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Metropolis (1927) Review


Extraordinary
Cinema history doesn't get much more relevant than the original Metropolis, Fritz Lang's masterwork, a grandiose and jaw-dropping epic that would look impressive for 2004 -- and which looks impossible for 1927, when it was originally produced. In 2026, the rich live in a majestic metropolis. The workers are sequestered underground in a sweltering pit that keeps everything humming above. From the lofty above-ground world to the nether regions goes one of the Thinkers. First he's searching for a girl (of course), but eventually he joins the workers in revolt. Classic, impressive, and an absolute you-must-watch-this-film experience for anyone who claims to be a movie buff.

Contempt Review


Excellent
Contempt (or Le Mépris, for you purists out there), directed by Jean-Luc Godard in 1963, is a superlative film about many things, including the making of a film, the break-up of a married couple, and the parallels between the contemporary New Wave world (of 1963) and the classical (Old Wave) world of Homer. The basic story, based on novel by Alberto Moravia, is this: Director Fritz Lang (playing himself) is in the process of directing a film version of Homer's Odyssey. Lang has already shot some scenes, but his boorish film producer Jeremy Prokosch (Jack Palance) is upset with the results so he has fired most of the crew and hired a playwright named Paul (Michel Piccoli) to do some rewrites. Paul arrives in Rome with his beautiful wife Camille (Brigette Bardot) and over the course of a couple of days - in which they travel to Capri - everything goes wrong for Paul, who loses Camille to Prokosch and who decides that rewriting the Odyssey is too big a task considering that his own life has taken a heartbreaking turn. Contempt, however, is not a movie about making a movie as much as it is a movie about a disintegrating relationship. The center piece scene is a 30 minute passive/aggressive marital fight between Paul and Camille that takes place in a small apartment. The scene is a very economical piece of filmmaking that unfolds in real time. On first viewing this scene can be maddening because it doesn't seem to go anywhere, and it's difficult to figure out what Camille and Paul are fighting about. Their grief seems to come from someplace else. And maybe there is a past we don't understand, but what Godard is presenting us with is a failed relationship in the modern world: One where gallantry, romanticism and, more importantly, communication have failed. On the surface the film also shows how difficult it is for an art house director to get a film made with a Hollywood film producer: especially if the film is based on such a classic as Homer's Odyssey. Jack Palance gives a very funny performance as the egomaniacal film producer who can only see profit in the venture. He also gets a few humorous lines: When Lang comments on a Greek story, Palance reaches into his coat pocket and says, "When I hear the word culture I get out my checkbook." There is an irony also to Palance's character because it was well known at the time that Godard was having trouble with the film's real producers: Carlo Ponti and Joseph Levine. They insisted that Godard include a nude scene with Bardot so he went back and shot a scene with color filters in which she talks to her husband in the nude. It's a much more intellectual scene than a sexy one and, if anything, it clearly shows that Godard won the battle on that issue. Unlike almost all of Godard's film in the 1960s, Contempt is much more heartfelt than intellectually removed or self reflexive. No doubt, some of this can be attributed to Godard's split from his then wife Anna Karina, which had to have some kind of personal affect on him. But part of the reason too is because of Georges Delerue's distinctively melancholic score, which consists of two mood-setting pieces that are shuffled and repeated seemingly at will about 20 times throughout the film. Still the film does have some self reflexive moments. In many instances Godard comments upon many things in literature from Dante to romantic poetry and films that have influenced him like Roberto Rossellini's Voyage in Italy and Howard Hawks' Hatari!,as well as nods to his own films. Best of all is the gorgeous color Francscope (similar to CinemaScope) cinematography done in anamorphic 2.35:1 aspect ratio by the legendary D.P. Raoul Cotard and the slow burning pace, which is a desirable quality missing from cinema these days. The images are so seductive, in fact, that viewers may miss some of the complexity and issues about the classical versus the modern world. The Criterion Collection DVD is exemplary in all categories. There is an informative commentary track by film scholar Robert Stam and a second disc full of all kinds of goodies. The two best are a 53-minute conversation between Godard and Lang titled The Dinosaur and the Baby and a 10-minute interview with Godard in which he stands at a microphone with sunglasses on and tells an interviewer what he thinks of critics. There is also a short doc on the difficultly of dealing with Bardot's fame during the shoot, a short on Fritz Lang, and a recent interview with Raoul Coutard. There is also an enlightening five minute comparison between the inferior full-frame 1.33:1 transfer of the film (long available in video) versus the widescreen letterbox transfer, which mirror the director's true intentions. All in all this is a stunning DVD and is not-to-be-missed by any Godard fan; something we should all be by now.

M Review


Essential
Critic David Thomson called him "the squat, wild-eyed spirit of ruined Europe, shyly prowling in and out of Warner Brothers shadows, muttering fiercely to himself." The Peter Lorre thus described was the Hollywood character actor familiar to Americans for his buggy looks of astonishment and his singular, rasping speech. But the wild-eyed spirit Thomson writes of first exhibited itself in Germany, before Lorre and director Fritz Lang fled that country's Nazis, in the 1931 Lang masterpiece M.

The "M" stands for "murderer" in either language, and the film is loosely based on the actual case of a Düsseldorf child killer named Peter Kurten. (His name was later borrowed for Copycat.) The plot of M echoes the fascination with shadowy syndicates and underworld figures that Lang exhibited in earlier films such as the Dr. Mabuse pieces and Spies: When a police dragnet for the child murderer upsets normal criminal activities, the criminals themselves organize and track the suspect down, labeling him, without his being aware of it, with a chalk "M" on the back of his coat.

Continue reading: M Review

Spies Review


Essential
"Throughout the world... strange events transpire." Thus reads the title card at the opening of Fritz Lang's great 1928 thriller Spies. Proof that the card is true arrives immediately afterward onscreen: we watch as a gloved hand removes a cache of official documents from a safe in the French Embassy in Shanghai. The documents are then whisked away by a cackling agent on motorcycle, and news of their theft is beamed from radio towers around the world. Next the Minister of Trade, riding in an open coupe, is fired upon from a passing vehicle, and we learn from a headline that he's died from his wounds. "What force is at play here?" another intertitle reads. And what could they hope to attain?

The answer, in Spies, is arrived at so pleasurably that it puts all but the very best of the cloak and dagger genre to shame. The plot follows the efforts of a handsome undercover agent named only No. 326 (Willy Fritsch) to prevent a treaty with the Japanese from leaving his homeland (Germany, one assumes, although it's never specified) despite the efforts of an evil mastermind named Haghi (the wonderful Rudolf Klein-Rogge) to see that it does. A secret agent, as we all know, leads a life of danger, and so it is that No. 326 is distracted in his efforts by the beautiful Sonia (Gerda Maurus), herself a spy in Haghi's employ. No. 326 falls in love with Sonia; will he learn the truth in time? Sonia may have fallen in love with No. 326; has she? And, if so, will she follow her heart or her oath to see the treaty across the frontier?

Continue reading: Spies Review

The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse Review


Good
Fritz Lang's The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is the second of the director's three films featuring the popular criminal mastermind and hypnotist. And like its predecessor (Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler), Testament has profound historical significance for students of Lang's work and German history. But where Lang's first Mabuse film screams Weimar decadence and cinematic expressionism, Testament answers with resigned prescience about the coming of National Socialism.

Testament was the last film Lang made before the expanding Nazi regime forced him to flee Germany, bringing to a close the most creatively productive phase of his career. Lang's escape to America, and Nazi censors' decision to ban the film as a "threat to law and order and public safety," make it a milestone of art at odds with the ideology of the regime.

Continue reading: The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse Review

Fury Review


Extraordinary
One of the greats of its era, Fritz Lang's Fury is a bitter indictment of mob politics, with the inimitable Spencer Tracy in the role of an innocent man swept up in by lynch mob for a crime he didn't commit. Horrifying and extremely well-made, Fury belies its age with insight into the human psyche that is more relevant today than ever. Lang, as a refugee to America from Naxi Germany, knew what he was talking about. This is one to savor for the ages.
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