M (Weimar Republic, 1931)

m2Directed by: Fritz Lang. Every time I see one of these classic movies I haven’t seen, it’s super embarrassing to come here on my blog and admit to everyone that I haven’t seen it. I guess I could lie and say that it’s a “re-view”, that I’ve totally seen this before and I learned over several years of repeated viewings to appreciate the subtle genius of its towering importance. But instead, I’ve been watching King Ralph and Taken 2 and shit like that, but always meaning to check out more stuff like this. The other Fritz Lang on this blog, Cloak and Dagger, though not nearly as well known, I thought was a really interesting, beautiful looking film, and seeing it reminded me that film noir was a real thing that came from real German Expressionists, and my wholesale avoidance of it based on the goddamn Sin City movie is something I needed to come to grips with. I remember very little of Metropolis as a kid, but I remember that, again, it was striking for its visual value more than the actual content of the story (although I’m sure as an adult, I would get a lot more out of that part, too). In the case of this movie, the stylistics of the light and shadow and the set design, etc, are almost secondary—as striking as they definitely are. But the story itself, the child predator on the loose in the big city, is such uncomfortable, mature subject matter, and the way it’s handled as a sprawling, de-centered narrative about a whole city, cops and criminals alike, thrown into chaos in order to find and judge this monster, combined with all of the Fritz Lang lighting, make it hard to focus on just one element of why this is a great film. Added to all of this is the jarring, confrontational elements that threaten the fourth wall a lot more than the other bits of Lang I’ve seen—that proto-Welles omniscient camera movement, and those characters looking directly into the camera, often with contorted, grotesque expressions on their faces. In the midst of the usual Hollywood fare I get, it’s refreshing to see something like this: even if the multiple voices and interest centres make it difficult to follow for someone like me, who grew up fully indoctrinated into Hollywood rules of empathy and narrative. This is what film was like in the early days, apparently—every country just experimenting, borrowing from each other, making new innovations, and slowly finding ways of making each film work. The rules of narrative that were being carved into stone in Hollywood in this era were not universally adopted (and thankfully still aren’t 100%). For anyone who ever wondered what a funny looking, creepy weirdo like Peter Lorre was doing in Hollywood as a major celebrity, start with this film.

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2 responses to “M (Weimar Republic, 1931)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: Arsenic and Old Lace (USA, 1944) | Offhand Reviews·

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