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.
What makes Destiny a particularly compelling story is its portrayal of a Death that has grown tired of carrying out God’s orders. Indeed, its German title translates as “Weary Death”. Unlike the Death of Bergman’s Seventh Seal, Lang depicts a figure that does not necessarily relish his power and even allows the audience to identify with his fatigue at the unenviable task of collecting souls for all eternity.By: Matt Barry On: 10 March 2014
What do we look for in the early works of an auteur? Are we excavating the image for traces of what would come later, be it a theme, motif, visual style, or other hallmark that distinguishes the work as his own? Such questions are of vital concern to The Wandering Shadow, a film whose value in history is determined by the celebrated career of its director but whose qualities are not emblematic of its remainder.By: Cullen Gallagher On: 7 March 2014
What do we find in this nearly three-hour, halfway-realized series? It’s a mad dash of good and evil across the globe, and a succession of thrills and attractions spiced with backroom scheming and chicanery. In Lang’s vision, the mystique of the ancient world blends with the bustling novelties of modern times. He plays with the line between science and the occult, the natural world and rational society, history and fantasy.By: Jared Eisenstat On: 6 March 2014
Often credited as one of the first silent era films to aestheticize Oriental culture for a foreign audience, Harakiri displays unusual ethnographic attention to detail, apart from the presence of European actors in the lead roles.By: Lindsay Peters On: 5 March 2014
A bursting amalgam of conservative social mores contrasted sharply against those of the counter-culture, science fiction and horror b-movies, leather and denim rock ‘n’ roll and glam androgyny, it doesn’t fit up on the big screen. It wants to get out, to flash its decoupage of influences and sit in your lap. It wants to sling a feather boa around your neck as it draws in determinedly to whisper in your ear on the matters of anatomy and science.By: Rumsey Taylor On: 31 October 2013
On offer is every conceivable sort of slashing, squishing, shooting, severing, segmenting, slurping, sawing, shredding, and stabbing: a penis is bitten off, a chainsaw is inserted into someone’s mouth, faces are ripped off, fingers severed, and lots of people are vertically halved by a sword (or quartered, or eighthed, or sixteenthed). Director Yoshihiro Nishumura sets himself the unique challenge of upping the ante, and along the way infuses the film with an operatic level of excess and derangement infrequently seen in films not made in Japan.By: Leo Goldsmith On: 30 October 2013