France Lebanon Italy Egypt (100 mi) 2011 ‘Scope
While this is a joint cultural exchange project, a feel good mix of East meets West, it’s largely a Lebanese version of MAMMA MIA! (2008), but with bouncy Lebanese music instead of ABBA, much like this: Hashishit Albe Song's Clip – YouTube (). The film attempts to make light of the stark historical rift between Lebanese Christians and Muslims, leaving out the root of the problem that was most exacerbated when Lebanese Christian militias committed massacres and other atrocities against Palestinian refugee camps in a long protracted Civil War between 1975 – 1990 that resulted in a quarter of a million fatalities, another million wounded in a country of only 4 million people, where there was a mass exodus of nearly one million people. This film attempts to patch over the differences with humor and song, largely seen as a female empowerment fantasy, supposedly a feel good movie where they attempt to trick the men in order to stop the continual animosity between the two sides. Unfortunately, the breezy, lighthearted vein makes everyone look stupid, especially the men, who are relentlessly browbeaten by the women, mocking the whole idea of cultural differences through a make believe battle of the sexes farce. What it lacks is any subversive political element, so prevalent in the films of Elia Suleiman, whose Palestinian and Israeli border farce DIVINE INTERVENTION (2002) is drop dead hilarious, while The Time That Remains (2009) reflects a more autobiographical view on the insufferable losses that have mounted in the past half century, where chronic fatigue syndrome doesn’t begin to describe it. Labaki, who co-writes and stars in the film, shoots at a gorgeous mountainside location where the fictitious Lebanese town is evenly divided between Christians and Muslims, yet despite the religious differences and occasional arguments that break out into fights, the women and children all seem to get along, where the hope is that when these children grow up they will as well.
One prevailing theme
anywhere in the Arab world is the communal funeral processions, where all
dressed in black, friends, family, and neighbors share in the burial and
mourning process. Labaki uses an opening
music video effect as all-female mourners walk in a choreographed manner set to
music, where they all move in unison, suggesting their common bond. Despite their overbearing demeanor to keep
their men in line, on their own, petty disputes between the men lead to a
neverending cycle of escalated altercations, where friends quickly turn to
foes, usually separated by their wives who have to keep the peace. In the manner of many Arabic films, Youssef
Chahine for instance, especially CAIRO STATION (1958) or DESTINY (1997), it is
not uncommon for films to break out into a musical number right in the heart of
the dramatic action, but while Chahine’s choreography rival Bollywood, often
providing the manic energy for the storyline, Labaki’s are utterly lackluster,
using songs without dance numbers, instead attempting to incorporate the music
as an element of the storyline, like the thoughts of the characters. In this manner, Labaki loses an opportunity
to enhance her films with more depth, but instead keeps it airy and
superficially lightheaded, where characters often yell hysterically at one
another in an over-the-top, melodramatic manner. Labaki herself stars as one of the central
characters, and is probably onscreen as much as anyone else, yet none of the characters
stand out or are ever really developed, which is one of the central problems of
the film. If all the characters are
forgettable, then so is the film, as this kind of film experience has no weight
or sustenance and is instantly forgettable.
Supposedly the People’s Choice winner at the
While many may love the premise of the central scene, where the women of the town conspire to literally drug and trick the men, concocting a secret formula in their food while bringing in a horribly out of place group of bored Ukrainian strippers (aka: belly dancers) to aid them in their scheme, this is supposedly the climactic high point of the film, yet it never materializes, as it doesn’t go far enough in the satirical exaggeration, where the food bit barely registers, perhaps afraid to offend censors, and the film shows little choreographic or dramatic involvement in the undeveloped dance sequences. So the director really mishandles her opportunity here, as she spends almost half the film setting up this sequence with the wayward Ukrainian girls, but rather than use them as a feature attraction, their sequence actually becomes a set-up for yet another plot device. So it’s a bit confusing that the most melodic musical number in the film, written and composed by none other than the director’s husband, Khaled Mouzanar, heard when all of the women in town happily conspire against the men, leads to a crescendo that gets undermined and lost as a lead-in to something else. The song itself is wonderful, but the way it’s eventually used is unfortunately anticlimactic. Many may just be happy with the air of blissful ignorance that is so prevalent throughout this film, where character development or lack of dramatic tension may be the least of their concerns. It delights in showing empowered Muslim women, a group in real life routinely denied basic rights, taking matters into their own hands by resorting to deception of their husbands in an attempt to stabilize the region. If only life were this simple—where in this film, women routinely perform fake religious miracles. Perhaps because of the preposterous nature of the movie itself, the entire film is framed by a narrator as a bedtime story.
If women were in charge, there'd be peace in the Middle East—or at least that's what's suggested by Where Do We Go Now?, the second film from Lebanese director and actress Nadine Labaki. Like her 2007 debut, Caramel, it's driven by a deep faith in female friendship, though here the stakes are higher, and war lurks at the edges. The film follows the women of a remote village in Lebanon as they try to keep their menfolk from joining in the sectarian violence erupting around them by burning newspapers and sabotaging the only working television. When the refuge of blissful ignorance fails, they turn to other distractions, falsifying religious miracles and hiring a group of Russian strippers. The film's flights of fancy (including a scattering of musical numbers) waver between actually charming and overly cute—and don't meld with the undercurrent of anguish that sometimes erupts, including in a wrenching monologue from Labaki herself, breaking up a fight among her café customers by howling, "You think we're here just to mourn you?" Like the hashish-laced pastries the ladies make to sedate the male population, the film feels like it has been dosed with sugar to mask its distressingly bitter taste.
Tensions are simmering in a remote Lebanese village where Muslim and Christian neighbors have struck an uneasy truce. The mosque and the church may stand side by side, but a fight is likely to erupt over the smallest thing (such as which channel to watch on the communal outdoor television). It’s mostly the men who come to near-blows; the women, who are more apt to break into song and dance, do their best to distract the alphas with everything from feigned miracles to a bused-in gaggle of Russian erotic dancers. But when an unexpected death threatens to tear the village apart, what are these headstrong, harmony-inclined ladies to do? Why, put on Sectarian Violence: The Musical!
Director-cowriter Nadine Labaki—who also stars as one of the beleaguered dames—displays an assured hand with her performers, especially saucy first-timer Yvonne Maalouf, who’s an absolute delight as the mayor’s wisecracking wife. But the filmmaker’s grasp on this inherently uneasy material is much less confident: The tone swings awkwardly between endearingly light-comic (a whimsical romantic subplot between Labaki’s character and a hunky handyman) and confrontationally mournful (the accidental killing of one character becomes an audience-hectoring ploy). And by the time the film takes a glib turn into role-switching farce—as Muslims become Christians and Christians become Muslims—the overall toothlessness of the satire becomes damningly apparent.
Where Do We Go Now? is about as feel-good a fable set in the Middle East as can be imagined. Infused with music and magic realism, a female narrator introduces it with “I’m going to tell you a little story” as a large procession of women in black sway and stomp like an active Greek chorus, reflecting the Aristophanes’ Lysistrata-like resonance in the tale. When they reach the village cemetery, they split into the Christian and Muslim sections to clean up gravestones with photographs of too many young men and boys. This locale is similar to the unspecified, yet Lebanon-like war-torn country of Denis Villeneuve’s far more grim Incendies from last year.
Back in the village, bounded by a mosque and a church, the men are hanging around the tavern. The only guy working hard there is the handsome Muslim painter, Rabih (Julien Farhat). The most beautiful Christian woman in town, the waitress Amale (director and co-writer Nadine Labaki), can’t help but notice him. Both bound by tradition, they can only be discreetly romantic in a lovely musical number dancing together, but only in their imaginations. (The terrific rhythmic music is by Labaki’s husband, Khaled Mouzanar.)
The village boys scamper around, setting up satellite TV that links the village to the outside world. They also smuggle goods along a precipitous path to avoid the hidden land mines that wandering goats occasionally set off. This limited contact is enough to bring in hints that the civil war has once again broken out, and the women spontaneously decide that the key in keeping their male population safe is to block out news of the renewed fighting. From first burning newspapers to blocking channels, their efforts humorously escalate to emphasize the men’s foibles, including hiring imported sexy Russian dancers as a distraction.
As the outside dangers are brought home by injuries to the daring boys, the dancers see that the photographs on the graves are the same ones that fill shrines in each home, and, in female solidarity, they help the women stage the ultimate strike against religious differences to prove that people really are the same. Female-centric like Labaki’s first film Caramel (2007), it’s as rich in sympathetic, individual characters, but funnier, albeit a bit over the top and satirically absurd, (there’s a fake religious miracle). Labaki demonstrates that there is hope to look beyond endless conflict, even if it is wishful thinking about an uncertain future.
Nadine Labaki's new film Where Do We Go Now? explores the impact of religious warfare or at least the threat thereof on family life in Lebanon. The story follows a group of women in a small Lebanese village, who go to extreme lengths to prevent their men fighting like everybody else in the country. The village is a pretty even split of Christians and Muslims and normally everybody gets along. But with news of conflict pouring in from the outside world, the men get restless and the women have to come up with new ways to keep them occupied.
Everything from intentional arguments and Ukranian prostitutes to a hash-laced smorgasbord in the village hall are fair game when it comes to keeping the peace. The film oscillates between the hilarious and the heartbreaking, putting the audience thoroughly through the wringer and highlighting the real, day to day impact of senseless conflict. Many of the tactics employed by the women and especially their dialogue while implementing them are highly comical, which makes the drop into despair when a young man is accidentally killed that much harder.
Young Nassim is killed in a gun fight away in town and his mother Afaf decides to hide his body to avoid the conflict sparking up in their village. She tells everybody that Nassim has mumps – a ruse her friends quickly see through – and there is a heartwrenching scene where one of Nassim's friends apologises to him through the closed door of his bedroom, while Afaf stands by, not able to cry. Another poignant scene is when director Labaki's character Amale breaks down and rages at the arguing men in her café, asking them “Do you think we're only here to mourn you?”. In the final twist of the story, all the women make a tremendous sacrifice to show their men the futility of their arguments. Only after their grand gesture is there enough peace between factions to lay Nassim to rest.
The large cast are all fantastic and the audience really gets a feel for Lebanese village life. Even without knowledge of Arabic, the mannerisms and intonation make it very clear that in its original language, the film is full of regional jokes and Lebanon-specific dialogue. Thankfully, this translates rather well. The bleak, dry landscape that the remote village is set in provides a strangely beautiful backdrop for the colourful characters in the village.
One thing that particularly struck me is how palpable it was that this film had been made by a woman. Labaki manages to get across a view of life that is not predominant in cinematic stories, without making it seem like an agenda. Many of the underlying issues and tensions are portrayed through quiet actions and little gestures rather than dialogue and the fantastic, slightly disquieting opening scene is a prime example of this. The film leaves the audience feeling like they might understand the bittersweet everyday reality of armed conflict a little better and shows that no matter what, life has to go on. It's just that sometimes, sacrifices have to be made in order for that to happen.
Where Do We Go Now? | Film | Movie Review | The A.V. Club Tasha Robinson
In the classic Greek play Lysistrata, the women of Greece, tired of losing their men in battle, decide to withhold sex from their partners until the Peloponnesian War ends. The increasingly desperate female protagonists of Where Do We Go Now?, Lebanon’s top-grossing Arabic-language film and its official 2012 Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film, would probably admire the intention of that ploy, but disapprove of its bluntness. Their attempts to wangle the men of their village away from clashes over religion are often subtler and sneakier, though no less intense. The no-sex option is never on the table, but it’s just about the only idea they don’t consider in trying to keep the peace in their small town. In spite of their efforts, though, the same conflicts keep reasserting themselves. For the men, it’s a war of sectarian pride. For the women, it’s a war of creativity against entrenched habits and knee-jerk aggression.
Director Nadine Labaki, following up her poignant but more conventional 2007 drama Caramel (another Lebanese Best Foreign Language Film contender), heads up an ensemble of colorful characters as a Christian whose café seems to be the only non-denominational gathering place in her tiny countryside village. Her hometown, surrounded by land mines and connected to the world only via a crumbling stone bridge, is so isolated that all trade with the outside world is handled by two intrepid teenagers with a motor scooter. When the local youngsters rig up a hilltop antenna capable of bringing in a few grainy stations on the town’s one working TV, it’s such a momentous event that the whole village gathers on the hill to watch a few shows together, and the mayor makes a speech about their first collective steps into the 21st century. But when the news comes on, with its inevitable grim stories of sectarian clashes, the women spring into action in a instantaneous, practiced way, picking loud, meaningless fights with each other to drown out the newscasters. It’s clear they’ve been engaging in different forms of this practice for a long time, shouting whatever lies are necessary to drown out the contentious voices of the outside world.
Their reaction to external influences is a form of provincialism, but it’s a well-intentioned one, and an increasingly necessary protection in a divided world. Before long, the village’s Christian and Muslim men are clashing over offenses both real and imagined, with the first squabbles rapidly escalating to dramatic back-room plotting and a war of attrition. The women are forced to step up their peace campaign to match. Much of Where Do We Go Now? is taken up with the struggle to keep the men’s minds off conflict. Sometimes it’s via direct, dramatic confrontation—when Labaki follows one flare-up with a furious tirade delivered to her café customers, there’s a vicious personal edge to her question “Is this what it means to be men?” as if the question is coming from the director as much as from her character. But most of the gambits are surreptitious, imaginative, and openly funny, whether the women are hiring Ukrainian strippers to invade the town, or faking a religious miracle. To Labaki’s credit, she manages to take the film between tonal extremes credibly and without dulling the impact of either the humor or the horror. It’s rare for a film to cover a child’s death and a mother’s subsequent agony, then later successfully wring giggles out of an over-the-top group song about the peace-keeping uses of hashish surreptitiously introduced into food.
The songs, composed by Labaki’s husband Khaled Mouzanar, are one of Where Do We Go’s stranger conceits. The film opens with a funeral march that becomes a beautiful, swoony dance, as the village’s black-clad women express their emotions with their bodies instead of their voices. A later romantic interlude where Labaki and Muslim contractor Julian Farhat fantasize about each other takes on the outsized emotions of a Bollywood number. In these moments, the film overtly declares the fairy-tale nature that otherwise manifests more indirectly, though the shape of the story. In spite of its serious themes and its roots in grim conflict, Where Do We Go isn’t meant to be taken at face value. It’s unabashedly a fantasy: It takes place in a generic place inspired by Lebanon, but with location and era identifiers deliberately omitted. There are no class clashes, even though there are clearly class differences. The religious strife is broad and undefined, based more on a simple, broad us-vs.-them dynamic than on any disagreement about a given belief or custom. There’s little sense of the town’s history, in terms of specific grudges or personal conflicts.
It’s also significant that while the village’s key women have detailed personalities, the men are generally more generic, distinguished largely by their social or story roles. None of them are drawn in close detail; it’s more like the women are trying to hold back a rolling wave of national intent than like they’re fighting a specific battle against individuals. Even the village’s priest and imam are fundamentally indistinguishable, good-natured men united in their desire for concord, to the degree that they’re both willing to compromise their pride and even their faith if a lie here or there will keep their followers calm. Religion isn’t an evil in Where Do We Go, and religious men aren’t inherently blinkered. Every aspect of the film is designed to isolate the religious war from other aspects of life, and to generalize it into iconic status without miring it in real issues that might divide audiences.
But what the film lacks in specificity and interest in taking sides, it makes up for in style, authentic emotion, and terrific performances, particularly from Claude Baz Moussawbaa as a mother willing to make tremendous personal sacrifices for the women’s cause, and Yvonne Maalouf as the mayor’s wife, who carries the dignity of her wealth and station, but is willing to let herself be ridiculous if necessary. Between the two of them, they accomplish a great deal of the difficulty of getting the film smoothly between its dramatic and comedic poles. For a movie about religious war, Where Do We Go is surprisingly funny; at times, it veers almost into caper territory, as its protagonists work their way through scheme after outsized scheme.
And that makes the film a much riskier proposition than a simple drama about women fighting to keep their families from fighting. Satire is a risky proposition; satire of serious subjects is even more so. In turning such a vast conflict into a comedic romp, Where Do We Go Now? sometimes feels like it’s cheating or cheapening its subject matter. Its scattered musical interludes and intermittent playfulness threaten to throw its gravity off balance, and its insistence on symbolically splitting up humanity by gender—turning all women into peacekeepers, even though it doesn’t correspondingly turn all men into warmakers—may be off-putting to some viewers in its simplicity and generalization. But Labaki’s premise goes beyond simple sexual conflict. In her allegorical world, the men stand in for all people with power, and the women for all people who can only use craft and creativity to counteract the implacability of that power. Her clever, sweet film is just another creative solution to a complicated problem.
Review: 'Where Do We Go Now' - Nadine Labaki - Movieline Stephanie Zacharek
Where Do We Go Now? - Filmcritic.com Movie Review Chris Barsanti
Where Do We Go Now? Fionnuala Halligan at Cannes from Screendaily, May 16, 2011
Shared Darkness: Where Do We Go Now? Brent Simon
Movie Review - 'Where Do We Go Now?' : NPR Mark Jenkins
'Wish' Granted: A Jewel, About Kids - The Wall Street Journal Joe Morgenstern
What to do when war breaks out? Bring on the ... - The Globe and Mail Rick Groen, May 25, 2012
The underdog is the people's choice. Just ask ... - The Globe and Mail Rick Groen, May 24, 2012
Where Do We Go Now? - Movies - The New York Times Stephen Holden
SPECIAL TREATMENT (Sans queue ni tête) C- 69
France (95 mi) 2010
This is another Isabelle Huppert vehicle, which by itself offers promise, but there’s nothing special or remotely interesting about this film, as it features people who are continually bored with themselves. Without exploring the origins of this ennui, the director instead chooses a dry, lighthearted attempt to show unhappy professionals, call girls and psychiatrists, who have outgrown all interest in their professions, where Huppert as Alice is in a midlife crisis as an expensive call girl with a taste for the finer things in life, but a growing disinterest in her often ridiculous clientele. Huppert has played prostitutes before, but brings nothing new to the role, as initially the focus of attention is on the eccentricities of her clients, which is mildly amusing, but also stereotypical. When one of her johns decides to play rough, she goes into a crisis mode afterwards wondering why she’s even willing to put up with this nonsense. In a simultaneously told parallel story, Xavier, a bored therapist (Bouli Lanners) sits and listens endlessly to people who have little or nothing to say, again a stereotypical depiction where fortunately the patients shown are not seriously disturbed, as the therapist isn’t listening anyway. And to make matters worse, his wife, Hélène (Valérie Dréville), a fellow therapist, has lost all interest in her husband, forcing him to find alternate accommodations. Within this set up, the director who also co-wrote the script decides to play musical chairs with the storyline possibilities.
Advancing the story through small vignettes, much of it shown through repetitious set pieces where Alice and Xavier are both aloof, going through the motions of the same routines in life, growing bored and disaffected, where they barely know themselves anymore, each decides drastic measures need to be taken. With Xavier’s marriage in trouble, he decides he needs to spice up his ordinary love life, so why not a call girl, while Alice thinks the right shrink may help her open new doors of discovery. Their scenes together never generate much of a spark, as each detests themselves too much, where they can’t shake the feeling of self-loathing. The truth of the matter is there’s not much to this movie, as it’s not really about anything. Richard Debuisne has co-written and also acted in each of Labrune’s last 3 films, where he plays a hospital psychiatrist dealing regularly with the mentally ill. But even in this setting, there’s an underlying lightness to the subject, but Debuisne is excellent, appropriately serious and slightly offbeat in the role. What we really see is Huppert go through a series of costume changes, as she’s an actress who makes herself right at home in the wardrobe department, much like Jonathan Winters or Robin Williams finding humor with any available props. She makes any role her own, and this one’s no different, adding an existential air of detachment and even sadness, where besides one fellow working girl (Sabila Moussadek), she has no close friends. There’s nothing daring or original in this film, no great scenes, but there are excellent upscale production values and an icy cool musical score from André Mergenthaler that accentuates the coldness of the character’s interior worlds. While there’s always a hint that more could be lurking under the surface, this is more a comedy of manners than a serious drama.
A very fertile conceit – the film both gradually brings together and rhymes the skills and experiences of two very different disenchanted individuals whose work might be seen as therapeutic (a psychoanalyst with a troubled marriage, and a high-class prostitute who specialises in role-playing) – is given real substance by Isabelle Huppert’s predictably superb turn as the call-girl considering calling it a day. Lent strong support by Bouli Lanners as the morose shrink, she wrings each and every subtle nuance out of a character that in other hands might have slipped into caricature – though whether (pace the LFF booklet’s claims) the film also serves as a commentary on Huppert’s own career is another matter entirely.
The latest film from French filmmaker Jeanne Labrune, Special Treatment follows a slick prostitute (Isabelle Huppert's Alice) and an unhappy therapist (Bouli Lanners' Xavier) as they unknowingly help one another solve their respective problems following a chance encounter. There's little doubt that Special Treatment's disastrously uninvolving opening half hour is exacerbated by Huppert's mere presence, as the actress is effectively playing the exact same role that she's played on so many occasions before (ie doesn't she get sick of playing cold, calculating women?) The film's episodic structure ensures that the viewer's interest tends to run hot and cold throughout the proceedings, with the number of compelling interludes (ie Alice explains exactly how she works and what she charges to Xavier) almost entirely equal to the number of less-than-enthralling segments (ie Xavier visits an almost comically sordid sex club in which a pig makes an appearance). The increasingly prominent emphasis on subplots of a decidedly needless nature certainly contributes to the film's hopelessly uneven atmosphere, and it's ultimately clear that the rambling narrative diminishes the strength of the surprisingly conventional endings for the two central characters.
Film in Pictures: Huppert Elicits Erotic Urges in Labrune's ... Eric Lavallee from Ion Cinema
Toasted by the Pialats, Godards, Chabrols, Hanekes and Claire
Denis, almost in her fourth decade in front of the camera, in my opinion, Isabelle
Huppert is perhaps the most versatile actress in film today. By the looks
of the first set of stills below, I'd say there is no typecasting her. Special Treatment is
being released in
Co-written by Labrune and Richard Debuisne, Sans Queue Ni Tête centres on Alice (Huppert), an independent prostitute who is tired of her job and plans to undergo psychoanalysis to find the strength to change her life. Meanwhile, psychoanalyst Xavier (Lanners) has just been left by his wife and is weary of listening to his clients’ monologues. He decides to call on a professional to satisfy his erotic urges. The two characters thus meet, but this is not the start of a romance, just the first stage in a difficult journey which, through conflicts, ordeals and disappointments, leads them both to rediscover themselves. They come across a third character (Debuisne), whom they will lean on in order to make a fresh start.
Isabelle Huppert plays
We witness both of these characters at work- The variety of both of their
The most irritating part of this film is that it begins portraying
The film shies away from the lead female character; instead on focusing on
getting to the core of
IN THE COMPANY OF MEN Steve Erickson from Chronicle of a Passion
Fair Oaks, Kansas. Waitress Betty Sizemore, who dreams of becoming a nurse, is a fan of the television hospital soap A Reason to Love, whose lead character is Dr David Ravell. Unknown to her, her car-dealer husband Del is running drugs. Two hitmen, Charlie and Wesley, pay Del a visit, during which the car salesman is killed. Witnessing his murder, Betty is shocked into a fugue state; believing herself the ex-fiancée of Dr Ravell she sets out for California to find him, driving a Buick containing the drugs the hitmen are after.
While Sheriff Eldon Ballard and reporter Roy Ostrey investigate the murder, the hitmen set off after Betty, with Charlie increasingly fascinated by his quarry. In LA, Betty lucks into a hospital job by saving an accident victim, and finds lodgings with his sister Rosa. At a ball attended by the stars of A Reason to Love, Betty meets George McCord who plays Dr Ravell and starts treating him as her lost love. George, imagining she's improvising, gets her a part in the soap. Confronted by cameras, Betty is shocked out of her fugue.
The hitmen track Betty down to Rosa's house, ahead of Eldon and Roy. While Wesley holds the others at gun point, Charlie discovers Betty knew nothing of the drugs. A gun battle erupts: Wesley is killed and Charlie wounded. The police arrive. Betty, who has seized Charlie's gun, returns it so he can die with dignity. Betty lands a role in the soap.
Neil LaBute has been widely accused - not without reason - of revelling in
misogyny, misanthropy and cruelty. Given this, Nurse Betty may come as a
surprise. True, some fairly unpleasant things happen, but mostly to characters
who deserve them: the repellent Del Sizemore gets scalped and shot dead for
being not only a used-car salesman, drug-dealer and abusive husband, but for
sporting a hideous mullet. It's surely no coincidence that he's played by Aaron
Eckhart, who took the role of chief predator
For although LaBute can't resist injecting the occasional acidic squirt, his latest film ends up as a fair simulacrum of a romantic comedy-thriller where the good end happily and the bad unhappily - this being, as Oscar Wilde reminded us, the definition of fiction. Which is appropriate enough, since Nurse Betty repeatedly zeroes in on the crossover point where fiction shades into fantasy, television-fed fantasy in particular. Knowingly scripted by ex-stand-up comedian John C. Richards and music editor James Flamberg, the film at once mocks and purloins the narrative conventions of daytime soap. When, in the final shoot-out, Charlie reveals that his fellow hitman Wesley is his son, it's precisely the sort of melodramatic bombshell soaps depend on; but it also makes sense dramatically, for why else would the professional Charlie put up with hot-headed Wesley?
Throughout, Nurse Betty plays this kind of juggling game. The central plot conceit of Betty's fugue - which Reneé Zellweger's waitress is shocked into when she witnesses the murder of husband Del - is a latter-day take on amnesia, that reliable old standby of soap writers; and more than once, as we're about to chortle at some especially crass line of dialogue, it's revealed to be a quote from the soap-within-the-movie, A Reason to Love. Following soapland's penchant for providing running updates for new viewers, the film's characters constantly define each other in neat encapsulations: Charlie talks of Betty as "sort of a wholesome Doris Day figure" and describes himself as "a garbage man of the human condition".
Where the film most clearly locks into LaBute's former preoccupations is that people's assumptions about each other are shown to be essentially unreliable. Betty's grasp of the supposed love of her life Dr Ravell, the character played by actor George McCord in A Reason to Love, has as much depth as the life-size cut-out of him she totes around, while George admiringly tells her "You're so real" just when she's most deeply mired in fantasy.
With more than one nod to The Wizard of Oz (Betty quits drab Kansas for West Coast Neverland, with Ravell/McCord as her phoney wizard), Nurse Betty seems to suggest that most of us end up creating our own delusional refuge from reality, and that finding it in a soap is no worse an option than most. Adopting a more fluid camera style than usual, courtesy of DP Jean Yves Escoffier (Good Will Hunting), LaBute draws nuanced performances from his cast, giving Greg Kinnear his best role yet as McCord, while Zellweger keeps a shrewd rein on the ditziness. But while Nurse Betty proves that LaBute has more than one string to his bow, you can't help thinking that he makes more memorable cinema when revelling in misanthropy. –Philip Kemp
Roland Michell (Aaron Eckhart), an impoverished US academic working in present-day London, discovers a letter which sheds light on the life of Victorian writer Randolph Ash (Jeremy Northam). Apparently happily married, Ash, it turns out, was obsessed by the poet Christabel LaMotte (Jennifer Ehle). Roland shares this insight with feminist scholar Dr Maud Bailey (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is Christabel's great- great-great grandniece. They go to Christabel's family home, where they find love letters exchanged by the writers. Meanwhile a number of rival scholars have realised that the pair are on to something. Maud and Roland retrace Ash and LaMotte's journey to Whitby, hoping to flnd out what became of the relationship. In the meantime their rivals try to buy the love letters from Christabel's family, then decide to go off to France on a new trail. Maud and Roland beat them to it. They discover that Christabel became pregnant, but that the baby mysteriously disappeared and that Ash believed she'd killed it.
Ash was buried with a box containing an unopened letter from Christabel. Back in England, Maud and Roland find out that the other academics plan to rob Ash's grave. There's a confrontation at the cemetery. Roland and Maud open the box and realise that Christabel's child was brought up as her niece, which makes Maud the great-great-great granddaughter of Christabel and Ash. A blonde plait in the box reveals that Ash met his daughter as a little girl.
Neil LaBute is great at hate. In his three previous features (In the Company of Men, Your Friends & Neighbors and Nurse Betty), falling in love is generally a big mistake, and the assertion of independence both safe and thrilling. You wonder, then, what possessed him to adapt A.S. Byatt's novel, because for all that book's deconstructive wit, what it celebrates is the attempt to share. Love isn't easy for either of its central couples - whether the Victorian poets Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte, or the present-day academics obsessed with them, Roland Michell and Maud Bailey - but it's a risk worth taking. The irony is that LaBute (revising a screenplay by Laura Jones) has added syrup to the romances and drained out the danger. The result? A film that's faithful neither to Byatt's vision nor to his own.
Byatt's novel, among other things, challenges our beloved notion that the Victorians were sexually repressed and 'we' are uninhibited. But the film restores the status quo. Take the scenes in Whitby, where both couples end up staying in the same hotel. In the book, Christabel prepares for sex by getting into bed in her nightie; having made love to her, Ash realises that, despite her virginity, she was already sexually experienced, thanks presumably to her live-in companion Blanche. In the film, a masterful, excited Ash slowly unloosens Christabel's corset - shorthand for her lust being unlocked for the very flrst time. Meanwhile Maud and Roland, who in the book bond chastely over their love of single 'virginal' beds, now share a double at the hotel because of a mix-up. Needless to say, sexual tension ensues.
The worst betrayal, however, concerns the character of Roland himself. Byatt's dark, British smudge of a loser is lower class, stuck in a rut of academic mediocrity, friendless, chained to a bitter girlfriend and oppressed by a horrible landlady. In other words, he is everything Maud - beautiful, upper-class and critically lauded - is not. In the movie though Roland has become an attractive, confident Yank (played by LaBute regular Aaron Eckhart) who's determined to stay single because his "antics" hurt someone in the past (subtext: he's a heartbreaker!). He's also a man of action, solving the historical puzzle by stripping off, Mr Darcy style, and diving into a lake. The character, in effect, has been bumped up the Darwinian chain, thus undermining one of the central points of the story, which is that in the present day it's possible for a man to feel completely inferior to a woman: Roland is to Maud as Christabel was to Ash. Just as importantly, this undermines the idea that a woman could be drawn to such a 'weak' flgure. Instead, the film promotes the age-old idea that what women want is a man who knows what he wants.
On the other end of this equation is Maud, who should be the film's trump card. Gwyneth Paltrow is just right as a woman resigned to her perfections, but LaBute doesn't want his heroine to be too much in control, so he's given her a heap of neurotic ticks. She frets over the state of her relationship with Roland like a common-or-garden Bridget Jones. One woman, though, does escape the film's dead hand. Blanche is the painter/lover/friend Christabel leaves behind, and Lena Headey plays her to perfection. Neither a repressed Mrs Danvers flgure nor a moppet, she has hardly any lines, but her face says everything about what it means to be rejected. When Blanche drowns herself, her walk into the lake is filmed in a smoky blue light. She has given up on romance in life; all her creativity and sensuality are being poured into death.
Meanwhile Jennifer Ehle's Christabel, who's been merely arch and simpering up to this point, also gets a chance to shine as a result of the tragedy. She and Ash meet at a séance where she screams, "You have made a murderess of me!" It's a horrifying moment (Ash thinks she's talking about their child). And maybe that's what got LaBute excited. You believe in Christabel's desire to hurt Ash; you can even believe that she did kill her child. This is the one point where the film and book chime. Byatt uses up a lot of words to convey the cold madness Christabel is plunged into when she travels to France to have her baby; Ehle's pinched face gets you there in an instant.
The modern scenes, by comparison, are constantly disappointing. Indeed, they get positively farcical. Maud and Roland's declarations of love at her flat ("I want to know if there's an us in you and me"); the gathering of the forces for good to defeat the wicked American academic Cropper; the fist-flght in the cemetery... It's almost impossible to believe LaBute was in the building when these scenes were shot.
But maybe there's method to this madness. Throughout Possession, the usually subtle Eckhart wears a permanent 'aren't-I-cute?' grin. We recognise the look: it's the same one he wore for In the Company of Men. Did LaBute wish to suggest that Roland's fairytale virtue was just that - too good to be true? Maybe LaBute originally planned a cemetery scene in which pushy Roland reveals he's been on Cropper's side all along. Ridiculous? At least this scenario would have had a demonic energy. The one LaBute has plumped for has no life at all.
Evelyn (Rachel Weisz) and Adam (Paul Rudd) are college students in California. They meet when Adam, working as a museum security guard, tries to stop art student Evelyn from defacing a sculpture. Chubby, gauche Adam is surprised when she agrees to go on a date. They begin a relationship, and under Evelyn's guidance, Adam loses weight, gains in style and confidence, and has a nose-job. The gradual transformation startles his friends Jenny (Gretchen Mol) and Philip (Frederick Weller), who are engaged to be married. Adam and Jenny, previously too shy to act on their feelings, kiss; in response Evelyn kisses Philip. She also asks Adam to prove his love by severing contact with his friends, and he reluctantly agrees.
They all meet again at the public presentation of Evelyn's thesis project. Her project was the transformation and manipulation of Adam, an experiment in human will. Jenny and Philip, who have broken off their engagement, leave in disgust. Adam, humiliated, hears Evelyn catalogue his increasingly extreme decisions, which culminated in a recent marriage proposal. Evelyn, claiming that her project illustrates our obsession with surface, maintains its artistic validity.
"Please, just refer to me as 'It'," says Adam at the end of this film. "Or 'Untitled'." We have seen him, a student at an unnamed US college, shuck his gawky unease, his greasy hair, shapeless brown corduroy and hamster cheeks and become a handsome, assured but compromised figure. What he doesn't realise is that this radical transformation is the subject of an artwork by Evelyn, whom he thought was his girlfriend. What he did for love, she did for art; she documents his cosmetic and ethical choices (having cosmetic surgery, dumping his friends), and displays his klutzy old clothes and videos of them having sex.
After flawed excursions into comedy and costume drama (Nurse Betty, Possession), Neil LaBute revisits his distinctive earlier territory. In the Company of Men (1997) and Your Friends & Neighbors (1998) inhabited a vindictive world where heterosexuality played out in corrosive rituals. Although The Shape of Things has been described as a gender-reversed take on Company (where two embittered men seduce and dump a female colleague), what makes this film more interesting is the opacity of Evelyn's motives for much of the film and her uncompromisingly abstract vindication. We learn nothing about her past - even the scars on her wrists, which she previously claimed as badges of experience "like rings on a tree", were merely "another project". She admits to only one genuine remark, whispered during an early scene - but we couldn't hear it so it lies beyond the finished project.
Rachel Weisz's brilliantly layered performance as Evelyn - barbed, vehement and oddly sorrowful - keeps all options open. She retains a breathless ingenuity even when everything is revealed - having displayed Adam's transformation, the camera homes in on Evelyn's inscrutable expression, challenging us to prise at her artistic integrity. The opening scene shows her infuriated by a fig leaf added to a statue: she is a fiery despoiler of faux-innocence. At the same time, she is monstrously indifferent to anything beyond her project - when Adam, taken aback by her apparent jealousy when he kisses another woman, mentions Desdemona's strawberry handkerchief, she merely turns away, saying coldly "I don't know that reference." Although LaBute's work has often been accused of a forensic impulse (he, like Evelyn, might be producing an exercise in Applied Theory), he also suggests that Evelyn's work may, like her Mao badges and Che Guevara screenprint, be mere retro radicalism on a placid smalltown campus.
LaBute's Mormon upbringing has been much discussed, and allegorical underpinnings are clear here. He previously traced the scorched trail of free will in his triptych Bash (filmed in 2000), in which a character (played by Paul Rudd, who takes the role of Adam here, justified queer-bashing as a defence of Eden. This new film's Adam and Eve test out temptation through juicy little choices that barely register as transgression. No wonder Evelyn's initials spell 'EAT', which Adam has tattooed by his crotch. The Pygmalion myth also shadows the story, and Adam recalls that he helped Evelyn find a tape of The Picture of Dorian Gray - another cautionary tale of authenticity stifled by self-fashioning.
The film is based on LaBute's own 2001 stage play. With its original stage cast and minimal changes - moving the action from the midwest to rural California - the work emerges far more keenly than it did in a London stage premiere compromised by hype. It retains a heightened, hermetic austerity - just four characters displayed in vivid semi-theatrical settings (Evelyn's remorseless scarlet-and-white installation; the deceptively airy white-and-apple-green reception at the cosmetic surgery). LaBute, borrowing video-art procedures, frequently separates his speakers - the bifurcated dialogues resemble a split-screen installation, and reinforce the abstracted isolation.
Elaborate prosthetic and costume changes make Adam's transformation far more dramatic on screen - with the added irony that as he becomes increasingly svelte and smart, he increasingly 'becomes' the appealing and familiar Paul Rudd. He also stops biting his nails after years of his fingers looking "like raw meat", though Evelyn's acts of remote butchery prove equally devastating. His former roommate Philip thinks he looks like a battered wife after his nose-job, and his friendship with Philip and perky Jenny, and the couple's engagement, are casualties of Evelyn's artwork.
Evelyn presents her work in a meticulously staged final episode. Adam is horribly visible in a sky-blue shirt, cringeing as the audience follows his makeover from first vegetarian meal to recent marriage proposal. Evelyn, backed by blood-red curtains, describes her "human sculpture", created with "two very pliable materials of choice - the human flesh and the human will", using "manipulation as my palette knife". She claims that Adam's dubious moral choices reflect our obsession with surface - with "the shape of things". Weisz looks directly into the camera as she insists, "Only indifference is suspect." The Shape of Things makes indifference difficult, and suggests that LaBute's future lies not in broadening his territory, but delving deeper. As Evelyn remarks of Adam's progress, "You've gotten cuter and stronger and more confident - and craftier."
USA (110 mi) 2008 ‘Scope
A nasty little film about bigoted role reversal where a snarky black cop next door becomes the worst nightmare for the interracial couple moving into the house next door who literally becomes obsessed with making their lives miserable. Not quite the horror story of DISTURBIA (2007), which featured an actual demented neighbor, this is instead a picture of relentless psychological torment inflicted upon another. Samuel L. Jackson, of course, has no peers when it comes to displaying this kind of bullying obstinacy, a man who backs down to no one, not even death while in the line of duty as one of LA’s finest, or his two children who are forced to live under a house of endless daddy’s rules, as he’s a strict single parent after his wife died three years earlier. The couple next door does not fare so well, as they repeatedly play into his hands, Patrick Wilson as the targeted white guy and Lisa Washington as his lovely black wife. Their chemistry is questionable throughout, as they behave like this is the first time their racial differences have been put to the test. Of course, that’s utter nonsense, as there’s simply no way a couple would not have faced a universe of setbacks before they were ever married, giving them a foundation upon which to draw upon in dealing with this latest nightmare. Certainly part of race baiting or taunting is knowing how to act and when, as sometimes the best thing to do with bullies is simply ignore them and refuse to give them the pleasure of a response, as otherwise they feed off your anxieties like a shark attack.
Samuel L. Jackson is a revelation in this film, a force to
be reckoned with, perhaps the most powerful performance he’s ever given, as
he’s disturbingly complex, not completely hateable, showing a profound array of
emotions not the least of which is a smart alecky attitude towards liberal
whites, as he’s able to stand them down and make them uncomfortable in an
instant simply by challenging where they come from, as they’re not the
streetfighter he is and don’t stand a chance against him in a fight, even a
verbal one. But
What more does Neil LaBute have to teach us about humanity that wasn't already apparent in his caustic 1997 debut feature, In The Company Of Men? There's nothing wrong with a filmmaker having a misanthropic worldview, but LaBute's is an unusually narrow one, predicated on the notion that men are engaged in alpha-male one-upmanship and women are, if anything, even more diabolical. Films like Your Friends & Neighbors and The Shape Of Things intend to reveal human needs and motives at their basest, but they're rigged for maximum shock value, and say more about an artist with an exceedingly sour point of view than they say about the foibles of modern man. So when LaBute pulls the grenade pin on racism and interracial relationships in Lakeview Terrace, viewers should know to duck and cover.
LaBute's nasty provocations are really the only thing that separates his overheated treatise on race and masculinity from run-of-the-mill home-invasion thrillers like Unlawful Entry or Pacific Heights. The misconceptions start with Samuel L. Jackson as a single police officer whose strict law-and-order mentality carries over into how he disciplines his two children and how he patrols his own neighborhood. His concern for morality and security, particularly as they relate to his children, might make him sympathetic—or at least understandable—but Jackson quickly morphs into a vicious caricature when a white man (Patrick Wilson) and his black wife (Kerry Washington) move in next door. Jackson makes his objections to their lifestyle and their relationship known immediately (by way of introduction, he fake-carjacks Wilson), and the hatred escalates from there.
Working from a screenplay by David Loughery and Howard Korder, LaBute supplies plenty of tense exchanges and even some insight into the difficulties interracial marriages face from within and without. But ultimately, Lakeview Terrace isn't about race so much as it's about being a man, which has been LaBute's fallback theme from the start. Jackson represents black power and dominance, Wilson is the epitome of white ineffectuality, and the situation goads Wilson into asserting himself and protecting what's his like Dustin Hoffman in Straw Dogs. Though LaBute picks at some intriguing contradictions in Jackson's persona—how his hectoring moral tone doesn't keep him from, say, hosting a stripper-filled bachelor party—but in the end, he becomes a monster along the lines of Aaron Eckhart in In The Company Of Men or Jason Patric in Your Friends And Neighbors. As usual, LaBute reduces when he means to reveal.
Race in America is such an inherently combustible subject that Hollywood rarely goes anywhere near it without using comedy as a skittish safety net. Which is pretty dumb, really, since we’re obviously hungry for movies that dare to acknowledge and explore the many fissures still compromising the country’s melting pot. How else could a film as blatantly awful as Crash gross $55 million and win the Oscar for Best Picture? No less incendiary, but far more incisive and controlled, Lakeview Terrace, the latest effort from noted provocateur Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, The Shape of Things), speaks so frankly and provocatively to and about Obama Nation that it’s like a dash of cold water thrown in your face, repeatedly. Because the film ultimately takes a disastrous nosedive into standard-issue stupid-thriller nonsense, it’s likely to take a beating from critics and garner poor word-of-mouth. Don’t be dissuaded. There are certainly better movies out there right now, but good luck finding one half as trenchant.
Sporting his angriest glare but speaking in a maddeningly imperturbable tone, Samuel L. Jackson plays Abel Turner, a self-righteous LA cop who is none too happy to see interracial couple Chris and Lisa Mattson (Patrick Wilson and Kerry Washington) move in next door. “Welcome to the neighborhood; observe all parking regulations,” reads the fake ticket Abel places on the windshield of their moving van, sticking out a few feet beyond the driveway—just the first sally in a campaign of intimidation that will gradually escalate from veiled threats to vandalism and beyond. All the while, a symbolic wildfire moves closer and closer to the hill abutting this affluent cul-de-sac—a bit heavy-handed, to be sure, but not significantly more so than, say, Spike Lee setting Do the Right Thing on the hottest day of the year.
[Something]-from-hell thrillers were commonplace in the early ’90s, and Jackson’s role here is functionally equivalent to Robert De Niro’s in Cape Fear or Michael Keaton’s in Pacific Heights ... except that Lakeview Terrace stubbornly refuses to treat Abel like a generic bogeyman. Indeed, the movie opens not as you’d expect, with sympathetic Chris and Lisa packing their belongings or arriving at their new starter home, but with a portrait of widower Abel as martinet dad. We first see the new couple on the block through his suspicious eyes, which means (by the dictates of film grammar) that they’re implicitly coded as intruders. Wilson, perhaps the WASPiest actor in Hollywood, is practically the only Caucasian in sight; the movie subtly but audaciously unfolds as if white people were the minority, complicating our responses at every turn. Abel even has legitimate reasons to dislike Chris and Lisa, who on their first night proceed to have noisy sex in the pool, witnessed by Abel’s kids.
As a writer, LaBute tends to be brutal to the point of absurdity, but here he sticks closely to the sharp screenplay, written by David Loughery and Howard Korder. Every time Lakeview Terrace heads into conventional-thriller territory, it quickly retreats to plausibility and behavioral nuance; even late in the film, a scene of Abel attacking Chris through the fence with a chain saw (not as Leatherface as it sounds) is followed by a scene in which Abel buys Chris a drink at the local bar and sincerely tries to make amends. Chris and Lisa’s relationship, too, feels thoroughly lived-in, skirting melodrama at every turn—when Chris complains that being married to a black woman makes him feel like he’s “always on the front line,” Lisa’s gently incredulous reaction shows up Crash as the hyperbolic piffle it is. Which is why it’s such a letdown when Lakeview Terrace finally succumbs to genre dictates, transforming its well-wrought characters into clockwork morons for the sake of a rousing slam-bang finale. Difficult questions become fatuous answers. It’s a real shame.
Earlier this year, when I found myself assigned to jury duty on a drug-related trial at the Los Angeles Superior Court, our jury foreman turned out to be a blond, blue-eyed reality-TV producer from the bedroom community of Altadena. During the jury-selection process, when the judge asked if we had any particular positive or negative feelings about the police, the producer responded that he was very pleased with the work of the LAPD, who had helped to rid his neighborhood of some unsavory characters prone to "smoking marijuana and listening to hip-hop" at unconscionable hours of the day and night. This, in turn, elicited rolled eyes and an audible huff from a young African-American man also seated in the jury box. Lakeview Terrace is a movie that lives in such moments.
At first glance, it may puzzle followers of dramatist and occasional filmmaker Neil LaBute (In the Company of Men, The Shape of Things) that the American stage's crown prince of psychosexual power plays and the post-coital mindfuck has opted to follow his universally mocked 2006 remake of The Wicker Man by working as a director-for-hire on a yuppies-in-peril thriller that seems about two decades past its freshness date. But peer beneath Lakeview Terrace's lurid, exploitation-movie surface and you will find a vintage LaBute proposition: a taut three-hander that explores the space between surface appearances and realities, between what people say and what they really think.
Set in the titular suburb of Los Angeles's San Fernando Valley—the one where Rodney King was assaulted by police in 1991—the movie is about the troubles that arise when a newlywed interracial couple moves in next-door to a widowed African-American cop with three decades of service under his belt. There goes the neighborhood.
Lakeview Terrace begins with a shrewd moving-in scene, during which LAPD officer Abel Turner (Samuel L. Jackson) glances out his window at the new arrivals over the septic tank and briefly mistakes Chris Mattson (Patrick Wilson), the jocular, white husband of an alluring, well-dressed black woman (Kerry Washington), for one of the movers. A bit later, they meet-cute in the driveway—Chris smoking a covert cigarette behind the wife's back while rap music blares from his iPod, until Abel taps on his car window, flashlight in hand. "You can listen to that noise all night long, but when you wake up in the morning, you'll still be white," the cop says before uttering a forced chuckle. Things only get more Pacific Heights from there: Turner's megawatt security lights illuminate the Mattson bedroom like a football field; air-conditioner wires are not-so-mysteriously cut in the dead of summer; tires are slashed. When someone breaks into the young couple's garage in the middle of the night, Chris arms himself with his college lacrosse stick before running downstairs to investigate. Can you get any whiter than that?
Because it's being marketed as a run-of-the-mill psycho-cop romp, Lakeview Terrace will likely be evaluated solely on those terms. And as a suspense picture, it's only ho-hum, LaBute being the sort of director—much like his fellow playwright-filmmaker, David Mamet—who possesses only the most rudimentary know-how concerning the tools of cinema. (When he really wants to emphasize something, he cuts to a close-up and adds a musical sting on the soundtrack.) But like a lot of better genre fare, Lakeview Terrace uses its predictable premise to mount a stealth attack on the audience's sensibilities. Written by David Loughery and Howard Korder, this may be the perfect movie for the political moment, in that it's about people's latent prejudices—the ones they don't admit to in mixed company, and perhaps can't even acknowledge to themselves. Wilson, in particular, is very good as the Chicago native who went to Stanford on an athletic scholarship and, despite fancying himself an open-minded liberal, gives off an air of smug WASP privilege. He moves across the screen with the blissful self-confidence of someone who's never known what it means to be glared upon with innate suspicion. Watching him, we understand how an Abel Turner might take umbrage.
Lakeview Terrace never quite realizes when enough is enough, hunkering down the narrative with an overly symbolic brush fire that threatens our picture-postcard suburbia, giving Jackson's character a wholly unnecessary backstory, and culminating in an over-the-top finale full of ethereal light and crucifix poses. But along the way, it's one of those rare American movies about race in which things are shades of gray. Rather deftly, there's even a car crash or two, though that doesn't bring any of the movie's characters closer to a shared understanding. Can't we all just get along? LaBute doesn't deign to pretend like he knows the answer.
The New Yorker (Anthony Lane) review (Page 2)
Screen International review Brent Simon in Los Angeles
Seattle Post-Intelligencer review Paula Nechak
USA (77 mi) 1932
Lee Tracy Mark Harris from Patrick Murtha’s Diary
Lee Tracy, too little known today, is one of the all-time
great comic actors and a personal favorite of mine. He was the original Hildy
Johnson in The Front Page on Broadway and although his major films are
not numerous, each is a delight. Blessed Event with co-star Dick Powell
and Bombshell with co-star Jean Harlow are gems long beloved by
Thirties film buffs, but even they may not have seen The Half-Naked Truth,
which is a pure jolt of the Lee Tracy magic. His physical and vocal presence
are uniquely and unmistakably his: the lankily elastic body, the
whirling-dervish energy, the sarcastic tone, the long fingers that always seem
to be jabbing in someone's direction. There's not another screen actor I can
think of who has quite the manic joie de vivre of the young Tracy. In The
Half-Naked Truth, he plays a carnival barker and theatrical promoter who
will go to any insane lengths to hog headlines (a very contemporary figure for
us!). He's paired with Lupe "Mexican Spitfire" Velez, who proves to
be an extremely apt partner for him; you believe in these two together, and
that makes their final scene surprisingly emotional. (Tracy's magnetism
definitely has its romantic aspect; watching Bombshell, an audience
can be driven to heights of frustration waiting for Tracy and Harlow to realize
that they are, in fact, perfect for one another.) The wonderful ending of The
Half-Naked Truth also crystallizes the Tracy credo in a single line:
"What good is life if you don't get some fun out of it?" You can have
some of that fun by watching this film.
POSTSCRIPT: When I say that Tracy and Harlow are "perfect for each other" in Bombshell, I mean within the context of the film, that ends when the film is over: you can't actually imagine a future for them, but they demand to be paired by the 90 minute mark. Oddly, you can just about imagine a future for Tracy and Velez in The Half-Naked Truth (which is one reason its final scene is so good).
Tracy, a talent who takes a back seat to no one, pissed away his career, literally, in 1934. He had been cast in the film Viva Villa! (imagine Wallace Beery as Pancho Villa!), which was filmed partly on location in Mexico City. Bad boy Tracy pulled a prank by standing on the balcony of his hotel room and urinating on a passing military parade. This created quite a scandal. He was fired from the film and, although he did not stop working thereafter, he found himself increasingly relegated to second-tier productions.
Tracy did continue to appear in theater and, later, television, and had a bit of a comeback playing the President in Gore Vidal's The Best Man both on Broadway (he was nominated for a lead Tony) and film (he was nominated for a supporting Oscar). But his moment was really that 1925-1935 decade, both on stage in New York and on film in Hollywood.
Fuck All About Eve. The real masterpiece
about women and theater is Gregory La Cava's Stage Door, a film which
casts Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers, Eve Arden, Lucille Ball and many other
RKO women of the era as out-of-work actresses in a theatrical boarding house
called The Footlights Club. Excitingly feminist, marked by the Depression, and
obsessed by the sound of women talking, yelping, singing and generally whooping
it up, Stage Door, though well-loved by many, has never garnered a big
reputation, probably because La Cava himself has been overlooked in studies of
major directors of the period.
Like Leo McCarey, La Cava didn't like to stick to a script, and he took his improvisational methods radically far in Stage Door. For two weeks, he had his actresses rehearse on the Footlights Club set, and he engaged a stenographer to take down what they said during breaks. This loose chat was then incorporated into the film (
Stage Door is the defining film about the 1930s working girl. However, the women who lounge around the Footlights Club don't do all that much working, which means that money is always tight. When snooty Linda (Gail Patrick) sweeps into the main room in the opening scene,
As James Harvey points out in his book Romantic Comedy, it isn't what they say that is important but the way that they sound. The sound design of Stage Door and its overall aural chaos is enough to make your head spin, with overlapping dialogue that might throw even Robert Altman. It's as if these girls are terrified of silence, and if someone isn't pitching in a one-liner, another girl will laugh, sing, or simply throw out a nonsense noise.
When Hepburn's stage-struck heiress Terry Randall enters the club, everyone regards her suspiciously (just as flighty Hepburn herself was usually an iffy proposition for audiences). Terry is a serious, lyrical type, and the girls immediately think that she's a rich phony who will never fit into their world of wised-up badinage. Jean zeroes in on her and lets off one zinger after another, continually getting laughs from the girls. "Evidently you're a very amusing person," says Terry, arrogant yet vulnerable.
When the owner of the club, Mrs. Orcutt (Elizabeth Dunne), shows Terry around and tells her about her own theatrical career, she is cut off by down-on-her-luck Grande dame Catherine Luther (Constance Collier). "Mrs. Orcutt played with all the stars," says Miss Luther, leading Terry away. "She supported me in lots of my shows, didn't you dear?" La Cava gives Mrs. Orcutt a memorable close-up in response, a wounded, nearly servile look at Miss Luther that speaks volumes about their relationship and about the eternal relationship between stars and supporting players, a line of demarcation that Stage Door itself erases.
"Don't you ever take anything seriously?" high-minded Hepburn asks the girls after dinner. "After you've sat around for a year trying to get a job, you won't take anything seriously either," says Lucille Ball's Judy. Ball's line readings are swift and sour, but she's wet behind the ears compared to the great Arden, who has a white cat draped over her shoulders for most of the film. The inflections
Though Hepburn eventually emerges as the star of the movie,
Stage Door has a rather conventional tragic heroine, desperate Kaye Hamilton (Andrea Leeds), a sweet-faced type who loses the part she needs to Terry.
In rehearsals for Powell's show Enchanted April (based on Hepburn's 1934 Broadway flop The
In the end, there are no men to fall back on for these women (though Judy does get married). They're tough, and they ridicule each other mercilessly, but they're in this together. Kaye's death doesn't keep them teary-eyed for long, but in the last scene, the girls' frivolous talk has a gravitas that it didn't have before. La Cava shows that life goes on, and even repeats itself, as a new girl shows up at the club. She might be a new Terry, or perhaps a new Kaye. For these girls, the food will always be bad, the Depression will never be over, and men are their last option. If you listen closely to Stage Door—and some have made a religion of it—you might be surprised to find that underneath the wisecracks and snarky camaraderie of these extraordinary women lies the wintry humor of Samuel Beckett.
USA Great Britain (86 mi) 2005
Rize Michael Sicinski from the Academic Hack
How do you fuck that up? LaChapelle has successfully
turned in the worst possible documentary "feature" (it barely clocks
in) that could be generated from inherently compelling subject matter --
BEHIND THE WALLS (Derriere les murs)
Billed as the first French horror movie in 3D – and definitely the only one centered around a Laudanum-addicted femme writer in the 1920s – Behind the Walls (Derriere les murs) is a bizarre attempt to insert frights into an otherwise classic, and rather depressing, tale of provincial abandon. Novelty interest should accompany film’s July local release, followed by the usual ancillary action.
Model turned actress Laetitia Casta (The Island) stars as Suzanne, a Parisian novelist who, following her daughter’s death from illness, decides to isolate herself in a country manor to work on a new book. Haunted by visions of the dead child, which are heavily abetted by her nightly cocktail of pastis and liquid opium, Suzanne’s hallucinations begin to take on frightening (at least for her) proportions, while her novel starts resembling Jack Nicholson’s opus in The Shining.
When she’s not flipping out at home, Suzanne makes acquaintance with some creepy country folk, including a perverted shopkeeper (Jacques Bonnaffee) who likes to beat his wife to show Suzanne how much he digs her. She also takes interest in a local girl, Valentine (Emma Ninucci), who’s a stand-in for her deceased daughter. When Valentine and another village girl go missing, Suzanne goes truly bonkers, and only her brawny new boyfriend (Thierry Neuvic) can perhaps save the day.
There’s practically nothing eerie about freshman duo Julien Lacombe’s and Pascal Sid’s psychologically-bent story, which provides a tad too many Renoir-esque strolls through the countryside to ever feel menacing. When the filmmakers try to play their horror hand, they resort to predictable tactics like rats scampering across the floorboards or the ghostly presence of little girls (see The Shining, again), while 3D adds zero intensity.
Despite its many drawbacks, the film is somewhat sustained by Casta’s credible performance as a grieving, tortured mother, and one ultimately wonders if Behind the Walls would have been worked better as straightforward drama, sans scares but with a few more narrative snares.
Reunited with the same co-writer, the same crew and many of the same themes he explored in his 2006 Venice competion entry Private Property (Nue Propriete), buzzy Belgian auteur Joaquim Lafosse crafts another original, disturbing work which fails however to scale the same dramatic heights as that impressively tight chamber piece.
Once again, volatile male adolescence and adult irresponsibility react together in a claustrophobic hothouse environment. But here the story of the unhealthy relationship that develops between a sixteen-year-old boy and the thirty-something family friend who agrees to tutor him through his school-leaving exams is less controlled, both visually and structurally; it also feels ethically muddy in its half-fascinated, half-condemnatory portrayal of what in most people's books would count as sexual abuse of a minor.
This said, it's not necesarilly a less commercial film; although uncomfortable to watch at times, it emerges in the end as a coming-of-age fable with an almost happy ending, and there are moments of dour comedy. The frank sex-talk and sexual activity that peppers the film will stir debate and media interest, along the lines of Ma Mere – though it should do so without censorship problems in most territories, as although the adult-adolescent couplings here are upfront enough to disturb, the camera knows its limits.
Jonas (Bloquet) is an athletic and not particularly academic sixteen-year-old schoolboy who wants to become a tennis pro. But he doesn't quite have what it takes; and in the meantime, his school reports are disastrous. With divorced parents and a mother who spends most of her time away in the south of France, Jonas is adopted by a trio of older friends whose realtionship with each other, and with Jonas, is at first left deliberately unclear. One, the affable Pierre (Zaccai), takes Jonas' education in hand, coaching him as an outside student for the all-important school-leaving exam. But the teacher-pupil relationship is complicated by a climate of growing sexual complicity, which is encouraged by another adult couple with an open rapport, Pierre's friends' Didier (Renier) and Pascale (Coesens).
Private Pupil is about various brands of immaturity. The three adults that act as Jonas' surrogate parents treat his sexual education as a kind of game, though Jonas is clearly embarrassed by their frankness. His own immaturity consists in trying to act too grown-up, thus failing tell his irresponsible elders where to get off (something that Jonas' more self-assured girlfriend, Delphine, doesn't hesitate to do). As the game becomes more disturbing, interior scenes dominate and DoP Hachame Alaouie's palette veers into darker territory.
Belgium Luxembourg France Switzerland (112 mi) 2012
Our Children is called A Perdre La Raison in France, and viewers can quickly make the connection when its opening shots depict four small coffins being raised onto a plane bound for Morocco as a mother weeps in her hospital bed. It’s immediately clear that Joachim Lafosse is about to tackle one of cinema’s, and society’s, last taboos, the increasing numbers of parents who murder their own small children.
Much like the old people in Michael Haneke’s Love, infanticide is a problem society can’t quite face in the eye, and many will prefer to pass on Our Children for just that reason. Those brave enough - this is without a doubt an emotional racking - will witness an intelligent and responsible treatment from Belgian director Lafosse, a deeply moving performance by Emilie Dequenne, and a devastating look at a young woman come undone. Our Children is not a film to be undertaken lightly, but it does nonetheless deserve to be seen. Re-teaming A Prophet’s Niels Arestrup with Tahar Rahim may pique interest, but ultimately the only thing that will lure audiences to Our Children is critical support. It should be forthcoming.
Inspired by a real-life case in Belgium - although there are many similar stories worldwide that Lafosse could have chosen from - Our Children isn’t simply a story of a mother with post-natal depression. It’s much more oblique, and, like any family, complicated than that. Lafosse ratchets up the domestic drama to slowly force his principals into a position where the denouement - which is thankfully never depicted onscreen - is at least approaching a point where it can be understood. That’s in no small part due to Dequenne’s (Rosetta Stone) believably tragic performance as Murielle, a carefree young woman from a relatively poor background who falls for Tahar Rahim’s charming Mounir.
Lafosse’s camera discreetly observes Murielle and Mounir as they make love and marry - the director is working at their level, making his camera complicit in what transpires throughout. Moroccan-born Mounir is devoted to Dr Pinget (Arestrup), who has housed and brought him up, and, it is later made clear, also married Mounir’s sister in order to give her residency papers. It’s an uneasy, avuncular role that Arestrup underplays, and Lafosse holds back from making Dr Pinget alone culpable for what ultimately happens - although he holds all the financial and emotional cards.
Mounir and Murielle move in with Dr Pinget, but it’s a comfortable life that comes at a price. The autocratic Pinget and Mounir are obsessed with each other, although it’s not an overtly sexual relationship. They are the “we” in “Our Children”. While they easily accommodate Murielle at the onset of the marriage, the claustrophobic set-up won’t tolerate the four children she delivers in a short space of time. She’s trapped by the incessant demands of her babies and toddlers, by Mounir’s growing indifference, by her own doubts of her abilities as a mother (reinforced by the casually-bullying Pinget) and a crushing depression which he, as her family doctor, medicates.
Music plays a strong part in Our Children, most notably in Scarlatti’s baroque operas, and Haydn’s strings pull and peck at a 26-year-old woman and mother as she goes about her increasingly-sad life, cleaning and tending and buckling under the strain until the audience wants to look away, but Lafosse has made it his mission not to let that happen - this time.
Our Children: Cannes Review - The Hollywood Reporter Jordan Mintzer, May 22, 2012
Family tragedy intermingles with gender politics in a strong showing from Belgian auteur Joachim Lafosse
Turning a gruesome real-life incident into an arresting portrait of one woman¹s gradual slide towards the unspeakable, Our Children (A perdre la raison), an Un Certain Regard film, represents another tightly wound study of domestic malaise from Belgian auteur Joachim Lafosse (Private Property).
Featuring a riveting lead turn from Emilie Dequenne as a young mother caught between two men (A Prophet stars Tahar Rahim and Niels Arestrup) in a claustrophobic nightmare, this gloomy and penetrating psychological drama should receive steady art house play.
Inspired by events which took place in a distant suburb of Brussels in 2007, the script – co-written with Thomas Bidegain (Rust & Bone) and Matthieu Reynaert – sticks to many of the facts in the case of Genevieve Lhermitte, who turned herself into the police after coldly and clinically murdering her five kids with a kitchen knife (the film reduces the number to four, but who’s counting?). While such an act may ultimately be inexplicable, the various reasons posited by Our Children very much fit in with the oeuvre of the 37-year-old Lafosse, whose previous films (Private Property, Private Lessons) explored the effects of perversely close-knit relationships on a handful of characters.
In this instance, the story of Belgian schoolteacher, Murielle (Dequenne), and Moroccan immigrant, Mounir (Rahim), starts off on a rather upbeat note with them falling madly in love and deciding to live together in the home of Mounir’s surrogate father, Doctor Pinget (Arestrup). But as Murielle quickly learns, the physician casts a paralyzing shadow over his young ward, whom he brought over to Belgium years earlier, while also marrying Mounir’s sister for visa purposes.
When Murielle gives birth to a first and then a second child, life for the young couple seems more or less satisfying, even if Pinget tends to micromanage the household, from which he also runs a medical practice where Mounir works as his secretary. But when a third child arrives, the burden it places on the two parents is exacerbated by the doctor’s increasingly guru-like sway over Mounir, who has no means to support his family and relies on Pinget nearly every step of the way (a sexual background between the two is suggested at one point, though never confirmed).
There’s a part of Murielle that constantly urges her husband to distance himself from the authoritarian doctor, and another that welcomes the man’s presence, at least financially speaking. Indeed, as Pinget himself cynically explains, the two lovebirds – soon with a fourth child en route – would have a hard time surviving on their own, and he quickly bats down their pipedream of moving to Mounir’s homeland with the contempt of a seasoned colonialist. (“Do you know what life is like in Morocco?” he barks at his native-born protégé.)
Beyond such underlying commentaries on immigration and class status, Lafosse constantly reveals how the doctor’s good deeds are really used to dominate the couple both economically and emotionally, bringing them to a state of social asphyxiation. And as Murielle gets further sucked into the oppressive homestead, her various escape routes – including visits with a psychiatrist (Nathalie Boutefeu) and a brief but pleasant sojourn at the home of Mounir’s mother – slowly dry up, driving her towards the final, horrific act (for which Lafosse thankfully spares us the gritty details, confining things to a chilling off-screen space).
In one of her strongest leading roles to date, Dequenne (The Girl on the Train, Rosetta) does a remarkable job depicting Murielle’s wavering psychological states as she heads for oblivion, and an extended sequence-shot where she drives home while singing a Julien Clerc song is particularly unforgettable. If her character’s motivations are never fully understandable – some may wonder why the well-educated Murielle doesn’t just grab the kids and leave – the feeling that the walls are constantly closing in around her is extremely well illustrated.
Reteaming to play a duo similar to the one in A Prophet, Rahim and Arestrup maintain the film’s tense and sinister tone – the former providing a convincing mix of fragility and machismo, and the latter looking and acting more and more like Brando in the latter half of his career.
Widescreen cinematography by Jean-Francois Hensgens (Dark Tide) constantly uses objects or characters to blur a portion of the frame, as if the truth about the events could never be completely brought into focus. Decors by regular P.D. Anne Falgueres are comprised of tidy bourgeois living quarters where the curtains are always drawn and the family seems to be on permanent house arrest.
Hillary Swank reprises the Michelle Pfeiffer role in the 1995 film DANGEROUS MINDS, where a gutsy white female teacher finds a purpose in attempting to rehabilitate the emotionally damaged and forgotten lives of unwanted racially mixed freshman year high school kids who are targeted to be drop outs by the time they are juniors, so the school refuses to spend any money on resources or books, believing with these kids that’s a lost cause. What doesn’t work is the casting of goody two shoes Ms. Swank as a young twentysomething Erin Gruwell, known as Ms. G, whose artificial girl scout smile greeting them at the classroom door is just waiting for someone to wipe it off her face within minutes. What does work is the casting of previously unknown actors as the kids, who make up the four racial groups, blacks, white, Latino and Cambodian, each of which wrestle with their racial identity. Based on the experiences of a real life teacher in Long Beach, the film opens with the kid’s angry, explosive negativity to Ms. G’s white race, resentful of all the advantages her “whiteness” allows while they are forced to live inside a war zone, protective of what little turf they have, claiming she couldn’t begin to fathom what they have to go through just to get to school each day. So she decides to give them each notebooks and let them tell their own stories. Much of the film’s narrative comes from the actual writings, which lends a voice of poetic authenticity to the otherwise formulaic story of whites encountering trouble in the inner city classrooms, then having to rise to overcome insurmountable odds by identifying and then helping the kids overcome the negative stigmas standing in their path.
April Lee Hernandez is terrific as Eva, the angry Latina girl whose dad is rotting away in prison for something he didn’t do, or Jason Finn as Marcus, a boy who’s living anonymously in a hidden cubbyhole on the street, but the lives of others in the classroom are equally as compelling, including Jaclyn Ngan as a Cambodian girl who is all attitude but barely says a word, or moments with kids who are so invisible, other kids in the class couldn’t even recall seeing them before. All are given a collective voice, which tends to unify their experience, seeing through each other’s racial barriers in a somewhat utopian vision of what integration could and should be. Unfortunately, it’s a feel good, overly optimistic representation, an all or nothing process that shows a complete turnaround in the kid’s attitude and enthusiasm, instead of the struggle it must have been day by day to earn these kid’s respect, which would hardly come overnight. In this film, it was unity through the teachings of Anne Frank and the Holocaust, a teenager who faced even greater horrors in her lifetime, whose voice still speaks for all those kids who are needlessly lost at such an early age, nowadays typically to gang violence which ravages their young lives.
In an interesting twist, the film casts the daunting severity of Imelda Staunton as the head of the English department, Swank’s boss, who feels discipline, not learning, is what these kids need. Her racial bias, along with that of other white teachers, blames integration for actually ruining what was otherwise a terrific all-white school, where their test scores once soared, but now remains tarnished by the academically challenged minority, who they’d just as soon get rid of anyway, so they actually push them out sooner rather than later, as it makes their test scores overall look better. Staunton is just as persistent in her negativity as Swank is in her optimism, so there’s an interesting dynamic at play which is idealistically resolved by Swank simply going over her head, which causes continual conflict. In the real world, this teacher would probably be gone very quickly, as despite her enthusiasm, she represents a threat to the typically entrenched mindsets of the others who don’t reach into their own pockets to supply what’s needed, but have learned to live within the school’s depleted means.
The film overreaches but does not patronize, allowing the intensity of the kids to remain the focal point of the film, an interest that is sustained throughout. The film builds to an inspiring sequence, where all, including Staunton, are a bit overwhelmed at the maturity and respect these kids finally earn for themselves through their writings, but then bogs down afterwards through unnecessary relationship issues and needless bureaucratic hagglings which only takes attention away from the lives of the kids, much of which is heartbreaking. When they remain onscreen, the film bristles with energy and intensity which is immediately lost when the story veers in other directions. Even so, the film is uplifting and inspiring, but one becomes a bit sick of white saviors of the racially deprived and underprivileged in the movies, a theme that refuses to recognize the interest and imagination that is coming from within the minority community itself, whose role models continue to be overlooked in favor of movie star white heroes.
Freedom Writers JR Jones from the Reader
Screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, The
Bridges of Madison County) was inspired by a 1998 PrimeTime Live
segment to script and direct this movie about Erin Gruwell, a fledgling teacher
Neither Half Nelson nor all bad, this white- teacher-uplifts-poor-kids- of-color drama aims to favor the students' stories, which are based on those of real-life Cali high schoolers who wrote their way out of oppression and anonymity in the mid '90s. But those diary entries too often take a backseat to the film's "Ms. G.," played by two-time Oscar winner and Chad Lowe survivor Hilary Swank, who makes instantly credible her character's preference of work over marriage to a boring man-behind-the-woman (Patrick Dempsey). Our eager-beaver heroine suffers the kids' sarcasm, fails to earn their respect by bringing in a Tupac tape, then wins them over in a crucial scene that, fact-based or not, rings as false as anything in Dangerous Minds. Reaction shots of the class's befuddled white boy are played for cheap laughs, but writer-director Richard LaGravenese otherwise keeps it real by recruiting cinematographer Jim Denault from Indieville High and Imelda Staunton—here playing Bitchy Old Department Head.
FILM REVIEWS Scott Foundas from the LA Weekly
For those who found Half Nelson a bit too gritty for their
palates, here comes Hilary Swank as a first-year high-school teacher who
doesn’t look like she’s ever paid a bill late, let alone lit up a crack pipe.
As 23-year-old Erin Gruwell, she’s a prim idealist in polka dots and pearls — a
very white knight cast into the “voluntarily integrated” combat zone of Long
With her Marge Simpson pearls, toothy grin, and unshakable belief in the essential decency of human nature, Hilary Swank cuts a decidedly anachronistic figure in Freedom Writers, Richard LaGravenese's fact-based inspirational-teacher drama. Set in the mid-'90s, the film takes place in the sort of crime-ravaged Southern California war zones immortalized in NWA's music and movies like Menace II Society. But Swank animates her dogged positivity with an old-school combination of indefatigable '50s optimism and '60s civil-rights activism.
Playing yet another iron-willed true believer, Swank stars as an idealist who takes a job at a tough inner-city school where apathy and cynicism reign, and withering contempt for humanity is a widespread occupational hazard. Swank's Pollyanna pluck initially just earns her insolent glares from burnt-out teachers and students alike, but her persistence eventually wins her the loyalty and affection of shell-shocked pupils unaccustomed to teachers driven by an almost messianic sense of purpose. Swank ignites her pupils' imagination by getting them to write about their lives in cathartic personal journals, and by drawing parallels between their dangerous adolescences and the harrowing travails of Anne Frank. Patrick Dempsey co-stars in the thankless role of Swank's long-suffering husband, who pops up at regular intervals to complain that Swank's job is swallowing her life and their marriage.
Like its do-gooder protagonist, Freedom Writers doesn't have a hip or knowing bone in its body. It's so doggedly square that even the faintest hint of irony or sarcasm would probably shatter it, especially once it dives headfirst into the heavy emotional terrain of the Holocaust. Yet thanks to LaGravenese's empathetic writing and direction, and Swank's titanic force of will, Freedom Writers' unabashed earnestness proves unexpectedly powerful: Its heart-on-its-sleeve humanism batters down viewers' defenses just as diligently as Swank wears down her students'. Though the film seldom strays from formula, there's something strangely moving about Swank's conviction that, in spite of everything, people are really good at heart.
'Freedom Writers' is a work of pros – Orange County Register Teresa Budasi from the Chicago Sun-Times
Any film with an earnest message about education automatically gets moved to the head of the class, and from there can only get moved back by earning demerits for indiscretions like bad acting, implausibility and gooey sentimentality.
"Freedom Writers," which has a lot to say about education and the flaws in the American public-school system, gets high marks -- for effort and for merit. So much could have gone wrong here. It's as formulaic as any of its predecessors -- "Stand and Deliver," "Lean on Me," "Dangerous Minds" and the granddaddy of them all, 1967's "To Sir, With Love" -- where a teacher placed in a classroom of "unteachables" must use unorthodox methods to get them in line and make them want to learn. But where a couple of those stories went astray, the highly inspiring "Freedom Writers" manages to maintain the integrity of its message.
Writer/director Richard LaGravenese, best known for his screenwriting ("The Fisher King," "The Bridges of Madison County," "The Horse Whisperer," "Beloved"), can take much of the credit. "Freedom Writers" is LaGravenese's first major feature film in almost a decade. His 1998 gem, "Living Out Loud," which starred Holly Hunter, Danny DeVito and Queen Latifah, proved he could direct a multifaceted cast, and he lives up to that potential here.
Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank leads a first-rate cast of veterans and unknowns in her role as the young, idealistic teacher Erin Gruwell, who on her first day at Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, Calif., shows up sporting a crisp business suit, a string of pearls and the enthusiasm of a dozen cheerleaders. It takes less than a day to shock her into the reality that it's going to take a lot more than spirited determination to get through to kids who may only be freshmen but who've experienced a lot more of life than they should have at such a young age
Where most would be inclined to engage in petty argument and
rebellious tactics in such a situation,
Some critics may see as a flaw that the troubles the kids face outside the classroom are somewhat downplayed. We see snippets while hearing voiceover readings from their journals -- stories of domestic violence, drugs, gangs, neglect, incarceration, discrimination -- but they're a bit overshadowed by the educational aspects of the story, which is the larger point of this film. LaGravenese does well balancing it all, including the hip-hop score, which easily could have been overplayed to emphasize grittiness but instead creates an understated, poignant ambience.
A couple of supporting roles should be noted: April Lee Hernandez as the tormented Eva, who admits out loud her hatred for whites, and Jaclyn Ngan as Sindy, who barely has a speaking part but whose expression, attitude and body language convey more than any line of dialogue could.
Patrick Dempsey and Scott Glenn also turn in nice
performances as the men in
World Socialist Web Site Joanne Laurier
New York Times (registration req'd) Manohla Dargis
A MONKEY ON MY SHOULDER (À coeur ouvert) C- 68
aka: An Open Heart
France Argentina (87 mi) 2012
Not sure how this project ever came to light, filmed by French director Marion Laine in her second feature, her first being an adaptation of a Flaubert short story in A SIMPLE HEART (2008), so her area of expertise apparently is in matters of the heart. Adapted by the director from a Mathias Énard novel Traveling Up the Orinoco, she took certain liberties, especially in reconceiving the end, where the initial interest was from Argentinean actor Édgar Ramírez, from CARLOS (2010), who asked Juliette Binoche if she’d consider playing opposite him. They switch roles from the book, which features a French leading man and a South American woman, but both play successful doctors working at the same hospital. Given a narrative structure that resembles A Star Is Born (1954), initially it’s Ramírez as Javier who receives all the acclaim as a leading heart surgeon, with Binoche’s Mila playing a more supportive role in the operating room. Married for ten years, they are a somewhat sophisticated couple, balancing career and home life, where they both work well together with the steady hands of skilled surgeons while also having a freely uninhibited sex life at home. But Javier ignores the hospital’s warnings about his excessive drinking until they revoke his privileges, slowly at first, but when he continues to flaunt his rebellious streak against their authority, he’s basically out of a job, having a position in name only. Utterly humiliated, his pride takes a beating, which only leads to more drinking, where his sanctimonious behavior is pretty deplorable (much like the final episode of CARLOS), where one wonders how Mila could survive his wildly aggressive and often violent mood swings, but she is a believer that love cures all ills. What changes her mood is to learn surprisingly that she is pregnant, where in typical French behavior, she only takes birth control some of the time, believing that’s enough.
Mila prepares to have an abortion, as both never intended to have children, until Javier changes his mind. Since he’s not working anyway, he thinks a baby may alter his mental outlook, so being the devoted wife, Mila agrees to sacrifice her career and move to South America to make him happy, hoping it might jump start his deteriorating self-esteem. Well, lo and behold, it doesn’t, where this turns into a wretched display of drunken behavior, accentuated by self loathing, growing worse by the minute, where the free-for-all of detestable mistreatment of one another, especially during Mila’s pregnancy, is revoltingly pathetic and hard to watch, as a good portion of the film is spent fighting and screaming at one another, where a good deal of the set is destroyed in the process, where multiple takes must have been fun. The melodramatic overreach is utterly predictable, where halfway in viewers may think enough is enough, as the miserablist tone rarely changes, making this a one-note movie. Laine does exhibit a surrealistic flair for dream sequences by the end, however, which are actually set in the magnificent Iguazu Falls of Argentina, but this comes way too late to rescue an already sinking ship. There isn’t an ounce of credibility that either Binoche or Ramírez are doctors, but the French have a way with love scenes. In the end one of the characters suffers an accident and falls into a coma, expected to never revive, where in the book the character dies and the partner performs the autopsy, labeling each body part in meticulous detail, which one must admit is a thoroughly horrid finale. The film leaves the ending open ended, where the picturesque dream sequences finally scream with life.
A coeur ouvert / Marion Laine / film Films de France
Mila and Javier are two heart surgeons who have been married for ten years. They have two passions in their life: their love for one another and their work. When Mila becomes pregnant the couple’s harmonious relationship is threatened, aggravated by Javier’s liking for alcohol...
The promise of Juliette Binoche and Edgar Ramirez paired as a passionate,
volatile couple made writer-director Marion Laine’s A Monkey on My Shoulder
about as essential viewing as any new French film premiering in the Cannes
Market. It would also surely be a reasonable example of a French film with
major stars and considerable
In this case, the absence of a Binoche-Ramirez pairing in the official selection is all too clear: Laine’s drama, based on Mathias Énard’s novel, Remonter L’Orénoque (Traveling Up the Orinoco), ends up being a royal mess, an emotional tennis match with the two actors volleying and proceeding to rip down the net.
Ramirez’ Javier is his hospital’s top heart surgeon, while Binoche’s Mila is his immediate second. (The film’s French title translates, in an unfortunate pun, as “Open Heart.”) His skills on full display in the opening sequence, Javier is at the same time on the hospital’s blacklist due to his raging alcoholism. Lusty as bunnies when they get back home, via motorcycle, Javier and Mila tend to be people who throw their entire beings at whatever task is at hand, whether it’s sex, work, or habitually breaking into the local zoo to frolic with, yes, the monkeys.
There turns out to be a whole lot of business with those monkeys, all of it increasingly laughable. But what undoes this Monkey is the movie’s obsession with pitting the two actors against each other in an endless string of domestic squabbles in which Ramirez is allowed to literally tear down the scenery. (His doctor makes Hugh Laurie’s House look positively sane.) The actors, at least, surely had a ball.
A Monkey On My Shoulder | Review | Screen Lisa Nesselson from Screendaily
Intense, earnest and perilously close to over-the-top, A Monkey On My Shoulder (A Coeur Ouvert) is a frustratingly uneven Days of Wine and Roses meets open heart surgery. Juliette Binoche and Edgar Ramirez (Carlos) deliver feral, unbridled performances as lusty, playful husband-and-wife heart surgeons who specialize in transplants although he’s a hopeless alcoholic.
At first the melodrama holds together reasonably well even though the tug of Love and Death is laid on with a trowel. But as their buoyant relationship deteriorates, one does want to shout at the screen: “Physicans! Heal thyselves!”
One of at least 10 films in the French release schedule this summer that happens to have been scripted and directed by a French woman, Marion Laine’s sophomore feature is watchable but not satisfying.
“We eat too much, drink too much, screw too much and don’t get enough exercise,” says Mila (Binoche). She and Javier (Ramirez) are heart surgeons by day, renegade skinny dippers by night. When they’re not doing transplants (several docu-style close-ups are not for the squeamish), they’re cavorting like teenagers despite a decade of marriage. They’re truly, madly, deeply smitten and can’t keep their hands off each other.
Mila - who, like many a heart surgeon, has a monkey tattooed astride one ear - is unconditionally in love. No words or actions, however harsh, can dent her deep-seated complicity with Javier for long. As his alcohol habit eats away at his judgment centers, Javier is increasingly prone to jealous, possessive and irresponsible imaginings.
Although he’s as brilliant as ever - he’s the one who set up the transplant unit - and his hands are still steady, co-workers file complaints. Javier is banned from operating, which gives him more time to drink.
Like many medical specialists, Mila seems to have forgotten where babies come from. When she offhandedly complains to the staffgynecologist that she’s been plagued by nausea, the lady doc asks “Have you been taking the pills I prescribed?” “Most of the time,” says Mila.
Mila schedules an abortion. She and Javier never wanted kids to disrupt their carnal idyll. But Javier now wants the child - or thinks he does. Wearing rose-coloured blinkers, Mila is prepared to make radical sacrifices to boost her beloved’s fragile self-esteem.
Laine was keen to work with Ramirez and it was he who suggested Binoche. Are they convincing as eternal lovebirds? Yes. As heart surgeons? Not really, although both leads are conscientiously acting up a storm while endeavouring to dodge overly spelled out symbolism.
Mila’s attitude toward her accidental pregnancy is one of the more original aspects of the tale. She sees her condition as a mistake to be rectified pronto. Although she saves lives for a living, she couldn’t care less about creating a dependent life form of her own. Dream-like sequences in the final stretch have visual oomph but feel closer to a cop-out than a gutsy narrative solution.
A Monkey on my Shoulder (A Coeur Ouvert): Film Review - The ... Bernard Besserglik from The Hollywood Reporter
ALMOST 18 (Kohta 18) B 85
Finland (110 mi) 2012
There were five of us guys… I think we all had normal families. Normal problems. Normal feelings. There was nothing we couldn’t overcome. And then one year, for some reason, everything started going to shit. —Joni (Ben Thompson Coon)
A big winner at the 2013 Finland Jussi Awards, winning Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay, yet despite the acclaim, there are plenty of drawbacks to this film, where the sketchy portraits often feel isolated and lead nowhere, never really connecting the dots to an overall dramatic theme. While it’s the coming-of-age saga of five male friends who are about to turn 18, a major step in one’s life as it’s symbolic of young adulthood and possibly moving away from home, the film is divided into five twenty-minute segments highlighting each kid, sarcastically narrated by the oldest who has already turned 18, Joni (Ben Thompson Coon), seen in the opening segment in family therapy acknowledging he’s never really had a single happy moment with his family. While there is plenty of humor, not the least of which is the self-effacing Finnish take on their nation’s inept hockey team that perpetually loses to both Sweden and Russia, the individual segments highlight the family dysfunction which at times can get dramatically serious and overly involved, where at times the parents troubling behavior seems destined to drive their kids out of the house, a feeling they already shamefully regret even though it hasn’t happened yet. Written by the director and her son, Henrik Mäki-Tanila who plays Karri, seemingly the most well adjusted kid, seen getting often hilarious driving lessons from his mother, Elina Knihtiä, the star of The Good Son (Hyvä poika) (2011), who knows her son’s habits well, ordering him out of the car to take a breath test after he’s been out drinking all night, but they’re the happiest together, as they continually poke fun at one another with good-humored sarcasm. If the rest of the film was as good as this segment the film would be highly recommended. It’s easily the most intimately personal of the bunch, as without a father in the home, these two really care about each other. Nonetheless, he’d much prefer hanging out with the guys, who at one point or another celebrate each others 18th birthday in style, seen during the summer jumping off a rock cliff into the sea, where there’s a youthful enthusiasm usually enhanced by typical adolescent experiences with alcohol and smoking pot.
While girls are present, they don’t really figure prominently in the film, which is a bit surprising, as you’d think sex would be all these guys think about. Pete (Anton Thompson Coon), yes, real life brothers with the actor playing Joni, does have girlfriend problems of his own, caught up in the abortion dilemma, comforting his girlfriend after she takes an abortion pill. His biggest surprise, however, is reserved from his parents who happily inform him on his 18th birthday that his mother is pregnant. Pete goes into a deliriously self-centered extended rant on the woes of being a teenager, railing against his parents, where he literally curses them out for acting like kids who ought to be ashamed of themselves. His parents, meanwhile, sit there quietly holding hands just waiting for him to conclude his tirade, glad that he’s taking it so well. Easily the most poignant sequence is André (Karim Al-Rifai), seen picking up his little brother at daycare when his mother, who’s rarely at home, has forgotten. The relationship between the two brothers beautifully expresses brotherly tenderness, even with the youngest crying out for attention, usually inappropriately, as he’s continually left alone, where André is the only real parent he knows, so he constantly bargains for more time together. André struggles with juggling his own life, including schoolwork, buying groceries, preparing food, putting his brother to bed, calming him afterwards when he has nightmares, and after finally getting him asleep, having to greet his loud and heavily intoxicated mother when she arrives at the door around midnight with a lecherous guy on her arm. His mother (Mari Perankoski) is easily the most despicable character in the film, suggesting a reversal of roles, where it’s the parents that act more childishly irresponsible than their fairly well behaved children.
Perhaps the most bizarre cultural reflection of Finnish child-rearing is the absent alcoholic father, where Akseli (Arttu Lähteenmäki) spends the weekend with his grandparents, who politely disappear when his non-verbose father arrives, inviting his son into the woods to go hunting, where his father continually drinks beer and the two of them sit there in an elevated wooden hunter’s nest without uttering a sound. It’s only fitting they have a Finnish sauna where his father jumps into the freezing river afterwards while Akseli grabs a beer and quickly searches through his father’s shirt for cigarettes. This relationship might be sad if it wasn’t so pathetic, offering plenty of dour insight into the remote emotional isolation of Scandinavia. Joni’s segment is first and last, dressed up in an oversized, furry wolf costume at the Linnanmäki amusement park in Helsinki, where young girls love to run up to him and squeeze his soft fur, where he is seen surreally riding his bike or walking next to the sea in costume. When we meet his mother, Niina Nurminen, she appears young and vivacious, but instead of recalling what it’s like to be a moody, self-absorbed teenager, she becomes openly suspicious and hounds her son, pestering him with questions once she discovers his love of pot smoking. His mother literally freaks out, showing a giant-sized crack in the armor of her all-controlling world, where she runs her family like a drill sergeant expecting everyone to pass inspection. Is it any wonder Joni is drawn to the mellow, more laid-back mood of pot smoking? And while it’s true, he’s a stone cold pothead, it doesn’t limit his prospects for the future, as he’s intelligent, socially outgoing, probably the leader of the group, and would likely succeed at anything he attempted. At the moment, however, he takes his furry wolf outfit to all-girl parties, becoming something of a stripper and hired sex object, a nighttime job that covers his drug expenses. Featuring plenty of naked backsides, a recurring image is seeing the group of five pilfering a sofa to sit comfortably overlooking some natural landscape, as if suspended in a state of inertia, where the film often feels more like a collection of vignettes, where what’s missing is a common thread holding it all together.
KARRI, 17, takes his last driving lesson with his own taxi-driver
mother as the teacher. She wants to discuss serious things in life. The wheel
turns into the wrong direction right on the home yard.
Nisimazine | Review: Almost 18 Theo Prasidis
Teenage family dramas have been dominating both European and American indie scenes for the last decade. With the arrival of the digital age and filmmaking becoming increasingly accessible, they have flourished, adopted new codes, developed certain genre conventions and in some cases delivered admirable low-budget gems that have been enthusiastically welcomed by the audiences (Juno, 2007) and dearly favored by critics (Winter’s Bone, 2010). Either by conducting profound studies or simply by succumbing to passing trends, modern directors are increasingly concerned about the uncharted territory of the teenage psyche. This is the case with Maarit Lalli, who appears to have become overwhelmed by their indiscreet charm.
There were five of us guys. […] I think we all had normal families. Normal problems. Normal feelings. There was nothing we couldn’t overcome. And then one year, for some reason, everything started going to shit.
The plot is exceedingly simple. Five teenage pals are reaching 18. We follow them closely in their everyday struggle with their family, their lovers and the society. They have fun, fall in love, get drunk, fight, cry, regret. We witness them maturing through their domicile misadventures. The voice-over in the beginning of the film, which was mentioned above, sets up the viewers’ anticipations right from the go. Coupled with playful hand-held camerawork and up-beat hip-hop loops, it’s all about those raging hormones. We’re clearly off for some seriously messed up situations. Well, almost…
Almost 18 is a product of pure love. It is not an accident that in her feature debut, the 48-year-old Finnish with a television background, which did not fail to show, did not only perform directorial and screenwriting duties, but was also responsible for the production, cinematography, editing, costume design and art direction of the film. Maarit Lalli is deeply in love with her characters. One notices this every time she gently touches them with the lens, every time she pads their dreamy sequences with moody acoustic strings, every time she speaks through their lines. And this is the fundamental problem of the film. Her involvement in this has somewhat clouded her judgment and has resulted in a loss of her objectivity and clear gaze.
There are many reasons why Almost 18 is an average teenage drama. There is a dominant feeling of a constant attempt to create conflict. Each individual story is floundering to reach a climax, but all eventually fail. And the reason is simply because these kids are alright. They are all strong, handsome, cool, smart and well-dressed ladies’ men. They don’t make real mistakes. Their worse behavior is drinking beer and smoking pot. Even the one who is into gigolo stuff is very much aware of the unfulfilling sense his pursuit of the fleeting pleasures offers him. They are already fully-fledged personalities which could easily give their own parents a lesson on maturity. So it plays out like a latent maternal fantasy of a perfect son. Moreover, from the obvious focus-pulling shaky photography to the predictable musical choices, it is cinematically trite. What ultimately holds the film together and prevents the final tailspin are the performances of the actors, which are at least sincere, and which arguably serve as the main directorial focus from the very beginning.
The fact that teenage dramas can be inexpensively produced doesn’t make them an easy genre to deal with. Teenage characters do not coincide with motives of the grown-up characters. Their behavior can be highly unpredictable. This is why in a genre that tends to glut, every new offering ought to be truly original, unmistakably clear and rudely daring.
Rene Laloux was not involved in the writing of this story,
which was done by the patients of an asylum. Which immediately brings the
challenges of 'automatic writing' in mind.
What is brought to us, the viewers, is a lovely tale filled with obvious and undercurrent symbolism, appealing like primitive painting and with a depth that is breathtaking.
For those who want clear cut straight run of the mill storytelling with not too much story in it ... shy away from this little gem.
For all that like everything that promises to give more than meets the eye: do not miss this short !!
(Nor the other 2 Miracles which are given as an extra on the
Les Escargots () was made in 1965 and marked an earlier collaboration with Roland Topor and Alain Goraguer, whose contributions were so crucial to the distinctive style of La Planète sauvage. A surrealistic tale of a farmer whose failing crop is revived by his own tears, then is destroyed by giant snails that subsequently go on the rampage, it inevitably shines in its artwork but is also very funny in places, not least the farmer's methods of inducing a constant stream of tears, including reading Shakespearean tragedies and a back-mounted machine for bashing himself repeatedly on the head. Quality is not bad, given the age and probable rarity of prints.
This short film is included with the recent DVD rerelease of
Fantastic Planet, and I have to say I like it a bit better than the feature.
Laloux's earlier short is a lot less politically oriented, a lot less sensical,
but because of those aspects a lot more surreal and psychedelically wonderful.
A farmer can't get his crops to grow until he discovers that they absolutely flourish under his tears. Utilizing a series of devices to ensure he can cry all over the field, he raises the plants to gigantic proportions. But just like Jack and the Beanstalk, gigantic proportions of food also equate gigantic proportions of pests, and snails eat their way through the crops until they go on a King Kong-like rampage of a nearby city, seducing pretty girls and destroying entire buildings at the same time. Once recovered from the attack, the farmer goes back and tries growing carrots this time. Which means rabbits.
The same style of animation is used here as in the later Fantastic Planet. Warm colors and colored pencil shadings create a form of cut-out animation (think
An animated sci-fi film that resembles
the look of MONTY PYTHON or YELLOW SUBMARINE, or even the Beatles video to
“Eleanor Rigby,” complete with cardboard cut out, emotionless faces. Here humans are the prey of giant blue
creatures known as Draags, calling the humans Oms. The Oms exist in a prehistoric mindset, as
they huddle together in caves, are scantily clothed, and carry spears or other
primitive weapons. Supposedly the
filmmaker’s reaction to the Russian invasion of
This film is set on another world where
the Oms are kept as pets, but otherwise despised by the giant blueys, who find
them unintelligent and smelly, periodically cleansing the neighborhood of Oms,
using outlandish devices to exterminate their presence from the planet, from
simply stepping on them, or employing giant vacuum sucking monsters, using
poison gasses or giant balls that flatten and steamroll people. The story follows one such pet whose life was
saved only to become enslaved by the giant community, placing an electric
collar around his neck to demand immediate compliance. But over time, he learns the ways of the
Draags and attempts to use that information to save his own people. Eventually the Oms become more resistant,
using more sophisticated weaponry, and a bit of the imagery resembles
Gulliver’s capture by the Lilliputians.
By stealing the Draags technology, called their listening devices, the
Oms are able to access a means to fight back, initially hiding in exile in a
deserted part of their world, eventually travelling to another planet to
escape. But strangely, the Draags show
up there as well, which turns this into an intergalactic dispute. The jazzy electric guitar-laced musical score
by Alain Goraguer feels strangely like it’s from another era, allowing
us to recall a time in our lives when psychodelic imagery was the rage, from
comics to Pop Art. This film is an
exquisite representation of thinking completely outside the moment, using one’s
imagination to initially flee, then take up arms against an invading
nation. Thirty years later, with our own
Are you ready for the struggle of the Oms against their oppressive masters, the 40-foot Draags? Something of a revelation to anyone who thinks animation extends only as far as Fritz the Cat, Roland Topor's graphics create a world reminiscent of two of the greatest artists of the fantastic, Bosch and Odilon Redon. He sketches a menacing landscape full of womb-like passages, intestinal plants, strange phallic and vaginal shapes, and extraordinary posthistoric monsters.
CINE-FILE: Cine-List - CINE-FILE Chicago Mojo Lorwin
In this Dali-esque animation, based on the Cold War-era novel Oms en Serie (1957) by Stefan Wul, the earth is ruled by the "Draags," a giant race of blue neutered technocrats with a passion for meditation. Domestic humans known as "Oms" are the "little animals you stroke between meditations" while wild humans/Oms are hunted like cockroaches. The surreal and perilous world of FANTASTIC PLANET (originally LA PLANETE SAUVAGE) is rendered in beautiful (very 70s) cut out stop motion. Highlights include a glow-orgy induced by an aphrodisiac communion wafer and a cackling anthropomorphized Venus flytrap. The soundtrack is a near-constant synth jam that oscillates from moody and spacey to raunchy porn funk. The film was begun in Czechoslovakia but finished in France for political reasons, and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union looms over the story. Themes of repression, rebellion, and the dangers of technocracy permeate FANTASTIC PLANET. The film seems to suggest that excessive rationality can make the ruling class blind to its cruelty, but also that solidarity can flourish in the midst of persecution and degradation.
DVDBeaver Gary W. Tooze
René Laloux's mesmerising psychedelic sci-fi animated feature won the Grand
Prix at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival and is a landmark of European animation.
Based on Stefan Wul's novel Oms en série [Oms by the dozen], Laloux's
breathtaking vision was released in France as La Planète sauvage [The
Savage Planet]; in the USA as Fantastic Planet; and immediately drew
comparisons to Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Planet of the Apes
(both the 1968 film and Boule's 1963 novel). Today, the film can be seen to
prefigure much of the work of Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli (Princess
Mononoke, Spirited Away) due to its palpable political and social
concerns, cultivated imagination, and memorable animation techniques.
Fantastic Planet tells the story of "Oms", human-like creatures, kept as domesticated pets by an alien race of blue giants called "Draags". The story takes place on the Draags' planet Ygam, where we follow our narrator, an
Widely regarded as an allegorical statement on the Soviet occupation of
Animation became big business again in the late '80s, and ever since, it's become less and less likely that there'll be another full-length animated feature quite as weird as René Laloux's underground 1973 French classic La Planete Sauvage (Fantastic Planet). Drawn with sharp details in warm pastel colors, the movie is just the kind of hippie allegory—and trippy visual experience—that the '60s often produced. Fantastic Planet, adapted from a novel by Stefan Wul, was inspired by the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Russians in the late '60s. On the planet Ygam lives a race of giant, alien beings called Traags. These Traags, who are prone to hallucinatory bouts of group meditation, keep the oddly human-like Oms as pets, often treating them with the sadism and perverse maternalism humans frequently inflict upon their own pets. Never underestimate the ingenuity of an Om, though: When one absconds with one of the Traags' knowledge devices, he uses the tool to foment a wild Om uprising against his captors. Available for the first time in years and now presented in widescreen, Laloux's film, which won the 1973 Cannes Grand Prix Prize, is a welcome respite from slick Disney product and countless shoddy imitators. Started in Prague but completed, due to political pressure, in Paris, Fantastic Planet uses an accessible medium to show the evils of propaganda and express the need for individuality. Laloux's vision of a Dali-meets-Krazy Kat alien landscape populated by twisted creatures is quite striking, even if the film's psychedelic elements haven't exactly aged well. As an added bonus, the DVD edition comes with three earlier Laloux shorts—1960's Les Dents Du Singe (Monkey's Teeth), 1964's Les Temps Morts (Dead Times), and 1965's Les Escargots (The Snails)—that are respectively thoughtful, haunting, and funny.
Fantastic Planet (original French title: La Planete sauvage) is a
1973 animated science-fiction film directed by Rene Laloux with design by
Roland Topor, based on Stefan Wul's allegorical novel Oms en serie. The
film began production in
The story concerns the Oms, a race of Earth-origin humans living on a planet where they are dominated and kept as pets by the Traags, giant (by comparison) blue aliens who see the "animals" as an amusement until they observe signs of intelligence and organization among the tribes of un-domesticated "wild Oms." An orphaned
Fantastic Planet successfully implements the elusive sense of other-worldliness so many live-action science-fiction films fail to pull off. The film's look is unique even among animated features—it uses a sophisticated combination of cut-out and cel animation, allowing for Winsor McCay-ish artwork with detailed cross-hatching and pastel shading while avoiding the obvious "joints" of conventional cut-out animation (a la South Park.) The background and character designs fit together organically, without the hard lines and flat colors that separate the two in cel animation. Character movement is sometimes limited by this approach, but the film benefits greatly from Laloux's technical risks—its consistent stylization lends a credible alien quality to its fantasy world.
Laloux's film is also solid from a storytelling perspective—its gently-paced, literary feel drives its message home without becoming preachy. The script wisely avoids facile good-vs-evil themes, building its impact through bits and pieces, words and images that add up to a fully-realized portrait of two cultures in conflict. The exquisitely original look of the film is backed up with mature philosophical substance. Forget Titan A.E., Heavy Metal and half of the anime you've seen—Fantastic Planet is animated science-fiction at its finest.
Twenty-five years after it won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, Rene Laloux's animated oddity Fantastic Planet is humming back into theaters, a theremin-toned time capsule from the trippier precincts of toontown and science fiction. If you've never caught it during a cable-TV binge, it should still provide the giddy buzz of arty weirdness that has long made it an object of cult veneration, a sci-fi starter drug that turned many a budding fan on to Stanislaw Lem, Tarkovsky flicks, and old-school Heavy Metal comics.
Based on a novel by Czech fantasist Stefan Wul, Planet opens on an
unselfconsciously ominous note: a ragged woman clutching a baby runs through a
thorny wilderness, sharp Yellow Submarineish squiggles and spikes
raining onto her path. The cause of her trouble is soon revealed when a giant blue
hand appears, casually flicking her about until her small body lies in a broken
heap. The hand belongs to a child of the Draag race, hundred-foot-tall,
azure-skinned, and blank-eyed beings who brought the little Oms (a play on hommes,
i.e., us) to their home planet centuries ago, alternately keeping them as pets
and decrying them as fast-breeding vermin. The Draags don't think the Oms are
very intelligent but they do learn tricks and fit into dollhouses, so a kindly
Draag girl named Tiwa takes the orphaned baby in. She names him Terr and he
grows to learn the ways of the Draags, eventually escaping to a
French director Laloux enlisted the services of Czech animators for Planet,
and their spare but vivid images reflect period psychedelia and the globular,
hypnotically repetitive fancies of Pop Art. The film tosses off sci-fi
flourishes like rocket ships and cybernetic teaching devices, but its heart is
in the psychological and druggily inexplicable, as in the repeated Draag
meditations where their souls (or something) are transferred to spheres which
casually float to their moon. Although the visuals are worth the ticket alone, Fantastic
Planet also crackles with emotional and political resonance: Terr's status
as plaything is as viscerally humiliating as the Draag's "de-
Fantastic Planet • Senses of Cinema Chris Justice, April 2005
Fantastic Planet / La Plenète sauvage Slarek from DVD Outsider
DVD Times Anthony Nield
Electric Sheep Magazine Virginie Sélavy
Fantastic Planet (1973) - Home Video Reviews - TCM.com Nathaniel Thompson
SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
FANTASTIC PLANET Gerry Carpenter
Read the New York Times Review » Howard Thompson
TIME MASTERS (Les Maîtres du Temps)
"Les maîtres du temps" is as good as french
animation movies are rare. Designed by Moebius (Fifth Element...), inspired
from a novel of Stephan Wul (french science fiction writer) "L'orphelin de
Perdide", it remains one of the most powerful animation movie I have ever
Evidently, It is pretty old and the animation cannot be compared to today's movies, but the rest is very impressive. Characters are mature and have interesting personnalities, the design of ETs and plants is original and the scenario is full of surprises. This movie is different from all others and it is a real victory to be better than the book it has been taken of.
Animation is the perfect medium for sci-fi. Unfortunately, few animated sci-fi films have lived up to their potential. French animation master René Laloux is definitely one who let his imagination run amok in his medium. He is best known for his 1973 film Fantastic Planet. He must have had a difficult time getting funded for other projects, because he only ever made two more features. He died just a year ago. Time Masters is his second feature (he made another in 1988, called Light Years). The animation is very primitive, and not in the inventive primitiveness of Fantastic Planet. But, what it lacks in animation, it more than makes up for with its imagination. It's simply wonderful to behold. I especially love those two little telepathic creatures, referred to as "gnomes". The story is good, if not great. The ending is quite clever. I was wishing that it had gone on for at least a half an hour longer, but I won't complain, given the limited amount of material Laloux was able to produce in his lifetime.
I do not know the first thing about animation, and in fact
the only animation I have experience with is a few Disney movies and Saturday
morning cartoons. Watching this quirky piece of animated science-fiction, I
came to the realization that animation opens up an entirely new universe of
possibilities for the genre. I have read many science fiction short stories and
novels, wondering how they could possibly be translated into film, but using
animation, the portrayal of complicated conceptual ideas from sci-fi novels
seems much more possible than in traditional live-action. In fact, I'm tempted
to say that science fiction and animation naturally complement one another.
This movie is like a funhouse of outrageous otherworldly ideas, one after the next. For a mere 80 minute running time, the filmmakers have packed an amazing amount of material here. If anything, the movie is actually too short, and it seems to gloss over a great deal of important plot points. It is almost like watching a drawing board conceptualization of a longer, more ambitious film, rather than the film itself. As such, character development is at a minimum here, as in the work of George Lucas. But also like Lucas' films, much of that is made up by the wealth of creativity. What is here is fantastic - a story filled with warmth and humor that can resonate with both children and reasoning adults. The startling elliptical ending is intriguing but abrupt. I recommend this for more adventurous filmgoers who want to try something unique.
Designed by the great graphic novelist Jean Giraud - AKA
Moebius – Time Masters is a fascinating piece of animated sci-fi from
Plot-wise, there's not that much to be said for it; it's an intelligent but simplistic sci-fi story with a nice twist ending, which will, I think, appeal mainly to younger viewers. The characters are mostly simplistic and cartoonish, and largely unconvincing. These are the only reasons why I couldn't give Time Masters full marks; but these flaws take very little away from the pleasure of this film. As long as it focuses on the child character Piel, who is largely unaware of what goes on in the larger picture and is therefore touching and interesting, and not on the flat characters of Jaffar (good and brave for the sake of goodness and bravery), Matton (bad and greedy for the sake of badness and greediness) and the other adults; then it manages to be beautiful and gripping. And when any of the alien races are on screen, be they cute and cuddly or bizarre and frightening, you won't be able to look away. Time Masters is essential viewing for any lover of Moebius' work, and is well recommended for fans of science-fiction and of classic animation, and will surely become a treasured favorite for any of these.
is the second Stefan Wul novel ("L'Orphelin
de Perdide") director René Laloux adapted. The first one being
"Oms En Serie" which
Laloux turned into the now classic The
Fantastic Planet (1973). It certainly feels like Laloux's cinematic
style is compatible with Wul's tales of otherworldly lifeforms, civilizations,
and struggles. Laloux breezes through the planet of Perdide with its
interesting landscapes and living curiosities, while accomodating a storyline
that invokes a gripping twist in the end; a twist that all of a sudden turns
the tale into an involving temporal puzzle.
The plot follows a troupe of space mercenaries in a race against time trying to rescue a little boy who is left alone in the wilderness of Perdide. The boy, who is merely kept alive by an intergalactic radio (from which he receives information and company from the space mercenaries) he, by his youth and innocence, thinks of as a friend called "Mike."
Time Masters feels a less serious effort compared to The Fantastic Planet. Unlike the latter film wherein adult themes surface from the planetary rebellion by the little aliens against their blue-skinned humanoid masters, Time Masters is pretty much a straightforward rescue film wherein the heroes jump in and out of problematic scenarios and try to arrive in Perdide before the boy gets devoured by locust-like creatures. There are scenarios wherein Laloux seems to be pushing a certain theme --- the troupe lands in a deserted planet inhabited by faceless angel-like creatures. These creatures would kidnap visitors and through a ceremony turn them into "puppets" just like them. The scenario feels like a commentary against organized religion (especially with the utilized imagery of angels, the ceremonial baptism to a common ideology). The scenario being a mere point within the entire film betrays the depth of the commentaries for narrative ease and straightforwardness. It feels like Laloux is kept from truly exploring these alien environs by his adherence to storytelling; something i never felt while watching The Fantastic Planet.
Time Masters marks the first collaboration between Laloux and comic book artist Jean Giraud. Giraud is most famous for co-creating The Silver Surfer, and would later on work on as concept artist for films like Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979),
The animation is not smooth, which shouldn't pose a problem, especially when one is already used to Laloux's cinema. Time Masters seems to be confused of its classification; whether or not it is a children's film or an adult-centered animated film. Most of the alien designs are clumsily conceived (especially if compared to the dangerous flora and fauna of The Fantastic Planet), on the verge of being silly in the level of those Hanna-Barbara cartoons. Yet at times, it's quite fantastic and the level Laloux infuses these made-up alien landscapes with real ecosystems and cycles is just compelling.
DVD Outsider Slarek
Film Threat, Hollywood's Indie Voice Ron Wells
A Nutshell Review Stefan S
Electric Sheep Magazine Virginie Sélavy
HOW WAN-FÔ WAS SAVED (Comment Wang-Fo Fut Sauvé)
This animated short has been included as an extra on the R2
DVD of Laloux's Fantastic Planet, released by
In it we have Wang-Fo, a supreme master of painting in medieval
Without wishing to give away the plot too much I will say that Wang-Fo's skill incurs the Emperor's displeasure. His work is portrayed as being tantamount to sacrilegious because of its tendency to diminish reality. The Emperor orders Wang-Fo's mutilation, and it is how he is saved (the title points to this being the key to the riddle) that really makes the movie transcendent.
What makes me happiest about this movie though is the profound sense of ambivalence engendered. One feels both sides of the argument, that great art is at once transcendent and a perversion. Is Wang-Fo a criminal or an angel (and there are certainly parts where his skill is portrayed as very sinister)? This is a topic that has always fascinated me, having always buried myself in books and images and ideas, steadfastly avoiding subsequently dimmed reality.
Henry Fuseli, a painter of Gothic fantasy commented (to misquote him from memory) that the lover of fantasy will forever be disappointed by reality. Laloux leaves the viewer room to make up their own mind about whether such decadence is worth the price it demands.
This animated short based on a short story by Yourcenar, itself taken from Lafcadio Hearne who retold a tale of more ancient origin, was apparently considered by Laloux to be his finest work.
Ogg’s Movie Thoughts
Watch René Laloux's
animation now with eyes trained to detect the individual strands of fur in a
character or the realistic human-like movements of digitized children and your
bound for disappointment. Laloux's animation is not about emulation of what's
real. Animation is after all a means to release the restrictions of reality.
Laloux's most popular feature The Fantastic Planet does not
have anatomically accurate beings; it is sci-fi and its world is populated by
blue skinned aliens, little humanoid creatures, a host of bizaare fauna, and a
compelling environment that stretches the boundaries of human imagination.
Laloux has made only three feature length films in his career; most of his
other works are short films. How Wan-Fô Was Saved is his
favorite among his works. Adapted from a short story of Marguerite Yourcenar,
which is also rewritten adaptation of a Chinese parable, How Wan-Fô Was
Saved is told in a simplistic yet thought-provoking manner that is
quite absent from the mainstream animated cinema of today which seems to be
more interested in mundane details than adept storytelling.
The animation is coarse. Laloux is not interested in smooth movements. His characters are limited in their mobility; most of the action is suggested by the narration which supplies a level of psychology to the immobile artworks. Yet with the little movement that is portrayed, the accuracy of human experience is felt. The air of alcohol intoxication is portrayed with deliberate accuracy by Laloux using the most economic of details. From the point of view of the narrator, the apprentice of master painter Wan-Fô, the entire tavern feels alive in a drunken man's perspective. Movement is slower; laughter is louder; visual points of interest are more profound (a lady roasting a pig; his master's fingerpainting spilled wine; personal musings of the depth of art).
With less than fifteen minutes, Laloux was able to manipulate a story to serve his philosophical interests. He details the master and his apprentice's capture and delivery to the emperor of the Han kingdom. He emotionally paints a background tale on the pale-skinned emperor; his character design establishes himself as a heartless villain, but his back story tells otherwise. He plants an indefatiguable sense of loyalty in the apprentice's character for his master and his master's craft, to the point of lethal jealousy for his beautiful wife. In a sense, the characters of How Wan-Fô Was Saved are as alien as the humanoid citizens of The Fantastic Planet, despite being grounded on an exotic yet real Chinese culture, with their warped psychology that befits the constructs of its narrative genre.
The ending is even more brilliant. The apprentice is punished for loyally defending his master; the palace guards behead the defensive apprentice and Laloux does not shy away from the portrayal of violence. He nonchalantly depicts the beheading as mere background noise --- a thud accompanying the animated fall of the headless body. Wan-Fô is ordered to complete a painting that has been bothering the emperor since his childhood days. Again, Laloux insists on immobility. Bystanders and the emperor staticly watch the master complete the painting of a vast ocean; then the painting bursts with life, a little boat inches closer and closer to rescue the old master from his fate. Laloux, before he did his first animated short film, worked for a psychiatric ward and has opted to describe his cinema as schizophrenic. In a sense, Laloux achieves an unfathomable excellence in planting imaginative unrealism in his animated works; he allows us to lose ourselves in our imagination and join the old master in his escape from the clutches of a tyrant who misunderstands the value of art.
This short animated film from Rene Laloux opens with a distant,
almost alien narrator informing us that "we've discovered a bizarre
story...of two orphans who flee a world stricken by war and death...across an
ash desert...to reach a city whose inhabitants have become guardians of
silence" "Noise is chaos" says one of the so-called priests of
this city, and "silence is order and harmony".
The meditative, atmospheric, percussive qualities of the soundtrack complement the mystical disappearing/reappearing figures of this city, which presages similar elements and moods found in 'Spirited Away'.
The animation style is comparable to that of Laloux's 'Gandahar', although some of the more psychedelic and primitive artistic qualities are more reminiscent of his 'La Planete Sauvage'.
Laloux's trademark disjointedness or "schizophrenic" style of cinema is still in tact, leaving things nicely open for interpretation. A few stunning sequences also appear, as a brilliant snowfall sequence set against the ebb and flow of some fantastic foreign ocean soon transitions into a surreal scene involving a beached whale and the erotic mysteries dwelling therein.
With the full moon shining brightly and the tide rising quickly, the two orphans are accompanied by the city's shadowy prime-mover/prisoner as they sail away at dawn. "Fortunately, order and silence don't always prevail in the end"...
aka: Light Years
It is a very good anticipation movie. The part describing the lovely and environmental gandahar is wonderful. While renewing a 70's vision of sex, nature and happiness, the colors, sounds and pictures (a young girl offering her breast to a new born invented animal who looks like a tapir, born out of a grown plant). The story: mixing future and past, threatening the present by having itself created in the past, the elements that will be dangerous in the future. It is also a huge criticism of the liability of the human being regarding its evil habit to master the nature, the human body and science. In the end, scientific rubbish saves the human beings from a great scientific discovery they made years ago. Happiness is conditioned by assuming one's mistakes. A great philosophical tale. The blue skinned woman with head-wings is very impressive, as well as the very beautiful nude females.
probably the closest René Laloux ever came in replicating the level of
sophistication he gave alien civilizations in The
Fantastic Planet (1973). He opens the film with an overview of a
seaside community: blue skinned humanoids living life in utter simplicity.
Laloux presents the planet of Gandahar as a utopian paradise where everything
is in joyful order; nature and civilization coincide like connecting puzzle
pieces (a plant gives birth to a pet, the pet is then taken care of by a female
Gandaharian by breastfeeding it). The supposed peace is disrupted when laser
rays start targetting the peaceful Gandaharians, turning them into stone.
Laloux cuts to the capital of Gandahar, Jasper. Beneath the carved bust of a female Gandaharian, the council of elders is debating on who to send to uncover the mysterious enemies of Gandahar. Sylvain is chosen; and is sent to the vast ocean to learn more about Gandahar's attackers, an army of metal men. On the way, he discovers an underground civilization of deformed Gandaharians (botched experiments of Jasper who were completely forgotten), and an oversized brain (again, another botched experiment of Jasper thrown to the sea when it was getting too big to destroy).
It's an interesting concept, sprawling in its seemingly unlimited area of creation; which is perfect for the highly imaginative Laloux. Laloux eats up the concept, and populates the alien world with a civilization that becomes too advanced (probably not industrially; but the scientific experimentations to turn nature into a tool for advancement cannot relate Gandahar as naturally perfect), too selfish and perfectionist (the deformed Gandaharias have turned into a mere tall tale; and instead of turning them into a distinct class, Gandahar has totally forgotten them (class structures cannot exist in a utopian society)), and too complacent that it is almost powerless to any external struggle. The plot relies on time travel for its movement; Sylvain seems to be the chosen one to enact the prophecy but the prophecy's cyclical syntax connotes an impetus for salvation. I suggest that the sudden appearance of the Gandaharian dinosaur-like creature that saves Sylvain and love interest Airelle from their egg-shaped cell as the impetus; Sylvain thought that the dinosaur as extinct; I thought that the dinosaur is one of those Gandaharian creatures that have escaped Gandahar's god-like machinations and is therefore the proper turning point (it being pure from Gandahar's "sins against nature") that could enact the cyclical prophecy and in turn save Gandahar.
Gandahar is released in the
Seeing both versions, I cannot deny that Laloux's final feature film is indeed a worthy feature; still miles away from his masterpiece The Fantastic Planet, but definitely up and above Time Masters (1982). Even with Weinstein's mutated Light Years, you can still observe Laloux's undeniable artistry and imagination in cooking up an alien civilization complete with its social and governmental structures, and biological make-up.
DVD Outsider Slarek
Electric Sheep Magazine Virginie Sélavy
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Joel Mathis Bad Movie Night
Badmovies.org review Andrew Borntreger
Lam, Ringo Art and Culture
Ringo Lam’s hardboiled Hong Kong crime thriller was a major ‘inspiration’ for Reservoir Dogs. In fact, with its colour-coded crims, post-heist warehouse setting and fledgling friendship between a deep-cover undercover copper (Chow Yun-fat) and a jewel thief, it’s pretty much a blueprint for Tarantino’s classic. Naturally, it lacks the verbal dexterity, while the cop/robber doppelgänger theme is better explored in John Woo’s The Killer. But Yun-fat is brilliant.
The inspiration for Reservoir Dogs, this 1987 crime movie is a good example of the thriller HK-style ('style' being the operative word). Social and psychological nuance is out. Designer shades are in. Hong Kong's biggest movie star, Chow Yun Fat (The Killer, A Better Tomorrow, Hard-Boiled) is the epitome of Esquire cool, more playful than Clint, more intense than Mel, much better looking than Arnie or Sly. Here he's an undercover cop, Ko Chow, who works his way into a gang of jewel thieves at the cost of his fiancée and, perhaps, his own integrity. This is straight-cut, fashion-plate pulp. Tarantino fans will note the familiarity of the set-up. In fact, Reservoir Dogs is an elaboration on the the climax of Ringo Lam's film: after the heist goes wrong, the gang hole up in a warehouse, where bullets and recriminations start to fly. There's none of Tarantino's formal inventiveness, none of the finesse or the wit, just a gut-wrenching dramatic situation ready to explode.
Chow-Yun Fat goes undercover, joining a band of hoods and befriending jewel thief Danny Lee along the way. For Chow, it all comes down to a question of honor versus justice in a movie that Quentin Tarantino liked so darn much, he remade it as Reservoir Dogs.
What's more important, loyalty or justice? That's the dilemma facing undercover cop Ko Chow (Chow Yun-Fat) in Ringo Lam's excellent crime drama City on Fire. The film is a definite must see for HK enthusiasts, if for no other reason than to witness what a Ringo Lam movie was like before he became Jean Claude Van Damme's director of choice.
Like Donnie Brasco and other films of its kind, City on Fire explores the internal ethical struggle for a policeman who get too close to his prey. The plot: after a fellow cop is knifed to death in the streets, detective Ko Chow is put on the trail of some jewel thieves by his world-weary superior, Inspector Lau (Sun Yeuh). Chow, however, has deep reservations about the assignment. "I fulfill my duties?" Chow complains, "But I betray my friends!" Despite his protests, Chow agrees to the job and attempts to befriend head crook Lee Fu (Danny Lee). After a few tense situations, Chow is eventually accepted into the Fu's confidence and asked to join in on the crew's next big score. As the two strike up a friendship, Chow's personal ethics are put to the test as he finds himself genuinely liking Fu, the very man he's supposed to arrest. Later, the climactic jewelry heist goes terribly wrong with bullets flying everywhere and bodies littering the streets. In the end, Chow is forced to make a definitive, but not surprising, decision on where his loyalties reside…with fatal results.
There have been many comparison made between this film and Tarantino's "re-imagining" (An unfortunate buzzword that emerged after Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes debacle. But I digress). Though similar in theme, City on Fire and Reservoir Dogs are dramatically different in execution. Whereas Quentin Tarantino's debut film had a sleek look and crackling dialogue, City on Fire does not—and that's not necessarily a criticism of Lam's flick. Tarantino's world is a kind of hyper-reality in which common thugs can riff on pop culture; Ringo Lam's domain seems a tad bit more realistic. The criminal element depicted in City on Fire operates in a grim, gritty underworld that's only shred of romanticism lies in the immutable loyalty between brothers. Same idea, different methods—but both pretty damn cool movies. (Sanjuro 2002)
City on Fire Michael den Boer from 10kbullets
City on Fire Winnifred Louis
TRIANGLE (Tit Samgok) C+ 78
Hong Kong China (100 mi) 2007 ‘Scope co-directors: Ringo Lam and Johnny To
A trilogy of Hong Kong directors (Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam, and Johnny To) contribute to a single storyline that unfortunately feels overly convoluted from the outset, like it’s offering more than it can handle, and remains indifferent and nearly incomprehensible throughout. There is no break between the sequences, with separate writers for each director and one editor and cinematographer throughout, but the focus of the story changes with each passing of the baton. Tsui Hark opens the film in an adrenaline rush where three near cartoonish characters commiserate over their money woes and are easily lured into a get rich quick scheme to cover their debts, where the police and the underground mafia seem to infiltrate their every move. With this set up, it’s always hard to distinguish who the players are or tell the good from the bad, as it’s all a blur. While Tsui establishes a dark, menacing mood that foreshadows a completely immoral universe, the characters are never fleshed out and feel like a bunch of bumbling idiots who have gotten themselves in over their heads in some lamebrained heist that goes awry.
Ringo Lam shifts the attention to a deeply troubled couple, where the wife Ling (Kelly Lin) suspects her introverted and supposedly impotent husband Lee Bo Sam (Simon Yam) of foul play, of trying to poison her after possibly killing his first wife, but she’s excessively paranoid to the point of being delusional, claiming she’s pregnant as she slinks under the protection of boyfriend police officer Wen (Lam Ka Tung), forming another triangle. In keeping with the film’s double-crossing motif, characters switch sides with the ferocity of whiplash, as the cop nails the husband red-handed with the loot, but as the husband is a former race car driver, he soon turns the tables and through daredevil driving techniques quickly has the cop in handcuffs, luring his wife to the scene, an abandoned warehouse where she immediately swears her allegiance to her husband. In perhaps the most peculiar moment in the movie, out in the middle of nowhere he mysteriously plays an LP record, which turns into an exotic dance between the husband and wife, both armed to the teeth, in what appears to be a dance of death, as her face switches to that of his previous wife who actually died in a horrific car crash. The question remains: which one is going to die? But rather than turn on one another, as is assumed, they are quickly hoodwinked by another corrupt cop, who himself is soon the object of an underworld manhunt.
By the time Johnny To arrives on the
scene, the film starts to resemble a farce, as the entire cast is brought
together in pursuit of the loot, which is wrapped in newspaper like THE MALTESE
FALCON (1941), then carried around in a non-descript, white plastic bag. To choreographs several all-important shoot
out scenes, one at a local bar where the lights continually go on and off,
where several white plastic bags are inexplicably exchanged in the chaos, where
our thieves try to make a run for it but are trapped by a crazed amphetamine
pill-popping man (Suet Lam) who flattens all four of their getaway car tires,
luring everyone into a vacant field where all the principles meet followed
mysteriously afterwards by a traffic cop on a bicycle (Yong You) who somehow
feels its his obligation to bring order into this chaotic universe, as all hell
breaks loose in a blaze of gunfire. To
turns this anarchy into a bloodless ballet of shots in the dark and bodies
falling in the high grass one by one, all with a great deal of ironic humor,
with the original thieves outmaneuvered and left to observe empty-handed on the
sidelines like a disillusioned Greek chorus, completely indifferent to who wins
or loses, as it’s all the same to them, as they’re inevitably losers. While the sleek look of the film is always
beautifully shot by Siu-keung Cheng, from the opening scenes in the rain filled
with shadows and solitary images of emptiness and vacuousness, to a murky
atmosphere of unresolved romantic tension mixed against the impending threat of
underworld connections, to a few unusual Johnny To set pieces. But overall, it lacks depth and never rises
above a standard entertainment piece of
In the event, aficionados will peg that Hark’s staccato rhythms make a complex set-up even more opaque, Lam’s surprisingly restrained mid-section restores an even keel (though there’s a bit of hairy stunt-driving too) and To’s climactic showdown blends wry humour and poised compositions, while lagging short of his best work. Little of it however, is genuinely striking enough to suggest a welcome reception beyond the already converted.
NewCity Chicago Ray Pride
A gangster film “exquisite corpse” from three leading veteran
directors of Hong Kong action movies, “Triangle” (Tie San Jiao, 2007) is
directed in a “tag team” style by Tsui Hark (”Once Upon A Time in China”),
Ringo Lam (”City on Fire”) and Johnnie To (”Election,” “Triad Election”), who
together concocted the story of three down-on-their-luck drinking buddies who
go on a get-rich quest for a lost treasure. To sets the theme of the movie
well: “What price do you pay for your desire and obsession?” Like the best of
the trio’s work, “Triangle” is a visual delight from its first fog-shrouded
images of gleaming
The Screengrab Mike D’Angelo
Not to be outdone by a
piker like myself,
CINE-FILE: Cine-List - CINE-FILE Chicago Ignatius Vishnevetsky
Ringo Lam, Johnnie To and Tsui Hark decided to play a game of exquisite corpse. It's one of those great auteurist experiments. From a production standpoint, TRIANGLE is a "Johnnie To movie": made through his company, Milkyway Image, starring his regular actors (Simon Yam, Louis Koo, and Kelly Lin), shot by his cinematographer, Siu-keung Cheng, and cut together by his regular editor, David M. Richardson (those who believe the quality of a film's editing depends on the editor should look no further than Richardson's resume; the man who works on the brilliant editing of To's films is the same one who edits Uwe Boll's movies). The plan: Hark will begin a story—a heist gone wrong—which Lam and then To will continue. Hark's episode is full of clever conceits and twists; Lam jettisons the heist in favor of its results: the loot and fear, both equally dangerous. So if Hark imprisons the characters and Lam shows us how they imprison themselves, it's up to To, then, to set them free. For To, the essence of a person, maybe their soul, is visible in what they choose to do when compelled to do nothing, in the choice they make when they can just run away or betray. It's no surprise that, like James Gray's WE OWN THE NIGHT, it all ends in reeds and fog. It's the sort of emotional wilderness that brings To closer to André Téchiné than either of his two co-directors here. (2007, 93 min, 35mm)
Cinema Autopsy (Thomas Caldwell) capsule review [3.5/5] Melbourne International Film festival
The point of interest behind this Hong Kong heist film is that it was made in three different parts, by three different directors and production teams, with each part continuing from where the previous part had left of. Tsui Hark sets the story off with his trademark frenetic and often bewildering style where the audience has to keep up with him in order to follow what is going on. However Hark nicely sets the scene of desperate men planning to steal a mysterious artefact, a cop who is sleeping with the wife of one of the men and a trio of impatient Triads who are waiting in the wings. Ringo Lam then continues the story in the most sophisticated section of the film where he sets up a complex web of torn loyalties, betrayals, double crosses and secret agendas. Finally Johnny To finishes things off by stylishly bringing a degree of farce and fun absurdity into the proceedings. The divides between the three sections are not marked but anybody familiar with the three directors should be able to spot the divisions. Triangle would have perhaps been more successful if either all three parts remained consistent with each other or if they all radically differed. Instead, Hark and Lam’s segments are very close to each other in style and tone while To takes the film off onto a completely different tangent. What To does would have been highly entertaining in its own right but in this case it is slightly frustrating that To’s chose to deviate so much away from the groundwork laid out by Hark and Lam.
A novel idea, originating in Tsui Hark
I believe, to make a film based on the old game of incremental story-telling,
passing the baton between 3 of Hong Kong's (once) top directors (they should
have swapped Johnnie To for John Woo and called it "The Victims of
Jean-Claude Van-Damme Rehabilitation Project"). The result is, sadly,
almost as incoherent as a nay-sayer might expect it to be.
The first third of the film (Tsui) is kind of scatter-shot, throwing ideas out there for the other directors to pick up on, centred around a heist movie setup with 3 main protagonists (Simon Yam, Louis Koo and Sun Hong-Lei) - setting up a triangle that clearly hints where he really wants the movie to go. This section does suffer from that amphetamine-high lack of focus that sometimes afflicts Tsui Hark when he has too many ideas for a movie, and can't decide which ones are really important.
Ringo Lam takes over just before 30 minutes in, and the mood shifts - he evidently wants to create a psychological horror instead of a crime movie, and shifts the focus more to the characters played by Kelly Lin and Gordon Lam. This part is eerie and oblique, a little surreal at times but much more focused.
Then Johnnie To comes in for the final act, and decides that the film should really be... a farce! Perhaps it's his way of commenting on the baby he has been left holding. Every character that's been introduced so far is brought back into play, along with a couple of new ones (notably Lam Suet), and the plot plays itself out in an elaborate comedy of errors hinged upon a series of entirely implausible coincidences. The finale is a gun battle vaguely reminiscent of those in THE MISSION or EXODUS, but with a more comical coating. It's a bit Shakespearean, but falls short of The Bard's wit.
The shifting of tones, and the diverting focus of the narrative, is exactly the sort of problem you'd expect a movie with three directors and three script-writing teams to have. Perhaps that was the point, and each director deliberately took the movie into their own favourite territory when they took the reins. I guess that's how it usually happens when people play the game amongst themselves (I forget the name of it, never really saw the appeal), but they perhaps failed to factor in that the game is more fun for the people playing it than for somebody who simply gets handed the end result. The production process may be interesting to talk or think about, but probably makes for a less enjoyable film than a more conventional collaboration would have.
I did enjoy Ringo Lam's section though - hopefully it's a sign he's going to be doing more work in
Fear not: the juicy premise of putting three masters of HK
violent cinema in one movie delivers one of the most entertaining action movies
The film is a palpable thrill-ride, with an air of unmistakable cool and sheer brassiness of style. With scarcely time to slow-down, the silly and initially confusing but heavily entertaining and ultimately straightforward plot runs through a hundred twists and turns on its way to the seat-gripping finale that is the last third of the film.
The three segments directed by Tsui Hark, Ringo Lam and Johnny To (apparently in that order, although it was not indicated in the film) are distinct in style and mannerism, but near-seamlessly integrated into a single experience. Not only did they use three directors, they also used multiple script-writers. Do not expect any section-markers here, though: it is not three stories, but one story told in three consecutively more elaborate segments which represent the vision and prowess of one director each - without, however, appearing needlessly patched-together or unfocused. So, to compare this to that other Asian 3-in-1 package, the excellent Three Extremes (with Takashi Miike, Fruit Chan and Park Chan-Wook), is to miss the point. Here we are dealing with a unitary experience, one not divisible by three.
Fans of each director will find much to comment on the stylistic differences between each section. Best known perhaps for his kung-fu productions (at least in the West), the multi-talented Tsui Hark delivers a cool, crafty ambiance in his piece. Ringo Lam, a long-line police action-drama director, likewise carries the torch with a surprisingly mellow and tactful show-of-hands. It is really the last segment of the film, under the steady hand of the miracle-worker Johnny To - the brilliant director of gems such as Election I & II and Exiled - that really puts this work in the category of must-see cinema. It would be impossible to describe just what makes the last act so good without giving something away, but suffice to say the success lies in its mixture of suspense, action and black humour in a dazzling tour-de-force. And yet, To's section makes sense only in the context of the whole; it would not be possible to appreciate the finale without going through the first and second acts. The third act is the charm, but only because the first two acts lead to it and suggest it with force and clarity. By its combination of three geniuses, the impeccable thrill of the film gets multiplied by three, making the end result something greater than the sum of its parts.
The actors are adequate and the chemistry between them works well. This is not an especially 'deep' thinking-man's movie by any stretch - character-development especially is among the real weaknesses of this movie - but for what it's worth, the characters deliver their lines and express their emotional range quite convincingly (with a few notable exceptions). The fraternal chemistry between the main characters saves much of the hapless script. But really, this film is about action, violence, crime, morality and love - the stuff of entertainment. Maybe not serious or tight enough for some, the over-the-top story proves highly entertaining as a backdrop for the stylish visual work emanating from the three great directors.
I'm willing to forgive this movie its obvious shortcomings: its unexplained plot-ends and side-tracks, its focus on action and shine over drama and substance, its use of three writers in the seemingly impossible task of writing a single storyline. Bottomline: It works! Sometimes heckling about details seems petty when what is iffy in ideation is saved in execution. Minor script is turned into a major movie.
Absolute entertainment, with a touch - or two, or three - of genius.
Cinematical James Rocchi
Triangle is hard to explain -- you could call it the
Hark, Lam and To have all made great
Triangle isn't about pure action, though; Sam, Fai and Mok aren't kineticized supermen, just regular guys. As in most good heist films, Triangle focuses more on the crew and less on the score; When the great whatsit goes missing, Fai quizzes Mok about how well they really know Sam. Mok's matter-of-fact: He doesn't really know Sam. "I don't know you all that well, either; sometimes, I don't even know myself." There's a little bit of clumsy storytelling about the resolution of the love triangle between Sam, Ling and Wen -- apparently, getting bounced off the grill of a four-door sedan at high speed is a cure for marital discord -- but it's nothing like the muddled misogyny of many Hong Kong action films, where women are either set dressing or entirely irrelevant. The leads are for the most part terrific -- Koo's Fai is a bit too broad, but Lam and Lei get to put a few shades onto their characters. And there's more than a few laughs in Triangle, too - from a runaway score to an ecstasy-addled tire salesman with a unique business model. Triangle wouldn't be a good film to show an initiate to
Twitch (Todd Brown) review at Cannes
Triangle (Tsui Hark / Ringo Lam / Johnnie To, 2007) Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at Mubi, August 14, 2009
Electric Sheep Magazine Joey Leung
Critic After Dark Noel Vera
A Nutshell Review Stefan S.
hoopla.nu Stuart Wilson
TRIANGLE Facets Multi Media
DVDBeaver dvd review Pat Pilon
Johnny To bio Andrew Grossman from Senses of Cinema, January 2001
Tsui Hark bio Grady Hendrix from Senses of Cinema, June 2003
Ringo Lam bio Hong Kong Film
Belgium Canada France (98 mi) 2012
Beyond The Walls Allan Hunter at Cannes from Screendaily
Charting the rise and fall of a love affair from giddy beginnings to rueful afterglow, Beyond The Walls (Hors Les Murs) marks an accomplished first feature from writer/ director David Lambert. An intriguing storyline, confident execution and charismatic performances from the lead actors carry the film through some unexpected plot developments that push it towards more stereotypically anguished gay movie romances. The first half comes closer to the tone of Andrew Haigh’s award winning Weekend and might give the film a shot at a similar audience. Further Festival appearances and interest from specialist gay distributors seems guaranteed.
Beyond The Walls begins in similar fashion to Weekend with the consequences of a drunken evening where Paulo (Matila Malliarakis) has caught the twinkling eye of bartender Ilir (Guillaume Gouix) who winds up carrying him home over his shoulder and giving him a bed for the night. Ilir avoids temptation but there is an obvious spark of attraction and they see each other again. Once Paulo’s suspicious girlfriend has dumped him he boldly arrives at Ilir’s flat with all his worldly goods.
Malliarakis’s Paulo is all Bambi-eyes and puppy dog devotion as he clings to Ilir like a lifesaver in stormy seas. Initially, the character is as endearing as he is annoying. The older Ilir is more guarded and wary of turning a few lighthearted encounters into something more meaningful. Over the course of the film events conspire to reverse their early roles with Paulo emerging as the stronger of the duo and Ilir the more needy.
The first half of the film is easily the most charming. The two actors make a cute couple and there is a good deal of relaxed humour and warmth in the screenplay as the characters open up to each other and a relationship develops. Shopping for supplies in a sex shop or belligerently demanding condoms from a corner shop are amongst the funniest moments in the film.
The second half is more melodramatic and downbeat with events placing the relationship under unbearable pressure. Lambert is economical in the way he prunes back the narrative, dispensing with the need for lengthy explanations of what happens to Ilir and how this changes his life and his easygoing manner. It tells us just what we need to know to keep the focus on the ebb and flow of the ties that bind the central couple.
Lambert’s greatest talent may lie in creating characters that we care about and developing a film that brings a few fresh twists to an old familiar tale of whether love can conquer every obstacle in its path. On that basis, Beyond The Walls fulfills the promise of his previous work as a screenwriter and short filmmaker.
Domenico Laporta at Cannes from Cineuropa
When you ask David Lambert about the intention behind his first film, recently selected for the Critics' Week at the 65th Cannes Film Festival, the Belgian filmmaker simply replies that he wanted to remake The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, telling the tale of the disenchanted reunion of two lovers, who were passionately in love before a terrible event separated them. The screenplay of Beyond the Walls [trailer, film focus] follows these three phases - love, absence, reunion - in the lives of Paulo and Ilir, respectively played by Matila Malliarakis and a rising star in French cinema, the excellent Guillaume Gouix (Jimmy Rivière [trailer], Nobody Else But You [trailer]) whose phosphorescent charisma persists on screen even after the projector has been turned off.
Paulo is a young pianist who meets Ilir, an Albanian bass player. It's love at first sight for both men. From one day to the next, Paulo leaves his fiancée to move in with Ilir. On the day that they promise to love each other for the rest of their lives, Ilir leaves town and doesn't return. Beyond the Walls is, in a way, a disillusioned report from a generation who has been promised that love changes the world, but who often has to decide to give it up, simply because it's too difficult being two. The issues at stake in this story are coiled up in the intimacy of a couple, at the antipodes of hedonism, but they are still universal and have nothing to do with homosexuality, which is decidedly not the theme of the film. The film could suffer from an arbitrary categorisation by an audience with little ambition, but this would be missing a one-off meeting with characters whose story immediately feels like it is very personal and precious to its author. In fact, Beyond the Walls prolongs the emotions and wounds related in the director's short film Vivre Encore un Peu..., for which he garnered attention at several international festivals in 2010.
Here is a first film with a very intelligent understanding of mise-en-scene, complemented by the dense photography of Matthieu Poirot-Delpech (With a Friend Like Harry...) and, especially, very tight editing that gives the film, at times, a very fresh elliptic rhythm. David Lambert trusts in the spectator to understand both the more obvious (what happens inside the walls, what is boiling in Ilir's wet eyes when the story ends) and the less essential (music which, at the beginning, is the interest that the two characters have in common), and he keeps these moments few to better focus on the sequences of emotion, whether the euphoria of love (a very beautiful scene of the two lovers arm wrestling), the break-up (during the visiting room scenes), or the uninhibited humour of a situation involving an unusual object bought in a sex shop, but which symbolises so many things for Paulo (sex, alienation, the impossibility of going forward without relief). Believing in life after absence shouldn't be any less profound than believing in life after death, as both are equally traumatising events in the journey of a human being. How to survive our youth's love affairs and separations is a question that Charles Trenet already posed back in 1942, and that was then central to Jacques Demy's film in 1964. David Lambert now brings it back, and each spectator who sees his film will ask: What remains of our first loves?
Beyond the Walls is a co-production between Belgium (Frakas Productions), France, and Canada, and should be out in cinemas from June 2012.
France (47 mi) 1953
THE RED BALLOON
France (34 mi)
(LE BALON ROUGE, Albert Lamorisse, France 1956, 34 min., 35mm)
In Lamorisse’s bittersweet classic for all ages, a lonely youngster (Pascal Lamorisse, son of the director) finds his ideal playmate in a frisky and lively inflated toy. Told entirely without dialogue and thrillingly filmed on location in Paris, The Red Balloon is must-see cinema. Followed by WHITE MANE (CRIN-BLANC, Albert Lamorisse, France 1953, 47 min., 35mm) In the rugged Camargue region of Provence, French cowboys hunt for wild horses, but the one they cannot tame is their leader, White Mane. Winner of the Cannes Grand Prix for short film and “one of the most beautiful films ever made” (Pauline Kael), White Mane will be shown with a new English narration soundtrack. New 35mm prints!
The Red Balloon & White Mane
While Albert Lamorisse is best remembered for these two fable-like short films, he began and ended his career as a documentary filmmaker. Appropriately, influential French film theorist and critic André Bazin described White Mane (1953) and The Red Balloon (1956) as “documentaries of the imagination.” The two films tell similar stories about young boys and the possibilities of friendship. On the surface, the films are quite simple. White Mane, set in the Camargue region of southern France, is about a young fisherman, and his attempts to befriend and liberate a hunted stallion. The Red Balloon, set in the Paris neighborhood of Menilmontant, is about a boy (played by the director’s son, Pascal Lamorisse) who finds a balloon that follows him everywhere.
While inherently simple, the films are also complex allegories of the human search for comfort and affection in the face of life’s difficulties. While traditionally considered children’s films, Albert Lamorisse renders the pursuit of dreams in the world around us as something meaningful and heartbreaking, and the films have endeared filmgoers of all ages. Furthermore, the films have become traditional texts for film theorists and students, prompted by André Bazin’s celebration of the films in his famous essay, “The Virtues and Limitations of Montage.”
Bazin especially championed The Red Balloon because of its minimal use of editing. Bazin claimed, “The Red Balloon is a tale told in film, a pure creation of the mind, but the important things about it is that this story owes everything to the cinema precisely because, essentially, it owes nothing.” Since Lamorisse shows the balloon’s interactions clearly in the same frames as the boy without editing tricks, Bazin claims the film is “essential cinema.” With minimal editing, the film comes closer to reality, even if it is an obviously imagined one, causing the viewer to be more actively engaged in the world of the film.
In addition to the poetic narratives, the films are respected for their beautiful cinematography. White Mane, shot in black and white, is a noticeably bright film. By emphasizing the beautiful whites within the scenery, Lamorisse appropriately blinds us with the wildness of the stallion and the vast rural landscape. Soon after the release of White Mane, Lamorisse took a job as a cinematographer on an experimental color documentary about Guatemala. This experience convinced him to use color for the The Red Balloon. The switch to color allowed Lamorisse to emphasize the vibrant balloon against the dull Paris streets.
The films were great successes around the world, finding an international audience thanks in part to their minimal dialogue. In America, they were particularly popular on the educational circuit, showing for decades in public schools and on public television. Both won the Palme d’Or for short subjects at the Cannes Film Festival. Additionally, The Red Balloon, even with its minimal dialogue, won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, making it the shortest film ever to win this distinction.
A former photographer, Lamorisse turned to directing short subjects in the late 1940s, soon acquiring an international reputation for the poetic quality of his short and medium-length films. By the 1960s, he started making complex travelogue documentaries. Frustrated with the vibrations that accompanied shooting from a helicopter, Lamorisse was instrumental in the development of “Hellavision,” a camera mount built especially for helicopter shoots. Sadly, in 1970, while shooting a commissioned piece on Iran, he died in a helicopter crash.
~John Klacsmann and Alice Moscoso, L. Jeffrey Selznick School of Film Preservation
Lancaster, Burt essay by Gerald Peary, April 2000
It would be lovely to affirm that the wonderful actor Burt Lancaster was actually the gracious artist-performer we probably imagine him to have been, someone who, because he didn't break into movies until he was 32, listened obediently to his directors and passed on to the less experienced on the sets his craft and wisdom.
Such a scenario did happen occasionally, as on the Scottish set
of Local Hero (1983), where Lancaster and filmmaker Bill Forsythe clicked, and
where the American star, available to every minion in the cast, entertained
He bullied and disrespected even his best directors - John
Frankenheimer for The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962), Louis Malle for
Born in 1913 in the slums of New York, Lancaster remained as
scrappy and venomous as his powerful Irish-American mother had been, forever an
alienated, paranoid outsider in LA whose best (and only?) actor friend was the
ex-Bronx Jew, Tony Curtis, and whose most meaningful love affair in Hollywood
was with another Eastern-based Jew, Shelley Winters. His closest pal by far was
a high-school chum,
The press for decades liked to write of the off-screen friendship between Lancaster and his frequent co-star, Kirk Douglas, but Buford's book makes clear that it was Douglas alone who was desperate to make their amity real, that he was jealous of Lancaster, that he wanted to be Lancaster.
He'd wanted to play
Is it reasonable to say that
The photo on the back of the bio is from The Swimmer, Lancaster bare-assed about to make the plunge.
Shame on the publisher Knopf for not identifying the picture,
because it looks like a clandestine snapshot from
For an honestly gay, Knopf-published show-biz saga, there's
Arthur Laurents' spill-the-seed autobiography, Original Story - A Memoir of
CONCUSSION B- 81
USA Great Britian Australia (123 mi) 2015 ‘Scope Official site
A tragic and ultimately heartbreaking story about the profound effects of football-related brain trauma, where professional athletes are reduced to inexplicable shells of themselves, literally becoming different people inhabiting their same bodies with no control over their actions, succumbed by constant headaches, psychological torment and such mind-numbing pain that they can no longer sleep or think straight, many resorting to suicide as the only way out. While this is in every sense a Hollywood movie, complete with an accompanying inner story romance, it’s tone throughout is downbeat and somber, reflective of the post 9/11 era in which it is set, basically following the life of Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Nigerian-born pathologist and forensic neuropathologist whose specialty is the study of the human brain, who at the time was assigned to the Allegheny County coroner’s office in Pittsburgh where his job was examining the dead bodies in the morgue. However, before we meet him, there’s a fascinating introduction where David Morse plays Hall of Famer “Iron” Mike Webster in his final days, arguably the greatest center in the history of professional football, the man who anchored the offensive line in a spectacular run of winning 4 Super Bowls for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970’s, but he’s seen homeless, psychologically damaged, unintelligible, destitute, and literally out of his mind, living in an old beat-up truck on the outskirts of a vacant lot next to a steel plant. The extent of his fall from grace is astonishing to anyone that knew him, as his anguishing pain was constant and insufferable, subjecting himself to relentless electric shock from a Taser gun, rendering himself unconscious just to fall asleep, and eventually dying of a reported heart attack at the age of 50. This brief interlude sets the tone for the film, horrifying to say the least from a Hall of Fame legend, unimaginable, and equally unforgettable.
Something of a cross between the hidden secrets of the tobacco industry in Michael Mann’s THE INSIDER (1999) and similar secrets hidden by the nuclear power industry in Mike Nichols’ SILKWOOD (1983), complete with unexplained conspiracy theories that are left dangling in the wind, Will Smith (with an African accent) stars as a forensic neuropathologist who discovers the first case of CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), a football-related brain trauma, and challenges the NFL in his battle to reveal the truth, where he is fought at every step by a multi-billion dollar industry that prefers to cover up any scientific knowledge that would have a significant impact on the game. While it’s a case of dollars and cents, where the league is protecting their investment into the product of football, the filmmaker himself is an investigative journalist for the New York Times magazine, Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker and others, covering the conflicts in Rwanda, Kosovo, and Afghanistan/Pakistan after 9/11. The film is based on an extensive magazine piece, Game Brain - GQ.com, written by Jeanne Marie Laskas from GQ magazine, September 14, 2009, now enlarged into a book entitled Concussion, where she documents what happened to Mike Webster and several other former NFL football players, including Steelers offensive lineman Justin Strzelcyzk, who died in a head-on collision after leading police on a high speed car chase, and yet another Steelers offensive lineman Terry Long who died from drinking antifreeze, each a spiraling tragedy of epic proportions. It was Dr. Omalu who examined each of their brains after death, as the diagnosis can only be determined by an autopsy of the brain, so it’s only after the fact that the extent of this deteriorating brain condition is realized, that repeated blows to the head can have drastic effects to the brain, associated with depression, early-onset dementia, aggressive behavior and suicide. Over time, as more NFL players die, the results will be even more pervasive as other names are added to the list, such as Andre Waters, who had a reputation as one of the NFL’s hardest hitting defenders as a safety from the Philadelphia Eagles defensive backfield, but eventually took his own life with a gunshot to the head, or Dave Duerson, another heavy hitting safety from the Chicago Bears who died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest.
While the results are devastating, the film itself gets carried away with a Hollywood good and evil scenario, seen almost exclusively through Dr. Omalu’s point of view, with Will Smith playing a Nigerian émigré who dreamed of coming to America as a young boy, who desperately wants to be accepted in America, a tireless worker who holds eight advanced degrees and board certifications, whose hours of work are so extensive that he has little time for anything else, though he’s a dedicated Catholic, where his church priest assigns him the role of shepherding a newly arrived medical student from Kenya, Gugu Mbatha-Raw from Beyond the Lights (2014) as Prema, where his early success parallels their growing love affair, ultimately getting engaged and married, becoming his most steadfast supporter. Like Sidney Poitier in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967), their moral character has to be above reproach, where Hollywood presents them as saints, where their level of decency is stupifying, though it’s clear one of the reasons his research is initially received with such skepticism is that he’s an African without American citizenship, so it’s easy to belittle his findings. In the coroner’s office, his supervisor is so offended by the invasive procedures performed on Pittsburgh Steeler greats after death that he refuses to authorize them, forcing the doctor to pay for more scientific results himself, which includes specialized tissue analysis outside the norm, as the brain shows no signs of damage during an autopsy. This thread of xenophobia and American inequality interestingly runs throughout this picture, as Omalu’s naiveté is a stark contrast to the cynicism and outright racism that greets him, where even after publishing his findings in a medical journal, he is met with a formidable amount of character assassination and utter disdain, as the NFL initially smears his medical findings. The lone ally in the room is the man that runs the coroner’s office, Cyril Wecht (Albert Brooks), a noted forensic consultant in legal cases, and the mentor who trained Omalu as a forensic pathologist, and through him Omalu meets Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin), a former team doctor for the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of the first NFL representatives to believe his medical findings, offering credibility from someone within the sport, becoming a major turning point in Omalu’s effort to get the NFL, and the world, to notice.
While it is portrayed as a David versus Goliath confrontation, where a $12 billion dollar giant corporation with unlimited monetary resources tries to suppress Omalu’s findings, where the NFL won’t even allow him in the room to discuss the matter, turning instead to Dr. Baines “as one of their own,” where the initial findings are met with open suspicion, anger, and even intimidation, which leads to the most incredulous Hollywood insinuations, easily the least effective part of the film, becoming a study of growing paranoia as there is some suggestion that the NFL uses its influence to call in the FBI to raid Dr. Wecht’s office, going through his files, removing sensitive equipment, where Omalu concludes, “You are attacking him to get to me!” The problem is the FBI did, in fact, raid Wecht’s office, but it came three months “before” Omalu published any of his research, so this is the kind of movie hysteria that diminishes Hollywood’s own influence and credibility, resorting to foolishness and utter nonsense instead of presenting what actually happened, which undermines the effectiveness of the picture. Even worse, there are insinuations that Omalu’s pregnant wife is being followed, as we see her being tailed by an anonymous car, amping up the fear factor as she attempts to get away, losing her unborn baby in the process. While there is an exaggerated portrayal of a lurking presence of evil, suggesting the NFL is behind it all, this is Hollywood overkill. The blatant NFL crimes are obvious enough, as they were slow to recognize how seriously concussions and repeated blows to the head can effect one’s brain, where initially as an industry they lied and covered up. Despite the absurd doublespeak of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as he speaks under oath before an investigatory Congressional committee studying how concussions may impact the game, nine years passed after Omalu’s initial publishing before the NFL recognized the merit of his findings. There are still any number of football spokespersons that continue to underestimate the impact, but it’s hard to refute the evidence that the game of football has on the human brain, even at the sub-concussion level, though at least the league is much more focused on concussion protocol (Concussion - NFL Players Association) in today’s game, as are all sports in general, which includes an independent evaluation from doctors who are not connected to the league. While high-priced quarterbacks that earn big salaries can afford to voluntarily remove themselves from the game after taking big hits, which is the ideal goal of today’s game, many of the more borderline players can’t, as their earnings are far more suspect, so they’re not so willing to voluntarily pull themselves out of a game. As a result, there are official spotters (ATC Spotters | NFL Football Operations) on the sidelines of today’s NFL games whose job is to observe player behavior and pull out players suspected of taking voracious hits to the head and subjecting them to a concussion protocol. While the system is imperfect, where they obviously miss incidents observing from the press box, at least the league’s rules are developing with more interest in player safety.
'Concussion,' by Jeanne Marie Laskas - SFGate Jay Jennings from The SF Gate, November 25, 2015
When a book states on the cover that it’s soon to be a major motion picture, it doesn’t usually mean this soon. The film of the book “Concussion,” by Jeanne Marie Laskas, will be in theaters on Christmas Day, with an A-list cast of Will Smith, Alec Baldwin and Albert Brooks and produced by Ridley Scott, only one month after the book’s publication date. The proximity of the release makes it almost impossible to discuss the book without mentioning the movie and its Oscar expectations, as Smith tries on a thick accent in playing Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic pathologist credited with discovering (and naming) chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Omalu, a native of Nigeria who worked in the Pittsburgh medical examiner’s office, first discerned evidence of the brain disease similar to Alzheimer’s in Mike Webster, the Steelers’ center and Pro Football Hall of Famer, and deduced that the onset was owing to the thousands of concussive hits he suffered in his pro career. The unspooling of that information (from the examination of Webster’s brain and those of other pro football players) shined intense scrutiny on the questionable science of the National Football League’s own concussion committee and led to lawsuits, congressional hearings and concussion-research rivalry and competition.
If this all sounds familiar, that’s because the subject was covered thoroughly in “League of Denial,” the excellent and award-winning investigative book by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fairnaru, who also have had their book optioned for feature film treatment after already cooperating with PBS’ “Frontline” on a documentary. Laskas thanks the journalists for the “comprehensive, encyclopedic account” of their “extraordinary book” and also thanks Smith for “bringing Bennet to life on-screen with such dignity and grace.”
Fleshed out from an 8,700-word profile of Omalu in GQ magazine in 2009, “Concussion” tells the story from Omalu’s point of view — his upbringing, his medical training, his discovery of CTE, the attacks on his credibility by the league’s doctors, his engagement and marriage.
By her account, she spent years interviewing him and his family, also gathering and excerpting “long passages of introspection” that he wrote and conducting “hundreds” of other interviews with “key players” in the story. Her charge, for the magazine and the book, was to “dramatize a subject that had already been expertly covered by journalists who’d done the heavy lifting of investigative reporting before me.”
If it seems that I’m dwelling too much on the information provided in the acknowledgments at the end, which I read after the main text, it’s because the book had me frequently asking, as a journalist myself, somewhat queasily, “How did she know that?” Whole scenes where she was not present are re-created down to the pleasantries (“‘Nice to meet you, sir,’ Bennet says. ... ‘Pleased to meet you,’ Davies says”) and micro movements (“Bennet leaned forward, picked a speck of lint off his sleeve”) so that often the book reads as if it were intended to be a screenplay. The author’s headlong style, full of sentence fragments, exclamation points and italics, only contributes to that feeling.
While I don’t doubt the rigor of her own investigations and while she does a winning job of deepening the character of Omalu, the liberties taken in the narration, the hybrid nature of the book (she says the two will “divvy” up any profits, though he didn’t have any editorial control), the rehashing of an issue covered so authoritatively only two years before, and the inevitable muddling of fact and fiction to come in the “based on a true story” film have, to my mind, cast a hazy pall over the book itself.
I thought “League of Denial” was plenty dramatic already, with none of the questions I had about “Concussion” hanging over it, and for those who want both a satisfying read and a comprehensive journalistic exploration of the subject, I would recommend starting with the former. No doubt the high-profile film is going to bring to a much wider public the concussion discussion in football in general, beyond that in the NFL, in a way that may have a profound effect on both participants and spectators, from youth programs to the pros.
So what does “Concussion” give us that we don’t get from the earlier treatment? Bennet Omalu is a compelling and appealing man; naive, eccentric, and highly intelligent; aware of his own weaknesses but often in thrall to them; principled and devout; relishing the freedom in America but appreciative of his homeland’s traditions and proud of his heritage. As one man’s story, it’s easy to see what drew Will Smith to it. But it’s not the whole story.
One of the few truly incendiary revelations to come out of the Sony Pictures Entertainment hacking scandal was the series of emails that suggested the company had “softened” some of the points made by the Concussion screenplay against the National Football League. According to Ken Belson of The New York Times, this was to market “the film more as a whistle-blower story, rather than a condemnation of football or the league.” Never mind that a whistle-blower story that doesn't lean on condemnation seems inherently impossible, on the evidence of what made it to the screen, the NFL unmistakably emerges as the villain in this David-versus-Goliath story, even if the entertainment machine is indeed prodded with kid gloves.
Concussion dry-wheezes out of the gate with a show of canned pathos. Before a crowded room of fans, Mike Webster (David Morse) reminisces about his time in the NFL. The speech is practically a state of the union address, and as the maudlin strings on the soundtrack make clear, his days are numbered. Indeed, Webster is soon revealed to be living out of his car, estranged from family and friends, and coping with pains that former Steelers physician Dr. Julian Bailes (Alec Baldwin) seems either unable or too frightened to diagnose. Two scenes later and Webster has tasered himself to oblivion. Or, at least, to wherever Ron Howard casting calls are conducted, which is the only possible explanation for why—spoiler alert!—he reappears at film's end in spectral form, to cloyingly flatter forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu's (Will Smith) devotion to the belief that “God did not intend for us to play football.”
For a spell, the film does seem as if it's only interested in indirectly condemning the NFL. Webster is the first of many golden boys of the sport to fall throughout the film, and given the horror-movie music that scores their physical and mental despair and the serrated edge of the film's cutting, it's as if these men are succumbing less to a neurodegenerative disease, namely chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), than to some kind of rage virus. The effect is almost perversely avant-garde: to convey the horrific effects of football on the human body as sensorial impressions.
The tacky and loose means by which the platitudinous screenplay dances around what ails the football players is just one cog in a whirligig of pat representations.
Soon, though, it becomes evident that the film isn't exactly shy about taking on the NFL, only that it's contrived in its methods. The tacky and loose means by which director Peter Landesman's platitudinous screenplay dances around what ails the story's football players is just one cog in a whirligig of pat representations. The interests of the NFL, not unfairly, are likened to those of Big Tobacco, but the consumers of the sport are laughably portrayed as ravenous masses. When Justin Strzelczyk (Matt Willig) chokes his wife in front of their children before getting into his car and driving into oncoming traffic, it's as if our own bloodlust is to blame for his demise. (In real life, Strzelczyk was divorced and living away from his wife at the time of his death.)
At the center of all this thin gruel is Omalu, the first to publish findings of CTE in American football players. The Nigerian émigré is introduced inside a court room testifying as a witness on a case and, in turn, cutely establishing his bona fides for the audience. The subsequent scene, in which he drives home while sticking his hand out the window and happily soaking in the rays of the sun with Nell-like abandon, sets up the simplistic tenor with which the man is characterized. Later, as he holds up a water-filled mason jar with fruit inside so as to illustrate to his future wife, Prema (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), the effects of blunt-force trauma on the brain, one may be excused for feeling concussed by the film's almost childish sense of instruction.
Inside the rooms where Omalu performs his autopsies, this God-fearing saint of a man speaks to the corpses that lie before him, asking them to reveal to him the truth about their death. In a way, the careful means by which these autopsies are framed come to mirror the nobly proportioned ways in which Omalu stands up to the NFL. The nefarious agents of the league remain vaporous throughout, at once within the saintly Omalu's reach and just outside of it. Bennet wins, of course, but only insofar as his voice is finally heard. Just as a better film would have given fuller shape to his convictions and disillusionments, one understands, too, that a ruder man and film are needed to truly hit the football entertainment machine as hard as it deserves.
The truth about Will Smith's Concussion and Bennet Omalu. Daniel Engber from Slate, December 21, 2015
At the climactic moment of Concussion, a docudrama out Christmas Day about the young coroner in Pittsburgh who took on the NFL, the FBI turns up. Will Smith stars as Bennet Omalu, whose discovery of what seemed to be a lethal form of illness in the brains of former football players has already turned into a long and painful fight. Doctors on the NFL payroll have done a hatchet job on his reputation, even trying to make his papers disappear from scientific journals. Strangers have targeted him with death threats, and a late-night caller has yelled at him for trying to “vaginize” the nation’s most popular sport.
Then Omalu shows up at work and finds the feds going through the files of his boss and mentor, the forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht. The charges against Wecht sound trumped up—84 counts of corruption, most for ticky-tack transgressions like sending private faxes from the office—but Omalu knows what’s really going on. He’s an immigrant, a black man, a whistleblower, and suddenly an existential threat to a $12-billion industry. “You are attacking him to get to me!” he cries at the agents.
It’s the movie’s most dramatic scene and one that, taken at face value, has some terrifying implications. According to Concussion, Omalu’s work on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, posed such a danger to established interests that it produced a cover-up of historic proportions—one that reached not just the boardrooms of the NFL but all the way into the U.S. Department of Justice. The movie tells us that the feds were in cahoots with sportocrats, as if then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue called in favors from the President to make Omalu go away.
That’s not even half true, of course. Here are the boring real-world facts: The FBI did raid Wecht’s office, but that happened three months before Omalu published any of his research on brain injuries in football. The government did indict Omalu’s boss, but for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with the NFL or CTE, nor with the Nigerian-born pathologist whom Wecht had taken under his wing. And while the movie version of Omalu swears he’ll never testify against his mentor and then is banished from his office to a different job in the Central Valley of California, the real-life Omalu did show up in court as a witness for the prosecution and even made a bid for Wecht’s job. (He didn’t get it and eventually decamped from Pittsburgh of his own accord.)
I know that railing against the inaccuracies of a Hollywood film “based on real events” is like yelling at the sky for being blue. But the exaggeration of the plot against Omalu in Concussion feeds into a pervasive myth at the center of the national discussion over football and head injuries. It turns an ugly episode in corporate denialism—the NFL’s attempt to duck the dawning science of head trauma—into a lurid fantasy of persecution. In that way, the film echoes the media panic over football: We’ve been so eager to attack the league’s pattern of deceit that we’ve fallen victim to our own error-ridden narrative.
“The movie is emotionally and spiritually accurate all the way through,” Concussion’s writer-director Peter Landesman told the New York Times on Wednesday, in response to griping from another source—the son of former defensive back and suicide victim Dave Duerson, who appeared as a villain in the film.* But Landesman’s loosey-goosey docudrama standards are exactly the problem. When Omalu’s character says, at one point in the film, that “God did not intend for us to play football” and later warns that as long as we do, “men will continue to die,” he’s appealing not to fact-based objective truth but to an alternate reality—an emotional, spiritual one—that has come to dominate the enlightened person’s understanding of the NFL.
Are we actually watching players kill themselves before our eyes? No, not on average: A 2012 study of several thousand NFL retirees, conducted by researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, found that the former football players lived significantly longer than race- and age-matched controls. They were much less likely to die from cancer, heart disease, diabetes, accidental falls, or homicides than anybody else. That doesn’t mean that taking hits improved their health, of course; surely the opposite is true. But still this study gave the lie to a fundamental intuition about football and one that’s touted almost everywhere. There’s zero evidence that playing professional football shortens lives on average. Those are the facts. Take ’em or leave ’em.
This is the best study that we have on NFL players and mortality, yet its findings never seem to enter public consciousness. The simple truth, that former players aren’t dying—that in lots of ways they’re much healthier than you or me—smacks against the screen-ready version of history, in which a team of underdog physicians, led by heroes like Bennet Omalu, risked their livelihoods to expose a hidden slaughter.
“Look, at this point we know how dangerous football is,” said correspondent Jonathan Mahler in recent video for the Times. “Anyone who continues to believe that professional football players aren’t potentially shortening their lifespan by playing this game is living on another planet.” Even former football players have bought into the caricature of football as a deadly sport. At a recent screening of Concussion, former linebacker Keith McCants burst into sobs. “If we knew that we were killing people,” he said after the movie, “I would have never put on the jersey.”
Here’s a more sedate and honest formulation: Omalu really did discover an unusual pathology in the brains of former NFL players, and the NFL’s corrupt administration really did attempt to discredit his research and then for half a decade ignored this important line of inquiry (only caving under congressional scrutiny). But these facts have been spun out, in this film and elsewhere, into a melodrama wherein Omalu’s deadly brain pathology drives football players crazy and destroys their minds. Eventually it leads to suicide.
Perhaps. The fact that football players live longer lives, on average, doesn’t mean they aren’t also subject to an epidemic of suicide. After all, only a fraction of chronic smokers end up dying from lung cancer, but they’re still 23 times more likely than nonsmokers to get the disease. But is football really causing suicide? Again, there’s zero evidence to support the claim. According to the NIOSH study from 2012, ex-players are much less likely to kill themselves than men of the same race and age.
That hasn’t stopped the media machine, which seems inclined to tie every former athlete’s suicide to game-related damage to his brain. Omalu himself has been among the strongest proponents of this idea. And in Concussion, his character makes the link explicit: In explaining the death of another former Pittsburgh Steeler, Terry Long, Omalu says, “Football gave him CTE, and CTE told his brain to drink a gallon of antifreeze.” The film also tells the stories of several other players who killed themselves in recent years: Andre Waters, who shot himself in the head in 2006; Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest five years after that; and Junior Seau, who did the same as Duerson in 2012. And it also strongly (and misleadingly) implies that two other players’ deaths were quasi-suicides: that of Justin Strzelczyk, who perished in a car accident as he sped away from the police in 2004; and that of Mike Webster, the patient zero for football-related CTE, who died of a heart attack in 2002.
It’s Webster’s death that serves to launch the plot of Concussion, with some embellishment. In real life, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Hall of Fame center ended up homeless, drug-addicted, confused, and so beset by chronic back pain that he could hardly sleep. At one point he grew so desperate for some rest that he bought a stun gun so he could zap his leg to knock himself unconscious. But according to the film, those self-administered shocks may have been the cause of death. Concussion shows Webster on the autopsy table right after getting zapped—a suicide by Taser.
Maybe that’s the emotional truth, as Landesman would have it: Webster may not have really killed himself, but the head-trauma–induced downward spiral of his life surely amounted to a suicide in slow motion. The real-world facts are much more complicated, however. Webster was depressed, divorced, a former steroid user, hooked on painkillers and Ritalin. And according to League of Denial, the best and most complete account of football’s concussion crisis, Webster’s risk factors for collapse were legion. A victim of ghastly child abuse with two alcoholic parents, he had mental illness running through both sides of his family. His uncle killed himself. His mother had a nervous breakdown. All four of his siblings were bipolar; one attempted suicide several times; another ended up in prison.
The same sad backstories could be told of the other football suicides shown in the film. Long had tried to kill himself before he drank the antifreeze, going back to when he was still an active player. He was also a steroid user, separated from his wife, and in the lead-up to his death he both filed for bankruptcy and came under indictment on federal charges of mail fraud and arson. Waters suffered from chronic pain in every part of his body and had been involved in a four-year battle for custody of his daughter. He was terribly depressed. Duerson had also split from his wife and lost most of his money in a horrendous business deal; not long before his suicide, he was passed over for a job. Strzelczyk was a heavy drinker and a drug user who heard voices in his head. Seau was an alcoholic, a compulsive gambler, and divorced; he’d also tried to kill himself before.
One might reasonably conclude that all these men were at a tragic, elevated risk of suicide and mental illness, brain damage notwithstanding. Or one might conclude the opposite—that these men would have been just fine if CTE hadn’t pushed them to these depths; one might speculate that the marital problems and drug addictions and other personal tragedies were a function of phosphorylated tau proteins in their brains. According to the story of Concussion, and the one promoted by Omalu and his peers, that’s exactly what occurred. If CTE doesn’t lead to suicide directly, then it causes lots of things that themselves can lead to suicide: drug abuse and gambling; violent mood swings and depression; dementia and psychosis.
Is there any truth, though, to that idea—objective as opposed to spiritual? In the fall of 2008, researchers at the University of Michigan ran a survey of about 1,000 former players from the NFL, and asked them questions about their physical and mental health. About 3 or 4 percent described themselves as being in the middle of a major depression—the same as in the normal population. When asked if they’d ever been diagnosed with depression, about 16 percent of the players said they had—again about the same as other people. (Among younger retirees, the rates of depression were slightly higher than expected.)
So former NFL athletes aren’t really more depressed than anyone else. What about violent mood swings? The researchers in Michigan asked the ex-players if they’d ever experienced “attacks of anger when all of a sudden [they] lost control” and became violent. About 30 percent said they had. The baseline rate for U.S. men is much higher—more than 50 percent.
More distressing was what the survey said about cognitive impairment. The researchers asked the former players if they’d ever been diagnosed with “dementia, Alzheimer’s disease or other memory-related diseases,” and about 1 in 20 said they had. That’s a prevalence six times greater than you’d find in the reference population. The NIOSH study corroborates this disturbing fact: Ex-NFL athletes turned out to be significantly more likely than their peers to die from neurodegenerative diseases.
A 4.6-percent rate of memory-related disease in the Michigan study is disastrously high. But let’s keep this number in perspective. Other injuries to former players—those that lead to chronic pain and arthritis—are about 10 times more common and could well be even more disabling. Many of us assume that it’s worse to have memory loss than it is to suffer chronic pain, but there really isn’t much evidence in support of that conclusion. In any case, however one might try to frame the numbers, it’s clear enough that cognitive impairments represent an urgent problem for retired players. But that’s not the same as saying that the game is turning players into vacant-eyed, suicidal psychopaths. It’s not the same as saying that God did not intend us to play football.
Concussion apes the great majority of press coverage of concussions in suggesting that players’ higher rates of cognitive impairment help explain ex-player deaths. It’s always the same account: The man who killed himself grew increasingly distracted and forgetful after his retirement; his cognitive impairments came in tandem with a sudden emotional decline. As Omalu might say: Football gave him CTE, and CTE turned his brain to mush. But these are just-so stories, concocted after the fact to fit the standard media narrative of head trauma.
Here’s another just-so story. It’s well-established that depression on its own produces cognitive impairment: Meta-analyses of the research literature suggest that people in the midst of a major depressive episode will flounder on tests of recall and recognition; they’re often unable to concentrate and have other deficits of the sort ascribed to Duerson, Seau, and the others. So perhaps these men grew depressed in the years after their retirement, as some people do. Maybe they also had bad luck—business deals gone awry, relationships that failed—and their depression metastasized into other mental problems. Maybe chronic pain from playing football left them hooked on opiates. Maybe they were prone to mental illness. Maybe they didn’t know how to go about getting help. And maybe all of these factors came together and pushed them to their deaths.
But there’s no room for wishy-washy doubts or alternative hypotheses in the docudrama version of the truth. For some of these men, a trip to a psychiatrist may well have been a lifesaver. But we forget that vital fact, and instead we blame an occult, incurable disease.
In truth, no one knows exactly how the brain pathology that Omalu first observed in Mike Webster’s brain relates to anyone’s experience in life. We don’t even know how many people might have the disease. According to Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University, more than 90 percent of the players’ brains that she’s examined show signs of the disease. (McKee would have made a fabulous character in Concussion, by the way, but alas her presence might have made Omalu seem less important. She and her colleagues were snipped out of the narrative, Bechdel test be damned.) “I think the incidence and prevalence have to be a lot higher than people realize,” she told Frontline, before suggesting that it’s anywhere from a minimum of 10 percent of all professional football players to a significant majority of them.
Think about what all this means. We know that football players are much less likely than other people to kill themselves, and that on average they live longer lives. We know they suffer from depression at about the normal rate. We know that they’re less prone than average men to violent mood swings. We know they’re disproportionately the victims of memory disorders but that the rate is still low in absolute terms, at less than 5 percent. And we believe that CTE affects up to 90 percent of all the men who ever played professional football.
If you look at all those facts together, you might conclude that 1) CTE is indeed a widespread epidemic among former contact-athletes but 2) its clinical effects are pretty modest, since most men who have it are not depressed or otherwise impaired. It could well be that this brain disease doesn’t have much bearing on the lived experience of its sufferers. Maybe someone could have all the signs of tau-protein pathology that Omalu found in Mike Webster’s brain and feel totally fine. In fact, we know from other studies that some degree of tau-protein build-up is a normal part of aging and that the presence of neurofibrillary tangles does not reliably predict cognitive impairment.
None of this is to say that CTE is fake or nonexistent. I’m only trying to point out that the science of the illness is still in an embryonic stage. We have no idea how many people really have it and what, exactly, “it” is. More importantly, we have only a blurry understanding of how CTE manifests in life. And until we get some answers to those questions—important work is now underway—we’re stuck with a spotty, shifting knowledge of the problem.
In the meantime, the bogus story of Concussion, the one so often parroted in the press, admits none of this uncertainty. It baits us into nutty, unsubstantiated claims. (Here’s one: Maybe Lou Gehrig didn’t really have Lou Gehrig’s disease but CTE instead.) It causes panic among athletes and their families, at every level of the sport. The fear of CTE infects the minds of men even in their final moments—think of Duerson and Seau, taking bullets in the chest, perhaps convinced they had no hope of escaping their disease. And, ultimately, it leaves the rest of us less informed than we were before.
Concussion, about the NFL's CTE crisis, starring Will Smith ... - Slate Jack Hamilton, December 23, 2015
Concussion: Highlighting the perils of American football Alan Gilman from The World Socialist Web Site, January 14, 2016
NFL admits connection between concussions and degenerative brain ... Alan Gilman from The World Socialist Web Site, March 19, 2016
Ohio football player, apparent suicide victim, complained of concussions Alan Gilman from The World Socialist Web Site, December 5, 2014
Brain damage affects 3 in 10 former National Football League players ... Alan Gilman from The World Socialist Web Site, September 18, 2014
Will Smith's 'Concussion' Paints a Damning Portrait of the ... Jen Yamato from The Daily Beast
'Concussion' Review: Will Smith Scores Touchdown With ... Scott Mendelson from Forbes
Can movies like Concussion fudge facts in the name of art? Michael Miner from The Chicago Reader, December 28, 2015
Concussion: Can a Will Smith Movie Change the Way America Views Football? Teddy Cutler from Newsweek magazine, December 28, 2015
Review: 'Concussion' Starring Will Smith Struggles To Mai | The Playlist Charlie Schmidlin
Sony Lawyers Cut Material From Will Smith's 'Concussion' To Avoid ... Sony Lawyers Cut Material From Will Smith's 'Concussion' To Avoid Potential Legal Hassles With The N.F.L. by Kevin Jagernauth from indieWIRE, September 2, 2015
Will Smith's new movie "Concussion" terrifies the NFL. Here's the ... - Vox Joseph Stromberg, August 31, 2015
'Concussion': Review - Screen International Tim Grierson from Screendaily
Concussion · Film Review Will Smith's confidence goes ... Jesse Hassenger from The Onion A.V. Club
Concussion Expert: Over 90% of NFL Players Have Brain Disea Sean Gregory interview with Dr. Bennet Omalu from Time magazine, December 22, 2015
'Concussion' Doctor Hopes NFL Will React to Film "In Good Faith" Hilary Lewis interview with Dr. Bennet Omalu from The Hollywood Reporter, November 6, 2015
'Concussion': AFI Fest Review - Hollywood Reporter Stephen Farber
'Concussion' Review: Will Smith vs. the NFL | Variety Andrew Barker from Variety
Concussion review – Will Smith battles NFL in hoary but well Nigel M.Smith from The Guardian
Author of article on which film is based didn’t have to look far for drama Barbara Vincheri from The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, December 22, 2015
Pittsburgh attorney, forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht pleased with how 'Concussion' turned out Barbara Vincheri from The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, December 22, 2015
Movie review: 'Concussion' a hard-hitting drama Barbara Vincheri film review from The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, December 23, 2015
’Concussion’ takes few detours from reality, ex-Steelers physician says Adam Smeltz from The Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Dec. 26, 2015
Dave Duerson's Family Says 'Concussion' Film Smears Him The New York Times, December 16, 2015
Sony Altered 'Concussion' Film to Prevent N.F.L. Protests ... Ken Belson of The New York Times, September 1, 2015, also seen here: The New York Times
Game Brain - GQ.com Jeanne Marie Laskas from GQ magazine, September 14, 2009
UPDATE: Game Brain | GQ Jeanne Marie Laskas from GQ magazine, October 5, 2009
Offensive Play Malcolm Gladwell from The New Yorker, October 19, 2009
GQ and The New Yorker: two takes on brain damage from ... Andrea Pitzer from Nieman Storyboard, October 26, 2009
Fred McNeill: The People V. Football | GQ Jeanne Marie Laskas from GQ magazine, February 21, 2011
3 Ways the NFL Denied Football's Concussion Crisis - Mother Jones Ian Gordon, October 2, 2013
The Blues Brothers ranks among my favorite films of all time --
not the best, just a favorite. With inspiration that never remotely comes
close to ceasing, Landis' (The
Kentucky Fried Movie, An American Werewolf in
The film starts out with Jake Blues (John Belushi, Animal House) being released from prison, picked up by his brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd, Trading Places) in a used cop car turned "Blues Mobile". They make good on a promise to visit the orphanage they grew up in, only to find it is in danger of being shut down due needing $5,000 in tax money owed. With only days to go before it is too late, the Blues Brothers are inspired by a vision from God to save the orphanage, which they plan to do by reuniting the band they played in. This proves to be a tough task, as all of the members have moved on to other occupations. Not only this, but along the way, they manage to piss off the police, the Illinois Nazi Party, and just about everyone else they come across in their bid to make enough money to deliver the money they need.
Exuding just the perfect amount of comic cool, Belushi and Aykroyd strut their stuff with confidence, giving oodles of personality to the characters they created during their stint on "Saturday Night Live" in the 1970s. The band is quite a talented cover band in their own right, demonstrating their love for the music and attitude of blues and soul, and also the artists responsible for the continued popularity of the genres. Strong cameo appearances are a major strength, with some fantastic musical numbers by James Brown (performing Gospel), Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, John Lee Hooker, Cab Calloway, and of course, The Blues Brothers themselves.
The comedy is so off-the-wall you can't help but laugh. The Blues Brothers go on their comic odyssey in deadpan fashion, almost literally leaving behind every stop destroyed, and yet, they seem almost oblivious to it all. Just when you think the madcap nature of the film couldn't possibly get any more silly, Landis ends the film with almost a half hour of the most expensive, elaborate, and destructive chase sequences ever put on film. Cars speed down the streets of
The Blues Brothers is far from a perfect comedy, and can be uneven in spots, but these momentary lapses are very difficult to remember when it's all over. By the time the credits roll, you'll most likely have added many fond memories to add to your favorite movie-watching experiences. Easily one of the most entertaining films of its era, The Blues Brothers is a time capsule worthy collection, not only in irreverent comedy, but also in its reverence for some of the best music of the 1960s and 70s. It's a beautiful thing.
-- The Collector's Edition DVD features 18 minutes of additional material cut from the theatrical release.
-- Followed in 1998 by a needless, and unfunny, sequel, Blues Brothers 2000.
There's something funny about the actual Blues Brothers,
Jake and Elwood. You don't even have to hear them say anything particularly
funny to laugh at the sheer sight of the wacky duo lined up against one
another, wearing the infamous clothing and sunglasses. And since their
appearance on "Saturday Night Live," and then later in their
milestone feature film, they have infiltrated society.
"The Blues Brothers" (1980) is, and will remain as far as I see it, the funniest "SNL" skit adaptation to ever hit the big screen. The problem with adapting characters from 5-minute skits on "Saturday Night Live" is the fact that they are just that -- 5-minute skits -- and are not substantial enough to merit any type of further focus. Backdrops are not needed -- all we need are quirky characters with distinguishing traits or gestures that will make us laugh.
"The Ladies Man," "The Coneheads," "A Night At the Roxbury," and "Superstar" are all examples of material stretched too far -- basically just skits multiplied by their original running length some 15 or so times. In fact, there are really only two or three feature length movies with "SNL" characters that are any good.
I love "Saturday Night Live," but even I have to admit that some things are not meant to be turned into a movie. I'd rather see a compilation of the character's best moments on the show hit the big screen as opposed to a weak plot-driven film about them doing many unfunny things a quarter as funny as anything on the television program.
"The Blues Brothers" has a great plot (considering it's an "SNL" film) and a great pair of characters. Jake Blues (John Belushi) has just been released from prison, greeted by his taller (and more slender) brother Elwood (Dan Aykroyd). They visit the old Catholic home where they were raised as children by "The Penguin," and are instantly thrust into a mission to save the orphanage by raising a ton of money before it is due to close.
How will they do this? Reunite their old band, of course! But it won't be easy, because in the process they get entangled in the affairs of a Neo-Nazi and a heavily armed woman (cameo by Carrie Fisher). They also get entwined in a bunch of musical sequences with blues legends such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, and Ray Charles. (John Candy also stars in this film, and in John Hughes' masterpiece "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," he did the "mess around" to Ray Charles' song on the radio while driving an awful car.)
It's all in the name of fun, of course. Oh, and in the name of God. Quoting Elwood, "We're on a mission from God." Not exactly a laugh-out-loud line of dialogue, but the more you think about it, the funnier it becomes.
All my readers are probably aware of the fact that I absolutely love "Saturday Night Live" and all its actors. (Well, most of them.) Especially the older posse of actors such as Bill Murray,
When you become a fan of "Saturday Night Live," you enter a sort of small group of friends you've never even met. You just somehow feel very close to the actors and their friends. John Landis, the film's director, was one of those close friends of Dan Aykroyd like Harold Ramis.
The Blues Brothers are two of the best characters to ever come out of "Saturday Night Live." We've seen a lot of characters like Mango and Mary Katharine Gallagher lately, but the best characters are the fondest -- Wayne and Garth, The Lounge Singer, The Coneheads, The Cheeseburger Guy, The Blues Brothers. And just about any character Steve Martin plays.
I can't explain why I enjoy "Saturday Night Live" so much -- is it the humor? the acting? the familiarity feel? -- but I can say that I DO love it, and I love "The Blues Brothers."
Sequels can become nasty things or splendid things, and "The Blues Brothers 2000," which reunited Aykroyd and Landis (the director), was a failure. A compilation of musical sketches and a terribly recycled plot, it was a sure sign that The Blues Brothers themselves worked not only because of Elwood but also because of Jake, and "The Blues Brothers" the movie worked not because of a recycled plot but because of an original one. (And here's advice for the filmmakers: never, ever replace John Belushi with John Goodman ever, ever again.)
I am sure that anyone who enjoyed "Ghostbusters" or any type "SNL"-alumni film will absolutely adore "The Blues Brothers." I mean, this is the stuff legends are made of. Jake and Elwood Blues, two of the most familiar faces of all time. How can you not laugh at this film? It's impossible. Yes, it's a bit long, and yes, you have to sit through some blues music; but they're The Blues Brothers. What else would you expect?
Blues Brothers Bad Boys Make Movie, by Doug Eisenstark from Jump Cut, October 1980
DVD Times D.J. Nock
filmcritic.com Pete Croatto
Cinema Blend Margaret Williams
NUTS! B 89
USA (79 mi) 2016 Official Site
An irreverent film with such a preposterous opening message that one immediately assumes this is a mockumentary, a completely made-up documentary profile in order to garner laughs, told with a certain flair that distinguishes it from most documentaries, yet as it moves along, the profile of the central figure remains the same. Instead of being a con job, it’s actually a film about one of the more notorious con men in American history. Ironically the film was seen on the same night that Republican candidate Donald Trump accepted the convention nomination for President of the United States. At least to this viewer, the subject was one and the same, as this film documents one of the original snake oil salesmen that used his blatantly false advertising prowess to sell millions of dollars of worthless medical products over his own radio station during the height of the Depression, yet he was also one of his state’s most respected citizens, viewed as a pillar of the community. The film documents the rise and fall of Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, an American hero that constructed a fictional biographical account of his life as he rose to fame and fortune, similar to the character McTeague in Greed (1924), who got his start as an apprentice to a traveling dentist con artist named Dr. Painless Potter, eventually establishing a successful practice for himself, though he had no medical certificate. That wasn’t a problem for Brinkley, who simply falsified a diploma from the infamous Eclectic Medical University in Kansas City, allowing him to open up shop in the small, still undeveloped town of Milford, Kansas (the town was subsequently destroyed, as the grounds were flooded from the construction of a nearby dam) selling various medicines off the shelves in a dusty town of less than two hundred residents. According to the legend, a customer came into the office seeking a remedy for male impotence, with the customer claiming he was unable to have children after a decade of trying. The customer was persistent, refusing to accept that there was no medical cure, while at the same time looked out the window to see a Billy goat having sex with another goat, wondering if he could be implanted with the goat’s sexual glands. Intrigued at the prospect, the good doctor was willing to give it a try with such a willing patient by performing the first-of-its-kind surgery, with the patient pleased to report afterwards that his wife got pregnant and they were happily expecting their first child. With this success story, Brinkley built an empire by successfully promoting his own goat-testicle impotence cure.
One of the first things he did was build a radio tower in town, opening a high-powered radio station which was programmed with country music, also the first of its kind, speaking for hours each day, literally flooding the airwaves with advertisements selling his various medicinal products as home remedies for just about any ailment you could name, attracting patients from all over the globe, which helped him amass a fortune. In doing so, he helped install electricity in town, build a post office to handle the massive amount of mail sent to him, but also sidewalks, a town library, and a new sewage system, while also opening a hospital clinic to treat his patients, eventually expanding to clinics and hospitals in several states. In this manner he became viewed as a valuable and upstanding citizen, beloved by the people in Kansas, which protected him from federal agents looking to arrest him for obtaining a bogus medical license, as the governor of Kansas refused to extradite him since he brought so much money into the state. As a result, he was considered untouchable, where the broad reach of his radio show kept him in business. One of his most successful devices was issuing medical advice over the radio, where he would read listener’s medical complaints on the air and dispense recommended medicines to cure their reported ailments, opening a series of pharmacies that sold his products exclusively while also establishing a highly successful mail-order business. While there is a certain amount of archival footage that looks more like home movies, where there is footage of Brinkley and his wife playing with their young son, but also living a luxurious life of splendor as they travel the world on ocean cruises. Like The Great Gatsby (2013), he became known for hosting lavish parties, where among his clientele were William Jennings Bryant and Rudolph Valentino with a product that predates Viagra, becoming something of a state celebrity. But as there is insufficient material to make a movie, the director makes a clever choice, using animated sequences to fill in the narrative, with different animators drawing different sequences, where the change of pace is highly appealing, using a mix of archival footage with animated reenactments, interviews with historians, and a hilariously offbeat, and completely unreliable narrator (Gene Tognacci). The lead-up to his success is strikingly original, including a sequence mocking the famous goat gland cure in a Buster Keaton short, COPS (1922), where this constant shift in stylistic point of view is immensely entertaining, all told with an upbeat tone of affirmation and optimism, where Brinkley is seen as an innovator, where you almost wonder why we never heard of this guy before, as his influence and reach is astounding, making him the television evangelist of the radio era.
But the euphoric mood quickly shifts when the American Medical Association (AMA) starts targeting him, specifically Morris Fishbein, a physician who became editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a man who built his reputation on exposing medical frauds, stripping Brinkley of his license to practice medicine in Kansas, calling him a charlatan and a quack in their medical journals. Undeterred, Brinkley moved to the state of Texas, building another radio tower, this one on the other side of the border in Mexico, creating a million-watt signal that was so strong it could still be heard in Kansas, broadcasting to the entire United States, along with 16 other countries, easily the most powerful radio channel anywhere in the world at that time, also building a new hospital where he and his wife lived on the upper floor. Brinkley also sued Fishbein and the AMA for slander, claiming he had dozens of patients who were happy to testify on his behalf as they were completely satisfied with the results of his medical treatment. However the judge ruled their testimony out of order, as they were not considered legitimate medical experts. Nonetheless, Brinkley had a dream team of legal advisors outnumbering the AMA that only had a single lawyer. But that lawyer was extremely effective at cross-examining Brinkley on the witness stand, challenging each and every supposed medical advancement as little more that fakery and fraud, skillfully exposing the lack of medical benefits from using his products, where the purported medicine was often little more than water and colored dye, yet he charged an outlandish fee of $100 per bottle. It became clear that Brinkley was sociopathically delusional about his own abilities, performing surgeries that had no medical effect whatsoever on one’s well-being, offering placebos for actual medicine, while amassing a fortune for offering little more than a false promise. It’s a devastating takedown, with Brinkley unwittingly cooperating in bringing about his own downfall, reluctantly acknowledging earning $1.2 million dollars for himself in just one year during the heart of the Depression. Had he been a real doctor, he would have shared his success stories with the world of science, which routinely acknowledges breakthroughs in medical advancements, but there was nothing to share, as he was never an actual doctor to begin with, but did fool the public with ingenious advertisement campaigns that were little more than personal get rich quick schemes. He built for himself a mountain of publicity, which could then be used as evidence against him. What followed afterwards was a series of lawsuits for malpractice and fraud, eventually exposing Brinkley as a quack, exactly as he had been described in the medical journals. It’s a sad end to what amounts to a mythical rags to riches American Dream story, ending in the tragic fall when Icarus flies too close to the sun. Ironically, that abandoned radio tower in Mexico became the site of disc jockey Wolfman Jack’s infamous introduction of rock ‘n’ roll music on the radio, which in the 50’s and 60’s was still the most powerful signal in North America.
“Nuts!,” an inventive documentary directed by Penny Lane (“Our Nixon”) from Thom Stylinski’s script, tells a quintessentially American story — one that elicits both wonder and horror.
Narrated in an irrepressibly chipper tone by Gene Tognacci, “Nuts!” opens with sepia-toned black-and-white images of goats copulating, roughly drawn and crudely animated. Along with the film’s title, and the soon-to-be-revealed fact that its subject, Dr. John Romulus Brinkley (1885-1942), made his name and his fortune with an impotence cure achieved via goat testicle transplants, viewers are primed to settle in for an entertaining tale of made-in-the-U.S.A. bunco. This brisk movie is that, and more.
Dr. Brinkley is first seen as a barefoot teenager, begging for admission to Johns Hopkins University, a detail gleaned from Clement Wood’s 1934 biography, which the movie’s credits name as a primary source. “Brinkley would put goat testicles inside an impotent man, and nine months later, that man would call himself a father,” Mr. Tognacci says in a voice that suggests an affected straight face. The extent of the contrivance will set off multilevel credulity alarms in viewers paying close attention. Also curious is the movie’s seeming lack of interest in Dr. Brinkley’s inner life. These apparent defects are all part of the filmmaker’s genuinely cunning strategy.
Alternating with animated re-creations, archival footage and interviews with historians, Ms. Lane’s narrative, from Dr. Brinkley’s career roots in the once-one-horse town of Milford, Kan., grows to encompass a million-watt radio tower in Mexico, and more besides. The ever-taller-tale presented here documents Dr. Brinkley’s impact on early-20th-century pop culture. A Buster Keaton movie with a goat gland joke is cited, as is the fact that Dr. Brinkley’s radio station, besides being a showcase for his medical advice, was the first to feature all country music.
As the saga enters the 1930s, the animation and the archival footage shift to bright color, but the story grows more convoluted and bleak. The movie culminates in a cinematic coup de grâce bold enough to spin your head — one that gives the movie an entirely new dimension. No sooner does the twist sink in than “Nuts!” ends on a note of genuine tragedy.
Sundance Dispatch #4 - Film Comment Eugene Hernandez, February 1, 2016
The latest film from Penny Lane—her most recent feature was 2013’s Our Nixon, directed with Brian Frye—starts with an unbelievable premise and then spins off into an even more outlandish tale of a larger-than-life figure.
Leading up to Sundance, Lane was clear that Nuts! would tell the “mostly true” story of early 1900s figure Dr. John Romulus Brinkley, a man who claimed that he could cure male impotence with goat testicle implants. Later, to market his discovery, he apparently built a million-watt radio station that broadcast his ads and messages around the country. Oh, and he may have also won a governor’s race.
For Lane, Brinkley was a figure too irresistible not to put in a film. Yet by the end of the movie, it’s tough to know what is true and what isn’t—and, quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter. The story that Penny Lane weaves together—through animation, re-created artifacts, and distinctive voiceovers—is so compelling, entertaining, and engaging that whether or not it’s all true is beside the point.
Playful, alive, inventive, and fun, Nuts! is a sharp examination of a media-savvy figure with an outsized personality, who courts public attention for his own gain. Donald Trump is the latest appropriate analogue in a long series of J.R. Brinkleys who have made their name in this country over the past century.
Challenged by the fact that Brinkley lied for a living and
created his own propaganda and promotional material, Penny Lane let his
outrageousness guide her. Animated sections in the chaptered film use different
animators to visualize the stories and sometimes evoke the style of TV’s Beavis
& Butt-Head or King of the Hill. The narrated sequences
meanwhile employ the approach of a carefully crafted documentary radio program
not unlike This American Life.
Appropriately, for their expert work assembling such an array of elements to craft the film, Lane and her team were awarded a special jury prize for editing, on the closing weekend of the festival.
“I thought from the very beginning that the last thing I wanted to do was make a film where you as the audience member could sit back and be like, ‘What a bunch of dummies, how could they possibly have believed this,’” Penny Lane elaborated during a Sundance Institute interview. “It was really important to me that it become clear that we’re all those dummies. Any of us can fall for anything. Brinkley was a person who knew that, and a pretty good rule of thumb would be that the better the story is, the more critical distance you should bring to it.”
“It’s good to be skeptical of really great stories,” Lane said.
I’ve just gotten back from the Maryland Film Festival, in Baltimore, which focusses on the best of recent independent films. The discerning and ambitious programming has a valuable reflexive and analytical aspect—the films chosen help to clarify the meaning and value of the term “independent filmmaking.”
The formal definition of an “independent film” is one that is made with private financing rather than studio backing. But that covers too wide a swath of the industry, as proven by the overlap of Oscar candidates with the results of the Independent Spirit and Gotham awards. Independence isn’t a matter of financing but of urgency. An independent film is one that’s made within the arm’s reach of the filmmakers, that’s experiential—that the filmmakers make in order to see not just the world at large but also their own place in it. Independent films—and even the most stylized fictions among them—have a double documentary aspect, as much that of a mirror as of a lens, showing what goes on behind the camera and what goes on in front of it, and seemingly superimposing those two perspectives in every image. Independent films are made for the filmmaker to learn from. In effect, they’re student films—films by students of life, who aren’t professing but searching for their own place in the world and in filmmaking itself. Independent filmmakers don’t take for granted their place in the cinematic firmament and don’t even presume its existence. They see all systems as up for grabs, ripe for transformation, in a state of perpetual crisis.
That’s true of the best films I saw in Baltimore last week, in addition to festival films that I’ve previously written about, such as “Little Sister,” “collective: unconscious,” and “Kate Plays Christine.” Joining these films is Penny Lane’s documentary “Nuts!” The subject is the sort of historical curiosity that sounds all too ripe for an encyclopedia-like rundown—it’s the story of John R. Brinkley, who, in the nineteen-tens and twenties, pioneered the treatment of impotence by transplanting goat testicles into men. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on Brinkley; don’t read it. The telling of his story there is the exact antithesis of Lane’s film. She tells an extraordinary story—or, rather, she invents one, never taking for granted that the story already exists and is merely waiting to be found and told, but creating the story by the act of making the film. Lane is a story-maker, a sort of historical epistemologist, and also an artist of taste and invention. She uses animated sequences—but ones created by different animators, which keeps the film from being locked into a single style, lending each segment a different visual flavor and mood.
Lane does extraordinary archival research and comes up with newsreel footage that she allows to play at length, seemingly restoring the past to a vital immediacy. She displays a sense of reverence for the archival—and for the physicality of the archive and its circuit of connection to historical events themselves. She has a distinctively concrete and practical way with photographs, and so avoids generic documentary techniques such as the vague and slow camera-moves, and the graphic transitions and effects that dematerialize photographs. At the same time, Lane doesn’t turn Brinkley’s story into a metafiction of her own investigations. She’s a classical modernist whose good and wondrous story reflects her own astonishment at the weird ways of the world and its archival traces and trails. As Lane pores through the materials at hand, she herself watches the scope and implications of the project expand into astonishing realms of power and influence. “Nuts!” is fiercely original in its ingeniously dramatic storytelling, its vision of the place of such stories in the media-scape, and its aesthetically refined yet good-humored vigor.
Penny Lane on 'Nuts!', Her Documentary About 'Goat Gland Doct Erin McCarthy from Mental Floss
According to his biography, the thing that made John Romulus Brinkley famous wasn’t even his idea. In The Life of a Man, Clement Wood writes that in 1917, Brinkley, a doctor running a drug store in Milford, Kansas, was talking to a farmer struggling with impotence when he jokingly referenced goats going at it nearby. “You wouldn’t have any trouble, if you had a pair of those buck glands in you,” he said.
“Well,” replied the farmer, “why don’t you put ‘em in? Why don’t you go ahead and put a pair of goat glands in me? Transplant ‘em, graft ‘em on, the way I’d graft a Pound Sweet on an apple stray.”
Brinkley balked at first, but eventually—after arguing with the farmer about it until 3 a.m.—he was persuaded to perform the surgery, for which he was paid $150. Within the next few months, he performed the operation several more times. Each time, according to The Life of a Man, the surgery worked. Impotence was cured. Babies were being conceived.
By today's standards, of course, we know that this is pure bunk—Brinkley was clearly a quack. His xenotransplantation surgery could never have worked. But in the early 20th century, this fact was not so clear, and Brinkley’s renown—and his fortune—grew. Soon, the doctor was charging $750 per surgery, performing them by the thousands, and working with celebrity clientele. He was even mocked, on film, by Buster Keaton. Brinkley and his wife, Minnie, and their son, nicknamed Johnny Boy, lived like kings, first in Milford, then in Del Rio, Texas. During the Great Depression, while much of the nation struggled, Brinkley sold other cures at a rate of $100 a treatment, raking in $1 million a year.
As unbelievable as it may sound, a goat testicle–based cure for impotence was just the beginning for Brinkley. He was an early adopter of radio, pioneered the advertorial, and conducted a write-in campaign for the governorship of Kansas. And, of course, he had his fair share of enemies, including the Federal Radio Commission and the American Medical Association. But it was his own hubris, not his enemies, that would eventually bring Brinkley down.
When she first read about Brinkley in Pope Brock’s biography of the doctor, Charlatan, documentary director Penny Lane (Our Nixon) knew she had to turn the doctor’s incredible (and ultimately tragic) story into a movie. “I just immediately was taken by the story,” Lane tells mental_floss. “It seemed ready-made for a film.” Lane’s documentary about Brinkley, Nuts!, premieres at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Once she had decided to make a documentary about Brinkley’s life, Lane dove right into archival research. Using Brock’s sources in Charlatan as a starting point, “I just started flying around the country and going to these small county historical societies,” she says. “I actually found a number of just private individuals who were interested in John Brinkley and had their own personal collections that they’d collected on eBay over the years—photographs, his advertisements, brochures, and home movies.” Trial transcripts and contemporary newspaper articles also served as important sources.
Lane spent two years traveling to collect archival materials. One key piece she found was The Life of a Man. Wood, she says, “was a hack—he would write whatever you paid him to write.” Brinkley paid Wood to write The Life of a Man, then published it at his own publishing house in the 1930s; he gave copies away as promotional items. “The book is so crazy—it’s full of the most insane purple prose you’ve ever read,” Lane says. “It’s just over the top: Comparing Brinkley to Jesus, and Galileo. I was so taken with the tone of it—it just cracked me up.”
The book provided an artistic breakthrough: Lane knew she wanted it to be the center of her documentary. “It’s kind of the inspiration, because the book cloaks itself in a kind of authority,” she says. “It’s a biography, and you’re like, ‘OK, I know what biographies are. They do a bunch of research and they tell the truth.’ But it’s not a biography. It’s full of lies. The writer had no compunction about just making stuff up. I loved that! I was amazed at how you could look at something and think you know what it is, and not realize that you’re just being duped.” Parts of The Life of a Man are used as narration throughout Nuts!.
Other important archival finds included Brinkley’s home movies and transcription discs Brinkley had recorded. “I was lucky,” says Lane, because “it wasn’t common for radio operators to do that at the time.” (The discs were actually pre-recorded radio spots that Brinkley had created to get around Federal Radio Commission laws.) Still, she couldn’t use much of those discs: Brinkley’s recordings “must’ve been considered really seductive and convincing in the 1930s,” she says, “but if you listened to him on the radio now you’d be like, ‘This is not seductive and convincing. This is actually just creepy and weird.’ So I didn’t get to use very much of his radio stuff.”
Her best find was a 1922 film Brinkley had created called Rejuvenation Through Gland Transplantation. “It looks like a science film—it’s got illustrations of the human testicle, and it shows how the procedure works, and photos of some of the people that ended up having this procedure,” Lane says. “Of course it’s not a science film, it’s an ad they made to look like a science film, which is perfect.” The film was discovered, by chance, at the Library of Congress, where it was mislabeled. “No one really knows where it came from,” Lane says. “It really gave me the kind of material that you’d want for a film like this—you want to be able to show the cross section of the testicle and how it works. It was totally a score.”
With her materials assembled, Lane began to piece her documentary together—but because of how she wanted to approach it, she found herself in somewhat unfamiliar territory. “I had this risky idea, at the beginning, that I wanted to create this film in a way where I’m creating the maximum possible chance that a viewer could fall for Brinkley’s bullshit,” she says. “I wanted to be manipulative, and then I wanted to, obviously, unravel that in the film. But I thought, ‘Well, can I do that? Is it really possible to pull that off?’”
She had plenty of archival material to work with, though not as much as she'd had in her previous documentary, Our Nixon (which mental_floss discussed with the director at SXSW in 2013). “With Nixon, I had almost 4000 hours of candid audio tape, and it really made it possible for me to construct actual characters,” she says. “With Brinkley, I had enough stuff to do a film that was chock full of awesome archival material of all kinds, but I didn't have any candid audio, so it was much harder to figure out how to make him a character.”
What she needed, Lane realized, was a script—not something a documentarian normally has to think about. “For Brinkley to be seductive and feel real, I needed to script him and create scenes from his life,” she says. So she brought in writer Thom Stylinski, who helped to craft the narration and penned reenactment scenes that were later animated. “I’m not sure I would’ve had the confidence even to do it without him,” she says. “I was like, ‘How do you write a script? I don’t even know.’ It was just really outside the realm of what I had done before.” The animation for each chapter of Brinkley's life was created by a different company and was partially funded on Kickstarter.
It took eight years for Lane to craft Nuts!, which follows Brinkley’s life from his humble beginnings in Milford to the openings of Brinkley hospitals in several states and the creation of “Formula 1020,” which Brinkley claimed was a distillation of goat glands that would cure everything from impotence to insanity. Lane says the most fascinating and outrageous thing about Brinkley was his ability to stay one step ahead of the people who wanted to bring him down. “It was this fun cat and mouse game,” she says. “Watch people try to stop him, and then watch him outsmart them, over and over again. Con men—we just love those characters. Even if you know they’re the bad guy, it’s really fun to watch the one who just keeps winning ... You can’t help it. It’s very appealing.”
The prime example was when authorities shut down Brinkley’s powerful and popular 5000-watt Kansas radio tower. “He was like, ‘Well, no problem. I’m going to go to Mexico, and I’m going to build a new radio station. It’s not going to be 5000 watts, it’s going to be a million watts, and you’re really going to regret ever having shut down my radio station in Kansas,’” Lane says. “I think that was the most amazing move of his entire career. It was brilliant.”
But it all came tumbling down when Brinkley sued the American Medical Association’s Morris Fishbein for libel in 1939. (In “Modern Medical Charlatans,” a two-part article published in Hygeia, a magazine from the American Medical Association, Fishbein had written, among other things, that “In John R. Brinkley, quackery reaches its apotheosis.”) Once Brinkley was in court and on the stand, he was exposed as a fraud—he wasn’t even a real doctor (he had received his degree from a diploma mill).
In short order, Brinkley was sued by former patients for malpractice and investigated by the IRS for tax fraud. By 1941, he had declared bankruptcy. Soon after that, he was investigated for mail fraud. He died of heart failure in 1942, leaving his wife (who supported his claims that the goat gland surgery was legit until she died) and his son penniless.
“It’s a really tragic story—ultimately, a very American tragedy: These complicated characters who are geniuses, who are born with nothing, on the outskirts of society, apply themselves and become very successful and famous, and then go down really badly, in a way because of their own hubris," Lane says. "If he hadn’t sued the AMA for libel, Brinkley probably could’ve just kept going—but he actually dragged himself into court, and that’s what destroyed his credibility and his career.”
Still, despite his misdeeds, it’s hard not to feel bad for Brinkley. “He’s not just the stock villain—I think he’s an interesting, real human being,” Lane says. “But at the end of the day, it’s just irrefutable that he was a con man. A lot of people love him because he did a lot of charity, and that's great. But it doesn’t take away from the fact that he was a con man.”
Nuts! :: Movies :: Reviews :: Paste Michael Snydel
Nuts! Movie Review: Penny Lane's Documentary on John Romulus ... Eric Kohn from indieWIRE
Nuts! · Film Review Nuts! tells the semitrue story of a goat-testicle guru ... Noel Murray from The Onion A.V. Club
Nuts: a documentary about goat testicle transplants that's ... - The Chris Plante from The Verge
'Nuts!' Reintroduces the Quack Who Sold America Goat ... - Villag Alan Scherstuhl from The Village Voice
NUTS! – Hammer to Nail Don R. Lewis
NUTS! Steve Erickson
Goat testicles and great stories! An interview with film director Pe The Quack Doctor interview, September 22, 2014
'Nuts!': Sundance Review - Hollywood Reporter Duane Byrge
'Nuts!' Review | Variety Dennis Harvey
Nuts! review – a ridiculously enjoyable ode to old, weird America Jordan Hoffman from The Guardian
Review: 'Nuts!' Reveals Doctor's Secret to Success: Goat Testicle ... Glenn Kenny from The New York Times
The Story of John R. Brinkley - Quackwatch April 17, 2002
John Brinkley, the goat-gland quack - Telegraph Mike Dash, April 18, 2008
The Strange, True Tale of the Old-Timey Goat Testicle-Implanting ... Penny Lane from The Daily Beast, September 16, 2014
Fritz Lang Information biography from Silent Era Personalities
Fritz Lang began his career as a scriptwriter, but soon moved on to
directing. Many of his scripts were co-written with novelist Thea von Harbou,
who he married in 1924. Lang, fled
Many, if not most, of Lang's silent films are dominated by powerful visual design, and are either pure fantasy films, or include strong fantastic elements in their plotlines.
The Spiders, a two part serial produced in 1918-1919, dealt with a mysterious multinational criminal society seemingly bent on plundering the world's treasures. Inspired by the thrilling serial of Feuillade, the first episode of The Spiders offers exotic locales, a hidden treasure trove, poison gas, a heroic princess, a message in a bottle, and a secret meeting of the Spiders in their secret underground headquarters. Part Two, unfortunately, offers repetition of scenes and themes from the first story rather than develop and expand the tale's mythos. The two parts for The Spiders were released several months apart.
One of Lang's most influential silent films was Destiny (1920). Inspired by
Lang returned to the serial thrills of The Spiders for Dr. Mabuse, the
Gambler (1922). Dr. Mabuse, a criminal mastermind, employed hypnosis to expand
his power in the instable environment of post-WWI
Most of Lang's silent films were epics. The two-part adaptation of Wagener's Die Nibelungen, Metropolis, and Woman in the Moon were all big-budget voyages into fantastic worlds beyond where any previous filmmaker had ventured. The results were mixed. Metropolis cost over 5 million marks to produce, and bankrupted its studio. Some of the scenes from Metropolis, however, are among the most memorable visions in cinema history.
The man born Friedrich
Christian Anton Lang in
the Lang-von Harbou team went on to make another science-fiction movie for
After the Nazi rise to
Although he made several respectable films in
Film Reference Charles L.P. Silet
Fritz Lang (Dec. 5, 1890 - Aug. 2, 1976), Austrian-American
film director, was born in
As a youth, Lang studied architecture for a while at the
Technische Hochschule (
After the war Lang worked in
Lang's first successful effort was "Der müde Tod"
("The Tired Death," 1921, released in the
"Metropolis" (1926), a powerful expressionistic
drama about a futuristic slave society, was a stunning technical achievement;
despite its simplistic message it remains a classic. The production nearly
"If Adolf Hitler had never existed," wrote the
critic Andrew Sarris, "Fritz Lang would have had to invent him on the
screen." Lang, who was not Jewish, used a madman in an asylum to espouse
Nazi doctrines in the 1932 film "Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse"
("The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse"). After it opened, he was summoned by
Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Propaganda Minister, and invited to supervise Nazi
film production. Instead, Lang fled
Although naturalized in 1935 as a
The distinctiveness of Lang's European and American periods
reflects an extraordinary adaptation: to a new country, language, and studio
environment, as well as to cinematic sound and color. Critics have never been
able to reconcile the two phases. The early German films, which gained him a
wide international following, were brilliantly innovative but self-conscious to
the point of didacticism, relying heavily on interior sets, monumental
architecture, and expressionistic devices such as painted backdrops and
stylized action. The American movies, on the other hand, reflected a more
mature style, and the resources (as well as the commercial influences) of
A tall, physically imposing figure, and a perfectionist by
nature, Lang could be a temperamental and dictatorial presence on the set. His
differences with producers ultimately prompted his departure from
A Companion to Fritz Lang — Cineaste Magazine A Companion to Fritz Lang, by Joe
McElhaney, 2015, 607 pages, reviewed by Christopher Small from Cineaste, Spring 2017
Though he has been dead for forty years, and made his last film sixteen years before that (and in self-imposed exile from Hollywood in the Federal Republic of Germany, no less), Fritz Lang continues to stand at the epicenter of a great many of the cinema’s enduring debates. One widely held view defines Lang as the apotheosis of the auteur in cinema; another, as a Brechtian subversive upending the conventions of whatever studio system in which he was working. Whatever the theory, it is typically predicated on the assumption that the Langian universe—the films themselves as well as their production histories—is one of complete domination by a single authorial figure. Part of the enduring interest in his work, scholarly and otherwise, is the refusal of the films to entirely measure up to these shivers of an omnipresent, authoritarian presence.
The immediate sense one gets after watching two or three Fritz Lang films is an awareness of complete sensitivity and symmetry of design, the reiteration of a handful of pet tropes and impossibly convoluted plot devices, and a powerful, allegorical vision that stands for the cinema itself. And yet, there is as much mystery and fragmentation in their design as there is clarity and contiguity; the theories break down in the face of the sheer complexity of the structures Lang places before our eyes. The initial feeling of awe at the seemingly limitless boundaries of control is undercut by the sense that the films only hint at their true subjects, that the last-minute reversals of fortune that characterize the plot devices of many of the late films betray an even greater ambiguity, a hidden ur-movie buried underneath the one we are so sure we see in all its clarity.
Lang scholarship, then, should attempt to explicate this panoramic view of Fritz Lang while providing a credible account of his films’ many unknowable qualities. Any work on Lang should refuse the invitation of the films themselves, and of the director’s proclamations, to read the work through a single lens—this or that thematic or structural focus, this or that biographical detail, this or that historical signifier. This is the mantle taken up by Joe McElhaney’s A Companion to Fritz Lang, a 607-page anthology, the first collection on Lang in decades; it is one McElhaney and his writers mostly take seriously. Where to start with Fritz Lang? Each essay dreams up an answer, and it’s their plurality (as well as quantity) that gives the book its sheer force of scholarship.
But there is an idea, touched upon by Adrian Martin in his essay on House by the River (1950), that presents some problems for the writers in A Companion to Fritz Lang. Toward the end of his essay, Carlos Losilla admits to the ultimate failure of his powers of analysis, a curious feature of Lang-watching. Martin, in the next chapter, quotes Jean-Pierre Coursodon and Bertrand Tavernier’s comments that “it is almost impossible to explain why Lang’s masterpieces are masterpieces.” The finest essays in the book deal in images, the foremost domain of Lang’s world and, it seems, the best way to penetrate their mysteries. In a provocative statement of intention that mirrors the first-frame suicide that opens The Big Heat (1953), Vinzenz Hediger’s essay on Lang’s “Art of Omission” begins with the question, “Did Fritz Lang kill his wife?” Like The Big Heat, it then takes steps to elaborate on this provocation, drawing on Proust to answer the question of the unaccountable influence of real-world knowledge on the study of films, Lang’s in particular. Later, he comments on Lang’s (also self-imposed) exile as a character in another film, Godard’s Contempt (1963), as if the director himself were a Mabuse-like figure ultimately banishing his own image to the realm of the cinema itself: “As we progress towards a stage in which Lang the man mostly survives as a character in a Godard movie, rather than as a source material for films...”
Similarly, Losilla’s essay on the five films at the end of Lang’s career conjures up Langian imagery as a way to associate his text with the particular ambiance of Lang’s films; Losilla’s sustained images of birth and growth reflect the rise of modernism and the end of Lang. He writes of being “suspended in amniotic fluid” in the womb while Lang filmed the last scene of his final film, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960), in which a car plummets off a bridge and sinks sinisterly into the water, a reversal of the final shot in Hitchcock’s Psycho from the same year. In what comes to represent the best writing in this volume, Losilla, thinking, like Lang, in images, links Stewart Granger’s unknown father figure perishing on a lonely rowboat at sea at the end of Moonfleet (1955) to the death of classicism in cinema that Lang’s work in this period evokes.
But while these essays are thorough, they respect a certain mystery at the heart of Lang’s films, a shifting inner film that is hard to eke out through simple formal analysis. Of course, it is indisputable that Lang encourages close reading: his style is precise in the extreme, and a shot-by-shot analysis always produces interesting results, often overlapping with intentions publicly stated elsewhere by the director. But as Tom Gunning has noted, Lang’s films almost always invite allegorical readings that cannot be entirely mapped out by tracing the contours of the mise en scène—an idea which itself, as Joe McElhaney notes in his excellent study of Clash by Night (1952), is also only one way of viewing the complex inter-text of the director’s movies. (And which Frances Guerin, also in this volume, complicates even further.) As a result, parts of the book—like the essays on Der müde Tod (Destiny, 1921) and Rancho Notorious (1952)—become mired in an analysis of stylistic minutiae. A few of the essays, such as Tom Conley’s piece on Rancho Notorious, which explores little of the film’s perspectival and political density, drily describe scenes in stultifying detail for large sections, interpreting freely and superficially as they go (“...what a Freudian allegorist might wish to call the ‘blade of castration’”), as if the mere beat-by-beat readings and tea-leaf interpretations were enough.
David Phelps’s essay on the endlessly fractured hall of mirrors that is The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse attempts to reanimate images from the movies through juxtaposition; he dazzlingly counters images from Spies (1928) with Dziga Vertov’s The Man with a Movie Camera (1928), as well as rhyming images from The Thousand Eyes. But the book, considering its price, has few illustrations; what few images it does contain are foggy black-and-white stills from the movies arranged almost ornamentally in relation to the text, and Phelps’s essay is largely the exception. I have no doubt that elsewhere images from the scenes in question would clarify a great deal more than the reams of text that try to delineate scenes and characters in these (often obscure) movies that the reader likely has not seen in some time, if at all.
McElhaney mobilizes an impressive international cadre of writers, who, as an aggregate, provide a thousand new perspectives on the director’s work. The book blends styles—historical, aesthetic, academic—with considerable ease. It is a testament to the book’s breadth that auteurist essays and studies of Lang and historicism sit side by side in McElhaney’s design. Chapters like Doug Dibbern’s study of Cloak and Dagger (1946), at the intersection of both traditions, provide an unlikely but welcome point of departure for a political reading of Lang. For Dibbern, this bitter resistance thriller, one that comes just after the overtly political period that spanned the director’s arrival in Hollywood in the mid-Thirties through the Second World War, seems to propose a vision for a future reaffirming of the wartime Popular Front between leftists and liberals. By focusing on this metaphorical level of the film, wherein two representatives of either side (Gary Cooper and Lilli Palmer) fall in love and, through their union, become radicalized in the face of a looming reactionary threat, Dibbern shows the way Lang revitalizes and even subverts conventional forms by staging them as stand-ins for the larger ideas of the films, an idea also touched upon by Chris Fujiwara in his chapter on the generic reversals of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).
Both Fujiwara and Dibbern, like the best writers in this volume, contend with Lang’s metaphorical dimension with ease; Fujiwara links the director’s exacerbation of conventional forms to a structuring device from Hölderlin, Dibbern to the material conditions behind his work in Hollywood that provide the bedrock from which Lang could experiment with metaphor. But no matter the brilliance of the image or metaphor, the core of Lang’s work will perhaps always be elusively just out of grasp. As Lang engaged every level of his films—“the dynamic, vital, and analytical movement given to the narrative as a whole,” to quote again Coursodon and Tavernier—there will always be at least a fragment of Lang’s work neglected from every study, no matter how exhaustive. But this Companion’s strength is perhaps in its acceptance of this fact, and in its pluralistic, democratic sprawl, the armory of images it draws on to mount an assault on the work of this titan of cinema.
Fritz Lang 2000 Robert E. Haller edits a compilation of articles and personal anecdotes by Martin Scorsese, Kenneth Anger, Jonas Mekas and others
Lang, Fritz Art and Culture profile
Fritz Lang: Master of Darkness BFI Tribute to Fritz Lang
BFI | Features | Fritz Lang | The Permanent Magic of Fritz Lang extensive biography from BFI Screen Online
All-Movie Guide Joseph Ankeny
TCMDB bio from Turner Classic Movies
Lang, Fritz - Dictionary definition of Lang, Fritz | Encyclopedia.com ... biography amd profile
Fritz Lang biography from GermanFlicks.com
Fritz Lang Biography - The Free Information Society compiled by Jonathan Dunder
Fritz Lang Biography from Biography Base
Lang, Fritz at VideoArtWorld.com The Masters Series: Fritz Lang, by Christophe Le Choismier
Fritz Lang Criticism (Vol. 20) bio page from e-notes
Fritz Lang @ Filmbug brief bio
German 43: Resources: Biographies: Lang, Fritz brief bio info
Fritz Lang very brief bio from filmportal.de
Fritz Lang • Great Director profile • Senses of Cinema Daniel Shaw from Senses of Cinema, October 4, 2002
The Films of Fritz Lang - by Michael E. Grost Michael E. Grost’s extensive analysis on the Films of Fritz Lang
The German-Hollywood Connection: METROPOLIS Metropolis and Fritz Lang, Page one bio and introduction piece from German-Hollywood Connection (Undated)
Fritz Lang's Diagonal Symphony - StarWord.com Barry Salt from StarWord (Undated)
The Truth Twister Stanley Kauffman reviews Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast, by Patrick McGilligan (548 pages), from the New York Times, July 20, 1997, also seen here: Fritz Lang - The New York Times
BFI | Sight & Sound | Fritz Lang: The Illusion Of Mastery Thomas Elsaesser from Sight and Sound, January 2000
The Big Heat - Bright Lights Film Journal Jans B. Wager, January 2000
The Blue Gardenia • Senses of Cinema Sam Ishii-Gonzalès from Senses of Cinema, June 13, 2001
Fritz Lang's M on DVD - Bright Lights Film Journal Gary Morris, July 1, 2000, also seen here: Fritz Lang's M - Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture
Destiny • Senses of Cinema Michael Koller, July 13, 2001
The Diabolical Dr. Mabuse on DVD: The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse; The ... Scott Thill from Bright Lights Film Journal, January 1, 2002, also reviewing THE 1,000 EYES OF DR. MABUSE
Fritz Lang The Fascination of Fritz Lang, an overview by Chris Fujiwara from the Boston Phoenix, Jan 31 – Feb 7, 2002
Fritz Lang: The Nature Of The Beast · Patrick McGilligan · Book Review ... Keith Phipps from The Onion A.V. Club, March 29, 2002
Kitsch, Sensation – Kultur und Film: Die Spinnen • Senses of Cinema Michael Koller from Senses of Cinema, July 19, 2002
The Woman in the Window • Senses of Cinema Girish Shambu from Senses of Cinema, July 19, 2002
Fury - Bright Lights Film Journal Fritz Lang’s Assumption Factory, by Robert Castle, November 1, 2002
Woman in the Moon • Senses of Cinema Michael Price from Senses of Cinema, April 2004
The Testament of Dr. Mabuse • Senses of Cinema Michael Koller from Senses of Cinema, April 2004
The Complete Fritz Lang Mabuse — Cineaste Magazine Chris Fujiwara (2005)
Adrian Martin Spione Machinations of an Incoherent, Malevolent Universe, from Rouge, 2006
The Big Heat • Senses of Cinema Daniel Shaw, February 7, 2006
Martin Scorsese on Fritz Lang Fritz Lang Birthday Tribute by Martin Scorsese, December 2006
The Big Heat • Senses of Cinema Daniel Shaw, February 7, 2006
Kill Hagen! - Lang's Kriemhild And Her Revenge - Bright Lights Film ... C. Jerry Kutner from Bright Lights Film Journal, June 18, 2007
Missing scenes from Fritz Lang's Metropolis turn up after 80 years ... Kate Connolly from The Guardian, July 3, 2008
“Pure Artifice”: Fritz Lang's Moonfleet • Senses of Cinema Adrian Danks, August 2008
DVDS; Fritz Lang, Trailing Nazis Dave Kehr from The New York Times, May 15, 2009
Fritz Lang's Metropolis: Complete at Last Larry Rohter from The New York Times, May 4, 2010
A Tale of Two Cities - Film Comment Chris Fujiwara on the newly reconstructed version of Metropolis from Film Comment, May/June 2010
The Woman in the Window - Parallax View Richard T. Jameson, November 10, 2010
Fritz Lang at Reel Classics March 10, 2011
The Complete Fritz Lang - Harvard Film Archive July 25, 2014
Fritz Lang's M: the blueprint for the serial killer movie | BFI Geoff Andrew from BFI Screen Online, December 5, 2016
posters from Metropolis Edition Panorama Berlim
Fritz Lang / films / director / biography filmography and various film reviews from FilmsdeFrance
The silent and sound German expressionist films of FRITZ LANG brief reviews of early films
The Dark Worlds of Fritz Lang - Harvard Film Archive brief feature and reviews from a retrospective
Photographers Gallery - Photographs by Fritz Lang nice black and white gallery
AHC Digital Fritz Lang Papers Nineteen of the twenty motion pictures Lang shot on 16mm film from 1938-1953 as he toured around the American Southwest (ranging from .14 to 10:33)
There are no existing prints of this film.
This first episode of Fritz Lang's "The Spiders" is an
entertaining adventure story, and it is particularly notable for its
imaginative settings and visuals, and for the way that each sequence leads
smoothly into the next. The story is far-fetched, of course, but Lang tells it
quite well, and it makes for enjoyable viewing.
The basic setup of the sinister organization of "Spiders" involves some of the themes that Lang used in more detailed form in his Dr. Mabuse movies. Here, the story is strictly for entertainment purposes, and as such it works well. Ressel Orla is suitably elegant as the leader of the "Spiders", and she usually makes the best of her opportunities.
The opening message-in-a-bottle scene sets the tone, establishing tension and mystery right away. From there, Lang builds up the story nicely, as the characters learn about the hidden treasure and compete with each other and with other adversaries to find it. His style here is similar to that in some of the best of contemporary action movies, such as the Indiana Jones films. Most of the scenes work well in themselves, and once it gets going, each scene also moves the story ahead immediately to the next scene, without letting you pause for breath.
Lil Dagover also adds a lot in her role as the priestess. Carl de Vogt is adequate as the hero Hoog, but he does not have a lot of presence or charisma, and most of the energy level in the characters comes from the female leads.
This episode got "The Spiders" off to a good start, and it is the best of the two segments that Lang actually filmed. It does not have the deep themes found in Lang's best movies, but as entertainment it works quite well.
The Onion A.V. Club [Scott Tobias] Scott Tobias looks at Pt’s 1 and 2
From the silent era to sound, from Germany to Hollywood, and from one genre to the next, Fritz Lang's varied and tumultuous career extended over five decades, yet his paranoid vision never wavered. No matter the period or locale, Lang always found a sinister undercurrent at work, a conspiratorial force that's far-reaching and immensely powerful, yet well-organized enough to stay out of the public eye. An auteurist's dream, his trademark themes on the nature of evil surfaced again and again in his darkly expressive films, a fact evidenced by a pair of reissues separated by 41 years: 1919's two-part serial Spiders and his final film, 1960's 1,000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse. Modeled too closely after Louis Feuillade's superior 10-part classic Les Vampires (1915), Spiders emphasizes exotic adventure over intrigue, but the numerous similarities between the two don't favor Lang, who hadn't yet come into his own as a director. Like the Feuillade serial, the title refers to an underground ring of black-cloaked thieves—in Spiders, the villains pointedly include top businessmen and public figures—behind a crime spree that leaves the police confounded. The first episode, "The Golden Sea," is by far the strongest, a breathlessly paced treasure hunt with one action setpiece barreling into another as unflappable hero Carl de Vogt hangs from a hot-air balloon, wrestles an asp, and saves nemesis Ressel Orla from being sacrificed to the Incan sun god. The adventure continues in "The Diamond Ship," which sticks to rote formula, again involving a ruthless quest for jewels and adding swordplay, tigers, secret compartments, collapsing walls, and a few grossly stereotyped Chinese crooks. As a formative effort, Spiders anticipates the elaborate architecture in Lang's later work (particularly 1926's Metropolis) and his preoccupation with densely organized schemes, but he wouldn't hit his stride until after the German expressionist movement broke out the same year. By the time he closed his career with 1,000 Eyes Of Dr. Mabuse, Lang had been through the harrowing experience of WWII—his wife divorced him and joined the Nazi party, and he fled Germany under cover of night—and refined his technique on low-budget American genre films. The last in a trilogy that began with 1926's Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler and 1933's The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse—the latter of which had its final reel excised by Goebbels—1,000 Eyes shrewdly updates Lang's omniscient, Hitlerian mastermind for the dawning media age. A rash of unsolved crimes leads detectives to the Luxor Hotel, where the unseen Mabuse monitors the rooms with hidden cameras and microphones and dictates orders through a vast network of nefarious thugs. The labyrinthine plot has satisfying elements of police procedural, whodunit, and old-fashioned melodrama, delivered with the no-nonsense punch of a good American B-picture, but it's the idea of Mabuse that leaves a lasting impression. For Lang to revive a character that originally echoed the Nazi movement, so long after the war had ended, serves as a potent warning that evil is ever-present among the powers-that-be, even during peacetime.
The Spiders Part I: The Golden Sea Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
Kitsch, Sensation – Kultur und Film: Die Spinnen • Senses of Cinema Michael Koller from Senses of Cinema, July 19, 2002
Germany (80 mi) 1919
User comments from imdb Author: FerdinandVonGalitzien (FerdinandVonGalitzien@gmail.com) from Galiza
At the beginning of the 20th century in
This is one of the minor films (with difference) of the German moviemaker, Fritz Lang. Inspired by John Luther Llong and David Belasco's "Madame Butterfly", "Harakiri" is above all, the triumph of the art direction that shines specially in this Nippon fable in a majestic and suggestive way. "Harakiri" it is not any big and lost Fritz Lang's masterpiece. Thanks to its discovery our idea about the evolution of the posterior career of the German filmmaker has been destroyed. However, this film confirms us Lang's control of story telling, his talent for the construction of narrative and, above all, to validate in a manner, the extraordinary themes consistent in his work.
We encounter in this movie a more naturalist visual conception of the cinema, rather than those works of his contemporaries. The scenery never tries to overlap reality, but in a certain way, tries to remake it. This film was particularly eulogized for the critics of that time for the detail of the nature and the recreation of the
It is possible to find as well in "Harakiri" certain features very recognizable in his later works, like the theme of love fighting against the external circumstances that try to obstruct its success ("Der Müde Tod" as a perfect example). In this film, love is jeopardized by the social conventions which find their confirmation into the figure of Bonzo; adding another aspect, the religious one, to those dangers that hunt the main characters.
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must considerer putting into practice those strange and peculiar Japanese customs, that is to say, "Harakiri" due to the remaining days of Christmas preparations.
aka: The Diamond Ship
This second part of Fritz Lang's "The Spiders" is a solid
follow-up to the first part. This segment is not quite up to the level of the
opening episode, but it is also entertaining, and it features some new and
interesting material. As with the first part, the story has many far-fetched
elements, and neither the plot nor the characters should be taken too
This part opens with a somber, determined Hoog determined to bring down Lio Sha and "The Spiders", and it then proceeds through a variety of adventures as the adversaries continue trying to outwit each other. Some of the settings are again imaginative and interesting, particularly the underground Chinese city, and these are the main strength of the movie.
Ressel Orla is again good as the villainness, but this time the story does not give her quite as many opportunities. Carl de Vogt has to carry more of the load this time, and while he is adequate in the action scenes, he does not have enough charisma to get the most out of the material. There was an opportunity for some real sparks between him and Orla, but they don't materialize.
Several of the sequences are quite good in themselves, and there is again lots of action. This story of "The Diamond Ship" does not fit together quite as tightly as did the first story of "The Golden Sea", and that, plus the absence of Lil Dagover, are the main things that make this one a cut below the first episode. It's still worth seeing, though.
Die Spinnen, 1. Teil: Der Goldene See (1919) - Home Video Reviews ... Nathaniel Thompson
The Spiders Part II: The Diamond Ship Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
FOUR AROUND A WOMAN (Vier um die Frau)
User comments fro imdb Author: FerdinandVonGalitzien (FerdinandVonGalitzien@gmail.com) from Galiza
The merchant Yquem buys his dear wife a beautiful jewel with
matching earnings in a place where the city's underworld trades in fake and
stolen jewelry. By chance, Yquem spots a man with whom his wife had an affair
in the past. Yquem follows him to a hotel where he will write him a letter
imitating his wife's hand writing. The letter invites the man to a public place
where Yquem can spy on them and try to discover whether there is still
something between them.
This early Fritz Lang film, "Vier Um Die Frau" (Four Around a Woman) was found by chance some years ago at the "Cinemateca De Sâo Paulo", a great present for the German aristocracy and even for the longhaired moviegoers, because it prefigures much of "Dr. Mabuse", (corruption in the upper class-a very habitual practice-unscrupulous upstarts, blackmail, low class criminals, social tension.) and in the opinion of this German aristocrat, provides one of the most outstanding titles of Lang's first period. This film has excellent editing that gives vigour, speed and emotion to a story of an underworld rife with treachery and betrayal as well as a complex tale of unrequited love. The film builds to a crescendo of narrative strength that reminds one of episodes of "Die Spinnen" made by Herr Lang a year before.
The acting is exceptional and the performers resist the temptation to overacting that might be expected in such melodrama. As the heroine, Carola Toelle is especially good and admirably conveys the doubts, secret desires and frustration that her character suffers. An excellent counterpoint is provided the character of her friend and confidant, a perfect vamp, who provides bad advice and is without scruples, quick to use flirting to build up her social position... Rudolf Klein-Rogge has to be mentioned, as his performance makes one recall the exceptional character Dr Mabuse, that he will immortalise two years later. The excellent main actors are given equally good support in the minor roles.
It is worth mentioning as well the great photography of Otto Kanturek and the film production by Ernst Meiwers and Hans Jacoby. The importance of "Decla-Bioscop"'can be seen in the first rate production values that are so abundant in the film (great manors, hotel lobbies, the stock exchange, etc) and on the other hand the realistic depiction of less auspicious surroundings: ragged and wretched slums streets filled with the kind of characters you might expect in such places. A minor point but also a real curiosity is the inclusion of a poster for another "Decla Bioscop" production that can be glimpsed in a theater lobby.
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count is realizing how in tonight's soirée's there are four aristocrats around a fat German heiress with almost the same perverse intentions of those of this Herr Graf towards her.
Time Out Tony Rayns
Lang's first major success was inspired by the
Intolerance device of mixing parallel settings and cultures. Death gives a
young girl three chances to save her lover's life, in old
Contemporary viewers may have
come to expect grand melodrama from silent films, but there’s a moment early in
Fritz Lang’s Destiny (Der Mude Tod) that provides a beautiful emotional
subtlety. A pair of lovers (played by Lil Dagover and Walter Janssen) is
sitting in a horse-drawn coach, sharing their ride with a goose. As the young
man prepares to kiss the woman, he ties a scarf over the goose’s eyes to
protect her modesty. It’s a sweet, playful and – perhaps most surprising –
Those who know Lang best from the awesome visual spectacle of Metropolis may not expect such a deft human touch, but that touch is what elevates Destiny. The narrative actually develops into a sort of epic fantasy, as the young woman in the aforementioned pair of lovers eventually begins a strange journey. At a tavern in a small town, Death (Bernhard Goetzke) comes calling on the young man, leaving the woman heartbroken and desperate. She eventually comes face to face with Death, and pleads with him to return her fiancée to the living. The Reaper then offers her a challenge: If she can save any one of three lives that are about to be snuffed out, the young man will be returned to her.
That challenge sends the film to three exotic locations –
Elsewhere, however, Lang combines his remarkable visual sensibility with a hook into his characters’ pain. Nowhere is this talent more impressively demonstrated than a scene in which Death is shown in his garden, a tiny figure framed against a massive wall. As Death eventually reveals himself to be a sympathetic figure, isolated and haunted by his grim charge, Lang’s ability to convey those emotions visually takes on tremendous resonance.
And that’s the real surprise of Destiny, particularly for those whose experience with silent film is limited. As broad as some of the performances may be, there’s a genuine sense of feeling and consequence behind them. The final act of the film becomes particularly chilling, as the young woman dashes through the town desperately seeking a soul to substitute for that of her lover’s, even considering sacrificing an infant. Lang makes grief tangible in Destiny, a feat even more impressive than re-creating Imperial China. Yet even in those lesser location segments, he can manage a delicate image like two lovers surreptitiously linking fingers while prostrate at the Emperor’s feet. Over and over again, Lang negates the clichés of silent cinema by never forgetting to keep his epic stories human – and small.
Death is the implacable entity at
the center of Fritz Lang's deterministic traps, yet here the Grim Reaper is a
melancholy executioner, as much of an entrapped player in the cosmic design as
his victims. (The Weary Death is the original German title.) Unsmiling
Death (Bernhard Goetzke) materializes by the side of the road and hops a
stagecoach into the nearby hamlet, "some time, some place."
Sweethearts Lil Dagover and Walter Janssen share a drink at the tavern with the
dour stranger, a skeleton shadow falls across the table as a glass of beer
melts into an hourglass; when Dagover next spots her beloved, he's a phantom
marching with the other souls, disappearing behind an endless wall. The bereft
frau is desperate to join her lover, a gulp of apothecary poison does the trick
-- an overlap-dissolve transports her into Death's austere-Gothic realm, a
climb up the stairway leads her to the caped, doleful figure, to whom she begs
for the return of her beau's life in a stupefying, iris-encircled close-up, a
Dreyer image before Dreyer. Moved, Death shows her the chamber where lives are
long, skinny candles that putter out once God so decides: a flame is levitated,
which dissolves into a newborn baby, then into nothing, while a cut locates a
mother sobbing over the lifeless child. The job is a burden, Death yearns to be
conquered, so the maiden gets three chances to reclaim her man by saving a life
from being snuffed out in other parts of the world -- Orpheus, with
detours for Scheherazade, Shakespeare, and Taiping Guangji. Arabian nights,
Renaissance Venice, and folkloric
Der Mude Tod/Destiny(1921) was the film where Fritz Lang began sharpening
his trademarks of emotional and visual motifs. Focuses on themes Fritz Lang
obsessed over in film and life. For instance, the conflict between love and
death is faced by many protagonists(male or female) in numerous Fritz Lang pics.
From Destiny(1921) to the director's final film, 1000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse(1960),
Fritz Lang was occupied in his work by philosophies on death, life, love,
notion of the after life, and redemption. The visual brilliance of Lang's later
Silent films can be traced to this feature.
Figure of death is a compelling and sympathetic Lang character whose task is not an easy one. The character of death in Destiny(1921) does what is required of him without any subjective bias on the people he has to collect. Bernhard Goetzke puts on screen with his performance the most fascinating portrayal of death in a motion picture. The figure of death in Destiny(1921) is a lonely and sad figure whose wish is to do something else. The title of the film refers to death's inability to move outside of his destiny.
Der Mude Tod/Destiny(1921) was influential to directors of the silent and sound eras. Luis Bunuel was impressed by its amazing visual and sad qualities(thus the film became an influential force in most of Bunuel's work). It wouldn't be surprising that Destiny(1921) also influenced Ingmar Bergman especially with The Seventh Seal(1957). Other filmmakers influenced includes Enzo G.Castellari, Mario Bava, Roger Corman, and Terry Gilliam. The film's influences can be looked at in films as Lisa and the Devil(1972), Masque of the Red Death(1964), Keoma(1976), and
Candleroom sequence is a moment of floating beauty and surreal grace. The candleroom is an extraordinary visual set with a great deal of imagination put into it. The Candleroom is symbolic of the place where the Grim reaper watches over to see whose candle(life) will be put out. An excellent effect involves a candle glow dissolving into a baby. The Candleroom sequence has some terrific visual effects that blow away the CGI of today's motion pictures.
Contains a slateful of extraordinary visuals typical of a German Expressionistic film of that time. In films such as Destiny(1921), Fritz Lang used an aura of expressionistic imagery to display different emotions from his main characters. Visual use of the camera reaches its climatic level during the three tales. An example of why silent films where for the most part a great visual experience compared to many sound pictures. Destiny(1921) matches the astonishing imagery of Die Nibelungen(1924), Metropolis(1927), and Dr. Mabuse Der Spieler(1922) with excellent visuals of its own.
Out of Sympathy for a woman whose beloved died, the grim reaper gives her a chance to save one of three lives as exchange of return of beloved. Tale one takes place in
Second tale involves a love triangle with the city of
The Imperial China tale is the third and best of the three tales. Magnificent camera effects gives it a mythical quality that creates a feel for the spectacle. An astonishing effect and maybe the director's most amazing effect in his silent films involves the creation by a magician of an army of toy sized soldiers. Deals with the Emperor of China who wants the magician's female assistent who is loved by the male assistent. Magical feeling of the amazing and bizarre is what makes the third tale something fantastic.
"Love is Stronger than death" is a good title for a potential documentary of the life and film works of Fritz Lang. More than any other line in a Fritz Lang film, "Love is Stronger than death" represents a summary of Fritz Lang's filmography. "Love is Stronger than death" deals with Fritz Lang's ideals about metaphysical love that goes beyond the confines of the mortal world. Destiny(1921) deals with this notion with use of abstract and metaphysical imagery. "Love is Stronger than death" can also be applied to the films of Mario Bava because of his similar fatalistic take on the topic of love.
After watching it for the first time, I consider Destiny(1921) among the director's finest silent films. An act of courage is performed by the heroine thus making her a tragic figure. Acting from the cast shines with moments of expressionistic beauty. Magificently envisioned by a master of expressionistic filmmaking. Destiny(1921) shows Fritz Lang's growth as an artist and his capabilites to become a legendary film director.
Destiny • Senses of Cinema Michael Koller, July 13, 2001
Destiny Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Kim Newman from 1001 MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE:
This two-part epic was a major commercial success in Germany in 1922, doubtless because of its everything-including-the-kitchen-sink approach, scrambling thrills, horrors, politics, satire, sex (including nude scenes!), magic, psychology, art, violence, low comedy, and special effects. Whereas the escapades of the Fantômas (and even Fu Manchu) belong to that netherworld between the surreal and the pulpy, Dr. Mabuse was intended from the outset not merely as flamboyant thriller but as pointed editorial, using the figure of master-of-disguise supercriminal to embody the real evils of its era.
The subtitles of each of the film’s two parts, harping on
about “our time,” underline the point made obvious in the opening act, in which
Mabuse’s gang steals a Swiss-Dutch trade agreement—not to make use of the
secret information, but to create a momentary stock market panic which affords
Mabuse (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), in disguise as a cartoon plutocrat with top hat
and fur coat, to make a fast fortune. He also employs a band of blind men as
forgers, contributing to the sense German audiences at the time felt that money
was worthless (Mabuse sees this coming and orders his men to switch over to
The film’s eponymous villain shuffles photographs as if they were a deck of cards, selecting his identity for the day from various disguises, but it is nearly two hours before his “real” name is confirmed—which time, we have seen Mabuse in several other disguises, from respected psychiatrist to degenerate gambler to hotel manager. In Part 2, he appears as a one-armed stage illusionist, and finally loses his grip on the fragile core of his identity to become a ranting madman, tormented by the hollow-cheeked specters of those he has killed and, in a moment which still startles, by the creaking-to-life of vast, grotesque statues and bits of machinery in his final lair. Director Fritz Lang, and others, would return to Mabuse, still embodying the ills of the age—notably in the early talkie Das Testament von Dr. Mabuse and the 1961 hi-tech surveillance melodrama The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse.
Time Out Tony Rayns
Lang's introduction to Mabuse is typical of his
early work in being disorganised and erratically paced as a narrative, but shot
through with flashes of inspiration. The master criminal (taken from a pulp
novel by Norbert Jacques) is presented as an overlord of the contemporary
social chaos in
Fritz Lang Bibliography (via UC Berkeley Media Resources Center) Thomas Elsaesser, Fritz Lang: The illusion of mastery, from Sight and Sound Jan 2000
The writer argues that Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse trilogy is a radical critique of surveillance culture, demonstrating that the three films are metaphors not of political power but of rebellion against power. The three films emphasize the idea of a looking glass world, in which sight is not only the sense most easily deceived but also the one most easily seduced. They also investigate what such an idea implies for the political function of cinema as an instrument of social control. In the films, it appears as if the direct look is not a look at all, at least not in the sense that it gives access to power. Mabuse's downfall occurs because the further he rises, the more the look he relies on reveals its underside, namely of being a look borrowed from the technologies of vision--technologies that are themselves blind. Lang's Mabuse films are essays on the social symbolic represented by the new technologies of surveillance as dissembling machines at once frightening and fascinating.
All appearances and hypnotic suggestions to the contrary, identity is Dr. Mabuse's (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) wager of choice. It is what allows him to move effortlessly between class-restricted social circles, from obscenely bourgeois gambling dens to seedy proletarian establishments. One night he is a young nouveau riche possessed of an ingratiating and fresh-faced eagerness, the next an elderly man of the world whose Chinese spectacles (wriggled in conjunction with a particularly memorable incantation: "Tsi-Nan-Fu!") can mesmerize even the most stalwart state's prosecutor (Bernhard Goetzke). Psychoanalysis is Mabuse's voodoo science: whatever his disguise, his ultimate goal (be it power, money, or—his undoing—love) is predicated on getting deep inside his opponent's head. As played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge in Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou's two-part adaptation of the Norbert Jacques novel, Mabuse is a true bogeyman, a hollow shell of surface tics with a terrifying dead-eyed stare. Some have seen him as myth personified (a precursor, in ways, to Adolf Hitler), though I would say that only comes across in the hindsight of Lang's sequel The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (a much better film, to my mind). This Mabuse has only pretensions to myth; he's as mortal as they come and Lang's film slowly (very slowly) leads him down a Fibonacci-spiraled path to the one true salvation—insanity. Only there, in that post-psychological headspace, does he become God. Until then he's just a showman and, indeed, appears most alive while cloaked in his copious succession of highly theatrical guises. When masquerading as the hypnotist Sandor Weltmann (whose cruel gaze makes even an attempted suicide play as rousing populist entertainment), Mabuse seems a precursor to the mastermind Haghi, also played by Klein-Rogge, from Lang's Weimar-era masterpiece Spies, but when forced to act the tortured romantic in his pathetic pursuit of the sleepy-eyed Countess Dusy Told (Gertrude Welcker), Mabuse loses his edge and so does the film, already bogged down by its indifferently rendered police procedural narrative (so close to, if not actually Dada that one can see, as critic Dave Kehr has noted, why the Surrealists held Lang's film in such high esteem). The ghosts of conscience that torture Mabuse in the film's final scene, like most of the plot particulars, make little sense with what's come before (the character is so resolutely amoral that one doubts he'd ever be plagued by such easy guilt), but the image that this confrontation precedes and heralds is one for the ages: a stirring piece of black-and-white moving portraiture (not to mention slyly coded satirical agitprop) entitled—for all eternity—"The Man Who Was Mabuse."
digitallyOBSESSED! DVD Reviews Mark Zimmer
Mah-BOO-zah. Say it
with me. Mah-BOO-zah. The name may not mean much in the
The picture opens with Dr. Mabuse playing solitaire with a deck of cards that is most unusual: each card represents a different face and identity of the Doctor! Selecting one at random, he proceeds with a tour de force opening sequence in which he derails the German stock market and manipulates investors with suggestion and false information. But where Mabuse is happiest is at the gambling tables that plagued
Klein-Rogge (best known as Rotwang in Lang's Metropolis four years later) gives a suitably intense portrayal to the doctor. The various disguises are often far over the top, but he brings a presence to the role that causes us to disregard that fact just as do his potential victims. Goetzke makes for a believable hero as well, even though Lang cleverly sets the audience up to believe that handsome Paul Richter, as Edgar Hull, one of the first victims of Mabuse, will be the hero of the piece. Instead, he is swept away and dispatched by Mabuse in a veritable afterthought that shows just how beneath notice Mabuse considers the rest of the public. Only von Weck, who is able to resist Mabuse's mental control with difficulty, is a suitable adversary.
The sets are mostly naturalistic when indoors. However, once outside in the alleyways and shadowy streets of the unnamed city, German Expressionism takes over with wild angles and sharp contrasts of light and dark. Another tactic borrowed from Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), which Lang had originally been scheduled to direct, is the use of animated text on screen. This is used primarily in the hypnosis sequences to visually represent the hypnotic suggestion echoing in the mind of the victim. It's quite effective and well done here.
Well before Battleship Potemkin, we find Lang using montage and meaningful cuts in Mabuse. On numerous occasions, a question will be posed at the end of a scene, and the visual of the next succeeding scene will answer the question. This is highly effective even today, and must have been truly startling in 1922.
As usual for a David Shepard-produced silent disc, the film is run at visually correct speed rather than at sound speed. This makes the two parts of the film (which were released independently, even though neither can stand on its own) quite lengthy, but the time spent is well worth it. The intertitles unfortunately appear to be new and digitally rendered; their digital appearance contrasts unfavorably with the age of the film and draws away unnecessary attention, especially when overlays are used to cover text on the screen. I would have much preferred removable subtitles for this aspect of the presentation.
Much as is the case in a revenge story, the fun is in seeing how Mabuse's plans are revealed bit by bit. We as junior Mabuses get a little frisson of delight in seeing them unspool just like clockwork, especially when the victims of Mabuse's crimes are not terribly sympathetic. The moral ambiguities inherent in the Mabuse and von Weck characters make this a fascinating picture that holds up very well over the decades.
In this review I refer to the Transit Film DVD edition from the F W Murnau
Foundation (or Stiftung, if you understand German!). This 2 DVD set is an
excellent restoration of this(these?) movie(s). At three and a half hours, some
may argue that it is a little daunting for the uninitiated silent film viewer,
but in my humble opinion it is so well made (by Fritz Lang) that it still
stands up today as a masterpiece of "gangster cinema". Shot between November
1921 and March 1922, the film was made only a couple of years after Lang's
directorial debut (Halblutt - 1919), and five years before Metropolis - perhaps
Lang's masterpiece. It can be argued that it represents the start of a 'series'
of gangster/crime related movies by Lang, and parallels can be drawn to Spione
(Spies) of 1927/28, and M (1931 - Lang's first talkie), and of course, The
Testament of Dr Mabuse (1932/33). There was also a final addition from 1960,
The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse, but that is obviously of a different era. It is
interesting to observe that Lang/von Harbou clearly were attempting to create a
screen detective character something like Sherlock Holmes in the form of
Commissioner Lohmann, (superbly played by Otto Wernicke) for it is he who is
the detective in both M and Testament. However, I digress. Where both M and
Testament concern themselves with the work of the police in an almost
documentary fashion (especially M), Der Spieler is almost exclusively concerned
with the working of the criminal mind. Mabuse is played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge,
one of Lang's favourites - though one wonders what Klein-Rogge made of Lang -
Thea von Harbou, the screen-writer, married Lang in 1921, after divorcing
Klein-Rogge! He gives a masterful performance as Mabuse, and dominates the
film. Even when not on the screen, his omnipotence pervades the entire
proceedings. Whilst I wouldn't go so far as to describe the picture as
'gripping', it still has the power to hold the attention for most of its mighty
three and a half hours. For me, at least, this is aided in no small measure by
the magnificent new soundtrack by Aljocha Zimmermann, whose use of leitmotif
(in true Teutonic style) adds immeasurably to the overall enjoyment of the
film. I strongly recommend this picture, not only to serious students of German
Silent Cinema (they'll have seen it anyway!) but to anybody who enjoys a good
gangster/crime story. If you have a hang-up about silent movies, then in all
honesty this isn't going to change your mind - but give it a try. I think its
worth the effort in the end. Trivia: Although made in
The Complete Fritz Lang Mabuse — Cineaste Magazine Chris Fujiwara (2005) ), also seen here: Fritz Lang's Mabuse films
The Complete Fritz Lang Mabuse Boxset, including, on four DVDs, Dr. Mabuse der Spieler (270 min., 1922), Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (116 min., 1932), and Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse (99 min., 1960).
What might be the central moment of Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse cycle occurs midway through Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse), the second of the three films (now conveniently boxed together by Eureka! in the Masters of Cinema DVD series) in which the great director contemplates his most famous character. In a chilling scene, the ostensibly dead Mabuse criminal mastermind materializes (as a spectral superimposition) before the asylum director Professor Baum, the director of the asylum where Mabuse, having gone mad at the end of the previous film, spent his last days. The apparition places before him some pages from Mabuse’s voluminous manuscripts on the desk in front of Baum, and then (again through superimposition) merges with Baum’s body—his possession of the man reinforced on the soundtrack by a period-marking drum fall.
This scene gives image to an idea that organizes the entire series: Mabuse is a ghost, who does not inhabit his films as much as he pervades them, just as he pervades the moral and financial chaos of post-World War I Germany, through various embodiments willed by himself, more emanations than beings. Furthermore, it is not merely the form, the body of Mabuse that pervades the films, but his vision. As we watch the films, we see them through (or after) Mabuse: our sight passes through his, traces the hidden causal connections that he has establishedexploits in his complicated machinations, surveys the wreckage that he has made makes of the world he despises.
The famous beginning of the first film in the cycle, Dr. Mabuse der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler)—Mabuse at his dressing table, choosing from a hand of photograph-cards the disguise he will next assume in order to further his numerous plots—also expresses this idea, except that here, Mabuse “himself” also appears, apart from his emanations, as a substantial, characterized human figure who is something more than a pod-like blank on which the individuality of the disguise is to be stamped. But in this something more, there is also something else, an alternate mode of presence from that of a human character embodied within a narrative and a narrativized social space. The man who can choose his own identity stands outside the narrative (“outside the film,” Noel Burch wrote) and literally holds the cards of the narrative, which we see therefore as a game the man plays. This gesture is not strictly personal, but also representative: “Der große Spieler: Ein Bild der Zeit” (“The Great Gambler: An Image of the Time”) reads the subtitle of Part One of this two-part inauguration of the Mabuse series, drawing a connection through the image between the “gambler” (whose preferred stakes are human destinies) and the time, making the image the means by which the man becomes the representative of his time. So perhaps this opening sequence, positioning the audience on the threshold between the narrative and the act of narration, should be considered the central moment of Lang’s Mabuse cycle.
But cCan any moment be considered central, in the center of a group of films so marked by dispersion? (Dispersion is Mabuse’s way of entering the narrative, of pervading it.) A repeated gesture in the films is the scattering of papers, and there is a resonant superimposition at the end of the great sequence of Mabuse’s triumph at the stock exchange stock-exchange scene in Dr. Mabuse der Spieler, showing a huge closeup of Mabuse’s face over the trading floor the way it looks after the closing of a day of panic: depopulated, strewn with papers. The fragmented, meaningless, unread text these papers compose is a double figuration of Mabuse, who often operates through writing and whose own most visible signature is usually wreckage, the aftermath of ruin and destruction (cf. the shots of bombed offices in Der Spieler and in Lang’s third and final Mabuse film, Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse [The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse]). Not by his presence, but by his absence, does Mabuse pervade these films.
Then perhaps the central moment of Lang’s Mabuse cycle is the moment in Das Testament when the young hero and heroine, Kent and Lilli, finally penetrate the curtained space behind which, earlier in the film, the mysterious gang leader figure known as “Dr. Mabuse” has been seen issuing his orders to the gang his underlings—more precisely, seen as a motionless silhouette (projected on the translucent curtain) and heard as a voice. On opening the curtain, Kent and Lilli discover that “Mabuse” is a cardboard cutout and that the voice emanates from a loudspeaker.
What is crucial about this scene is not merely the revelation of the absence of Mabuse—a revelation that the logic of the this visionary and terrifying film makes inevitable—but Lang’s pointed disruption of the convention of the shot/reverse shot. Before they open the curtain, Kent, still believing in a flesh-and-blood enemy behind it, fires his revolver. Lang cuts from a frontal shot of Kent and Lilli, as Kent fires the gun, to a shot of the curtain. The shot of the curtain arrives at the place where, in conventional editing, the reverse shot—showing that at which Kent is firing—would come. But even an inattentive viewer probably notices quickly (because the flashes of gunfire are seen through the curtain) that this shot is not taken from the point of view of Kent and Lilli, but from the opposite point of view—from inside the curtained portion of the room. This is confirmed when, in the course of the shot, Kent and Lilli open the curtain and emerge, facing us, from behind it. Only at this point does Lang use the true reverse shot of the cardboard cutout and the loudspeaker, riddled with bullet holes.
This disruption is characteristic of Lang’s mise-en-scène, which presents, through a mastery of what has become known as classical narrative film style, an effect of seamless continuity, but does so deceptively, emphasizing absences, gaps, and contradictions. In a card-game sequence in the first part of Der Spieler, the ill-fated Hull, a wealthy young man whom Mabuse sets out to destroy, has the winning hand, as we, the audience, ascertain in an extreme close-up from Hull’s point of view. We are in fact the only ones who both see and know the strength of the hand, since Hull, under Mabuse’s hypnotic spell, tosses his cards face down, believing that he has lost. For the characters, the revelation that Hull held the winning cards occurs only after the game. As Hull and his fellow club members discuss his debacle, one of the men casually picks up the cards and carelessly drops them face-up on the table. Even now, the men do not immediately look at the cards: the moment of revelation is further delayed the length of an intertitle card.
Such an example—of information deferred, of signifiers separated from their signifieds, of a gulf opening between vision and knowledge—could be multiplied by scores of others from the three Mabuse films and hundreds more from the rest of Lang’s oeuvre. In its inscription of delay, Lang’s cinema becomes not merely an exemplary mise-en-scène of suspense, but a criticism of seeing, especially of a kind of seeing that projects onto what it sees the demand that the visible answer the logic of desire. As the extreme form of this type of seeing, Mabuse fascinates and repels Lang.
Once the universe has been struck by Mabuse’s vision, a certain unreality pervades it. Devoted to negation, Mabuse sees—and spreads to others’ vision—only hollowness, absence, delusion, and destruction. In this sense, the central moment of Lang’s Mabuse cycle could be the scene in Die 1000 Augen (a film that relocates Mabuse in the flattened context of Adenauer Germany and Cold War nuclear terror, just as Das Testament placed him at the moment just before the Nazi ascendancy) in which the millionaire Travers crashes through the two-way mirror by means of which he has been spying on his beloved, Marion. The scene is a kind of replay of the curtained-room scene from Das Testament, both in spatial terms—each scene is laid out in two contiguous spaces separated by a membrane of partial visibility—and in terms of what might be designated as the social order, or even a sacred order: the membrane is supposed to remain inviolate; an unwritten prohibition bars passing from one space to the other. Furthermore, in both scenes, the central action has a similar force: a man—not accidentally the “heroic” character (though the role and nature of the hero are subjected to merciless criticism by Lang)—violates the rule, demonstrating that the two spaces are part of a single space, subject to the same logic.
These two spaces can be assigned to two different worlds: that of the fiction film and that of the film viewer. The mirror in Die 1000 Augen is, unmistakably, a metaphor for cinema (as is the curtained room in Das Testament, as Michel Chion has shown)—one of the most fully worked-out such metaphors in all Lang’s work. When Travers is shown the mirror (part of a surveillance system that the Nazis installed in the hotel where most of the film is set) for the first time, he witnesses a trivial scene—merely a display—played by Marion and her maid. As we watch the scene along with Travers, we become aware somehow that something is missing and that we are seeing a degraded copy of life that is at the same time completely available to the gaze and not fully real. (This uncanny feeling may be compared with the realization by a character in Ministry of Fear  that no one lives in the apartment to which she has been sent on an errand.) This unreality is emphasized by the hollow quality of the (seemingly direct) sound recording in Marion’s room. The visible beings go through the motions of self-directed life but give the impression of being soulless automata, an impression that the narrative later confirms and explains when it turns out that Marion has been acting all along under the hypnotic direction of the “Mabuse” of the film.
This sense of an absence of reality is closely related to the exhaustion that many commentators have sensed in numerous aspects of Die 1000 Augen: in the repetition of scenes, motifs, and lines of dialog from earlier Lang films; in the threadbare quality of the process shots; in the minimal characterizations and functional sets (already a feature of Lang’s last American films); in a sense of untimeliness that Lang acknowledged before undertaking the project (“the son of a bitch is dead,” he claimeds to have said when offered the chance to make a new Mabuse film), and that palpably enters the film itself. Two things should be pointed out about this exhaustion. First, as Joe McElhaney has shown in a detailed analysis, “the sense of cliché and exhaustion brings [Die 1000 Augen] closer to the concerns of the postwar period than one might originally believe.” Second, exhaustion is no new ingredient of the Mabuse cycle but was a key part of the very first film, Der Spieler, in which one of the central figures, the decadent Countess Told, stands for and articulates the contemporary sense of boredom that drives her on a passionate quest for ever-more exotic and refined excitements. Declaring the world empty, the Countess’s boredom has an obvious affinity with the all-negating, world-emptying gaze of Mabuse (which is why he becomes drawn to her). Both are “images of the time” that construct the world as a despised object.
Lang partly joins Mabuse and the Countess in this seeing. The filmmaker’s own gaze at the world is disabused and critical. The degree to which Lang implicates himself with Mabuse as a figure of cinema becomes quite clear in the theatrical mass-hypnosis sequence in the second part of Der Spieler (“in this sequence,” comments Tom Gunning, “Lang presents Mabuse as an embodied visual illusion apparatus”). On the other hand, it is also clear that Lang negates Mabuse. What is missing from the empty world is an animation that, the films assert, can be provided only by love. Here we arrive at another “center” of the Mabuse films. In Der Spieler, love as invoked in her jail cell by Carozza, Mabuse’s discarded mistress, causes the Paul-like conversion of Countess Told. The crucial importance of this revolution is indicated by its placement at almost the midpoint of the film, near the end of Part One. In Das Testament, love again leads to a conversion: that of Kent, whom Lilli encourages to renounce his life of crime and join in the police hunt for Mabuse. In Die 1000 Augen, the love of Travers and Marion causes a comparable conversion, this time on the part of the woman.
Lang’s interviews and published statements, no less than the films themselves, suggest that he indeed ascribes a revolutionary power to love and wants the audience to agree with his sense of it. But it is difficult not to feel that here, too—even here, where the films would seem to need all possible fullness of realization—there is, instead, an absence. Lang’s mise-en-scène of love is deliberately abstract, stripped of visual and psychological interest, and rhetorically blunt. To convey the awesome force of love, Lang relies on three things: the utterance of the word “love,” a certain visual austerity (apparent in the jail cell setting in Der Spieler and in the concentration on the faces in the love scenes of Das Testament and Die 1000 Augen), and a forthright, reduced performance style. In Die 1000 Augen, the flatness of the performances of Peter Van Eyck (Travers) and Dawn Addams (Marion) is a recognizable late-Lang performance strategy, which he developed in Hollywood through such acting styles as those of Glenn Ford and Dana Andrews. But with Van Eyck and Addams there is also the trace of a gesture back toward the purified, white-hot blankness of the Weimar-era films (as opposed to the functionalized and ambiguous blankness of the American films). In Der Spieler, Aud Egede Nissen (Carozza) and Gertrude Welker (Countess Told) use an acting style that is, perhaps, more distant from us, so it is easier to recognize, with their characters, the passage to the register of love as a stylistic effect. However, I imagine that with all three films, many viewers feel in Lang’s love motif a certain deficiency. (Tom Gunning is not alone in finding the relationship between Kent and Lilli in Das Testament a “rather saccharine and tiresome romantic subplot”; he also calls the love affair in Die 1000 Augen “soporific.”) Love must exist to counter Mabuse, says Lang, and for proof of it he has his lovers declaim their love, but they do so in a way that remains somewhat schematic.thus proved, love remains somewhat schematic.
To believe in love in the Mabuse films requires that the viewer, too, pass into a higher register of viewing: it requires an act of faith. With Lang, we have to see the world of the film as a hollowness potentially transformable and redeemable by love. This potential is something for which we must be responsible, since the films, in various ways, and for whatever reasons (inferable or merely postulable), decline to realize fully the asserted power of love. This will sound like a glib rationalization of what, more straightforwardly, should be called a flaw of these films. I put it forward, however, not to excuse the flaw but to take account of the flaw as something that the films themselves take account of. Love is the antithesis of Mabuse (a psychoanalyst, he recognizes only desire, not love) in that it cannot be predicted and preprogrammed, cannot be controlled, cannot be part of the mise-en-scène of negation. Having already aligned his own cinema with Mabuse (for the purposes of a radical critique of cinema), Lang, with passionate discretion, declines to force love to reveal itself in his mise-en-scène but merely designates the place it would have if it were to appear. (This is clearer, and perhaps subtler, at the end of The Big Heat , when the hero is able to verbalize his memory of his wife only at the moment when his listener is dying.) His gesture resembles the hero’s description of painting in Scarlet Street (1945) as “put[ting] a line around what I feel when I look at things.”
With the release of the Masters of Cinema's box set of The Complete Fritz Lang Mabuse, we have a nice presentation of three films that have been available before in good editions, though only separately. There are optional English subtitles for all the films. The small booklets accompanying the DVDs include texts that have, mostly, been available elsewhere. Each film contains a commentary track by the estimable David Kalat, author of The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse. The sparse DVD extras include an interview with the composer of the score for the restored version of Der Spieler, a short discussion on Norbert Jacques (author of the novelistic source for Der Spieler), a documentary on certain themes in Der Spieler, an interview with actor Wolfgang Preiss (who explains Lang’s bad relationship with Peter Van Eyck by saying that the director liked “actors,” not “personalities”), and the “alternate ending” of Die 1000 Augen from the French release version—really a prolongation of what remains in any case the final shot of the film. The enigma of these variant endings points again to the importance of love in Lang’s work and suggests that in this case, how love fares in the world depends on the timing of a cut.
The Diabolical Dr. Mabuse on DVD: The Crimes of Dr. Mabuse; The ... Scott Thill from Bright Lights Film Journal, January 1, 2002, also reviewing THE 1,000 EYES OF DR. MABUSE
DVD Journal Mark Bourne
DVD Times Noel Megahey
Dr. Mabuse, Der Spieler Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
Dr Mabuse, der Spieler (1922) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
DVD Savant review Glenn Erickson
VideoVista Tom Matic
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Fritz Lang Bibliography (via UC Berkeley Media Resources Center) From Iron Age Myth To Idealized National Landscape: Human-Nature Relationships and Environmental Racism in Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen, by Susan Power Bratton from Worldviews: Environment, Culture, Religion (November 2000)
From the Iron Age to the modern period, authors have
repeatedly restructured the ecomythology of the Siegfried saga. Fritz Lang's
In 1924, years before Metropolis
and M, director Fritz Lang created a silent epic based on the
quintessential German legend: Die Nibelungen, the ancient folk tale of
heroism and revenge that also served as basis for Richard Wagner's Ring cycle
of operas. Lang's tale is broken into two movies which together clock in at
close to five hours. Conceived as a monumental spectacle at
Part one, Siegfried, begins with the exploits of the Germanic hero. In lavishly decorated sets that recall art nouveau rather than the expressionism fashionable at the time, Siegfried (Paul Richter) robs a treasure, slays a dragon, and wins the hand of a queen. But jealousy, deceit, and court intrigue lead to murder. In the second film, Kriemhild's Revenge, Siegfried's widow marries Attila the Hun and manipulates the knights into a tragic bloodbath.
By today's hectic standards,
individual shots in Die Nibelungen could be tightened to make for a more
streamlined movie. But there is no extraneous scene; every boiling emotion and
outrageous plot twist still resonates over eighty years later. The glittering
of the treasure on the bottom of the
The two-disc DVD edition by Kino Video comes with a handsome set of special features, including footage of Fritz Lang on the set, design sketches, a comparison of the dragon-slaying scenes in Siegfried and The Thief of Bagdad, the original 1924 score, an essay by a film scholar, photo galleries and behind-the-scene images.
Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
Having completed his apprenticeship to a blacksmith,
Siegfried, son of Siegmund, king of the
Arguably the artistic pinnacle of Fritz Lang’s filmmaking
career is his ambitious adaptation of Das Nibelungenlied, an epic
thirteenth Century Germanic poem of heroism, betrayal and revenge. The
poem, whose author is unknown, was first performed in
Fritz Lang’s film version of Das Nibelungenlied ran to five hours of screen time, across two films, known together as Die Nibelungen. The first part, entitled Siegfried , deals with the death of the hero Siegfried; the second part, Kriemhilds Rache, tells the story of Kriemhild's bloody revenge. It was one of the most expensive productions made by the pre-eminent German film company UFA, requiring a seven month shoot at a time of great economic strain (during Germany’s period of hyper-inflation).
The screenplay was written by Thea von Harbou (Lang’s wife, a successful author), who co-operated with Lang on many of his early films. Lang intended the film to be a nationalistic work, promoting German culture. Unfortunately, the film’s nationalistic subtext made it an obvious mascot for the newly formed National Socialist German Workers Party - aka the Nazis - who even borrowed some of the film’s design ideas.
Die Nibelungen is both a visually stunning example of German expressionist cinema and an exciting fantasy adventure with wide appeal. The lavish sets combine a strangely magical Gothic romanticism with a very sinister kind of expressionism - with misty forests, creepy underworld lairs, a forbidding island, and shadowy fairytale castles.
The first of the films features two of most iconic sequences of expressionist cinema. The first is an animated representation of a dream in which two stylised black eagles attack a white falcon, a portent of Siegfried’s death. The second is where a tree in blossom gradually morphs into in to a skull, a powerful visual metaphor for the brevity of life.
There are also some remarkable special effects, including some very effective and ingenious use of superposition. The film’s highpoint is Siegfried’s fight with the dragon. Even by today’s standards, the realisation of the dragon is impressive - a huge full-size mechanical prop, so convincing that in most of the shots it really does look like a living creature.
Strikingly different to Lang’s other films of this period, distinguished by its sense of old world poetry, Die Nibelungen is one of the supreme triumphs of the silent era of cinema, a beautiful, compelling and highly imaginative reinterpretation of one of the earliest works in German literature.
Die Niebelungen Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
Kill Hagen! - Lang's Kriemhild And Her Revenge - Bright Lights Film ... C. Jerry Kutner from Bright Lights Film Journal, June 18, 2007
How did "Siegfried" get to be such a Popular German Name? THIS is How! JediKermit from Epinions
DVD Talk [John Sinnott] reviewing Die Nibelungen Pt’s I and II
Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924) - Home Video Reviews - TCM.com reviewing Die Nibelungen Pt’s I and II
The Nibelungen | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Chicago Reader reviewing Die Nibelungen Pt’s I and II (capsule)
DIE NIBELUNGEN: KRIEMHILD’S REVENGE
This highly original book draws on narrative and film theory, psychoanalysis, and musicology to explore the relationship between aesthetics and anti-Semitism in two controversial landmarks in German culture. David Levin argues that Richard Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen and Fritz Lang's 1920s film Die Nibelungen creatively exploit contrasts between good and bad aesthetics to address the question of what is German and what is not. He shows that each work associates a villainous character, portrayed as non-Germanic and Jewish, with the sometimes dramatically awkward act of narration. For both Wagner and Lang, narration--or, in cinematic terms, visual presentation--possesses a typically Jewish potential for manipulation and control. Consistent with this view, Levin shows, the Germanic hero Siegfried is killed in each work by virtue of his unwitting adoption of a narrative role.
Levin begins with an explanation of the book's theoretical foundations and then applies these theories to close readings of, in turn, Wagner's cycle and Lang's film. He concludes by tracing how Germans have dealt with the Nibelungen myths in the wake of the Second World War, paying special attention to Michael Verhoeven's 1989 film The Nasty Girl. His fresh and interdisciplinary approach sheds new light not only on Wagner's Ring and Lang's Die Nibelungen, but also on the ways in which aesthetics can be put to the service of aggression and hatred. The book is an important contribution to scholarship in film and music and also to the broader study of German culture and national identity.
Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache (1924) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
After the death of her husband Siegfried,
Kriemhild appeals to her brother Gunther to have his killer, Hagen,
executed. When Gunther refuses, Kriemhild allows herself to be married to
Etzel, the king of the Huns. After Kriemhild provides Etzel with a son
and heir, she asks him to invite her brothers to his court. Despite
Kriemhild’s pleas, Etzel refuses to harm his guests - until
Kriemhilds Rache is the dramatic conclusion to Fritz Lang’s epic two-part
film Die Nibelungen, based on a famous Germanic poem from Medieval
times. In the first part, Siegried, we saw how Queen Kriemhild was
tricked into betraying her husband Siegfried, allowing her evil sister-in-law
Brunhild to have him killed. The second part is concerned with
Kriemhild’s revenge on her husband’s killer, the vassal Hagen Tronje - and a
bloody affair it is too.
With an enormous budget, Lang was able to realise some of the most spectacular sequences ever seen in cinema up until this point - including some truly ambitious battle scenes involving many hundreds of extras. This is a triumph of German cinema in the 1920s. The sets were some of the most extravagant ever to have been assembled in
There are two plausible interpretations of this film. The first is that revenge is something which ennobles the human spirit; it is cowardice or folly to let an act of evil go unpunished. The avenger is a hero, someone who must be prepared to sacrifice everything so that retribution may be arrived at. Kriemhild is not only morally justified in what she does, she stands as an emblem of divine justice. This is hardly a Christian view, but it is probably how many German people, watching the film in the 1920s, would have felt. In the humiliating aftermath of the First World War, the nationalistic sentiments of the film would have been readily picked up, nourishing thoughts of revenge against those who had brought a great nation to its knees.
The second interpretation, which is more evident today, is that revenge is a terrible thing, something which brings only devastation and misery, and resolves nothing. It is a conduit by which evil may enter the world and wreak mayhem. Notice how, in the course of the film, Kriemhild becomes increasingly fanatical in her desire to avenge the death of her husband. She loses all trace of humanity and is transformed into a single-minded automaton, strangely reminiscent of the Maria android in Lang’s later film Metropolis (1927). She becomes almost oblivious to the death and destruction that happens around her, and even sanctions the murder of her elder brother in order to fulfil her revenge. This descent into fixated madness is horribly prescient of what would happen to
First of all, if you haven't read my "Siegfried"
review yet, you may want to do that....just because this movie,
"Kriemhild's Revenge" is a sequel to "Siegfried." But
you'll probably figure out what's going on from this one. So there it is, right
out in the open...no one's ashamed.
There have been times in my life I've wanted revenge. A full, sweeping revenge that carries up all I want destroyed and leaves behind only wreckage. The kind of revenge that would make me turn from Anakin Skywalker into Darth Vader at the drop of a helmet.
There have even been times that my feelings of revenge have been justified...times that "get over it" just isn't good enough. Justice must be done.
For Kriemhild, the heroine of "Kriemhild's Revenge," this is one of those times. At the end of the previous film, her husband Siegfried was killed by her own brother and uncle to assuage her sister-in-law Brunhild's jealousy. After having the entire court and her entire family telling her to "get over" her husband's murder, Kriemhild decides to leave Burgundy and marry Atilla (yes, THAT Atilla) and move east....all after Atilla's right hand man promises to help her in her quest for revenge.
What follows are a series of traps and battles that Kriemhild sets for her own flesh and blood; to celebrate the birth of her child with Atilla they invite the entire Burgundian court to join their Blessed Event. No one gets out alive.
This is an amazingly chilling film for audiences like us, who are used to some measure of a happy ending...for Kriemhild, there is no peace, there is no happiness, there is no love...in her own words, "You killed my heart when you killed Siegfried," and this puts us in a difficult position.
On the one hand, what was done to her was wrong...very wrong. And yet, remembering that her own actions in fact ultimately led to Siegfried's murder...you wonder what exactly is going in in that Braided Teutonic head of hers. Is it displaced guilt? Is it just the completion of her revenge? And why does she choose to take so VERY MANY with her?
Kriemhild is played by Margarete Schoen, and is played very well...although my brief description above would lead you to think she's a one-note character, she plays Kriemhild with a depth of emotion, and a ...fullness of hate that is rarely seen, and certainly wasn't conveyed in many silent films. She's not just cold and bitter...she HATES. She SEETHES. And yet, she's not evil. She just wants vengeance.
I've come to think of this as the ultimate, iconic tale of revenge...her patience as she waits for years to avenge Siegfried's death...her cunning planning, involving not only her husband and his court, but the people who are going to themselves die at her hands (all unwitting)...and then her resolve to see this thing through to the end. Even when her own brothers beg her for mercy, she doesn't give in.
Fritz Lang, who would later direct "Metropolis," "M," and other early film classics, did his usual wonderful job with "Kriemhild's Revenge," but with the exception of a few battle scenes and effects sequences, this one isn't as visually impressive as "Siegfried" was. The elements of magic died with Siegfried, and this is a much grittier, more human tale.
I recommend seeing this movie to anyone, especially those interested in early film or in German history...but everyone would be able to appreciate the pain Kriemhild feels, and you'll be both impressed and shocked at what she'll do to save her own soul and the memory of her husband. You should watch "Siegfried" before watching this, it's concludes the story of the Niebelungen in a spectacular conflagration that will leave you breathless. It's well worth your time...check it out.
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Nibelungen (1924) from Michael Organ’s website
DVD Talk [John Sinnott] reviewing Die Nibelungen Pt’s I and II
Die Nibelungen: Siegfried (1924) - Home Video Reviews - TCM.com reviewing Die Nibelungen Pt’s I and II
The Nibelungen | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Chicago Reader reviewing Die Nibelungen Pt’s I and II (capsule)
Kin Newman from 1001 MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE:
Fritz Lang Bibliography (via UC Berkeley Media Resources Center) Scientific Gazing and the Cinematic Body Politic: The Demonized Cyborg of Metropolis, by Jill Clark from Intertexts Fall, 1999
My article explores the images and metaphors relating to space in Fritz Lang's 1926 film, Metropolis (remade in 1984 by Georgio Moroder). Using a primarily Marxist interpretive framework, I analyse the spatial layout of the filmic city of Metropolis, divided into three levels, one above ground and two underground, as metonymic of the class divisions in the urban society that are represented in the film. The article also examines the architecture of Metropolis as representing social values and conflicts. It then proceeds to investigate the film's gender dynamics as revealed in the two figures of the robot Maria and the real Maria, and concludes that the film's gender and class ideology is remarkably conservative.
Metropolis from Kino Film
Perhaps the most famous and influential of all silent films, Metropolis
had for 75 years been seen only in shortened or truncated versions. Now,
Metropolis takes place in 2026, when the populace is divided between workers who must live in the dark underground and the rich who enjoy a futuristic city of splendor. The tense balance of these two societies is realized through images that are among the most famous of the 20th century, many of which presage such sci-fi landmarks as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Blade Runner. Lavish and spectacular, with elaborate sets and modern science fiction style, Metropolis stands today as the crowning achievement of the German silent cinema. Kino is proud to present the definitive, authorized version of this towering classic, at a length over one-third longer than any previous release, for the first time on DVD and VHS.
Fritz Lang Bibliography (via UC Berkeley Media Resources Center) The Star on C.A. Rotwang's Door: Turning Kracauer on its Head (an analysis of Fritz Lang's film, the 'Metropolis') by Peter Dolgenos from the Journal of Popular Film and Television, Summer, 1997
The half-Jewish film director Fritz Lang rejected propaganda
minister Joseph Goebbel's offer of a top position in the newly Nazified German
film industry and left the country to be one of
According to Joseph Goebbels, it was when he and Hitler went to see Metropolis in a small-town cinema that Hitler declared that Fritz Lang "will make the Nazi film." One can shed light on the ideology of Metropolis by comparing it with that of the National Socialist Party. The Nazis offered a critique of the industrial/capitalist civilization of their time, which bore roughly the same relation to a standard socialist critique as Metropolis does to a standard leftist film. Whereas the socialists spoke for those at the bottom of urban society, the Nazis, and ultimately Lang in this one film, spoke for those who were altogether outside society looking fearfully in. In the 1920s, the Nazis' support came disproportionately from rural areas, especially from people who distrusted modernization and urbanization and feared becoming proletarianized. To them, Metropolis--filled with futuristic architecture that the party rejected along with all modern art--might have seemed real as a projection of their worst fears about the city.
The now-famous story of METROPOLIS' new restoration--nearly half an hour of footage recovered from a newly-discovered 16mm print that had been sitting in Argentina since 1928, comprising a more or less definitive version only a few minutes shorter than the premiere print--has eclipsed just exactly what those restored 25 minutes do to this Introduction to Film History juggernaut/music video reference-point, a delirious fantasy that's had the unfortunate fate of being boiled down to its "iconic moments," muddled politics (courtesy of an ostensibly "socialist" script by future Nazi Thea von Harbou) and its status as the only Fritz Lang movie to not have any real people in it (besides, of course, villain Rotwang). If previous versions (most notably the enthrallingly ridiculous one produced by Giorgio Moroder, which runs half the length of this one) made METROPOLIS seem more like a von Harbou film than a Lang one, the now "complete" version of this sprawling future fever-dream actually resembles a movie someone as smart as dear old Fritz would make. More nuanced because it is more excessive, the restored METROPOLIS is a film that understands (and feels through) its artificiality--as well as the fixations with death and female sexuality inherent in its material--instead of presenting it as straight allegory; it's fitting that the first piece of restored footage, arriving about seven minutes in, is a brief sequence of a man applying make-up to a woman. Since METROPOLIS tells its story (about a 21st century city made possible by a caste of underground-dwelling workers) through two substitutions--the son of the city's ruler taking the place of a worker; a vicious cyborg taking the place of a saintly young woman--previous versions have inevitably picked the son (Gustav Fröhlich) over the worker (Erwin Biswanger), and the cyborg over the girl (both played by Brigitte Helm; in this case it's understandable, because she is more interesting playing a villain). This version restores the ample screen time devoted to 11811, the prole who trades places with heir apparent/smirking naïf Freder, and to 11811's adventures in upper-class decadence (especially in a scene that now seems essential--a car filling up with flyers for a local night club, dissolving into a montage of excesses), as well as many apocalyptic hallucinations and black-gloved intrigues (especially so in the case of striking Lang regular Fritz Rasp; essentially an extra in previous versions, this cut presents him as a major character in both the realities of the plot and in Freder's nightmares).
Page two look at METROPOLIS from German-Hollywood Connection
A Tale of Two Cities - Film Comment Chris Fujiwara on the newly reconstructed version of Metropolis from Film Comment, May/June 2010
Metropolis splits its heroine, Brigitte Helm’s iconic Maria, into two figures. One is a preacher of love who seeks to reconcile the ruling and the working classes. The other is a wanton robot on a mission of destruction. And just as there are two Marias, so there have long been two Metropolises. One is a mummified classic, hollowed out from endless recycling in film histories and in pop culture. The other is a Fritz Lang film with all the director’s visual complexity and drive (wedded to a Thea von Harbou script that, if it’s kitsch, is kitsch that soars).
For years now the false Metropolis has been running amok, courting charges of proto-Nazism, furnishing video backdrops for nightclubs, and fueling predictable academic studies (put a cyborg in a futuristic city as seen from Weimar Germany and you have the Ph.D. motherlode). The Lang film had been mutilated in so many ways that its creator insisted that it had ceased to exist. But it turns out that Lang’s Metropolis survived after all, locked away all this time (as the true Maria is locked up for part of the film). With the new restoration that premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in February and that will come out on DVD later this year after a rep-house tour, Lang’s work has finally re-emerged: in many respects a new film, neither smothered by overfamiliarity nor butchered by cutting.
Metropolis fell under re-editors’ scissors soon after its 1927 premiere, to be distributed in assorted truncations and, later, reconstructions (the longest of which, that of 2001, was still missing about a quarter of the film). In 2008, film historian Fernando Martín Peña and museum curator Paula Félix-Didier identified a nearly complete print that had languished for decades, unrecognized for what it was, in a Buenos Aires archive. (For Peña’s account of the discovery, see issue #6 of Undercurrent) This print provided material for the new restoration, which was done by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung. The restored version improves on the old abridged ones in two main ways: it increases the visual and rhythmic density of the film through the addition of content; and it clarifies the correlation of images, characters, and plotlines through the completion of form.
The new restored content appears throughout the film but mainly involves these parts:
· The misadventures of Georgy (Erwin Biswanger), a worker at the underground machines that keep the city running
· Scenes of Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), the master of Metropolis, and Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), a scientist, at a monument to a woman named Hel, whom both men loved
· The efforts of the sinister Thin Man (Fritz Rasp) to track down Fredersen’s son, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich)
· Freder’s comradeship with his father’s dismissed secretary, Josaphat (Theodor Loos)
· Several action episodes, notably one in which the robot Maria incites a mob of discontented workers to attack the critical Heart Machine, and one in which Freder and Josaphat, rescuing the workers’ children from the ensuing flood, climb up an air shaft and break through a gate at the top.
Three characters who were blurry in previous editions of Metropolis—Georgy, the Thin Man, and Josaphat—now come into focus. Georgy, whom Freder replaces at the labor-cum-torture of moving the clocklike arms of a large dial, emerges as Freder’s opposite number: while love for Maria redeems Freder from a life of empty hedonism, Georgy falls easy prey to the temptations of Yoshiwara, the Metropolis sin-pit where the robot Maria will make her debut. Formerly a striking but puzzling presence, the Thin Man is now a full-fledged character, satanically enjoying the cat-and-mouse harassment he inflicts on others. Josaphat, who gets a boost in stature from the restored material (as does Freder himself, formerly the most nominal of nominal heroes), develops into an engaging co-hero.
Older versions were plotbound, so that for all its vast scale the film seemed constrained. Only with the Argentine footage does Metropolis breathe freely, encompassing the places and rhythms of everyday life. A delightful restored shot features the Thin Man standing at a newsstand, keeping baleful watch on Georgy from behind an unfolded Metropolis Courier. Bit players ride in open elevator cars that slowly ascend and descend in the background of a scene between Josaphat and the Thin Man, reminding the viewer how rare it is, in this film filled with purposeful crowds, to see people who play no part in the plot. In an interlude of respite at Josaphat’s apartment, Freder’s relaxed air of well-being discloses a native confidence that makes him a more appealing and convincing hero than he was in past versions.
Although Metropolis has long been regarded as a parable about capitalism, only with the new restoration do we actually see money—when the Thin Man tries to bribe Josaphat. The sheafs of currency he hauls out from his coat link visually to the Yoshiwara handbills that tumble down over Georgy (in another restored scene), which in turn are doubles of the mysterious maps that Fredersen’s men find in workers’ pockets.
The restoration of the Hel monument scenes (cut, supposedly, because the preparers of the American version objected to the woman’s name) adds a crucial level—the top one—to the film’s vertical hierarchy. Looming over Rotwang and Fredersen, Hel’s giant stone head embodies an abstract destiny that enfolds the entire city. (Hel herself prefigures the lost women who motivate a series of vengeful protagonists in Lang films, and Rotwang’s surrogate repossession of Hel through the robot he invents marks Metropolis as one of multiple Langian intersections of desire and dehumanization.) As Lang intercuts the mob of workers hunting for the “witch” Maria with the robot leading a band of revelers in the streets, a magisterial cutaway finds Rotwang walking alone toward the Hel head, as if the whole parallel-action cataclysm were his tribute to her.
New footage also expands and elevates the final section, putting greater emphasis on the endangered children, the heroes, and the emotional mothers (who link Metropolis to the 1931 M). At the 2,000-seat, sold-out Friedrichstadtpalast premiere in February, the final reconciliation between “Hands” (a laborer) and “Head” (Fredersen) by means of “Heart” (Freder) seemed to come off for the first time in my experience of Metropolis. It’s hard to tell, however, how much this achievement owed to the cumulative power of the restored footage and how much to the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin’s live performance of Gottfried Huppertz’s full-blooded original score.
Lang’s structure—as elaborate and ambitious as in his Mabuse films—is now clear. The same can’t, without qualification, be said of the footage from the Argentine print, a 16mm dupe defaced by a blizzard of scratches (the other materials of the restoration are in better shape: watching the whole is like reading a book with a fourth of the text printed in red). Still, for the first time since 1927, Metropolis exists. In 1985, Enno Patalas (whose archival work laid the groundwork for all reconstructions of the film) wrote, “Metropolis has been thoroughly and irreparably destroyed, as few other films have been.” Strike “irreparably.”
Fritz Lang's Metropolis another Metropolis website by Augusto Cesar B. Areal, in Brazil
Rome's Metropolis- yet another Metropolis website
Metropolis Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
Metropolis: A Film Far Ahead of its Time Gautam Valluri from Broken Projector, December 7, 2007
'Metropolis' finds new life Ed Meza from Variety, December 9, 2007
DVD Times - Metropolis (Masters of Cinema Series) Kevin Gilvear
DVD Savant [Glenn Erickson] (January 22, 2003) also see: Metropolis: a theatrical review of the digital restoration (September 29, 2001) again here: METROPOLIS and STAR WARS
Unified Theory [METROPOLIS] | Jonathan Rosenbaum August 16, 2002
Article - Ten Neglected Science Fiction Movies by Jonathan Rosenbaum follow up article from DVDBeaver
Metropolis - TCM.com Frank Miller
Metropolis - The Restoration - TCM.com Bret Wood
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
Metropolis (1927) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
Decent Films - faith on film [Steven D. Greydanus] One of the 15 films listed in the category "Art" on the Vatican film list
DVD Times Noel Megahey
CineScene.com (Chris Dashiell) Tomorrowland, an essay (2004)
The Digital Bits Bill Hunt
VideoVista review Amy Harlib
culturevulture.net, Choices for the Cognoscenti Arthur Lazere
The Greatest Films - Revisiting the Greatest Films Ever Made Jerry Roberts from Musings of a Cinephile
by Jonathan L. Bowen from Orbital Reviews
by David Arnold from IMDb reviews
Movie Reviews UK Damian Cannon
Movie Ram-blings Ram Samudrala
Metropolis Walkthrough multi-angled view of the set by Jim Pivarski
Lang Movie Posters German-Hollywood Connection
It came from "Metropolis": The legacy of a classic Matt Zoller Seitz from Salon, May 15, 2010
Time Out London
From Metropolis to Blade Runner: architecture that stole the show Jonathan Glancey from The Guardian, November 5, 2009
The view: Why Metropolis is the real summer blockbuster Danny Leigh from The Guardian, April 30, 2010
The Boston Phoenix Jeffrey Gantz
Fritz Lang's Metropolis: Complete at Last Larry Rohter from The New York Times, May 4, 2010
Fritz Lang Bibliography (via UC Berkeley Media Resources Center) Spies, by Geoffrey O’Brien from Film Comment (July/Aug 1995)
Spies, German director Fritz Lang's first independent production, virtually inaugurated the spy genre. Made in 1927, the film features a number of bravura passages, including a stunning opening montage. The writer discusses the conventions of the spy movie.
Time Out Tony Rayns
In its very idiosyncratic way, Spione beats Lang's three Mabuse pictures as his definitive vision of a criminal mastermind. The reason is probably that this film entirely lacks the socio-political overtones of the Mabuse trilogy: the exploits of the evil genius Haghi (Klein-Rogge) here represent criminality almost in the abstract, and plunge the movie into a delirium of disguises, deaths, double-motives, and labyrinthine tricks. The tone is somewhere between true pulp fiction and pure expressionism, and the result remains wholly thrilling.
Cinepassion.org Fernando F. Croce
The colossal canvas of Metropolis was a tough act to follow, but Fritz Lang's breathtaking silent thriller manages to match and in some areas top that earlier milestone. Returning to contemporary Weimar without quite abandoning Metropolis' sense of futuristic entrapment, Lang structures Thea von Harbou's pulpy plot around another fate-orchestrating mastermind, Haghi (the casting of Dr. Mabuse himself, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, encourages thematic links), a wheelchair-bound, Lenin-whiskered banker bent on world domination. The one threat to his reign of terror is a government secret agent known as No. 326 (Willy Fritsch), whose repertoire of disguises ranges from scraggly bum to debonair swell -- Haghi aims for the hero's emotional Achilles' heel by sending comely spy Gerda Maurus to neutralize him, not counting on the two falling in love. As always with Lang, there's a geometric scheme to the narrative, manifested not only in the compositional design but also in the parallels drawn between the mutual love of Fritsch and Maurus and the disastrously one-sided romance between a dignified Japanese courier (Lupu Pick) and one of Haghi's minxy vamps (Lien Deyers). Even more audacious is Lang's use of ellipsis, particularly in the opening flurry of images setting stage for secret hideaways, bullets flying through windows, and suicide pills. (One stunner: the getaway to a break-in is summed up by a single, extremely low-angle shot of a grinning biker.) Though the movie's international skullduggery, gadgetry and malefic, shapeshifting Blofeld stand-in have often pegged it as a prototype for the James Bond thrillers, Lang's moral rigor is actually the opposite of that genre's audience-nudging mix of sadistic violence and unfeeling sex -- the emotional complexity leading up to Pick's hara-kiri is precisely what the 007 films trade in for degraded kicks. Cinematography by Fritz Arno Wagner. With Louis Ralph, Hertha von Walther, and Fritz Rasp. In black and white.
Spies opens in an orgy of excess, the
visceral excitement of onscreen chaos and death paralleling the anything-goes
This is the Fritz Lang method: pose a question, then answer it, though never in any sort of predictable rhythm. His best narratives masterfully interweave and overlap with a Teutonic precision that befits the oft-recalled image of the director as a perfectly poised, monocled tyrant, cracking a horsewhip in time with the slavish, synchronized movements of hundreds of extras. Yet Lang's is also a messily emotional cinema, obsessed with parallel love themes for women and for country. As Spies' conflicted operative Sonia, the luminous Gerda Maurus (with whom Lang, then involved with scenarist Thea von Harbou, had a passionate affair) is perhaps the most complex of the director's virginal leading ladies, caught in this film and the subsequent Woman in the Moon at an ineffable, metaphysical divide between younger and elder womanhood. The Madonna and child medallion Sonia gifts to her enemy-in-trade—later lover—no. 326 (Willy Fritsch) hints at the perverse mixture of spirit-/sex-uality inherent to Lang's female characters, mothers and whores all, but never to reductive detriment. Indeed, the tender way in which Lang offers the villainous spy-in-training Kitty (Lien Deyers) with a parodic past-from-hell straight out of
Sacrifice is a concept alien to Lang's women—they are survivalists and/or ethereal beauties, possessing the entrancing temptations of Greek sirens. They cackle from a burning funeral pyre or gaze down upon their wounded men like Mother Mary frozen in a pietà close-up. The men of Spies find their salvation and/or doom in these women: In the case of the Austrian agent Colonel Jellusic (Fritz Rasp), the lack of a literal female counterpart seems a prompt for the first of the film's four suicides—revealed as a traitor he is forced to kill himself for a clearly patriarchal fatherland. Elsewhere, the Japanese doctor Matsumoto (Lupu Pick), seduced by the aptly named Kitty into giving up an essential peace treaty, is haunted by the memories of his deceased countrymen and comrades. This leads to an extended hara-kiri sequence, set in a minimalist temple before a stoic stone Buddha, which acts as a provocative companion piece to Jellusic's quick, implicative death scene and further illustrates Lang's facility in juxtaposing various narrative incidents for maximum profundity.
And what of the "I"? The duplicitous master-of-disguise Haghi (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), the puppet master of the piece? An early blackmail-in-miniature of the opium-smoking socialite Lady Leslane (Hertha von Walther) humorously reveals Haghi's singular loyalty ("I'm richer than Ford, Lady Leslane, and I pay significantly less in taxes") and foreshadows his tempestuous relations with Sonia, who slowly tears herself away from his increasingly misguided affections. Like many a Lang mastermind, Haghi must be ruler of all he surveys, his anxiety of influence exemplified by Spies' third suicide wherein a lowly Haghi henchman, trapped by the police, swallows a cyanide capsule and calmly awaits the inevitable.
Haghi is a more streamlined (one might argue more courageous) version of that seminal Lang/Klein-Rogge creation, Dr. Mabuse, though where the latter descends into the survivalist comforts of madness, Haghi, quite sanely, makes a sacrificial political statement before a theater full of less-than-discreetly charmed bourgeoisie. Lang is thought of by some as a prognosticator of Germany's fall into Nazism, and the confrontational ending of Spies (which ranks, in this critic's opinion, as one of the greatest finales in cinema history) supports such a reading, a satirical suicide sequence filled with such audacious vigor and vitriol that—much like the film's onscreen audience—one can't help but to laugh with and applaud, even as a sobering sense of historical reality (in the proscenium-appropriate form of a theater curtain) comes crashing violently down.
DVD Times Noel Megahey
Adrian Martin Spione Machinations of an Incoherent, Malevolent Universe, from Rouge, 2006
Spies Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
Spione (1928) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
Movies Began to Talk, the Effect Was Visible Richard T. Jameson from the New York Times,
Fritz Lang's last silent film is nothing special, looking more like the work of Lang's wife and screenwriter (and Nazi-to-be) Thea von Harbou. German industrialists, convinced that there's gold on the moon, finance a space mission; the usual conflicts arise among the crew when they find it. Nice sets, no frisson. Lang claims to have invented the liftoff countdown for this 1928 film--too bad he couldn't get it copyrighted. 104 min.
Time Out Tony Rayns
Lang's last silent movie was planned as another giant sci-fi film in the vein of Metropolis. It didn't work out like that, partly because the design and trick-work are cramped and unimaginative, partly because Thea von Harbou's script centres on the exceedingly banal character conflicts on board the first rocket to the moon. As a result, it looks considerably more dated than other Lang silents: it's badly acted melodrama, and the sci-fi trimmings remain entirely secondary. One scene is distinguished by Lang's magnificent sense of spatial drama: the actual launching of the rocket. Otherwise, it's chiefly notable for being one of the rare Lang movies with a deliriously happy ending.
Slant Magazine - DVD Review Keith Uhlich
After prophesying the downfall of the
Cinepassion Fernando F. Croce
After the fevered prophecies of Metropolis,
21st-century dystopia for Fritz Lang became ingrained into the here-and-now of
Woman in the Moon • Senses of Cinema Michael Price from Senses of Cinema, April 2004
Woman in the Moon Michael E. Grost from Classic Film and Television
DVD Times Noel Megahey
Electric Sheep Magazine Philip Winter
Frau im Mond (1929) James Travers from FilmsdeFrance
The SF, Horror and Fantasy Film Review Richard Scheib
M A 100
As a youth, Lang studied architecture in Vienna, but at age
20 he left home and traveled throughout the world, including North Africa,
Turkey, Russia, China, Japan, and the Pacific, supporting himself by selling
drawings, painted postcards, and cartoons, eventually settling in Paris to
paint, where he had an exhibition in 1914.
At the outbreak of World War I, Lang returned to
The use of sound in M can only be described as radical, and light years ahead of its time in the use of natural street sounds, with the noisy honking of car horns, the rising volume level of an agitated crowd, the insistent tapping of a nail, the expressive sound of a cuckoo clock as it strikes noon, and perhaps most importantly the sound of an obsessionally whistled melody that eventually identifies the murderer, ironically recognized by a blind man. Lang’s subjective use of sound was highly sophisticated, where the blind balloon seller covers his ears at the mechanical noise of a hurdy-gurdy player, making the sound disappear altogether, only to be heard again when he lifts his hands, helping the viewer identify with their state of mind. Similarly, sound is identified with the killer, who is “not” able to stop the sound spinning around in his head. Visibly agitated after losing a potential victim to her embracing mother, he sits in an outdoor café and orders a cognac, where he can’t stop the sound of Grieg’s In the Hall of the Mountain King, Fritz Lang's M - Hall of the Mountain King Whistling (Grieg ... YouTube (10 seconds) that he himself whistles unknowingly, where he can’t identify the source of the music he hears, where it must be subjective, imagined, or hallucinated as the whistling continues unabated, even after he covers his ears. Unlike the balloon seller, the killer can’t help what he hears, as he has no power to stop it from its merciless aggravation. Like a Wagnerian leitmotif, the whistle follows him as a sign of his subconscious identification, giving expression to his inner impulses. Of interest, it was Lang’s wife Thea von Harbou who was whistling, as actor Peter Lorre could not whistle. Giving the film another level of complexity, the tune is used in Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, which is the incidental music used to accompany Henrik Ibsen’s 1867 play. Peer Gynt is a capricious and irresponsible character with no sense of self, saving his own life by allowing another man to drown, where the tune is associated with a terrifying scene in a dreamlike fantasy where the trolls attack the trespassing Peer Gynt character with hysterical screams of “Slaughter him, slaughter him, tear him up, tear him up.” Similarly, M’s frenzied mob scenes with people yelling and shrieking like the trolls evoke the same bloodthirsty passions in the public as the psychopathic killer, where the familiar musical refrain becomes a haunting prelude to unspeakable violence.
One of the major influences of the film is newspapers and the impact they have on mass culture, which popularized serial installments of fictionalized murders to help sell newspapers, where in this film serial killing and serial fiction mirror one another, where the film opens with the mother of Elsie Beckmann preparing her daughter’s meal for her return home from school around noon. How ironic for her to receive the latest installment of a popular serial murder story at precisely the same time that her daughter is being murdered, where Lang is capitalizing on the public’s strange fascination with murder, emphasizing how mass murder was such a popular theme in Weimar Germany, where descriptive newspaper accounts fed the public’s voracious appetite to pore over every last detail of the crime, often blurring the lines between fiction and real life, where actual serial crimes reinforced the concept of serial newspaper installments. Lang’s film coincides with an actual serial killer, where the film is inspired by real-life serial killer Peter Kürten, known as the Monster of Düsseldorf, though the screenplay was completed before Kürten was arrested. However, Kürten blamed the press for his killings, claiming he learned about Jack the Ripper from reading press accounts. G.W. Pabst’s film Pandora's Box (Die Büchse der Pandora) (1928), a fictionalized and romanticized account of Jack the Ripper, opened near the beginning of Kürten’s killing spree, where Lang wanted to explore the public’s fascination with crime. Public trust in government authority had eroded after the loss of the war, which led to a devastating rise in inflation. German culture in the 20’s viewed violent crime as symptomatic of a failed political system, where the assassinations of political adversaries in the early 20’s led to highly publicized mass murders, where serial killing and serial culture blended into one. Hitler’s Mein Kampf, written in prison and published in 1925, advocated the overthrow of the government, Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, a musical glamorizing the criminal underworld, was the biggest hit in Berlin during the 20’s, while Alfred Döblin’s city novel Berlin Alexanderplatz, published in 1929, followed the life of an ex-criminal through a labyrinth of petty criminals, prostitutes, and pimps of working class Berlin. Berliner Morgenpost, Berlin’s newspaper, published a popular column called Der Kriminalist printing accounts of real murders side by side with serial installments of crime novels.
Germany was besieged by mass murders in the 20’s, from Georg Karl Grossman, a butcher who made a living selling human flesh, after having killed and chopped up several prostitutes, who was arrested in 1921, after which he reportedly laughed when he was given the death penalty and hanged himself in his cell, to Fritz Haarmann of Hannover, the first German serial killer who was accused or murdering twenty-seven young men within a six-year period from 1918 to 1924. It was Haarmann’s trial that introduced many of the themes raised in Lang’s film, namely the murderer’s mental capacity and his compulsion to kill, where he was in and out of prison at an early age, frequently transferred to clinics and asylums after pleading insanity, only to escape and go on another murderous spree. Both Kürten and Haarmann had served lengthy prison terms before they became serial killers, where Haarmann was executed by guillotine in 1925, the subject (the Man in Black) of the chilling child’s nursery rhyme heard in the opening of the film (“Just you wait a little while, the evil man in black will come, with his little chopper, he will chop you up”). Once Peter Kürten was arrested in May 1930, his story filtered through the mainstream press, shadowing the production of Lang’s film throughout. While researching for the film Lang spent eight days inside a mental institution in Germany and met several real child murderers, including Peter Kürten, whose psychiatric and criminal investigation lasted from October 1930 through the end of January 1931, just about the time the film was ready for release. Due to his confession, Kürten’s trial only lasted ten days in April 1931, concluding on April 22nd with a death penalty for nine murders along with seven other attempted murders. M premiered just weeks later on May 11, falling between Kürten’s conviction and his subsequent execution by guillotine in August. The press blamed Lang for capitalizing on the sensationalist aspects of the murders, especially introducing such a horrid subject matter, but Lang insisted he was not glorifying mass murder, but rather society’s obsession and problematic participation in what he called the “mass murder complex.” In 1931, Lang wrote:
The epidemic series of mass murder of the last decade with their manifold and dark side effects had constantly absorbed me, as unappealing as their study may have been. It made me think of demonstrating, within the framework of a film story, the typical characteristics of the immense danger for the daily order and the ways of effectively fighting them. I found the prototype in the person of the Düsseldorf serial murder and I also saw how here the side effects exactly repeated themselves, i.e. how they took on a typical form. I have distilled all typical events from the plethora of materials and combined them with the help of my wife into a self-contained film story. The film M should be a document and an extract of facts and in that way an authentic representation of a mass murder complex.
Made two years before Hitler came to power, this brilliant
psychological thriller is a vivid portrait of the rapidly disintegrating
British Film Institute Film Classics Volume 1, edited by Rob White and Edward Buscombe, 2003
In M, Lang alludes to scenes well known from war films. The raid on the basement bar, a hangout for criminals, is staged and shot like a military operation. From extreme high angle, the camera observes columns of uniformed and armed police advancing in locked step, reminiscent of infantry marching in formation. Later, one of the gangsters surveys the scene from the same angle through binoculars, as if reconnoitering the enemy’s position.
The war was still a
living memory in 1931. Lang singles out
Emil Dustermann from the long line of nameless beggars as the embodiment of the
classical veteran. His wooden leg signifies
that he was one of the millions of soldiers who returned from the front as
invalids. Limbs were often blown off as
grenades and shells exploded, or amputated because of a lack of surgical
facilities in front hospitals. These
cripples who dotted the streets of
Berlin in the 20’s and 30’s was filled with poverty-stricken beggars and panhandlers on the streets, comprising the underground network, as the years following World War I in Germany were, according to Lang, a period “of the deepest despair, hysteria, cynicism, (and) unbridled vice.” Chaotic elements eroded public order, so that by 1930 Nazi paramilitary groups murdered, bombed, and sabotaged the nation while the existing governmental bureaucracy sat back in helpless ineptitude. Lang’s film aptly reflects the horrors of the times, a carefully constructed cloistered madness, purposefully expressed in the formal beauty of the director’s shadowy expressionism, not only a link between silent and sound, but also German Expressionism and Film Noir, exploring the growing chaos through an effective blending of expressionist and realist styles, where M’s central character Hans Beckert embodies the struggle between a weakening moral order and an increase in malevolent forces, personally besieged by uncontrollable homicidal passions. The film opens with the blending of a gruesome nursery rhyme about a real-life serial killer in Germany with the activities of a child’s mother who prepares an afternoon meal for a daughter she presumes will be arriving soon, but the camera moves back and forth between the mother and her daughter Elsie Beckmann, the only child to walk home from school unaccompanied by an adult, bouncing her ball on the street, where a policeman unsuspectingly helps her across the street directly into the hands of the killer, initially seen only as a shadow whose lingering presence hovers ironically over a reward poster for the killer’s capture, asking “Who is the murderer?” The shadowy figure buys her a balloon while humming a distinctive melody. But as her mother futilely cries out her name, images of that bouncing ball can be seen coming to a rest in an unnamed field, with the balloon getting tangled in the telephone wires, making Elsie Beckmann the most recent victim. The newspaper reports announce another murder, leaving a city restless and uneasy, where citizens in a panic are shown accusing one another in a lynch mob hysteria, ready to incriminate just about anyone. The police are led by Inspector Karl Lohmann, Otto Wernicke, who would play the same role in Lang’s next film, THE TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE (1933), Lang’s last film before leaving his wife behind in Germany and fleeing for Paris, eventually emigrating into the United States.
While the police work round the clock, they have no significant
Abandoning the search for his next victim, Beckert becomes
frightened when he’s boxed into a corner, shown from a vantage point high above
the street, but escapes into an office building just as the employees are
streaming out the doors at closing time.
Guarding the exits, the beggars contact Schränker, informing him the killer has been trapped inside a large
building that has been locked down for the night. Schränker
leads an all-night search of the building, subduing a couple of watchmen and
searching every possible hiding place, creating an intensive level of suspense
as Beckert, who has been locked into a darkened storage room, attempts to claw
his way out. When his incessant tapping
can be heard from the outside, Beckert is quickly captured and taken away just
before the morning workers begin to arrive.
One of them was left behind, however, and is interrogated by the police,
suggesting he may have inadvertently gotten himself involved in a homicide,
which has more serious consequences, eventually tipping off the police to their
plans. But the scene of the film is the
trial sequence, where Beckert is hauled in front of a jury of his peers, namely
other killers and thieves that make up the underground criminal element of
Lang’s work was
marked by a deep streak of fatalism and paranoia, making his reputation with
quasi-mythical films about master criminals and spies, featuring Rudolf
Klein-Rogge in DR MABUSE: THE GAMBLER
(1922) and SPIES (1928), men who manipulate appearances and conspire to take
over the city, and even the world. In M,
Lang shows us gangs of real criminals and a killer who is himself a victim,
dominated by his own tyrannical urges.
In his final speech before the legions of crooks who have captured him,
Lorre agonizingly evokes the forces that stalk him, that compel him to kill,
just as he disrupts and terrifies the city as a whole. This is a film about the horror within. To show how people’s lives are dominated by
powers outside their control, Lang repeatedly emphasizes scenes of off-screen
action that mysteriously define what we see in each frame. All of Lorre’s violence is committed out of
sight, where he himself only slowly comes into view as the film
progresses. Much of his character
anticipates the evil that he intends to carry out, but it’s defined by
providing evidence of what he’s already done.
In one of the more remarkable images, he is identified at his trial
before a house of convicts by a blind beggar who recognizes his whistling, who
reaches in and grasps his shoulder from outside the frame. When the criminals close in on him, we see
him scurrying through the streets like a rat in a maze, and when he takes
refuge in a warehouse, he becomes lost in the shadows until they methodically
root him out. The entrapped killer
becomes another victim, as he has been all along, pursued from within and
without. The Mörder Unter Uns (Murderer Among Us), Lang’s original title,
is also the murderer inside us, the force of the irrational, the instinctive,
the obsessional, over which we have little influence. Combining abnormal psychology with a police
procedural drama, where Freud is combined with a crime documentary, Lang
exposes, in the last turbulent years of the
The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity, by Tom Gunning (528 pages), and M, by Anton Kaes (87 pages), book review by Dana Polan, May 12, 2001 (pdf format)
For quite some time, Lang was not thought of as a director of modernity but as a modernist director. That is, his films were studied not as material investigations of a historical world (the world of contemporaneity), instead, attention was directed to the films' supposed investigation of deep metaphysical themes -- most of all, the existential inescapability of destiny and fate. One of the central gambits of both Gunning and Kaes is to refuse such modernist metaphysical thematics. Kaes, for instance, virtually gives no mention of the theme of destiny and when he does explicitly mention the topic (on the very last page of analysis of M), he does so to rewrite existential themes in concrete historical fashion:
This visual reference [in a final tableau of the film] to fate and destiny dramatises a larger tension at work in the film, a tension between the forces of modernity with their emphasis on time, discipline, organisation, seriality, law and order, and those recalcitrant counterforces -- trauma, passion, illness, loss and, finally, death --that defy reason and resist integration.
Indeed, what is best
about Kaes's volume is his reconstruction of the social, political, cultural
As a typical example of Kaes's historical contextual reading, take his discussion of M as dramatisation of a disciplinary culture:
The film's obsession
with surveillance also addresses the deep-seated fear of an expanding urban
population. The ease with which Beckert was able to hide . . . must have scared
the contemporary audience.
Kim Newman from 1001 MOVIES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE:
In the early 1930’s, MGM’s production genius Irving Thallberg assembled all his writers and directors for a screening of Fritz Lang’s thriller M, then criticized them en masse for not making films as innovative, exciting, profound, and commercial as this. Of course, Thallberg admitted, if anyone had pitched the studio a story about a serial killer of children who is ultimately a tragic victim and accuses all strata of society of a corruption deeper than his psychosis, they would have been kicked off the lot immediately.
In the powerful finale, Becker is put on trial by the underworld and pleads his case on the surprisingly moving grounds that his accusers have only chosen to commit crimes whereas he is compelled to commit them. Though the film establishes Inspector Karl “Fatty” Lohmann (Otto Wernicke)—who would return to take on Lang’s eponymous archfiend (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933)—and black-gloved criminal kingpin Schranker (Gustaf Gründgens) as traditional cop-and-crook antagonists, Lorre’s desperate, clear-eyed, animal-like impulse murderer is the final voice of M, forcing his persecutors (and us) to look into ourselves for the seeds of psychosis that equals his own. Creatively emphasizing the technological developments in film sound, Lang has the killer heard before he is seen (allegedly, the director dubbed Lorre’s whistling) and identified by a blind witness.
Losey's remake of Lang's most famous film was inevitably subjected to invidious comparisons when it was first released. The main problem, as Losey admitted ('I couldn't believe myself in the idea of the whole underworld ganging up against the killer') is the weak ending. Where Lang achieved a double knockout with Lorre's great speech in which he turns the accusation against his accusers - effecting a complete turnabout in sympathies, not just because we understand that he is helpless to combat his sickness, but because he has turned into a victim of persecution - Losey manages only a sucker punch because the setting is no longer Nazi Germany. This said, the first half of the film is excellent, with the Los Angeles locations wonderfully used as a strange and terrifying concrete jungle, and a remarkable performance from David Wayne that bears comparison with Lorre.
M to Magnificent Obsession Pauline Kael
Fritz Lang's first sound film has visual excitement, pace, brilliance of surface, and feeling for detail. Above all, it has, caught in a manhunt, a small, fat man, sweating in his uncomfortable clothes-the sexual psychopath who murders little girls-interpreted by Peter Lorre with a spark of genius. It is Lorre's triumph that he makes us understand the terrified, suffering human being who murders. The film is based on the case of the Düsseldorf murderer: the police, in trying to track him down, disturbed the normal criminal activities of the city, and the underworld organized to find him, so that crime could go on as usual. Lang turns the movie into a melodramatic thriller by centering on this ironic chase-actually, on the two converging chases of the police and the underworld. The structure is so mechanical it's almost pulpy, and the film reaches for other easy effects-it's similar to THE THREEPENNY OPERA in its satirical use of beggars and criminals. But there's nothing facile about Lorre: trapped by the underworld, he screams, "I can't help myself!" Our identification with him as a psychopath is so complete it's hard to believe that while appearing before Fritz Lang's cameras in the daytime, he was, at night, acting as a comedian in a farce. With Gustaf Gründgens and Otto Wernicke; cinematography by Fritz Arno Wagner; script by Thea von Harbou and others. (The tune Lorre whistles is the theme from Grieg's Peer Gynt.) In German.
Seventy years on, Lang’s legendary thriller deserves its classic status – as does the performance by Peter Lorre as the psychopathic murderer around whom the story takes shape. But Lorre occupies much less screen time than you’d expect – even more surprising is the amount of humour in what should be very downbeat material. This is, after all, both the specific, straight-from-the-headlines story of the hunt for a child-killer (Fritz Haarman’s real-life exploits also inspired Ulli Lommel’s Fassbinderish In A Year With 13 Moons ) and also more wide-ranging parable illustrating the fearful atmosphere which allowed the Nazis to seize power.
The Hitler figure is Schranker (Otto Wernicke), ranting leader of the criminal fraternity, never seen without his Gestapo-style leather trenchcoat. Alongside his calculating brutality, Lorre’s unnamed killer becomes an almost sympathetic figure, especially in the remarkable, climactic kangaroo-court sequence in which the killer, captive before a vast underworld ‘jury,’ desperately pleads for his life. This isn’t a restrained performance by any means, but it’s certainly effective – and the scene is all the more powerful for the occasionally plodding nature of what’s gone before.
Knowing the strength of his finale, Lang takes his time in the early stretches – we hardly see Lorre at all, instead switching (sometimes mid-sentence) between the police and the criminal fraternity as they plot the culprit’s capture. The crooks are outraged because Lorre’s antics mean an increase in police presence and activity: “A non-member is ruining our businesses!” they moan. After a lively, documentary-style opening that sets the scene (“8 victims, 4 million inhabitants, 1,500 leads…”) the pace slows as the simultaneous manhunts swing into action. You could drive a bus between some of the ponderous pauses as the cops and criminals debate their respective strategies, often in some of the smokiest smoke-filled rooms ever committed to celluloid. It doesn’t help that, in many surviving prints, the subtitles are often patchy and, occasionally, illegibly white-on-white.
But if the dialogue drags, Lang’s technical ingenuity is enough to keep us absorbed – he’ll train his camera on an empty area, which suddenly fills with a teeming throng of people, as in one startling shot of a vacant staircase that’s rapidly overrun with policemen. M repeatedly alternates between nervy silence and hysterical tumult, dramatising one of the key aspects of the encroaching totalitarian atmosphere: crowds and their power. There’s a remarkable special effect early on involving a map, and an even more jaw-dropping one-take tracking shot through a crowded bar that would be impressive today, never mind in 1930.
Westminster Wisdom Gracchi
M is often viewed rightly as the masterpiece of German cinema and
was one of the greatest films made by its great director, Fritz Lang- an
overtly antinazi film it
reflects upon themes of guilt and individual responsibility and this blog will
no doubt turn to it again- like a great book, a great film can be reviewed as
many times as one likes and still produce new insights.
M is a uniquely fruitful film though for the political enquirer because it doesn't have a conventional story- there is progress but the viewer makes few friends watching the film and many acquaintances. Characters flit across the screen to give us the impression of the terrorised city. More important than their character is their reaction to a specific situation and the combinations of attitudes makes the situation in which we are interested. Unlike most films therefore, M is truly about a community of people not inidividuals. Individuals are shown only as their actions impact upon the community.
The recent exercise in making a blog out of people's experiences of 17th October will fail as an exercise precisely because it doesn't recognise the entities out of which politics and history are fashioned. Like M, the politician and historian- and by extension the ordinary person, only recognises the individual as they intrude into the world that they perceive. Politics in some way becomes a metaphor for life- into a moment of fame the individual comes and then dodges out again- coming out of and going back into the dark just as the characters in M emerge from the shadows and then vanish back into them.
This lends the film a terrifying intensity- like politics itself the mob whirls upon the stage as if from nowhere- terrifying and scattering individuals before it. The civilised town turns hysterical thanks to the murders of little girls and innocent citizens are arrested on the streets by citizen militias for nothing more than their presence at the wrong time and wrong place. The nightmare of liberals reflected in works as various as this film and Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (see the murder of the poet Cinna Act 3 Scene 1) is realised in the dark. Literature here merely imitates life- remember the News of the World British campaign against paedophiles which ended in attacks on a man with a particular kind of neck brace and a paediotrician.Peter Lorre in his great final speech speaks of shadows following him through the streets of Berlin- these are both the shadows of his conscience, of his victims but also the shadows of the mob which emerges at the end to confront him but earlier has confronted the innocent as well.
The greatness of M therefore lies in the lack of more than one great character and in the terrors of the crowd- it lies in the ways that as the law fails to find a responsible party, the population is unleashed and a righteous crowd gathers to enact justice. M is a nightmare- in which every individual ceases focusing on himself and focuses his moral judgement on the wrongs of others, where the mob replaces the state as the organ of judgement and where a court of criminals passes a sentence of execution.
1. The tune that Peter Lorre’s character whistles is “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from the “Peer Gynt”
2. Peter Lorre was Jewish and fled Germany in fear of Nazi persecution shortly after the movie’s release.Fritz Lang, who was half Jewish, fled two years later.
3. Contrary to popular belief, Fritz Lang did not change the title from “The Murderers are Among Us” to “M” due to fear of persecution by the Nazis. He changed the title during filming, influenced by the scene where one of the criminals writes the letter on his hand. Lang thought “M” was a more interesting title.
4. Fritz Lang asserts that he cast real criminals for the court scene in the end. According to biographer Paul Jensen, twenty-four cast members were arrested during filming.
5. Fritz Lang’s cruelty to his actors was legendary here. Peter Lorre was thrown down the stairs into the cellar over a dozen times.When Lang wanted to hire Lorre for “Human Desire” over two decades later, the actor refused.
6. Based on an article Fritz Lang read about the serial killer Peter Kuerten from Duesseldorf. Details have been changed but some things resemble reality.
7. In Germany, the Nazis banned the movie in July 1934.
Premiere voted this movie as one of “The 25 Most Dangerous Movies”.
Chosen by the Association of German Cinémathèques as the most important German film of all time.
8. The use of voiceover narration was a groundbreaking new technique at the time.
The title “M” is short for Mörder, the German word meaning Murderer.
9. MGM studio head Irving Thalberg assembled his writers and directors for a private screening of this film, telling them that they needed to be making films of this power and caliber. He also admitted that if anyone had brought a story of a child killer to him, he would have rejected it.
10. Director Fritz Lang made this film in an effort to claw back his artistic standing after the double failure of his two previous films, Metropolis and Frau Im Mond.
11. Peter Lorre’s whistling was dubbed by director Fritz Lang, as Lorre was unable to whistle.
12. Two German serial killers are mentioned in the film – Georg Karl Großman (believed to have killed up to 50 young women) and Fritz Haarmann (known as the Butcher of Hannover; killed at least 24 young men in Hannover).
13. The Tegel Penitentiary in Berlin is Germany’s largest prison with about 1,700 inmates (as of 2007).
14. Alexanderplatz (the Alex) was the site of Berlin Police Headquarters.
15. Fritz Lang’s first sound film. Before making this, Peter Lorre had mainly been a comedic actor.
16. Peter Lorre’s character is introduced by the musical cue ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite No. 1. This was one of the very first times that a musical theme was used to signify a character – a technique borrowed from the world of opera which is now a staple of film-making.
17. The film has a very sour vision of contemporary life in Germany. This is probably due to the fact that Fritz Lang – a Jew – was alarmed at the rapid rise of Nazism and that even his wife Thea von Harbou had become a party member.
18. Fritz Lang was convinced to make the film after reading the last scene in the script, when a mother ominously warns “You have to watch your children”.
19. Filmed in only six weeks.
20. The film was independently backed by an admirer of Fritz Lang who persuaded him to make another film when the director was thinking of giving it all up. Lang eventually agreed to make the film provided that he had no interference and had final cut.
21. It was common practice at the time for foreign language films to be concurrently shot in English too. Fritz Lang had nothing to do with the English language version of his film.
22. Josef Goebbels was said to have described the film as “fantastic, free of phony humanitarian sentiments”.
23. The film premiered in 1931 and was then banned in 1934. It was then stuck in a vault for many years. Audiences didn’t get the chance to see the film again until 1966. For its video release 30 years later, it underwent a restoration which included the addition of music and sound effects that wouldn’t have been authorized by Fritz Lang (he deliberately kept certain passages quiet) and the cutting of certain scenes. The image had also been altered to fit the 4:3 screen size. These injustices were amended in 2009 for the film’s Blu-ray release.
24. According to Lang’s biographer Paul Jensen, the director spent eight days doing field research in a mental institution.
25. Two thirds of the film was shot with sound, the remaining third was shot silent. At the time the license fees for sound equipment were quite prohibitive so this was a move to try to keep costs down. However, Fritz Lang quite liked the eerie, unnerving quality that arose from going from a sound world to one where there is no noise at all.
26. Although he was thrilled to play such a major part, Peter Lorre came to hate it later as people tended to associate him with being a child murderer in real life.
A Hitler doesn’t just spring up overnight, and M reveals
in a frighteningly visceral way just how prepared the ground was in 1930s
In smoke-filled rooms the various levels are skillfully intercut – the executive level of cops, crime boss racketeers and big business all become indistinguishable as do the riff-raff and their street-level customers for bootleg love and hooch in the subterranean economy.
This is beautifully poignant filmmaking. M ’s symbolism as much as its absences speak volumes, especially of an alienated (stark geometric staircases shot from above) and de-personalised (empty spaces as the first child abduction is seen) world. It’s well understood now that its sound design basically writes the book on what’s possible in this art. Music is not just the hook for the plot twist but often used dramatically as mise-en-scene.
Less remarked upon is how far ahead it was in police procedural terms. Its documentary-style representations of the emerging science of fingerprinting predate by twenty years Hollywood’s by-the-numbers discovery of forensic science in postwar thrillers like the identikit portraits in 1949’s He Walked By Night and forensic profiling in Mystery Street (1950).
Viewed strictly as a thriller, a plot weakness is that there’s no false leads in its investigation phase, M being more concerned with the techniques of detection as it hones in on its suspect. But in its obsessive focus on the pursuit of ‘one’, rather than his winnowing out from the public, M denies us the vicarious relief of seeing the blameless exonerated. No one is innocent. The film’s original title, The Murderer Among Us, in the fervid environment of the time, earned Lang death threats and bans on its production from Nazi party members in the film industry.
It’s downright spooky to see motifs of Nazism deployed years before Hitler’s election as Chancellor in 1933: the rounding up of beggars, the geometric sign ‘M’ (the murderer/der mörder) chalked on the back of Lorre’s coat as the Star of David soon would be on others.
But these pale before the haunting images of the subterranean trial by the criminal element (interestingly reminiscent of the IRA court in John Ford’s 1935 The Informer), massed silently and brooding in tiered blocks of implacable institutional ‘authority’. That the State is functioning as a criminal entity has never been better portrayed.
And even though the crims do capture the child-murderer, Lang makes it plain that we are not to sympathize with these hoods, when he holds the camera reproachfully on shots of the legit security officers bound and beaten on the way to the child-killer’s capture.
Might is right, but the trial setpiece centers on debate over their right to hold him. "We are all law experts here – from six weeks in Tegal to 15 years in Brandenburg", scoffs the head crim and tribunal ‘President’, played by Gustaf Gründgens ("Our honorable President, who is wanted for three murders"), whose shaven skull and brutal demeanour make him a great ersatz Nazi, as he rebuts the defendant’s demand for a fair trail.
This President’s summing up, after Lorre’s testimony that he blacks out and does not consciously commit acts of evil (which the President twists to an ‘admission’), makes plain there is no rule of law here and this inquisition is a throwback to the dark ages. The court’s stated goal "to render you harmless, to make you disappear" is a chilling portent of The Final Solution. When the crowd chants ‘kill the beast, kill the beast’, Lang pans across closeups of their individual faces, underlining the fact that fascism is a mass movement, reliant on complicity.
In this climactic section Lang allocates not one but two strands of dialogue to highlight the conflict between free will and passive evil, comparing the killer’s inability to stop killing with both the court’s cold-blooded pronouncement of his murder and the crims choosing their life of crime. "This evil thing inside me", Lorre calls his uncontrollable driving force, prefiguring much of the postwar pulp fiction of Jim Thompson et al.
The criminals’ response to this admission echoes both the lone justice of frontier mythology and the talkback radio demagoguery of today in its desire for swift (and permanent) retribution and a wish to overlook any mitigating circumstances which might oblige mercy.
With Hitler’s ‘election’ just around the corner, the ‘volk’ would soon get their wish.
ASNE - ‘M': Fritz Lang's Dark Masterpiece, Still Shocking After ... One of five winning entries by Stephen Hunter of The Washington Post that won the criticism writing category of the 1998 ASNE Distinguished Writing Awards (American Society of Newspaper Editors)
"M" is for the many nightmares it gave to me. That is, "M," Fritz Lang's 1931 dark masterpiece, out of which sprang so much of the century's bleaker popular art and some of the earliest images of the haunting chaos that dogs us to this day.
Alas, this "restored" version may represent a heroic seven-year effort on the part of the Munich Film Archive and it may well be the best possible cut of the 66-year-old film available in years, but it still seems to be in far from pristine condition. And too many times the white subtitles are projected against a white background, their information completely lost.
So you can't see parts of it and you can't read other parts of it. My advice: Deal with it like a grown-up. The movie is somehow still necessary, and its power to disturb remains profound. On top of that, Peter Lorre's sweaty, puffy, froggy-eyed portrayal of a child murderer remains one of the most frightening images in screen history. All moist flesh and grubby, fat little fingers, infantile and pathetic yet truly monstrous at once, Lorre's character is one of the great monuments to the true squalor of evil. He is not banal in the least, but neither is he dramatic: He's a little worm with an unspeakable obsession, insane and yet a horrible reflection of the society that created him.
The film is constructed as a double manhunt. In an unnamed city (the story was based on a case in Duesseldorf, but many critics place the setting in Berlin, where "M" was filmed), a child murderer is stalking the streets. In a brilliant early montage Lang shows us the young Elsie being suavely picked up by her shadowy killer, led along streets and into the woods. There's no on-screen violence, of course, but the sense of menace is unbearably intense, particularly as Lang signifies the murderer's dementia in musical terms, having him whistle a selection from "Peer Gynt" as the demon's grip on his soul grows more fierce. Lang polishes off the sequence with two horrifying images: Elsie's ball bouncing across the grass, losing energy, and reaching stasis; and Elsie's balloon caught (as if in torment) in the suspended telephone wires.
The cops, under great pressure, mount a massive manhunt; they attack the only target they have, which is the underworld. This completely upsets the orderly nature of crime -- these guys are so well organized, they even have a stolen-sandwich ring! -- and so the crooks respond by attempting on their own to find the killer.
In allegorical terms, Lang seemed to be getting at the escalating conflict between the increasingly inept Weimar Republic and the increasingly efficient underground Nazi Party, and the underworld, being more merciless and better organized, is able to uncover the villain before police.
It goes further. The original name of the film was "The Murderers Among Us," which had resonance that annoyed those thick-necked creeps in the brown shirts. It was for that reason that Lang changed the title to "M," for murderer and for the mark of Cain that a beggar chalks on Lorre's back so that he may be identified and tracked by the beggars who are the reconnaissance unit of organized criminal interests.
And, as a narrative, the film still works brilliantly. It broke the mold before there was a mold to be broken. Lang begins by completely dispensing with the mystery elements; he reveals Lorre at about the one-third mark, so there's no whodunit. There's not even really a whydunit. Instead, it's a who's-gonna-catch-him as the two sides work frantically against each other. But even when Lang documents the final apprehension (in a brilliantly edited and timed sequence where the cops are racing to a building that the gangsters have all but commandeered as they search it), he has a surprise. That is the ironic trial of which the clammy little human mushroom, where at last he speaks for himself, declares his own insanity and the pain it's caused him and asks them who they are to judge -- interesting questions to be asked in the Germany of 1931.
But the movie is, perhaps, just as interesting as a piece of film design as it is as a piece of narrative. It was the domestic high-water mark of German expressionist filmmakers, who were about to be dispersed around the world by the rise of those same Nazis, who would gain power in 1933.
German expressionism, which may have gotten to its strangest moment in 1919's "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," was essentially a visual version of a treacherous universe. It was spread by this diaspora of fleeing German genius (including Lang, who went on to have a distinguished American career) and came to light in the works of Hitchcock and Welles but perhaps most notably in that movie genre known as film noir, which dominated the American screen in the late '40s.
To look at "M" is to be in the heart of the noir universe, a shadowy zone of wet streets, dark alleyways, secret places and impenetrable mysteries. It's astonishing how modern this six-decade-old piece seems, especially if one focuses on the compositions and their meanings and can see past the Victorian wardrobes worn by the citizens of a German city in 1931.
"M," after all these years, is still a fabulous movie.
M is unrated and while it contains no gore, it does have scenes of extreme emotional intensity suggesting violence to children.
Criterion Collection FIlm Essay [Stanley Kauffmann] December 6. 2004
Fascinating Rhythms - Chicago Reader Jonathan Rosenbaum from the Reader, August 7, 1997
M - Film Reference Catherine Henry
Film 365 (The Masters of Cinema Series Blu-ray) David Beckett
MoC - FRITZ LANG'S M - The Definitive Restoration? Nick Wrigley from Masters of Cinema
Fritz Lang's M: the blueprint for the serial killer movie | BFI Geoff Andrew from BFI Screen Online, December 5, 2016
Kammerspielfilm, Part 1: M by Fritz Lang Gautam Valluri from Broken Projector, July 26, 2007
Fritz Lang's M on DVD - Bright Lights Film Journal Gary Morris, July 1, 2000, also seen here: Fritz Lang's M - Images: A Journal of Film and Popular Culture
Power and Presence in Fritz Lang's M (1931) - Student Pulse Zachary B Munrow, 2013
M Richard Armstrong from Flickhead
Nitrate Online Eddie Cockrell
M - Modernism Lab Essays Hayley Mohr