Monthly Archives: September 2014

  • M Fritz Lang (Ger 1931 script Thea von Harbou)

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    M Fritz Lang (Ger
    1931 script Thea von Harbou) Peter
    Lorre; Otto Wernicke

    Viewed Tyneside Cinema 25 Sept 2014; matinee screening
    ticket: £5.50

    Retrocrit: Sound of silence

    Although M is described as a film about the serial killer of little girls, Lang’s movie comes across as something more than this. German playwrights Brecht and Wedekind had already established murder as a type of idea, murder as a relevant theme for probing the underbelly of society’s moral structure. The abandoned the mutant the criminals and the insane, collectively could be seen as a distorted mirror through which the distorted social and moral values of industrial capitalism could the better be discerned.

    Outcastes were a parody of the institutions that feared and despised them, and from which they were banned. The slaughter of the innocent little girls is never represented as anything other than horrific but is never exploited for melodramic charge. Lang’s bold stripped filmic statements need no emotional intensifiers. Lang creates the images: the shadows and shadow play, the child’s balloon caught in telephone wires; Hans walking calmly by with his little victim Elsie. Shots that cut to the quick of murders that are never seen and which it is not necessary to see because Lang and von Harbou have woven the horror on the ordinary loom of life: the everyday.

    M’s scenario is highly contextualised. Just as the English crime thriller often had a generic upper class setting, Lang’s movie is set within the world of the little people: working class. The long panning opening shot of the tenement courtyard with children playing a song game whose words call up the child murderer, introduces a place where children occupy a different world from adults, unchaperoned and vulnerable. It’s a culture of hard work where children are left to fend for themselves – a recognisable feature of all European countries at this time. The victims are working class, as is Hans who preys on them. Hans understands the weaknesses to which they are exposed and how easily they are lured, The formal juxtaposed linkages between the shots that express class experience and the actions of the murderer suggest a Brechtian ethos working and guiding M which shapes and carries it foreword to its next stage of development.

    The usurpation of power by the underworld. The victory of the gangsters.

    As the police investigation stalls and their activity interferes with criminal enterprise, the gangsters take on the task of tracking down M. When M was being made in 1930 Germany experienced the huge surge in Nazi popularity culminating in their triumph in the 1930 elections. The characteristic features of their irresistible rise were violence anti Semitism and pack organisation. They understood the fears of the little people. And as a parallel psychic track, M can be read as Lang and von Harbou’s scripted analogy of the rise of Hitler. The gangsters and crooks take over. Riding on the back of the innocence and fear of the working class, the little people, they organise and justify taking power and justice into their own hands.

    The key moment in this analogous parallelism is the chalk branding of Hans with the M sign on the back of his coat, so that he will be recognised as the Murderer. The crude M eerily pre-empts the Star of David and Juden badge that a few years later the Nazi’s obliged all Jews to wear. So that they would bare witness on their bodies the sign of their stigma. This moment of the marking of M is a stunning coup de film that precisely points to the dialectic that works through the film. From this moment the film’s logic is turned upside down and it is this ant-thetical logic which drives the final sections of the scenario.

    In the first section of the film, Hans is perpetrator and hunter. From the moment of his branding, everything changes, he becomes victim and hunted. It is a measure of Lang’s insight as a director that he understood so clearly how to use the resources of film to create a pivotal moment from which we start to see everything differently, to invoke a different order of understanding. Lang and von Harbou have already shown how society has begun break down paniced by the hunt for the child sex killer, who could be anybody. But it is in the mock court scene where Hans is tried by the gangsters that the reality of mob rule is played out.

    Legal institutions have developed over centuries to protect everyone and to ensure that all are treated equally. The accused have to be tried by a process which evaluates their fitness to plead. The mob sweeps this all away. Whatever you are Jew or Child Killer you have only the right to be sentenced to death for what you are. There is a moment of pure Brechtian theatre as Lang’s camera pans from the serried rows of gangsters baying for Hans blood to Hans himself, alone cowered against a wooden partition. But who will speak for me, Hans asks? The camera pans upwards now and reveals behind him, on a raised level, one of the gangsters . He leans towards Hans and says: that’s my job. In this shot immediate physical threat is resolved with high farce, violence with absurdist philosophical detachment. Extraordinary! Pure Brecht.

    The criminal attorney conducts himself with composure and makes an eloquent defence of Hans. He shows the mob that terrible though Hans may be, the man is simply not responsible for his actions. Hans cannot be guilty of murder. Of course this plea will not make the slightest difference to the rabble who want blood. The interaction, the intercutting between the calm figure for the defence and the ferocity of the mob, heightens the viewers understanding of the issues in play; we understand at last that Hans is not guilty. However much his acts have disturbed and horrified us, we cannot condemn him of murder. And surely the screams by mobs of Nazis and proto Nazis calling for the death of Jews a few years later will have stuck in the mind of some who saw M in 1931. And more than ever now we need to remember this scene from a 1931 movie as we witness anger overwhelming judgement.

    In this Brechtian parable we see the dialectic forces at work shaping the film and informing our understanding of what is happening. We are lead first to be overwhelmed by antagonism and fear of Hans; but these feelings are overturned by the revealed perspective that Hans is himself a victim and needs protection from the judgement of the mob, the vectors of hate and revenge, who exploit him for their own purposes.

    Lang also sets a filmic dialectic to work in M. The interplayed tension between image and sound is a characteristic of M as film experience, But for a number of sequences Lang uses no sound, or at least only the most sparing of sound effects. Most of the film is played out with sound where the fury of dialogue works to lead and define the images. But a number of sequences Lang plays MOS, mit aus sound: mute. It is the most astonishing feature of the movie.

    When Lang like some nineteenth century magician removes the sound (like the rabbit disappeared from the hat you wonder where it has gone) it is as if a hole has opened up in reality. The viewer is caste down into this hole as if experiencing a dream. As if Lang is saying at one level, all this life is a dream….but dream as it may be, we can still make sense of it. Lang sets us adrift in an underworld where film and dream coalesce and into these silent images we pour ourselves. I am reminded of the mute newsreels we shall see of the second world war. So in silence we watch: the panic of the crowd, the anger of the gangsters, the animal fear of Hans, the police hunt, the silence as Elsie walks away with Hans. Silence frames these sequences. Silence frames us as we without voice cannot speak, silence frames life and our powerlessness to act to save what needs to be saved. Many things we watch in and with silence, especialy evil.

    With his use of the silent moments Lang confirms his status not just as both a evoker of dreams but also as filmmaker who is a moralist. Adrin Nepatrour

  • Gone Girl David Fincher (USA 2014)

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    Gone Girl David Fincher (USA 2014); screenplay by Gilllian Flynn from her own novel Rosamund Pike; Ben Affleck Viewed: Empire Cinema 14 Oct 2014; ticket £3.50

    From princess to psychopath – a contemporary fable

    These Hollywood ‘relationship’ flicks always try to promote themselves as offering a new lamps for old deal on the nature of relations. But the movie’s claim on our attention though strong on lofty purpose: “Gone girl unearths the secrets at the heart of a modern marriage” is, as is generally the case, no more than a modesty patch covering up the frenzied murderous Valkyrie-esque ride of the script, which celebrates modern psychopathic woman as: the winner. Welcome to the new domestic CEO.

    As do all the American suburban dwellings in Hollywood movies, the Dunns’ abode looks like a Doll’s House. (it’s interesting that the script incorporates the characteristic feature of a stage set, its insubstantial wobbly quality, to ‘prove’ the nature of the supposed assault on Amy) The Dunn’s place doesn’t looked lived in which is of course how its meant to look, a sort of idealised setting for action. But the Doll’s House look reminded me of Ibsen’s play, A Dolls House which also explored marriage as a mutual fantasy of misunderstanding. So no change here: from 19th to 21st century marriage has always had the potential of being a Gorgon’s head of bad sex murderous intention and oppression. It’s just today the gender and role mix is stitched up differently.

    Ibsen’s marital drama was naturalistic in form, Fincher/ Flynn’s movie ( I haven’t read the book) is of course fantastical. I wondered if it is actually about marriage? Perhaps it’s real focus is some place else but it uses the marriage mode of relationship as an expressive template that disguises another realm of concern. The Nick role, male protagonist is drawn out as regular. Not too smart, easily deluded and, unable to communicate with Amy, his sex life with her is on a par ‘with masturbation’. So he finds himself some new pussy.

    Amy role is that of the wife. But she is imagined by the script as a magical realist invention. She’s a mythical sorceress, an over the top mad Hollywood blend of Circe Medusa Nemesis whose powers are unleashed against eternal perfidy of the male, in the form of her husband. But is Nick’s perfidy the actual force that drives Amy to unleash, in parodied form her revenge upon his unsuspecting person? (Like many Hollywood movies what makes the rather overlong film watchable is its referencing and parodying of movies of like genre)

    Sketched lightly into the open sequences of the movie, which provide some back story, (possibly more detailed in Flynn’s novel) is the idea that Amy is a modern ‘princess’. That is to say she has had the fairy tale status of ‘princess’ bestowed upon her by her family. In Amy’s case her parents exploited their vision of her ‘specialness’ by writing a series of books idealising her childhood. ‘Amy-Princess’ growing up in a charmed aura turns into ‘Amy-Psychopath’. She becomes a jealous idol that demands, that the adulation of her perfected attributes that defined her as a little girl, be extended into her adulthood

    Film and book are called: Gone Girl: not Gone Woman. And when Amy returns it is captioned as Back Girl not Back Woman. Amy as woman is girl not woman, a child tyrant who demands and does not ask.

    Nick’s infidelity triggers Amy’s latent powers. Like a child she first seeks his obliteration and destruction. But when circumstances change her magical realist CEO powers of anticipation organisation and logistics are directed at what is becomes her preferred goal: the total domination of Nick. His use as a sperm provider and ancillary consort, a necessary but controllable element in the perfect picture of coupledom. Nick exists to be a prince (frog prince?) along side his princess. Gone Girl then works as parody, turning upside down the Ibsenesque and twentieth century proposition that marriage exists for the subjection of women by men. Gillian Flynn shows that in the twenty-first century roles are reversed: marriage exists for the subjugation of men.

    In its choice of subject matter and best selling authors as oracles of the Zeitgeist, Hollywood often takes depth soundings of changes of the collective unconscious. Hence, the Zombie the Visions of Apocalypse testify to the dark subterranean angst that characterises Western society. It seems that Amy and Nick’s marriage can also be taken as a wider allegory for the balance of power between the genders. A balance of power that sees ever more women take the public space. But despite the assertions of some feminists that such a feminin take over will lead to the emergence of softer less authoritarian management, the collective psyche fears that those woman who make their way to the top, will often claw their way up. It will be women driven by demons who will succeed the men. They will be indistinguishable from the men in their cruelty and ruthlessness pursuit and grip on power. Men and women may be different in style and expression, but daddy’s princess will be as dangerous as mummy’s boy to anyone who gets in their way.

    Adrin Neatrour