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M
1931 - Fritz Lang
Germany
74
Opening Shot

Fritz Lang begin his first sound film with the sound of a gong. The image opens to a shot of a group of children circled around playing a game before panning upward to an elderly lady yelling down towards them to stop singing. "Can't you hear me she says". They continue the song offscreen as the shot holds of the empty ledge which the lady has left. Immediately Lang sets the presence lingering presence of murder (in the song the children are singing) and the presence of sound (both on and offscreen).

The Film

The German Expressionist era of the early 20th Century remains an artistic breakthrough in cinema history. Perhaps the last and greatest film of the era was Fritz Lang's 1931 masterpiece, M. M is easily among the most influential films of all-time. Aside from it's early innovative use of sound, M set the standard for serial killer / police investigation films, as well as it's examination of a psychopaths mind. Despite little screen presence, Peter Lorre is brilliant and perfectly casted as Hans Beckert, particularly in the films final scenes as Lang's camera further lingers into the performance. His powerful performance here certainly lead to his eventual breakout Hollywood stardom to follow. M's breathtaking black and white cinematography and masterful use of light and shadows create a dark and haunting atmosphere of doom. This was Lang's first sound film. Wisely, he elected to use minimal dialogue and let the camera speak for itself, further expressing Lang's mastery of the silent film language. This adds to the films truly chilling emotional experience. And of course, the unforgettable and haunting repetitive whistling that becomes increasing more evil, in functioning as Beckert's enticement and his eventual defeat. The film's final moments are incredibly powerful. Beckert's speech summarizes the films message of morals and attacks Nazi Germany. M is a landmark in cinema history. A film experience that will both challenge and move you emotionally and visually. "One keep a closer watch on our children. All of you."

The Filmmaker

Austrian-born filmmaker Fritz Lang grew from one of the great Expressionist filmmakers of the German silent era into an equally legendary and memorable figure in American film. Lang began making quintessential expressionist silent films in Germany. Among them are some of the very greatest of the era including 1922's Dr. Mabuse and his excellent 1921 silent Destiny, which would mark his movement into the Expressionism era in it's mastery of lighting and shadows. After establishing himself among the leading directors in Germany Lang developed what was then the most expensive production in German film, 1927's Metropolis. The film is a landmark today and widely considered Lang's greatest film, but upon it's release Metropolis was a flop and it almost put Universum Film in bankruptcy. Today it is among the most important and influential sci-fi films ever made, even despite the fact that Lang's original film has been destroyed. The film was restored in 2001 but much of the footage remains lost forever. Lang's next projects were to recover the financial bust of Metropolis. In 1931 Lang would make his first sound film and it is probably his greatest achievement as a filmmaker: M. M would prove Lang's mastery transition into sound that put him among the world's greatest filmmakers of the era. It also marked perhaps the most quintessential German Expressionist film and in many ways the final film of the era. Lang's disapproval of the Nazi-regime would become more evident in his next release (The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse). After making Liliom in France, Lang moved to Hollywood and his first two features were remarkable achievements (Fury and You Only Live Once- both of which uniquely examined the criminal justice system). Lang would continue working in the Hollywood studio system making several melodramas and noirs (which effectively used his ability with visuals of lighting and shadows). Lang's work in the 1950s would grow his overall respect as a great filmmaker, notably with the 1953 film The Big Heat, which may be his most well-regarded American film. Characteristically there was a change from Lang's German and American work but his mastery of artistic expression and style remained through his career and in many ways Lang stands among the most influential filmmakers in cinema history.

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