A visionary named Fritz Lang

A visionary named Fritz Lang

Thirty films are scheduled at the Grütli to honor one of the greatest filmmakers in history.

Fritz Lang's sublime diptych was produced in 1924.

© DR
Fritz Lang’s sublime diptych was produced in 1924.

Few of the filmmakers almost all films count. Fritz Lang is one of them. The retrospective dedicated to him by the Grütli cinemas has for this reason an event value. No less than 30 films are on the menu until October 8. These both pass twice. This is little? Yes, and that’s why it is about planning your program well. A prolific filmmaker but less productive than a Walsh or a Michael Curtiz, who like him was an immigrant to Hollywood, Fritz Lang (1890 – 1976) was quickly considered a first-class director. That is to say almost from its beginnings, in 1919 in Germany, where the diptych of “Spiders” demonstrates its ability to manage a rich and complex story.

This mastery allows him to assume a thematic requirement to which all the great silent titles will testify. Obsessed by the themes of revenge, power and evil, Lang combines a staging in the service of an expressionism at the time set up as an aesthetic current, with this art of storytelling that never fears metaphors or scale. . “The three lights”, in 1921, is an immersion in an imaginary world while the first “Doctor Mabuse – the player” (1922) sketches the portrait of a figure of evil who will accompany Lang until the 60s. are we already talking about masterpieces? Of course, but what about the two parts of “Nibelungen” (1924) and especially “Metropolis” (1927), whose visual power still makes it a first-rate film today?

The megalomaniacal vision that emerges, like the force of proposal emanating from each sequence of a sci-fi story set in 2026 in a dystopian world divided between the poor and the powerful, are incredible. Against all expectations, the film is nevertheless a failure. Critics say bad things about it, the public doesn’t follow. Fortunately, this disappointment did not stop Fritz Lang. Insatiable, he turns in quick succession “The Spies” then “The woman on the moon” before crossing the stage of speaking with “M le maudit”, which contrasts quite clearly with his previous opus. Except that typically Langian concerns about guilt, the criminality of the world or the madness of men collide in a disturbing film (because it focuses on a child killer) which does not seek to qualify the ambiguity.

Then, after “The Testament of Doctor Mabuse” and the French interlude of “Liliom”, the American adventure begins, Lang having fled the rise of Nazism, obtaining American nationality in 1935. This exile will be rich, with a propensity for film noir. Impossible to detail all the titles, but one can see the predominance of the themes of justice in “Fury” and “I have the right to live”, both in the mid-1930s. During the Second World War, his commitment arises in two other films, the more classic “Manhunt” and above all the insane “The executioners also die”, which is coupled with a reflection on the setting in scene and the representation. The film is also co-scripted by Brecht, of which it is the only Hollywood collaboration.

In most of the films that follow, Fritz Lang, herald of the genre film – western sublimated in “The angel of the cursed”, with Marlene Dietrich at the top, a stylized thriller with “The secret behind the door” -, reappropriates Hollywood codes without being subjected to them. Hence a filmography in several degrees and a rise in power that his latest films will perfectly illustrate. From “Settling of scores” to “The Fifth Victim”, two untouchable thrillers, through the unclassifiable “The smugglers of Moonflet”, the quest for perfection is undeniable. Lang works the mechanisms of studio cinema as if it were a question of extracting the quintessence. The Lang way will reach new heights in 1956 with his last American film, the aptly named “The Incredible Truth” (“Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” in VO), a hallucinating infernal machine intended to break our reflexes as a seasoned spectator.

Ultimate masterpieces

Beginning as a plea against the death penalty, Lang shows a journalist being accused of a crime he did not commit in order to expose miscarriages of justice. But the false culprit will find himself trapped, just like us, in a scenario of diabolical skill where it is ultimately a question of wondering about the mechanisms of creation, in a desire for abstraction and synthesis that nothing can stop. After such a high-flying exercise, Lang will only be able to leave America to return home. And that’s what he does. Producing in Europe his famous diptych, “The Bengal Tiger” and “The Hindu Tomb”, an exercise in pure staging reviving this love of the serial and the exotic that Lang sang in the days of the silent. In 1960, he signed another uninteresting “Diabolical Doctor Mabuse”, badly hiding his disagreements with the production. The failure of the film and the difficulty of setting up other projects then led him to give up directing.

The retrospective of the Grütli will allow a good approach of the work, essential and influential until today. A few events will punctuate this month, such as a film concert with a duo of pianists for the “Metropolis” session on October 4th.


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