Archive for Fritz Lang

The Sunday Intertitle: Die, Pest!

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on February 26, 2017 by dcairns

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DIE PESTE IN FLORENZ — the plague in Florence — is a 1919 German epic scripted by Fritz Lang in his usual cheery style — the Florentine’s throw off the shackles of religious repression, and life becomes one non-stop orgy, at which point a plague descends and kills everyone. Lang’s grim sensibility is remarkable in the sense that it was commercially successful despite being so unremittingly bleak — look at DIE NIBELUNGEN, in which everybody is morally compromised and everybody dies. Can this really have been the Nazis’ favourite film? If they saw themselves in it, it’s prophetic, and also suggests a self-destructive drive at the root of their movement. I have my doubts. I’m not sure they had that level of insight.

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A slightly wishy-washy reconstructed intertitle, but we can make up for that with an ecstatic gallery — The Triumph of Death!

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Heavily inspired by Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, I assume, this movie ends with the Plague Personified (Juliette Brandt, the best actor in it) fiddling among the splayed corpses of the city, descending stairs towards us like Norma Desmond, though alas director Otto Rippert doesn’t have her fill the lens with a grotesque soft-focus close-up. But I like that she’s so chirpy, skipping and grinning away, reminiscent a little of the bandaged apparition of Simone Choule in Polanski’s THE TENANT. It’s a happy ending, for Death.

In other news — am contemplating staying up all night with friends, watching the Oscars, in which case I shall probably live-blog it. Since the event doesn’t really have much to do with movies, I guess I’ll just be ranking the frocks and political speeches and noting how few, if any, of these films I’ve seen… If I go for it, watch out for an ever-expanding blog post here. If I feel too sleepy, watch out for nothing.

The Sunday Intertitle: Ich

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 5, 2017 by dcairns

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“What power is at work here?” asks the government man, and Fritz Lang cuts to his chief villain, Rudolph Klein-Rogge, who says, simply “I” — even though he’s in another room in another building in another part of town and can’t be conversing with the spymaster who doesn’t know he exists…

The idea of words connecting to images to bridge scenes is a big Fritz Lang trope, and he used it again, after SPIONE, the example quoted above, in M and THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE. And then he took it to Hollywood and did it a bit in FURY at MGM. And then he phased it out, as if he felt it were somehow un-American, until his return to Germany to make THE INDIAN TOMB and THE THOUSAND EYES OF DR MABUSE, and it came back in full force: a line at the end of one scene will be picked up by an image at the start of the next. A bit of film language that had lain dormant in Lang’s dark heart for decades, and suddenly burst into life again under the lights of Babelsberg.

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MGM seems like a peculiar home for Lang anyway, and indeed “that marriage did not last,” as Donald Sutherland would say, though in fairness none of Lang’s studio relationships lasted for more than a few films. His journey back to Germany may have been prompted by the fact that nobody in Hollywood would talk to him anymore, I don’t know.

But the weird thing is, there’s a beautiful example of this device in my favourite movie, Victor Sjostrom’s HE WHO GETS SLAPPED — see here. And this was the very first MGM release. It was meant to be.

The Sunday Intertitle: What an odd thing to say

Posted in FILM, literature, Politics, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , on January 29, 2017 by dcairns

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“I’m not doing this anymore! Running around at 200kmph! It’s modern cannibalism!”

A strange intertitle from the pen of a strange woman, Thea Von Harbou. Due to a job I’ve got on, I found myself watching both SPIONE and both parts of DR. MABUSE: DER SPIELER this week, which is quite a lot of espionage to consume at one sitting. But highly enjoyable, as most binges are.

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The above statement is made here, in the cosy flat of two disgruntled henchmen. I could imagine that being a great premise for a sitcom, except that Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter already nailed that concept. And who IS sending Ben and Gus those baffling orders for scampi &c? Surely it’s the doctor himself, who starts off flesh-and-blood in this film, becomes more of a psychic influence in TESTAMENT, and is a mere principle by the time of 1,000 EYES. By the time he seeps into Pinter he’s a Godot-like abstraction, probably not even a conscious presence…

Post-binge, I found I slightly preferred SPIONE, since by that point Lang’s insert shots have moved on to a new realm of gleaming fetishism, but MABUSE sets out the plan for so much later Lang, it’s like watching the birth of a monster. Horrible yet awe-inspiring. FANTOMAS and his many imitators may have set the pattern, but to the master-criminal scheme is added something fresh, via Norbert Jacques’ novel: while Fantomas worked mostly alone with the occasional foxy accomplice or hired-for-the-occasion goon squad, Mabuse is the leader of a criminal empire, or, as he later calls it, a state within a state. All the Hitler comparisons stem from that one adjustment.

It makes Mabuse both more like a real-world crime boss, and yet also more fantastical, since he seems able to accomplish anything. He has tentacles everywhere, like a naughty Hokusai octopus. One thing I was watching for was some good police interrogation scenes, but the recurring theme of MABUSE is that any time the police clap a perp in irons, Mabuse has the guy offed before he can squawk.

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Here’s a Mabuseian insert shot — not quite up to the standard of SPIONE, but very nice.