Few silent-era filmmakers remain as popular, accessible, and relatable to contemporary audiences as Fritz Lang. His work between 1919 and 1928 (comprising 12 feature films, 10 of which survive) charts not only the growth of a major artist, but also the evolution and maturation of an art form in whole. This period was one of epic proportion for the German director, and their emphasis on atmosphere, allegory, and special effects anticipates Lang’s most famous film, 1927’s Metropolis: a mammoth production that nearly bankrupted the studio before its finish, it is a stellar achievement whose distopic vision of mankind in the machine age is at once futuristic and ancient, technological and spiritual, entertainment and didactic. Lang’s next two films, 1928’s Spies and 1929’s Woman in the Moon continue the trajectory: pulp fiction writ large, pushing the cinematic form in terms of special effects, ensemble narratives, metaphorical use of imagery, all wrapped up in a highly entertaining potboiler.
And then, with the coming of sound, things changed.
Thea von Harbou, Lang’s wife and regular co-screenwriter through his German period, has, to say the least, been on the receiving end of some uniformly bad press. Lotte Eisner, Lang’s most faithful critic, is a good case in point, where any perceived weaknesses in the films (excessive melodrama, sentimentality, and so forth) are made Harbou’s fault and the strengths ascribed to Lang’s mastery as a director. Eisner particularly makes this point with Lang’s last two silent films, Spies and Woman in the Moon.By: Ian Johnston On: 18 March 2014
Coming after the mediaeval mythmaking of Die Nibelungen and the fantasy and symbolism of Metropolis, Spies marks a return to the contemporary urban world, the world of urban crime masterminded by a single genius intelligence—the world, in other words, of the first of Lang’s three mammoth films of the twenties: Dr Mabuse der Spieler.By: Ian Johnston On: 17 March 2014
It is no task to relay the many strengths of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Even in its age, the film possesses a certain mastery, replete with cinematographic innovations and imagination. It remains, justly, a formidable tentpole within cinema’s robust and varied history. I am inclined to forward these familiar laurels, for in viewing the film some seventy years following its inception supplies unexpected criticisms.By: Rumsey Taylor On: 14 March 2014
In light of the many intentional parallels between Siegfried and contemporary German politics, Kriemhild’s Revenge emerges as an incredibly subversive work by Lang. It is apparent that, as with Siegfried, Lang’s metaphors were readily understood in Germany, where the film was seldom seen after 1930 although Siegfried continued to be popular. Whereas Siegfried is a celebration of German history and character, Kriemhild’s Revenge could be interpreted as an indictment of the same; a reading that is made more evident with the passage of time.By: David Carter On: 13 March 2014
Metropolis may be Fritz Lang’s most famous silent film, and its popularity probably exceeds that of any of his sound films. However, more so than Metropolis or anything else from his silent period, Dr. Mabuse the Gambler is the moment when Lang fully comes into his own. It is the first fully formed, mature expression of the style and substance that would dominate the majority of his career: crime stories rendered through high chiaroscuro, art deco ornamentation, and geometric compositions, entrapping characters in a shadowy, nightmarish perversion of their everyday world.By: Cullen Gallagher On: 12 March 2014
Four Around a Woman is an early and telling installment in his funhouse of mistrust where the greedy, lascivious, deceptive, and secretive, nature of men and women is captured in rotating set-ups of static close/medium/long distance shots. The innocent are presumed guilty, and even when the truth eventually bares out it is too late because the giant irreversible gears of fate were set in motion at the first flickering of the frame and only wounds (both psychic and not), if not death, is what’s left for all parties.By: Veronika Ferdman On: 11 March 2014