Fritz Lang Season – Prologue
A new year, a new start, a new schedule of enquiry for the Menagerie. Over the festive season it occurred to me that a certain film director, one of my favourites, has barely been featured in this quiet corner of the internet over the past six and a half years, a criminal oversight which I endeavour to correct throughout the coming weeks and months. This decision has partially been inspired by a re-watch of all 900 minutes of Mark Cousins exhausting The Story Of Film series, as even though my director of choice made only a fleeting appearance in that overview of the art form it struck me that his career would be an excellent subject for a writing project given the extraordinary range and depth of his work, from a nervous nest of aesthetic, geographical, genre and historical perspectives. Fritz Lang dominated the indigenous industry of his German homeland during one of its most artistically productive and resonant periods, before the rise of National Socialism saw him flee to America in the late Thirties where Hollywood distilled his visions through the regimented model of the studio system, a shift both in language and manufacture which like others emigration of the period (Hitchcock, Robert Siodmak and Billy Wilder to name just three) saw European bred auteurs realising their projects in umbilicaly linked yet fascinatingly fractured ways.
So whom is this fiercely monocled, riding crop wielding Teutonic tyrant of which I speak? Well, like his compatriots Cecil B. DeMille or Erich Von Stroheim Lang encompasses all the clichés of the Hollywood megalomaniac, a barking egotist who allegedly reduced his cast and crew to shivering wrecks on set if his uncompromising vision was not obeyed, he having little regard for such absurd human frailties such as empathy or sympathy if it interfering with the perfect representation of the images and ideas in his fevered brain making it to the silver screen. He experimented with the art form and matured it’s technological developments – M is arguably considered as sound cinema’s first masterpiece – whilst the enormous scope and ideas constructed in the likes of Metropolis still drape an enormous shadow over current genre filmmaking a mere eighty years later. Those wide scale vistas, a combination of political naivety and unequalled production resources morphed into a fascination with psychological waters and depths which he mined in his American work, like Nolan, Melville or Mann he used the fulcrum of crime cinema and its practitioners to peer into some uncomfortable depths of the human condition, with a number of key film noir’s gloaming in the gutters of treachery and betrayal.
I’ve already invested in a trio of Blu-Rays which I’ve punctuated this post with to give you a flavour of things to come from his German period, one example of his work is already on my schedule on the big-screen as part of my Gothic season mutterings and that seminal work in the genre Metropolis is certain to be a centrepiece of the imminent SF season which beams down to the Southbank later in the year. Incidentally I’m already constructing a mental checklist of movies to cover for that season including Forbidden Planet, Them!, Close Encounters of The Third Kind (either edition), THX1138, The Fly (original or remake), They Live, A Boy & His Dog, Escape From New York, The Incredible Shrinking Man, Solaris and of course A Clockwork Orange and the schedule hasn’t even been announced yet. But I digress, with Lang I’ll pretty much review the films as they come, leaping from period and genre as the disks arrive in the post or the curtains part on big-screen exposures, but fret not for I will still be continuing my Universal Monsters series which will cautiously progress throughout the year, as I think I can manage three competing seasons throughout the months to come – I’m like a cinema robot;