Fritz Lang filmed M in 1931 and it was his first 'talking' film. It is interesting because if you listen closely there are several scenes where there is no sound what-so-ever. I mean none! No background score, no voices, no vehicle noise, nothing. It is quite strange and I kept finding myself turning up the volume in trying to find some noise. And yet in other scenes, when there was no narrative between actors, Lang had background noises such as voices, whistles, and horns. A soundtrack to a film of course was still its infancy, and it is enlightening to watch just to remind ourselves that what we see on our screens now wasn't always so.
When you look closely it is a primative film which mirrors the youthfulness of the medium, especially the equipment. To look at the final product of M and then at at the primitive conditions in which it was made under is to appreciate it even more. Fritz Lang was a perfectionist and even with the equipment he had he understood film and cinema like no-one else at the time. Metropolis is a good example of this. But M, whilst not as technique/visually/ heavy, still is a real showcase of Lang's techniques and thinking.
The stairwell scene is the first example. He hung a camera over the well and pointed it straight down to get the shot. It may sound backward by our standards but it was cutting edge stuff in the early 1930's. The other thing which is immediately obvious, and which Alfred Hitchcock latched onto and used in his own films, was the use of the high overlooking shot. Lang built platforms and other structures on which he hoisted up his cameras to get a shot looking downwards. In M there are huge amounts of this as we see people moving around the streets. The other shot that really sood out, and was unusual for the time, was one of a policeman sitting at his desk with the camera underneath in the footwell looking up over his knees to his face. Very cutting edge stuff for 1931, and still quite brilliant.
M is a pure masterpiece of film technique. I just loved watching it and seeing Lang's thinking on film making. The high shot was his speciality and the disc I had has a few photos on it showing the elaborate sets Lang had produced, and the platforms he had built over them for his cameras. It is primitive stuff but no-one can ever convince me modern film makers are in any way better than those of the past. Fritz Lang for me was a pioneer and one of the very first genuinely great filmmakers, of whose influence Alfred Hitchcock no-less acknowledges on his own career. How many have been influenced by Hitch into our era?? Lang's influence has a very long reach when you really think about it!
One thing really made me laugh and that is the amount of smoking. In almost every scene everyone is either smoking a cigarette or cigar. It is incredible and in some shots the smoke is so thick you can cut it with the proverbial knife!! Watch M and you'll be amazed! All those actors must have died of lung cancer!! Other things are also interesting. The use of primitive CGI for instance. In one scene Lang has a high shot and on each side of the frame he has superimposed two buildings. You can always tell this is films of the era because the imposed shot is shaky and jumps compared to the background it is put on. Notice this too in the court room shot where two big elaborate lights are on each side of the judges. You can see them shudder slightly against the background. Lang's use of this technique is very good when compared to its use in other films where it is extremely crude, and the shuddering of the imposed shot is more than obvious. But for its day Lang's use of the technique, and his quality of it, is remarkable.
What also stood out was the editing as it was very sharp unlike many films of the era where there is a clear cut in the film. Sometimes editing was so poor the scene was cut just before it actually finished. Again Lang's eye to detail stands out and M is a very well made film overall. With such good editing it hasn't the jerkiness many early black and white films were known for. M is a quality film all round and Lang has to be acknowledged for this.
I don't need to go into a synopsis suffice to say M was one of the very first films to deal with a serial killer. Certainly in a way that wasn't for entertainment purposes alone. It is surprising that such a subject like this was allowed to be played in the 1930's. Lang has also shown great eye for detail in the plot as he has in its visually making. I was immensely impressed with how he has shown what mass hysteria starts. We see this as the child murders increase and people start pointing the finger at each other willy nilly. In several scenes two men are falsley accused in the street and subsequently mobbed and assaulted. True to life stuff and I felt revoltion at it all as it was a true reflection of the mass ( or mob ), and society.
I also liked how Lang then shows how the police and authorities react to the murders. They quickly realise asking for the publics help is more a hinderance than a help due to the constant false accusations and mass hysteria. For me M shows that nothing changes as people of 80 years ago react the same way as we would today. M isn't about a particularly pleasant subject dealing as it does with child murder, which brings out strong emotions in us all. I think Lang has produced a very prescient view on humanity when it comes to this. The police and their efforts to apprehend Beckert are very well played as Lang shows their scientific approach to their work. The frustartions they feel are palpable as the presure mounts on them from the public and local authorities. This isn't a film just from the murderer's point of view but also from that of those charged with stopping him. There is no sentimentality displayed and the grittiness is superb from all the players.
|Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert.|
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