster

Conrad Veidt

Today in “People You Should Worship, But You Just Don’t Know It”, we shall sing the praises of Herr Conrad Veidt, the man who is responsible not only for the Joker, but the career of Peter Murphy and the entire creation of Goth subculture.  He has gone uncredited save but by a few obscure zealots — let us change that, or at least add another obscure zealot to the tally.

If, as posited in Velvet Goldmine, Oscar Wilde was the ancestral progenitor of Glam Rock (they may have a case for that), then I submit that Conrad Veidt is the Ur-Goth.

Conrad began his career in theater during WWI, and quickly transitioned into films.  In the span of just a few years, he managed to appear in some of the most important and well-remembered German films of all time, but none more so than 1919′s cultural landmark The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, in which he played Cesare the mysterious (and murderous?) sleepwalker under the control of the evil Doctor.  Fast-forward sixty years, to 1979 and Bauhaus….

Bauhaus is, was, and shall be the only goth band that ever truly mattered.  Everything after were flagrant more- or less- successful attempts to imitate Bauhaus.  What set Bauhaus apart and made them “goth” was not just morbid lyrics, but their visual aesthetic, which owed a massive debt to German expressionist film in general and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in particular.  A debt they acknowledged  by placing Conrad Veidt front and center on the sleeve of their most popular single.

Caesare’s look and mannerisms informed the stage personas of Peter Murphy and Daniel Ash, who in turn were aped by every goth boy who could lay his hands on a tube of black lipstick and knew two or three people he could call a “band”, so in a very real sense, Goth music and “culture” would never have existed without Conrad.  That’s my thesis, and I’m sticking to it.

Here’s a bit of Conrad in Dr. Caligari (music not from Bauhaus)

That part alone would have made him immortal, but in he went on to star in The Man Who Laughs (1928) as Gwynplaine, a carnival freak who as a child had his face disfigured into a permanent grin.

Look familiar?

Thought so.  Batman’s creators saw this movie as kids, the memory stuck, and in 1940 Mr. J was born.

In the 30′s, Conrad fled the Nazi regime in Germany to the UK and then Hollywood.  There, ironically, he consistently was given roles as Nazis, German spies, monocle-wearing war criminals, and the like.  He turned in a very magnetic performance in the Joan Crawford film A Woman’s Face, but more often he was given parts like this dual role as twin evil& good German brothers in Nazi Agent….

Conrad Veidt died unexpectedly in 1943, but he will live forever in indelible images of awesomeness and dark beauty.

Now, here’s some Bauhaus.  Goodnight.




One Response to “Original Gothster”

  1. ReeRee Says:

    … My ! I can’t stop staring at the b/w picture where Conrad is in the suit – … it’s hypnotic … and as I watched the 1919 movie clip , I realized that I had seen the movie years ago ! Awesome !!! .. but now, I feel compelled to go back to staring at the b/w photo …

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