Discover This: The Singing Ringing Tree

Copyright: DEFA Stiftung

It’s all smoke and mirrors – cinema, that is- and magic. Sometimes, when you watch too many films – like myself- you tend to forget that magic exists. Luckily, every so often, and regularly around Christmas time, there are re-runs of classic films whose magic is made for the holidays and will be best seen on a majestic screen like the one hidden behind two glitter curtains at the Kino International this Christmas day. The Singing Ringing Tree is one of my all-time favourite films and once you see the haughty princess being high-jacked by a bear in a fabulously camp studio setting, you will know what I am talking about…

I am certainly not the one to make any valid personal judgements about the GDR, but one thing I can say quite emphatically is that their film studio, the DEFA, made some of the best fairy tale films in cinema history. The Singing Ringing Tree, which is based on a story fragment by the Grimm Brothers, is a simple and quite morale-infused tale about a prince who wants to conquer a conceited princess. He comes on a horse from far away and aims to impress and buy a princess with a box of pearls which she, spoilt and self-determined, denies by throwing on the floor. Instead, she says, after some hesitation, she would like a tree that’s ringing and singing – the ultimate impossible gift.

Copyright: DEFA Stiftung
Copyright: DEFA Stiftung

The Singing Ringing Tree is a pure pleasure to watch and re-watch for so many reasons. First of all, the colours of the DEFA production design and costumes are literally exploding and although you are aware of the studio setting throughout the entire film, the design, the tricks, and the make-up effects haven’t lost any of their power – even more than 50 years after its making! Nostalgia is certainly key here and when you see the panning shots in the beginning—which try to be invisible in the editing and are yet quite visible in the cuts that are made—that is one part of the movie magic that kids might not yet understand. The smoke and mirrors of cinema- a scene in which the princess walks through paper fire and numerous moments in which people magically change their appearance though cross-fading- are a true celebration for cinema lovers since they are well-made and produced with so much love and belief in the system of illusion that you cannot sit in your seat without a big fat grin on your face.

Copyright: DEFA Stiftung
Copyright: DEFA Stiftung

No matter whether you will be coming straight from Berghain or go see the film with your family after a traditional Christmas brunch, you will have fun; Kids will still watch The Singing Ringing Tree with mouths and eyes wide open and listen to the morale of “A good deed is always more powerful than a bad spell” which eventually turns the princess from “ugly” (she has a pale face and green hair and is my punk heroine) to “pretty” (wholesome blond and with radiantly red lipstick). Once the prince enters the scene with his tight tights and his ridiculous haircut, you might be a queer whore like myself and just think “Yeah, right” when he is proposing to the bitchy but extra-fabulous princess. Great films offer different readings and bring fun to all of us, is my bottom line. That’s the great things about movie magic.

Copyright: DEFA Stiftung
Copyright: DEFA Stiftung

The tale that unfolds afterwards is one of respect and animal love and once the green-haired royal rescues a big papier-mâché fish from freezing, you know that you want to be a child again and hear and see basic fables about love and compassion with different eyes. You ask yourself why the princess has to be rescued by a prince-turned-bear, or why the dwarf has to be an evil character but you will still enjoy every second of that beauty and magic, that smoke and mirrors. I highly recommend this one-time only screening at one of the most beautiful cinemas in town and wish you all a fabulously magic holiday time!

The Singing Ringing Tree (Das singende, klingende Bäumchen), GDR, 1957, 74 min.

director: Franceso Stefani, cinematography: Karl Plintzner/ Walter Roßkopf, actors: Christel Bodenstein, Eckart Dux, Richard Krüger, Charles Hans Vogt, languages: German, distribution: DEFA Stiftung

Berlin screening: Kino International, December 25th, 3 pm. (5 Euro)

Discover This! is a weekly Berlin–based film comment.


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  1. Jamie Drouin on


    Fantastic suggestion for Christmas day. We loved the movie!

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