Friday, March 27, 2009


This fire! This voice! This Agony!

I rented a movie this week called M. It's directed by Fritz Lang and was released in 1931. It was one of the first audio films made and is considered by film buffs to be one of the most influential and best-made films in cinematic history. I agree.

Based on real-life events (Peter Kurten, "The Vampire of Dusseldorf"), this story follows Berlin Police and Underworld as they race to catch the child killer. The Police use every modern technique and technology available to them, while the Underworld rely on complex networking.

The film is visually stunning, and nothing ended up on film that was not meticulously scrutinized by Fritz Lang. Unlike most talking movies (even contemporary films), M is not dialog-intensive. There is no score, and no sound-effects that aren't of importance (you can hear the sound of a coo-coo clock in one scene, but there is absolutely no audio for several scenes showing police driving around town, arresting people, etc). Sound is used strictly for plot development and, critically, to allow the audience to visualize the world outside of the shot. For the first time in cinema, one did not need to see The Monster to know he was around - audio (in this case, whistling) alerts audience to danger.

Peter Lorre plays Hans Beckert, the Monster. His performance is one of the most realistic and horrifying I've ever seen. During one scene he delivers a monologue pleading for his life and explaining his sickness:
"Who knows what it's like inside me? How it screams and cries out inside me when I have to do it? Don't want to! Must! Don't want to! Must! And then a voice cries out and I can't listen anymore!"

Normally I don't recommend "films" to people unless I know they are into "films," but I have to recommend M to everyone. Pay close attention to details when you watch it the first time, and then watch it again with commentary on. Nothing is there by accident!