Archive for Fritz Lang

Teardrops

Posted in FILM, Mythology, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 9, 2021 by dcairns

A weekend double-bill of Powell & Pressburger’s A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH and Fritz Lang’s LILIOM provided food for thought, as well as entertainment and awe.

It feels certain that P&P were familiar with the earlier film, and as a cultured Hungarian, Emeric Pressburger was probably familiar with Ferenc Molnár’s source play. But the fact that Lang ends his film with a closeup of teardrops, which then find their way into Powell’s film, makes me think that the movie was at the back of somebody’s mind.

The concept of bells ringing in heaven also recurs from Lang to the Archers, and the whole idea of the afterlife as a bureaucracy, a very specific concept, seems to have been ported over. True, Molnar & Lang portray the place as a police station — the way the film’s carny antihero (Charles Boyer) might imagine it — and P&P give us something more benign, a kind of anticipation of the welfare state.

“Conservative by instinct, Labour by experience,” says Peter D. Carter (David Niven), when asked about his politics. The Archers were nothing if not High Tory, it pains me to admit (I’m indebted to Andrew Moor, author of Powell & Pressburger, a Cinema of Magic Spaces, for the information that Pressburger was in the habit of sending his shirts to Paris to be laundered, even in wartime if memory serves, a detail Moor considered absolutely to absolutely clinch the filmmaker’s arch-Tory tendencies). I imagine, since AMOLAD was originally intended as a propaganda film during the last days of the war, with the intention of demonstrating that the USA and the UK can overcome their differences (“We were all getting along fine,” Powell was told, “until we started winning.”), the filmmakers would have been at least somewhat party to the great secret project, chaired by Sir Michael Balcon at Ealing, to prepare Britain for a Labour government. So the version of the afterlife portrayed, where there are no differences in rank (an enlisted man calls his officer “brother” when he learns this), and where everybody can do the job he likes, might be the film’s fantastical prophecy of Britain’s future. Carter on the afterlife: “I think it starts where this one leaves off, or where it could leave off if only we’d listen to Plato and Aristotle and Jesus, with all our earthly problems solved, but with bigger ones worth the solving.”

We were talking about influences. And not just political ones. I’m struck by the similarities with a work by another writer-director team, Marcel Carné & Jacques Prévert, LES VISITEURS DU SOIR. Both films feature emissaries from the afterlife (but in the French film they come from Hell) who can stop time, a fairly distinctive idea. But it’s far from certain that, with the war raging, P&P could have seen P&C’s film. I guess there was just time: France was liberated in autumn 1944, AMOLAD was shot at the end of 1945. How quickly did the backlog of French movies shot during the occupation get seen in Britain? I would imagine not very quickly and not very completely, but Powell would have been greatly interested and he probably would have had better access than just about anyone. So a direct influence seems possible.

If the influence wasn’t direct, then France should still get some credit because the first time-stop/fermata film I can think of is René Clair’s PARIS QUI DORT of 1925, which I’m certain Powell & Pressburger knew. Powell was actually working in movies in France in 1926. And so it seems not chance alone that explains the fact that Conductor 71, P&P’s heavenly emissary, is a Frenchman.

Snakes and Funerals

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , on September 23, 2020 by dcairns
snakes
and funerals

Not real snakes, of course, not like the bulging eyed fellow Debra Paget dances for in THE INDIAN TOMB (like the dragon in DIE NIBELUNGEN, his eyes are on the front of his head, human-style, an odd Langian trope) and not really a funeral, just a shot of a cemetery.

The subject, of course, is Fritz Lang’s MOONFLEET, enjoyed on a Friday as part of our weekly pleasure cruise through all things George Sanders-related.

“What genre is this?” I was asked. A male Gothic (small boy instead of young lady getting the pants scared off ’em), a land-based pirate movie, and a classic Hollywood throw-out-the-novel-and-have-some-fun swashbuckler. MGM’s much earlier TREASURE ISLAND (Wallace Beery version) might be the key model. The most interesting aspect is the dramatic irony where the young hero (Jon Whitely, the solemn little Scottish boy from THE KIDNAPPERS) doesn’t really understand anything that’s happening in the same way we do. He doesn’t get either that Stewart Granger is a bad man (good casting, there) or that he’s, by narrative inference, his father, or that he’s fatally wounded at the end.

RIP Jon Whitely, who died earlier this year

This should be more touching than it is, but I do find it somewhat moving. I suspect the emotions involved are not ones Lang had a particular interest in. He undersells anything that could be Spielbergian (a good thing too, some will think) and goes all in on the HORROR. He could have done a great TREASURE ISLAND himself.

Third from the right, Skelton Knaggs in his last role

And he finds some splendid uses for the screen ratio he affected to despise. Never take Lang at his word. When he seems most sincere, be suspicious. The serpent is most dangerous when it looks right at you.

MOONFLEET stars Scaramouche; Addison DeWitt; Sibella; Vellamo Toivonen; Harry, Jim’s Grandson; Musidora; High Sheriff of Nottingham; Maj. Kibbee; Alfred the butler; Cassius; Bunny Jones; Charlie Max; Angel Garcia; PTO; Sir Ivor; Finn – the mute; Nathan Radley; and Sir Roderick Femm.

Film Directors with their shirts and pants off

Posted in FILM, Politics, Television with tags , , , on May 11, 2020 by dcairns

 

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A lissome John L. (for leggy) Brahm soaks up the sun.

Filmemigration aus Nazidetschland is a colossal 1979 TV series by Gunther Peter Straschek, who conducted scores of interviews with German cinema emigres and edited them together into five hours of ten-minute chats. I’m excited to get stuck in — he had, in his first episode, Lotte Eisner, Brahm, Fritz Lang (telling his Goebbels story again, this time while walking dramatically about his living room — best version I’ve heard!) and Anatole Litvak. I’ve never seen a frame of any of them except Lang, so it’s going to be exciting…