Archive for Fritz Lang

Grail Enquiries

Posted in Fashion, FILM, literature, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2019 by dcairns

My line on EXCALIBUR has long been that John Boorman decided, boldly but perhaps unwisely, to make an Arthurian epic as if MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL had never happened.

I came up with a new line today while showing clips to a student who’s embarking on a mythic fantasy short: it’s like Boorman maybe DID know there was such a thing as The Ridiculous, but bet that he could break on through it to the other side. But possibly there’s nothing on the other side of The Ridiculous except more Ridiculous, going on forever, getting ever more ridiculous.

Hopping through the film for frame-grabs though, my God it’s beautiful. Though the muddy bits are the most Pythonesque, and the glossy bits are kind of sixties-hippy-meets-disco, so it’s all silly all the time, maybe it plays better in episodes, or even moments, than as a whole.

Remember Hawks’ “I don’t know how a pharaoh talks”? Remember also that Fritz Lang was offered the chance to remake DIE NIBELUNGEN at the end of his career, and turned it down on the basis that the dialogue would be impossible. EXCALIBUR would make a great silent movie.

I had just watched Daniel Aronofsky’s NOAH, which has some nice fake time-lapses but otherwise was not entertainingly bad as I’d hoped, but kind of depressingly bad, and I’d also shown clips from Polanski’s MACBETH, and the thing all three films have in common is really mannered performances. EXCALIBUR looked particularly ropey, except for Nicol Williamson who has the benefit of a sly wit. You can’t not think of LORD OF THE RINGS (which Boorman had wanted to make), and my feeling is what makes that movie/series watchable in spite of all the excesses (which are its ARCHITECTURE), is it has lots of interesting actors who can step outside the clichés of the Epic Style. Peter Jackson has always liked big, ALL-CAPS, cartoony performances, but there are understatement specialists and eccentrics dotted all through LOTR and yet there’s also an acceptable house style that keeps things just unified enough.

But one can’t help but dream of what a Boorman LOTR would be like. Like a Jodorowsky DUNE or a Ken Russell CLOCKWORK ORANGE.


This also was a Train of Death

Posted in FILM with tags , , on March 5, 2019 by dcairns

Masters of Cinema very kindly sent me a care package of Blu-Rays, including Fritz Lang’s HUMAN DESIRE. Lang films always come in pairs. This one could be doubled with SCARLET STREET because they’re both Renoir remakes, but in fact that one has to be paired with THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (which I’m currently working on an extra for) because of it has the same three leads. HUMAN DESIRE rightly should go with either THE BIG HEAT (it has Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame too) or with the similarly documentary-looking CLASH BY NIGHT.

Hmm, maybe I should do the pointless exercise: pairing all of Lang’s films?


THE TESTAMENT OF DR MABUSE can be paired with THE THOUSAND EYES OF, bracketing Lang’s whole American phase.

BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT feels of a piece with WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS and both star Dana Andrews and they were made back-to-back, which is more typical of Lang’s double features.

Everything from ’50 to ’55 is just crazy. MOONFLEET and the vastly inferior AN AMERICAN GUERILLA IN THE PHILIPPINES (that title!) are in colour but so is RANCHO NOTORIOUS… maybe throw out AAGITP as a bad job and just pair the two colour period films. If we put HUMAN DESIRE with THE BIG HEAT then CLASH BY NIGHT couples up with THE BLUE GARDENIA, which I’m not sure about. But I guess each is what Michael Douglas would call a “sexy-type film.”

SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR and THE HOUSE BY THE RIVER exemplify Lang’s architectural concerns and they are both NUTS.


Wartime: MAN HUNT and MINISTRY OF FEAR and HANGMEN ALSO DIE and the later CLOAK AND DAGGER are all ace espionage pics. The first two have hunted heroes so I’d pair them like that.

The first two westerns, THE RETURN OF FRANK JAMES and WESTERN UNION could make a double feature, but one could instead pair TROFJ with the other Hank Fonda starrer, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE. That might mess up my scheme.

FURY and YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE have a lot in common though.

LILIOM might be the best match for YOU AND ME because neither is otherwise a match with anything.

METROPOLIS belongs, probably, with the other sci-fi epic, WOMAN IN THE MOON.

Several of the very early ones I haven’t seen yet: but I made a video essay for DER MUDE TOD and I suspect DAS WANDERNDE BILD would be a good fit.

Listicles are silly things. But maybe there’s something here, something about Lang’s working practices, each film serving as a kind of commentary on or rebuttal of its partner. Anyway, you get a sense of how I like to waste my time (and yours).

The Big Box Set

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2017 by dcairns

Thrilled to be a part — or several parts — of Arrow Academy’s Four Film Noir Classics box set. I have provided video essays on Fritz Lang for SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR (House of Lang), and Joseph H Lewis for THE BIG COMBO (Wagonwheel Joe), both in collaboration with editor Timo Langer. Those were huge fun and should serve as helpful intros to the filmmakers work while hopefully providing interest and entertainment even to those who are very familiar with their oeuvres. For the hardback booklet (can a hardback be a booklet?) I wrote a piece on Robert Siodmak and THE DARK MIRROR, which puts me alongside pieces by Tony Rayns, Michael Brooke and Andrew Spicer, which is pretty good company to be in. I feel like a fraud!

This means the only film in the set I didn’t get to talk about is Abraham Polonsky’s FORCE OF EVIL. Awww, why not? I love that film!

Momo the crazy Tonkinese did nose this set onto the floor, but the incident wasn’t captured on camera. You’ll have to take his continuing enthusiasm for my work on faith.

The set is available now ~ here.