For years, critics and scholars have been arguing over the relative merits of Fritz Lang's German and American films, the two oeuvres neatly divided by Lang's saying auf Wiedersehen to the Nazis in 1932 and, after a two-year layover in France, landing in the lap of luxury, Hollywood. Lang's life in La La Land, though marred by studio interference, resulted in such no-way-out classics as Fury, The Woman in the Window and The Ministry of Fear. Still, it was his silent-era German films that established Lang as an international artist of the first rank. And you're about to get a chance to see several of those films, for free. On Saturday, Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m., the UW Cinematheque (4070 Vilas Hall) is launching a Lang-in-Germany series with a screening of that old reliable GÃtterdÃmmerung, Metropolis. As most of you know, this isn't the Metropolis that Superman used to fly over but a two-tiered Ãber- and underworld in which the workers are but cogs in a machine controlled by the rich. Lang got the idea when he first set eyes on the Manhattan skyline.
The delineation of space was in Lang's blood, his father having been an architect, the young Fritz having attended architecture school before quitting to take up painting. And all that attention to form and composition would come in handy when Lang directed 1924's Die Nibelungen, the two parts of which will be screened Sept. 22 and 23. Based on the same epic poem that inspired Wagner's Ring, Die Nibelungen is a German Romantic's dream come true, with its mist-shrouded forests and its glittering castles. Adolf Hitler loved the film, of course. And Albert Speer, Nazism's house architect, was said to have been influenced by it in his staging of the Nuremberg rallies. After Nibelungen and Metropolis, Lang was a Nazi Party favorite. In fact, Joseph Goebbels invited him to run the Third Reich's film industry. And if Lang didn't exactly take the next train out of town, as his own myth-making version had it, he was soon gone, leaving behind a wife (Thea von Harbou, who co-wrote most of his German films) and a life that might well have become a little dicey.
The Cinematheque series will also be bringing M (Oct. 6), Lang's powerful contribution to the serial-killer movies that stalk us to this day, and his early Dr. Mabuse films, which show us another side of Lang's Nazi sympathies or lack thereof. 1922's Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (Oct. 20 and 21) introduced the world to the notorious criminal mastermind, a Bond villain without a Bond to bounce his ideas off. Thief, murderer, kidnapper and mass hypnotist, this Weimar bad boy would cross the line with 1933's The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse (Nov. 3), which Lang later claimed was "a veiled comment on Nazism." Goebbels banned the film, thereby avoiding a fÃhrer furor. Lang was always something of a fÃhrer himself, interestingly enough. Not for nothing did Patrick McGilligan title his 1997 biography Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. Beast or not, Lang was a duplicitous control freak who seemed to enjoy pushing people around ' i.e., a movie director. And you can now judge for yourself whether the German Lang was a master builder or just a guy who liked to chew up the mise-en-scÃnery. Enjoy.