History of Cinema 2

October 22nd, 2010


Posted by therant in Uncategorized

Fritz Lang is the Director of M for Murder created in 1931(Nero Film GmbH). His visual interpretations combined with storyline and pace of the movie are some of my favorite that I have seen on black and white film. At first glance this movie is about a town in Germany being terrorized by a killer who preys on little kids. As the movie reaches its ending, Lang makes a social statement about criminals, murderers, families, victims, the justice system and the psychological labels behind norms and morals through the means of visual and dialogue. I chose the opening scene to start my analysis because it gives a quick example of how the murderer in this film operates and at the same time, how the family of the victim goes through the emotions of desperation, fright and anxiety as they worry that their child has been targeted. My second analysis deals with the reasoning of the killer and mob mentality of the people judging him. Is it our moral duty to put this man in jail or in a psycho ward? Is it our duty to society to exterminate him and people like him or to place him in quarantine, risk him escaping and repeating his malicious offenses? The film succeeds, in my opinion, with a in depth look and understanding of one particular complicated issue that humanity has dealt with throughout its existence. My overall analysis isnt about seeking an answer to the matter but rather describe the methods Lang went about in making his statement.
We are introduced to the world of M by Fritz Lang, with a birds eye view of a little girl standing inside a circle of many other little girls, she is singing a horrible little tune about being aware of a nasty man in black that will take each one of them away, which implies harm. I think this is purposely done because Lang wants to make it clear how relevant kidnapping has become in this particular society. I find it proper, yet ironic that small children are the one’s singing this playground tune when they are the targeted victims. Adults, who are the parents of these children, are constantly being reminded innocently of this act, we know this because we see and hear a woman yell out from above to the children below to stop singing “that awful song”. That same woman than admits to the cleaning woman that she’s heard enough of that song and the cleaning woman tells her that hearing the kids sing the song lets her know that atleast they are still nearby and out of harms way, a bitter sweet compromise. That particular scene is introduced with a high angle long shot of the woman tiredly going up the stairs, arriving at the door and dropping her clothes off to the other woman, the camera tracks in closer as the door opens, they begin to speak and we as viewers are taken inside the apartment by a match on action edit as soon as they are done. The laundry woman is shown multi tasking, the stove is on and food is cooking in the pots, she works hard hand washing clothes as she is bent over her work area, a medium close up of a clock that has struck noon is displayed and she seems happy that the time has come. Lang gives us some clues to what or whom the woman may be waiting for and what is to come as the story unfolds, a long shot of a school and grown adults who may be parents stand outside waiting patiently, a medium long shot of a young girl out of school who almost walks unto oncoming traffic and a police officer that arrives moments later to assist her cross the street is shown. I find a lot of hidden meaning in that short one shot take, children unknowingly will walk into dangers way if the law isnt there to protect and assist them. A medium low angle shot of the woman actively and lovingly waiting is setting the table with plates and silverware for a meal, the same little girl is bouncing her ball alone innocently down the street and unto a sign that reads “reward for Murderer” in a close up. We are then finally introduced to the danger that lurks in the form of a shadow, a shadow inside the frame of the “rewards” poster, a shadow that has a voice interested in the name of little girl. Artistically, I was very much drawn to how Lang visually placed the shadow on top of the poster seeking his arrest and how the combination of both visuals interprets danger to the viewer. In the following takes, the woman now becomes known as the caring mother as she asks the children walking up the stairs if “Elsie came home” with them. There is a small sense of danger already established as we see a high angle long shot of the back of a whistling man buying a balloon for little Elsie and the mother’s constant dissapointment everytime she hears someone other than her Elsie at her door. By doing these actions during these takes, the high angle shot of the empty staircase, the second close up of the clock, the medium shot of the woman worried as she looks out the window as she shouts for “Elsie!”, the lonely, empty echoes of her voice through the downward staircases, a room with barely any garments occupying the hangers, an empty chair at the table with untouched table settings, children no longer singing, Lang has succeeded in adding the proper suspense to the opening scene. Then Lang adds some cold, quiet disturbing visuals to imply that little Elsie Beckmann has been victimized, the ball she once happily bounced rolls slowely from the right to the left of the frame in what seems to be a grassy setting, the balloon she once held moves past the power lines above head, quietly drifiting away in the air. Ironically, little Elsie Beckmann’s mother was the least bothered by the song the children sang, yet by the end of the scene she was the most affected by what it stood for.
A few shots later we hear the same whistle and we see the back of a man writing a letter to the newspapers letting them know that he will continue on with his plans, but what speaks to me in high volumes and at the same time makes my skin curl about this scene is how soft the man’s hands seem. They seem to have no manly features, they dont seem strong, the knuckles are barely visable, they are very pale and a bit chubby. These hands remind me of someone who has never done any manual work, ever played sports, doesnt know how to fight, as if these were the hands of someone limited to society’s norms and difficulties. I believe Lang saw some similarities in what I see and thats why we are introduced to them with an over the shoulder close up shot of a halway lit letter and the hands perfectly lit.
The final 15 minutes of the film are my absolute favorite among all the movies I have ever seen, the manner in which the story unravels, the superb acting, the murderer’s reasoning, his begging, the dialogue between his accusers and him,the lighting and cinemtaic style in which it is shot. There is dark humor to the killer’s genuine indignation at being tried by a bunch of bums and criminals, that they’ll kill him “in cold blood” the way he likes to kill little girls, but they are not like him or rather, from the killer’s perspective, he is not like them. They kill for money, he kills from compulsion. Everyone is equally driven, this is consistent with the way characters are almost always eating, smoking, drinking – indulging in some vice.
The scene opens up with exterior long shots of the old factory of Kunz and Levi, the place is abondoned. Then there is another long shot of three men who drag the murderer out of his holding cell and down the stairs into a dark basement where there is an intimidating crowd waiting to judge him. This crowd is full of people whom the murderer has had a direct and indirect contact with. The quiet that fills the room is genius, Lang then has the murderer yell out for Help! Frantically. When the blind witness arrives, the murderer recognizes him and is shown the balloon which he used to lure little Elsie Beckmann. The over the shot angle over the balloon is nicely done to convey the fear that the murderer begins to walk away from. I enjoyed the actors facial expressions very much, I felt he was casted perfectly for this role and in particular this scene. His eyes open in astonishment and fear as the close ups of the posters of the missing children are in frame. The murderer admits innocently that he “never even knew them”, quickly realizing that what he just said sounded self incriminating. He makes a dash for th exit and we are shown him running up the stairs as three men try to pull him away from the door, his face in forceful desperation, the side angle medium shot shows one man clinging to his back, the other man pulling on his arms and the man on top of the staircase hitting his hands so that the murderer may let go of the door. This example is to show how bad he wants to escape the outcome of his actions. He yells, “you have no right to treat me this way”, the crowd yells for revenge and blood. The crime boss silences the crowd by stating that “you will get your rights, we are all law experts here” a close up mixed with a tracking to the right of the faces of the people in the crowd show men who have had there share of run ins with the law. Though the murderer is being accused by the underworld and the people he has affected, he is still given rights and a lawyer. I found this amusing because normally gangsters and criminals take each other out with guns, Lang this time decided to make it more civilized and humorous. The crime boss makes some very good points, he wants to “render” the killer “harmless” and the only way he see’s it fit is if the killer were dead.Why?because he knows that if the killer is handed over to the law, he would be labeled crazy, sent to an asylum, either pardoned or escape, then he is free with a “law protected pass” to kill again because of his mental illness – the crime boss wants to make all that dissappear, by making the killer dissappear. Harsh, yet to certain degree, solves the problem. In a medium close up, the killer rebuttles with “I cant help what I do” he is tormented by not having control, the voices, an “evil thing” inside him, “its there all the time… following me, silently.. pursuing myself, I want to escape from myself! But its impossible” and as he is explaining, Lang jumps to medium close ups of some people in the crowd agreeing with what the killer is saying, they nod as if to say “i agree because I go through the same thoughts”, he wants to show that inside this mob thats accusing, there are some who can relate. The killer continues with “I have to obey it..the ghosts of the children hes harmed, always there, except wne I do it” he comes out of this physical trance that clearly shows the man in insane. He admits to not remembering what he’s done, he even says “who will believe me? How could I have done that?” after he reads the posters of the murders. The crime boss passes judgement with a statement saying that someone who admits to murdering because he cant help himsself has pronounced his own death sentence, but Lang has the actor stand up among people who are sitting, use his hands among people who are still, to show the authority he has over the room. The defense lawyer then interjects, Lang shoots him from a distance and I find it hilarious that his opening statement has to do with the crime bosses warrants for three murder’s. I believe the lawyers character is basically saying, “he who has no sin cast the first stone” but in his own way, Lang is proving that even people with simialar offenses are quick to forget theirs and quicker to point out yours. The lawyer also makes a valid point, it is in the killers obsession that he cannot be punished, he doesnt need an executioner he needs a doctor, no one can kill a man who is not responsible for his actions, the crowd laughs at his valid reason of the law. Among the crowd, someones mother stands up and speaks on behalf of the victims families, she says “you must not have kids, but if you only knew what its like to lose one..ask them what it was like, those days and nights now knowing what happened..ask the mothers!”. Lang films her standing among the crowd in medium long shot, the close up of the faces in the crowd listening with compassion, the woman sitting next to her, rubbing her arm as to soother the pain. All the parties in the final scene have excellent valid points and thats what makes this matter so difficult to judge but Lang succeeds in giving everyone an opportunity to speak and to be shot showing the proper emotion.
In conclusion, I strongly believe Lang is saying we can’t help what we do. Most of us are as driven to be normal as a few of us to be abnormal. A few of these are driven to do evil. No one is virtuous. Maybe some deserve more compassion than others. Maybe some deserve punishment.The last word goes to the grieving mothers: “This won’t bring back our children. We, too, should keep a closer watch on our children”. The shot selection he takes are brilliant in capturing the essence of the emotions of the actors in the final scene. He is also artistic in the way he mentions visually without dialogue.

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