M

M

Director: Fritz Lang

Released: 1931

Writers: Thea von Harbou, Fritz Lang

Featured Actors: Peter Lorre, Ellen Widmann, Inge Landgut

 

 

 

The Film

  • M turns like a hinge, between Lang’s silent cinema and sound cinema,
    • Also, between his German & American career
  • M ties up themes from the first part of Lang’s career
    • Also an homage to the Expressionist tradition
    • A farewell Germany & Silent cinema
  • Most importantly, announces new themes and pre-occupations

Structure

  • The highpoint of Harbou’s work as a scriptwriter
  • Rather than being built around a central conflict between individuated characters and/or heterosexual romance (the classical pattern of narrative cinema)
  • M’s form is from both process and setting, interaction expressed in one of the secondary titles – “A City Searches for a Murderer”
    • The systematic and rational goal oriented process, interacts with the gridded space of the modern city
    • It’s networks of communication and intersections provides the means of ‘meeting’ and ‘interacting’
  • The city seems to possess a will of its own
    • The film lacks an identifiable protagonist who organizes the point of view
    • Perhaps, the city is the protagonist

Characters/Structure

  • Lohmann’s doppelganger in the underworld is Schranker
    • Note the late entrance by both characters
    • Both organize the action of the film
  • The capture of Beckert is dependent on their actions, neither dominate the film or its point of view
    • The film, instead, coordinates several points of view
  • There are numerous semi-autonomous episodes that all center around the search for the murderer
  • The film pivots around Beckert – rather around his absence than his presence
    • Essentially around the search for him, not his character or point of view

Sound

  • Key to the analysis of M’s sound design is the way a sound can open up an off screen space
    • Sound imprints a space we see on screen with the voice or sound coming from unseen space
  • The sound track transforms the frame
    • Outside the frame, sounds occur
    • Both concealing and revealing spaces
    • drawing attention to what lies off-screen through shadows and off-screen looks / sounds
  • M explores its spatial dimension, opening scene space into a constant interchange with unseen space
    • The film divides our visual and aural orientation
  • The first shot not only sets the play between on-screen and off-screen sound, it also establishes the roving and the exterior point of view for the film
    • The camera does not align itself with any character
    • The camera has a will of its own directing us away from the action
    • Making us imagine events off-screen through sound cues

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