Tag: fritz lang

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Posters over time depicting Fritz Lang's classic silent film, "Metropolis" (1927).

Myth in Motion: Review of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927)

Sometimes, restriction can push greatness into being, heightening what’s left in its confines. I’ve often noticed this in poetry, with certain writers reaching their zeniths in formalism while their talent slackens in free verse. But my recent attempts to become more acquainted with silent films have provided me with another example of this principle at work. In fact, I often find myself thinking that silent cinema seems like a whole different medium to the “talkies” (it’s really kind of a shame that it couldn’t have continued to develop alongside the latter as a parallel variant of film, but I digress). Silence instils its own demands, and so, its own unique opportunities for pay-offs. What clearer demonstration could be had of this than watching Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis?

Viewing Metropolis in 2024, I’m left with an impression of something both familiar, and somehow alien. The film’s depiction of its setting has created a wake of imitators over the last almost 100 years of science fiction—its skyscrapers continue to loom in pop-culture’s view of The Future. Metropolis’s towering imagery has left its imprint, and yet this does nothing to diminish the distinctive power that it holds. Part of the visual signature of the film, and in my opinion, one of the most striking and unusual (to modern eyes) aspects, is in the stylised way its actors move. I often felt like I was watching a dance. From the opening scenes of workers mechanically trudging like cattle at their shift change, we move to the fluid frolicking of the city’s young elites in their gardens above, and through their movement, we understand all that we need to about this unequal world. It’s not altogether realistic—but this is a strength, since it’s very much in keeping with the fable-like tone of the story. […]

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A screenshot of "M" by Fritz Lang (1931)

The Master of Early Terror: Fritz Lang’s “M” (1931)

Fritz Lang’s M is a film so iconic in its visual narrative that it is difficult to imagine the scope of cinema without it. On one hand, M has been labeled a noir and on the other it is a crime story. Not horror, necessarily, despite being a film full of fear and terror. As Lang’s first speaking film, he uses both sound and silence effectively, where M begins as a dismal nightmare. The opening consists of children playing in a circle and singing a song about the neighborhood children who have been murdered. Everyone knows that a predator lurks about, so much so that even the children have invented songs. ‘He’ll turn you into mincemeat!’ they sing. Then, when one of the mothers overhears, she scolds them for singing it. The children are playful and occupied within their innocence, albeit there is an eerie quality to the scene, where something feels not right. One could even say it is rather creepy.

Neighbors know that children have been disappearing—a fear feeds the city, and the parents don’t want children walking alone. In another scene, the murderer—Hans Beckert (played by Peter Lorre), eyes a young girl through a mirror. Throughout Fritz Lang’s film is his use of shade and reflection, be it glass, mirrors, or shadows at night. The girl manages to elude him when her mother comes to greet her. ‘I wanted to meet you halfway,’ the girl informs her mother, unknown to either that in the corner lurks a predator. Lorre is both a good and odd choice for the lead. His face is rotund and at times tender—he appears childlike and lost, as though he is unsure where he needs to go. His days continue in shadow and his world is gray. There is a loneliness to this place set in 1931 Germany. People move about like ghosts—detached, as though walking in some netherworld. One gets a sense that they don’t realize how miserable they should be. […]