Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

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Rayon Vert
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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#151 Post by Rayon Vert » Wed Aug 09, 2017 4:11 pm

Spies. I find this the most fun of Lang’s silents and probably at this point my favorite (with Die Nibelungen and Dr. Mabuse the Gambler close behind). It mines similar territory as the first Mabuse film, and though it isn’t quite as complex by now Lang is at the peak of his cinematic powers. Consistently terrific editing and visuals – for one thing, I can’t think of another film director who creates such potent, hypnotic shots of characters looking at the camera, very much on display here -, handsome sets (with some effective location work) and all of the actors are outstanding. Quite suspenseful, but along with the thrills there’s a truly disturbing darkness
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(I count at least three suicides).
And I think this film started the evil clown trope! :shock:

Scarlet Street. Too many spoilers here, so I'll cover the whole thing.
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I didn’t remember to what extent this is a terrifically merciless film, unrelenting in its pessimistic portrayal of human nature (there’s Kitty, of course, but Adele is just as vicious, and then we come to Chris himself – a meek, dutiful worker very much built on the same mold as the Robinson character in The Woman in the Window –, who shockingly allows himself to give vent to murderous impulses) and unforgiving in the outcome for all of the characters. The moment where Chris starting stabbing Kitty my mind went to Hans Beckert. Same diminutive, slightly pudgy figure, carried away in a paroxysm of violent, suffering emotion, an analogous, pitiable character at that point.

This is also one of Lang’s most stylish, best-looking films, which is saying a lot – starting with those rainy streets at the beginning, the use and framing of the paintings. The shots of the witnesses speaking at the trial at movie’s end, foregrounded in a rather abstract way, and the way Johnny’s walking down the hallway to the execution room is filmed, really seemed like something out of Lang’s early German work. Most likely top 3 for me.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#152 Post by domino harvey » Wed Aug 09, 2017 4:14 pm

Spione is by far my favorite silent Lang, and will be making my list. I think a lot of Lang's epics are bloated, but this one never feels as long as it is

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#153 Post by Drucker » Wed Aug 09, 2017 4:18 pm

I too love Spione and think it does a great job of almost being a proto-Testament of Dr. Mabuse, which will likely occupy my top spot.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#154 Post by Rayon Vert » Wed Aug 09, 2017 4:28 pm

I hadn't planned on revisiting M and Testament, but now maybe I will.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#155 Post by domino harvey » Wed Aug 09, 2017 4:48 pm

Worth pointing out that lists are due three weeks from today!

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#156 Post by Drucker » Wed Aug 09, 2017 4:58 pm

I revisited M last night and I'll just quickly note that it is a brilliant film. I don't know what I could add to this film that plenty people smarter than me have written over decades, but it just hits all the right notes. One thing that really struck me was just how perfect the editing is. The film sort of feels like one endless scene, in a way. There is no moment in the film which feels like "this is the part where we are introduced to character X", or "this is the part where we establish motive," the momentum of the film never lets up, and it continues to feel gripping even during scenes where the action slows down. And while the actual final scene is weird, the fact that the film doesn't explicitly offer closure helps accentuate that the film isn't mystery-driven, but emotion driven, and is a magnificent portrait of mob mentality and the toll fear can take on a community. On top of all this, it's very selective use of sound and incredible visuals make it an easy top pick for my list.

Testament does a lot of the things M does well, but is also a ridiculous, over-the-top, fun film to me. Saving the best for last at the moment.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#157 Post by knives » Wed Aug 09, 2017 5:55 pm

I'll add to the chorus of love for Spies. Only the first Mabuse will rank higher among the German works.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#158 Post by Rayon Vert » Wed Aug 09, 2017 9:31 pm

It's sounding unlikely Metropolis will be the list winner.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#159 Post by domino harvey » Wed Aug 09, 2017 10:06 pm

It wouldn't even make my Top 25...

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#160 Post by matrixschmatrix » Wed Aug 09, 2017 11:11 pm

There's often a reversion to the mean (which is to say, the best known), but maybe that won't have quite so pronounced an effect in a list where most of the people participating will have seen probably 75% of the possible candidates

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#161 Post by Shrew » Thu Aug 10, 2017 2:18 pm

Even at the beginning of this project, I'd have bet on M taking the top place given this board's predilections. The wider the net the more likely it would be for Metropolis to rise, but I feel that's because it's the only silent film, let alone silent Lang, that most people have seen. Not that there aren't other reasons for its reputation and adoration, but I for one prefer most of his other German work (and to that I prefer the American films). But I agree that Spies in particular is a lot of fun and will probably be my highest ranking silent.

Frau im Mond
I really enjoyed the first half of this, which is like a continuation of the fun of Spies, but felt the second half was a letdown. The launch of the rocket is an impressive setpiece, and there are some lovely imagined images of what space travel might be like. Then the moon itself turns out to be a big boring desert, where the inevitable betrayals are followed by inevitable pouting. Because wow, does Windegger make for an awful romantic foil. I think the only effective thing he does during the whole movie is dig out the rocket.

Western Union
This is... fine? It's pretty and has got some good scenes, like the fire and the final confrontation, but it can't quite decide who its lead is and thus what story it is. Other mentions in this forum have called it a Randolph Scott western, but he gets second billing to Robert Young. If the film had focused more on Scott and his attempt to reenter society, we might have had a western version of You Only Live Once. If it had focused more on Young, then maybe Scott would have come off as more ambiguous and dangerous. As is, Scott's stoicism doesn't sell a tortured soul as well as it will in the Boetticher films, and there's not enough conflict between either him and the company/Young or his gang.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#162 Post by Rayon Vert » Thu Aug 10, 2017 2:47 pm

When I first saw Frau im Mond, I was struck at how similar the visuals of the rocket (including interiors) and many narrative and technical/scientific elements in the storyline are to the two Tintin moon volumes that are imprinted on my mind since countless readings starting age 7 or so. I thereafter learned that Hergé drew inspiration directly from that film.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#163 Post by Shrew » Thu Aug 10, 2017 2:58 pm

I am sort of surprised that Frau in Mond doesn't have nearly the sort of following Metropolis has. I guess it's a preference for robots and the fantastic art deco future over the Verne-esque close-but-not-quite scientific details. Or maybe it's the way Lang gets so much of the rocketry and gravity right, but then treats a Dowsing Rod with equal reverence.

I also love those Tintin books, and I think Herge succeeded in making the moon itself, the external dangers of space, and the internal conflicts of the crew much more interesting. So I may be holding the success of the later work against the progenitor.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#164 Post by Rayon Vert » Thu Aug 10, 2017 3:06 pm

I didn't think much of the narrative in the Lang film, though the imagery is creative and visionary. (Although I might now say the same of Metropolis!) And I never got the Frau in Mond title since the woman doesn't really figure more importantly than the other characters.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#165 Post by Rayon Vert » Fri Aug 11, 2017 8:16 pm

Man Hunt. Following the Fox westerns, not only is the director given the opportunity to return to terrain that’s more like his own but the treatment is unmistakably Langian: the camera movements, the heavy use of shadows, the many high (and low) angles, and various shots and mise-en-scènes that recall some of his previous classic films and moments (notably the scene of the couple looking into a shop window and Walter Pidgeon as the spy about to be cornered by Nazis in the streets of London, both reminiscent of famous scenes in M). It’s not a flawless work but I again found myself pretty much enchanted from beginning to end – each major sequence of the film is great fun, creatively and very attractively designed and filmed, with some visual pieces really among Lang’s best, like this one:

Image

I would agree with previous posters that some of the the middle sections with the Joan Bennett character are a bit “clunky” and tamper down the suspense a bit, but I still find them enjoyable and charming in their own right. The foggy London setting and the focus on a working-class girl (prostitute) with a high-ranking officer (Thorndike is a captain) makes me think of Waterloo Bridge, maybe even more the Leroy version because of the dark-haired Vivien Leigh (1940 – an influence here?).

That ending is also a great dramatic and suspense bit. And there’s a nice full-circle structure to the film where we go from the wilds to the city and back to the wilds again. (Perhaps visually echoed by the circle in that tunnel or the cover hole in the ship.) There are perhaps greater Lang films, but as a personal favorite this will end up high enough on my list.

M. The original manhunt. I won’t go into any extensive commentary (there was some short but terrific discussion in the dedicated thread) – I just revisited this oft-seen film in order to verify that my appreciation deriving from my previous, fairly recent viewing still stood about the same, which it did. I guess I’m in the group that admires this film a lot, in large part for its originality, was wowed upon first viewing, but don’t derive enough pleasure from it in subsequent viewings, comparatively to some other Lang films, to place it in the highest ranks. (It would make my top 15 though). I think my (relative) trouble with it is the very long sections of the film that have to do mostly with the various groups’ investigations into what is going on and some of the digressions involved. I know this is Weimar cinema and it has a logic that isn’t the Hollywood cinema’s, but some of those sequences are a dramatically little dull to me (even though I may find interest in the detail of the sets, the photography, etc.) and memory can trick you but I felt there were not that many scenes that featured the Hans character. Between about 20 and 50 minutes into that movie, for example, it’s pretty much all about those different groups' activities, and I feel, obviously differently from other viewers here, that the strong emotions and impressions generated by the powerful beginning are somewhat diluted in the process. Similarly, it’s only with 14 left in the film that the formidable kangaroo court sequence starts. Still expecting this to be the list winner though.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#166 Post by Drucker » Fri Aug 11, 2017 8:54 pm

Just thinking ahead in terms of scheduling: any chance we can extend this through Labor Day Weekend?

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#167 Post by domino harvey » Fri Aug 11, 2017 11:08 pm

If people will use the extra time to watch more and participate, I'm not necessarily opposed, but I'd like to hear more than one person would benefit from it

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#168 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sat Aug 12, 2017 1:00 am

I'd certainly appreciate it

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#169 Post by Drucker » Sat Aug 12, 2017 5:57 pm

Just watched Woman In The Window and it could certainly make my top 5. Easily the best discovery I've had during this process. A wonderful film that is tonally really consistent, which is one of the problems I keep seeing in Lang's films. The performances are really wonderful and like the films of his I like best, it just doesn't try to do too much. We have a murder early on in the film and the entire film revolves around its coverup and fall-out, without a moment wasted. I loved Scarlet Street when I watched it years ago, but I think even after a re-watch I may prefer WITW, we will see. Highly recommended, if you're running low on time to get to every film you want to see, don't skip this one. Available to rent in pretty bad quality on Amazon.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#170 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sun Aug 13, 2017 2:29 am

The Blue Gardenia

I'm glad Dom et al encouraged me to rewatch this, it's certainly stronger and more sensitive that I remembered. I'm not sure where the line between spoiler and no spoiler is for this kind of thing, so I'll just spoiler my whole writeup:
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So, among other women's issues, the whole madonna/whore complex becomes fairly front and center here, and this works as both a blatant and a subtle counter to a lot of the insinuations that come with it. Basically, while on the rebound, the heroine goes on a date with a date rapist- and since he's played by Raymond Burr, who seemed to be type cast as a date rapist for a while, you more or less know what kind of guy he is before anything happens. Burr gets her drunk- the restaurant is complicit in this, and the bartender later seems excited by Burr's 'seductive' abilities- past the point of meaningful consent, and I think the movie implies that he also drugs her coffee once he gets her into his apartment. She nonetheless attempts to fight him off, and then blacks out.

It's clear she's not the 'type' of girl Burr expects to be able to catch- she's 'high class', which in this context obviously means someone who wouldn't voluntarily sleep with a guy, certainly not on a first date, and there seems to be a consensus that to go out with Burr in the first place means you must therefore be the other kind of woman, and therefore deserve whatever he did to you- and this is a consensus agreed upon by women, as well. The bulk of the movie comprises her being tortured by the belief that she's killed a man, and Richard Conte trying various means to track her down- which he does, eventually, by winning her confidence falsely. Conte, though an apparent protagonist, is himself something of a predator- he seems somewhat disgusted by Burr's bluntness, but is nonetheless part of the same ecosystem, as represented by his little black book. Then too, he intends to betray the heroine's confidence- though his conscience seems to be at least a little bit engaged throughout, it's his stated purpose to turn her into a story, a means to an end. He diverts from this purpose only after he spends enough time with the heroine before realizing who she is to recognize that his preconceived notion of her as not a high class girl is incorrect, whereupon he bothers to do some very elementary detective work and track down the real culprit.

The subtler point here, though, is that the real culprit- a woman whom Burr impregnated and then ditched- is not really any more guilty than the heroine, and ultimately that the heroine is saved by luck and by happening to fall on the right side of Conte's prejudices. Conte himself drops out of the predatory game by renouncing his symbolic little black book, but he doesn't leave the conspiracy- he gives the book to his partner. The movie as a whole has a fairly neat, rehabilitative ending- Conte and the heroine will get together, and the heroine has learned from her roommate some basic tactics in maneuvering around men- but it's ultimately not very reassuring; the wolves are still out there, and women are still vulnerable to them. Implicitly, the divide between madonna and whore may exist, but is one of luck and of appearances, not of virtue or of quality of character.

Apart from politics, the movie is very well observed about just, single life in the city- there are three roommates crammed into a single bed, and they have aad hoc rules over who gets to shower first and how chores are split. Women's home live amongst themselves appears intimate and trusting, enough so that it feels like a violation of trust that the heroine is immediately forthcoming about what happened with her roommates. It did seem, oddly, as though they had their own little yard,
though- which seemed surprising for a NYC efficiency.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#171 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Aug 15, 2017 12:38 am

Mabuse the Gambler

Honestly, I think the last time I tried to watch this, my silent film literacy wasn't good enough to take the whole thing in- particularly and especially because it makes SO much more sense having watching Fantomas and Les Vampires. While Testament still stands out as Lang's greatest work in this field, this one is pretty spectacular- it's fun, enough so that even its enormous length doesn't drag (we watched this first part in a few chunks, but rushed through the second all in one go) and the individual parts hang together much more than Feuillade ever really bothered with. Then too, Lang's world is more integrated- he sets the rules (hypnotism exists, disguises work, fanatical loyalty is common) and builds a world in which those rules seem appropriate. It's not so much Expressionist (though the street set leading to the counterfeiting hall looks a lot like the sets from Caligari) as just a world that seems very extreme in general, lots of huge spaces full of strange people and strange objects that shift constantly from scene to scene.

It feels incredibly filmic, too- one of the markers David Kalat points to as distinguishing mature silent film from the primitive era is whether it seems strange that people have conversations you can't hear, and in this Lang has really mastered technique of sort of Sims-like conversations that mostly get themselves understood without any words (though the film isn't light on intertitles.) It moves- train robberies and car chases and gun fights all have a nice flow to them, and Lang has more than a few clever cuts that create meaning (the one that jumps to mind is where Told tells Von Wenk that his wife would not like a partner who cheats- and it cuts to her and Mabuse, the ultimate cheat.) The basic makeup of the plot is still all the same sorts of things that Feuillade was doing, plans and counterplans and disguises and reversals and things, and which Lang was doing in The Spiders (though without the exoticism) but it feels much more like a single integrated work than a series of episodes, and a character study instead of a few moving pieces- Mabuse actually changes throughout the movie, slowly but inexorably, and one can generally tell at a glance at Klein-Rogge's face how far along he is.

I'm going to try to rewatch the rest of this series (though I feel like Testament is probably the Lang movie I know best of any of them) along with Spione, but this one reinforces what I thought going in- this is Lang's first masterpiece, and it really feels like something that shows almost everything he would do best in his career afterwards.
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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#172 Post by domino harvey » Tue Aug 15, 2017 2:53 am

Okay, y'all can have your extension. Lists now due Monday, September 4th.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#173 Post by matrixschmatrix » Wed Aug 16, 2017 10:58 pm

I'm not sure if it's because what remains is pretty fragmented or because of the intrinsic quality of the thing, but Das Wandernde Bild is weird and muddled- it's a very A to B movie in terms of the action, but it's still oddly hard to follow, in part because the opening reel seems to be lost, but also in part because nobody's motivation is explained until the third act, and even then it's pretty weird. It hinges around
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a prominent free love advocate who presents himself as married to the world, and appears as far as the movie is concerned to be monogamous, but who is so outraged when his wife marries his twin brother and puts his name on the register that he fakes his own death and flees to the mountains, where he stays, even after the happy ending. Which seems like a strange place for a free love advocate? Also, the brother goes from the wife's co conspirator to harassing her to an outright crazy villain, and the wife is represented as a pure hearted Madonna who nonetheless seems up for abandoning her children at the drop of a hat.
There's some pretty mountain scenery, but there's not much in the movie that wasn't done earlier, more beautifully, and more sensitively in Sjöström's The Outlaw and His Wife. Apparently this was lost for years, and one wonders if Lang preferred it that way- it certainly makes him look better as filmmaker if his first three extant works are The Spiders, Destiny, and Mabuse.
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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#174 Post by knives » Thu Aug 17, 2017 12:38 am

I kind of wonder is the reels are out of order the plot moves in such a confusing way. I like the confusion, as it seems you did, though and would definitely place as the best of the set and perhaps the most charming of the extant pre-Mabuse works.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#175 Post by matrixschmatrix » Thu Aug 17, 2017 12:53 am

I still have to watch Vier um die Frau, but this certainly had more personality than Harakiri, though it felt like a different Lang with different influences from anything else of his I've seen- it's very outdoors-y, he's drafting off Sjöström instead of Feuillade, it's got a real Catholic overtone (though in a more Scorsese kind of way you could make a case for the lattermost in some of his noirs, Scarlet Street in particular) and Rudolph Klein-Rogge is playing a friendly, open faced naif. It makes me think of The Finances of the Grand Duke, this little closed off alleyway that doesn't seem to fit into its maker's filmography (though Finances has a couple scenes that prefigure Tabu.)

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