Tag Archives: fritz lang

M (1931)

M announces from the get-go what the film is going to be about. Before we even see a moving image, we hear a child counting out a playmate with a gruesome rhyme about a bogeyman who will soon come grinding down those present. A woman who overhears the kids cusses them out, but that only stops them until she’s out of sight, upon which they resume their game. To them, it’s abstract entertainment with no connection to real life, a naivety that carries through the rest of the film. To her, it’s a reminder of the very real threat of a serial child murderer (played to great effect by Peter Lorre) on the loose in Berlin, then one of the largest cities in the world.

This beginning also signals the importance of sound to the internal structure of the film, one of Germany’s first using the new technology. There is no non-diegetic music, something that would have been weird for a silent movie, much less one that could finally play back the same background music in synch in every cinema showing it. In fact, there are even stretches of the film that are fully devoid of any sound: no music, no speech, no effects. Those are quite eerie, certainly for a modern viewer not used to complete silence in films, especially when briefly broken by individual sound effects. The lack of non-diegetic music also accentuates every moment in which music is being heard, mainly in the form of whistling. Most prominently and famously, Hans Beckert, the killer, whistles a portion from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt (1876) when in pursuit of his compulsion; while not heard in its entirety, only in broken segments, the full piece is played ever faster and more chaotic until its conclusion, a fitting melody for a man forced to kill by his inner demons. Continue reading

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Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (1922)

Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (Doctor Mabuse the Gambler) is one of the oldest films I have seen, due to some unfortunate gaps in my education. I’m not completely unfamiliar with dramatic silent films, but I know fewer of them than someone who proclaims to love movies should. So I approached this film with a little trepidation, not knowing quite what I should expect and whether I would like it.

As if to silence timid doubters like myself, the movie starts off with a rapidly-paced heist scene that turns out to be an elaborate bit of stock market manipulation on the part of the villain (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). The sequence is tremendously exciting and doesn’t feel old-fashioned at all, lack of spoken dialogue notwithstanding. If anything, editing and special effects, limited though they are, impress as thoroughly modern and sophisticated.

The film can’t quite sustain that pace, but it doesn’t need to; the viewer gets hooked with the intro and is then along for the ride, which is doled out in discrete, 20 to 30 minute segments.
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