Thursday, September 10, 2015

M (1931)

Legendarily dark and disturbing Fritz Lang masterpiece about a child murderer (played by a pre-Hollywood Peter Lorre) in an impersonal and alienating modern city. It has been ranked by important critics and polls in Germany itself as the greatest film ever produced in that country, which tells something about how that nation's intelligentsia at least regards itself and the nature of existence, because there is little in it, if anything, that could be called joyous or sentimental or life-affirming. Some people prefer their movies this way, however. Certainly like many of the celebrated films of the Weimar Republic--several more of which are waiting in the wings in this set of reviews--it captures the atmosphere of foreboding and dread and despair that in retrospect is the clear precursor to the the national nervous breakdown of the Nazi era, does not look away from it or deny it to feed the public pablum and feel-good lies, etc, in this sense it is a frank and truthful art that many people in this country wish that we had, though obviously in the case of the German avant-garde of the 20s it had little practical effect on the course of history, and resulted in most of the artists themselves leaving the country, though not before they had had their substantial say in defining the character of this tumultuous and endlessly fascinating era.

As with most of these iconic movies I make notes about here, this was my first time seeing M, and afterwards I went through it again with the commentary and the other extensive special features that you get with the Criterion disk, though I cannot remember any earth-shattering revelations in these. As is often the case with me on encountering something great on a first viewing (or reading, or listening), I found it more strange than immediately compelling, but that usually indicates that the thing is good and has layers of meaning and significance that will speak to people further up on the brightness ladder than I am. So I tend to find strange things to be attractive and mildly thrilling for the connection I can imagine having to the kinds of people whose acceptance I have always fantasized about, even if when it comes down to it, I have been rather shy about really desiring it. The sets and props in this are some of the most desolate and alienating, psychologically, in a Western environment that I have ever seen.

A favorite image from M.   

So now at least I have improved my basic familiarity with the filmic canon, had my initial introduction to a titanic director, and really, in this new and somewhat more alert phase of journal-keeping in these matters, to an entire major period and movement in the development of the art, all of which helps one gradually feel ever so slightly more like a real film buff, and all of the dreams of revival houses and arguments in smoke-filled taverns, and the art girls--oh, we'll never stop dreaming of the art girls--that I associate with that state of being.

Art girls here I come

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