Destiny (Der müde Tod) (1921) | Fritz Lang’s expressionist fable of life… and death gets a definitive restored release
Before dazzling audiences with Metropolis, M, and Spione, German director Fritz Lang dabbled with bending cinematic conventions in his 1921 German folksong in six verses, Der müde Tod (literally, The Weary Death).
A young woman (Lil Dagover) confronts the personification of Death (Bernhard Goetzke), in an effort to save the life of her fiancé (Walter Janssen). Death then weaves three romantic tragedies set in Persia, Quattrocento Venice and ancient China, and offers to unite the girl with her lover, if she can prevent the death of the lovers in at least one of the episodes…
Fusing German Romanticism, Orientalism, and Expressionism with evocative expressionist imagery and featuring special effects work never seen before, Der müde Tod has often been overlooked amongst Lang’s early work, but was the springboard for the über-stylised filmmaking that would culminate in such genre-defining masterpieces as Die Nibelungen and Metropolis.
Now in a new 2k restoration, this new presentation of the lost classic preserves the original German intertitles and simulates the historic colour tinting and toning of its initial release, and is accompanied by a newly-composed score by Cornelius Schwehr, which was originally performed by the 70-member Berlin Rundfunk Symphony Orchestra.
Eureka Entertainment is proud present Lang’s classic as part of their Masters of Cinema Series in a definitive Dual Format (Blu-ray & DVD) edition, available from 17 July 2017.
ORDER HERE: http://amzn.to/2kV2YsC
WHAT THE PRESS SAID – IN 1921
‘Based on inwardness and intellectual mastery, this work by author / director Fritz Lang veers off the beaten track of your average movie. It does not seek to stun the senses of the viewer with a huge contingent of people and material, but provides real, inspired art. Individual images surprise us with their picturesque beauty, capturing the essence of the German folk song in its simple sincerity.’ Abendblatt (October 7, 1921)
‘Fact and fiction skilfully interwoven, cheerful and serious moments, much bitter truth, sometimes literature, sometimes Karl May or Munchausen. Just like life itself. And above all love. Only death is more powerful.’ Wolfgang Fischer, Neue Zeit Charlottenburg (October 5, 1921)
‘A new, interesting style of film: the sweeping ballad. Half fairy-tale dream, half reality, carefully crafted.’ Erich Effler, Film und Presse no. 37/38 (1921)
At the height of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, four German exiles in Hollywood – director Fritz Lang, playwright Bertolt Brecht (earning his only US credit here as Bert Brecht), composer Hanns Eisler and actor Hans Heinrich von Twardowski – pooled their efforts into Hangmen Also Die!, an important historical film from 1943 about the Czech resistance, which gets a 2k restoration release from Arrow in the UK from 29 August.
Taking as its starting point, the assassination of the real-life Nazi ‘Reich-Protector’ of Czechoslovakia, Reinhard Heydrich (Twardowski), Lang’s studio-bound suspenser sees an act of kindness by the courageous Marsha (Anna Lee) – hiding the culprit (a deadpan Brian Donlevy) from the Gestapo – result in her professor father (Walter Brennan) and 400 Czech compatriots facing execution unless Donlevy’s resistance fighter is turned over…
Shot in atmospheric black and white by the legendary James Wong Howe, and featuring a Oscar-nominated score from Eisler, Lang’s anti-Nazi gift to wartime American cinemagoers is a masterful blend of war picture, film noir and political thriller. It may loose points for its overly melodramatic Hollywood treatment of the story (all the non-Nazi’s have American accents and Twardowski’s Heydrich comes off like Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes), but its revolutionary spirit shines through.
Eagle-eyed cinephiles can watch out for Dracula‘s Dwight Frye as one of the hostages (it was his last film role before a heart attack cut short his life aged 44 in 1943), and hear the unmistakable growl of Cul-de-sac‘s Lionel Stander as the getaway driver.
The Arrow release features a 2012 2k restored print by Pinewood from the Cohen Film Collection, and includes an audio commentary by film historian Richard Peña, along with an interview with author Robert Gerwarth on Reinhard Heydrich, plus newsreel footage, restoration comparison anda trailer. The first pressing of this release comes with a collector’s booklet.
A must-have for fans of Fritz Lang fans and lovers of wartime cinema.
Le Mépris (1963) | Is Jean-Luc Godard’s New Wave sensation an arthouse triumph or just an aching bore?
One of the New Wave’s masterpieces and a landmark in world cinema, the lauded French drama is back in cinemas in the UK, and is the centrepiece of a major retrospective of the director’s 60-year career at the BFI Southbank in London. It is also one of the key highlights in StudioCanal’s five-disc Blu-ray collection being released on 1 February.
But does it hold up 52 years on?
More Bold! More Brazen! And Much, Much More Bardot!
French screenwriter Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) is offered a commission to rewrite a stylised adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey being directed by the legendary Fritz Lang (playing himself). But he’s soon at war with his beautiful wife, Camille (Brigitte Bardot), who mistakenly believes he is using her to get friendly with the film’s brash American Jeremy Prokosh (Jack Palance)…
Based on the novel A Ghost at Noon by Italian writer Alberto Moravia (The Conformist), Le Mépris was a huge success in France – and much of that was due to Bardot’s nude scenes which were added in at the behest of the film’s producers, Joseph Levine and Carlo Ponti. Godard had originally wanted Kim Novak and Frank Sinatra, but Ponti wanted his wife Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni. In end, however, Godard got the right mix right with sex kitten Brigitte Bardot and French actor Michel Piccoli.
Making great use of the location settings (firstly Rome, then the island of Capri), Godard and cinematographer Raoul Coutard perfectly capture (in Scope) the primary colours of the Pop Art movement that was big in the day. With its radical improvised set-ups and repetitive use of Georges Delerue’s mournful soundtrack, this sumptuously dressed marriage-in-crisis melodrama certainly gave audiences something they had never seen before. But this monumental arthouse experiment is also an aching bore for those to don’t ‘get’ the caustic in-jokes and movie-making references.
A famous quote by film pioneer Louis Lumiere opens Godard’s artfest: ‘Cinema is an invention without future…’ And this is what drives most of th dialogue, which comes off like an internal rant by the director, who uses the film to expound his New Wave theories. While cinephiles may cream their pants over Le Mépris being a sleekly seductive film about film-making, newbies will be left wondering what the hell is going on as Piccoli and Bardot bicker for what seems like an eternity (actually 30-minutes) in a sparse modernist apartment in Rome.
The French film fans I watched the StudioCanal release with (which had issues with the subtitles at one point), laughingly described the film as ‘L’Avventura in colour’. Which it sort of is. But it also shares its arthouse DNA with Antonioni’s despairing romance, L’Eclisse, which came the year before. Only instead of static shots of the characters moving ever so slowly in a monochrome suburban Rome, we have Godard’s slow tracking shots as his characters spew dialogue like ‘When I hear the word culture I reach for my chequebook’. So, by the time the film finally moved to the blue-green waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea for the Capri scenes, my viewing companions were queuing up to drown themselves.
Thankfully the stunning scenery and architecture (notably the modernist Villa Malaparte on Punta Massullo), Palance’s red-hot Alpha Romeo 2600 and Bardot’s bare flesh do help to distract from the ‘non-existent’ story and wholly unlikeable characters: especially Bardot’s cold and contrary Camille, who not only tests the patience of Piccoli’s frustrated writer, but also ours…
Le Mépris (Cert: 15, 99min) features alongside Breathless, Pierrot Le Fou, Alphaville and Une Femme est Une Femme in StudioCanal’s Jean-Luc Godard The Essential Blu-ray Collection (available from 1 February) and is accompanied by the following extras:
• Introduction with Colin McCabe
• Once Upon A Time There Was… Contempt: An indepth 53-minute featurette in which Godard separates fact from myth over the making of the film.
• Contempt… Tenderly: A 32-minute ‘making-of’ that’s overshadowed by the previous one.
• The Dinosaur and the Baby: This terrific 61-minute TV special featuring Godard and Lang in conversation is a real treat.
• Conversation with Fritz Lang: The cinematic legend is interviewed in a series of on-set recordings (15min).
Metropolis is without doubt the most iconic of all German films and marks the birth of science fiction on the silver screen. Much discussed, analysed and a major influence on nearly every sci-fi since it first dazzled audiences back in 1927, it was also director Fritz Lang’s masterwork.
‘There can be no understanding between the hands and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator’
Set in a dystopian future in which society is divided into two classes: workers who live in vast catacombs and managers who live in huge skyscrapers, the film centres on Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the son of the ruler of Metropolis (Alfred Abel), who swaps lives with a worker after witnessing a terrible accident in the workers’ city. While toiling away underground, he falls for the beautiful Maria (Brigitte Helm) who seems to have a powerful influence over the workers. When plans of a rebellion are discovered, Freder’s father enlists the services of an inventor called Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) to build a Maria-replica robot to incite the workers into a self-destructive riot. But when disaster strikes and the underground city becomes flooded, it’s a race against time for Freder to rescue Maria and the city’s children.
Last seen at cinemas in a colourised version with a rock score by Giorgio Moroder back in 1984, Metropolis was given a theatrical re-release in 2010 following its restoration in which some extra 25 minutes of footage, previously thought lost, were added back to the film. Finally audiences could see Lang’s film the way the director had always intended. A new symphony recording of the original score was also arranged, breathing new life into the all-time classic.
Seeing it on the big screen, you cannot help but gasp at Lang’s futuristic cityscape. It still impresses, as do the action sequences – which are surprisingly modern for the time, especially the scenes in which Maria is chased through the catacombs, the children try to escape their watery grave, and the robotic Maria is burned at the stake. Iconic stuff indeed!
The acting may not be naturalistic, but it’s very emotive, and Brigitte Helm’s blinking really does pierce your soul. The once missing bits are very damaged, but show exactly how much of Lang’s original vision was cut on its original release, including Freder’s surreal nightmare on seeing Maria with his father, and a much enlarged story involving the characters Georgy 11811 and Joh’s henchman, the Thin Man.
Surrealist film-maker Luis Buñuel certainly hit the nail on the head when he called Metropolis ‘a captivating symphony of movement’ as its a masterclass in story, editing and design, and still manages to knock the socks off today’s CGI blockbusters (excluding Gravity and Interstellar of course).
THE UK HOME CINEMA RELEASES
Following it’s theatrical screening in 2010, the reconstructed Metropolis was given a dual format (Blu-ray/DVD) release in the UK by Eureka! Entertainment, as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. Now, Lang’s masterpiece will be re-released in a two-disc limited edition (4000 copies only) Steelbook Blu-ray set (out on 19 January 2015), which will include Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 version and a 45-min documentary exploring the film’s rediscovery. If, like me, you already own the dual format, the cover alone and the inclusion of the Moroder film is double dip tempting.
• Available to pre-order from Amazon now http://amzn.to/1zzbc6K
M (1931) | Fritz Lang’s influential masterpiece remains the greatest psychological thriller of all time
For many cinephiles, the name Fritz Lang is synonymous with the futuristic 1927 silent classic Metropolis. For the director himself, however, his finest work can be seen in the 1931 German thriller, M (Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder). Written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou (who also wrote Metropolis, the superb Dr Mabuse series, and the sci-fi epic Woman in the Moon), M was a landmark in cinema. Not only was it Lang’s first sound picture (he started back in 1919), it was the sophisticated way he used the camera, the lighting, and the editing that proved film was more than just a new entertainment medium – it was an art form.
A spate of child killings has the citizens of Berlin terrified. Peter Lorre (long before he became a parody of himself in Roger Corman’s Vincent Price-led Poe vehicles) gives a powerhouse performance as the murderous Hans Beckert, who is chased by the authorities and a vigilante mob before the city’s criminals capture him and put on trial in their own court of law.
Whilst not the first film to deal with the hunt for a serial killer (Alfred Hitchcock did that in 1927’s The Lodger), Lang’s film is so multi-layered, the result is more than just a thriller. Part horror (Lorre’s Beckert whistling ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King‘ whilst luring an innocent into his web still chills); part procedural crime drama (the police use the new technique of fingerprinting in their investigation); part social drama (the city’s tenement dwellers turn vigilante mob); and part Brechtian (the guild of beggars judge one of their own), M remains one of the greatest psychological thrillers of all time and, 80-plus years on, is still a refreshing sight to behold today.
The original German version of Lang’s M was released in 2010 in the UK as part of Eureka’s The Masters of Cinema Series in a special dual format release. The bounty of special features are superb, and includes the original 1932 British release, featuring alternate takes and Lorre’s first performance in English. Fritz Lang + Peter Lorre + A masterclass in the art of film = A must-have.
From tomorrow, 5 September 2014, Fritz Lang’s M also gets a limited run at the BFIn Southbank in London as part of the Peter Lorre season.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIj3Bk0bhL8%5D
Woman in the Moon (1929) | Fritz Lang’s final silent epic is a cautionary tale and cinema’s first real space exploration film
‘Never’ does not exist for the human mind… only ‘Not yet’
In the hope of plundering the moon’s vast, untapped gold reserves, a cartel of industrialists covertly finance a manned space mission headed up by a visionary scientist (Klaus Pohl). Joining him is student astronomer Friede (Gerda Maurus) and two young men courting her (Willy Fritsch and Gustav von Wangenheim), an unscrupulous American (Fritz Rasp) and a young stowaway (Gustl Stark-Gstenttenbauer). But when the rocket finally reaches the far side of the Moon, the team find themselves stranded in a lunar labyrinth, where emotions run scattershot, and the new goal becomes survival.
THE COUNTDOWN BEGINS…
Two years after lensing his science-fiction masterpiece, Metropolis, Fritz Lang returned to the genre for his final silent epic Woman in the Moon, based on his wife Thea von Harbou’s 1928 novel Die Frau Im Mond.
Lang’s film adaptation, which links the opening of the Moon as a territory with a gold rush, was as accurate as the technology of the day would allow, and is considered the first serious space exploration film. It’s also here that the countdown was invented – strictly for dramatic effect. The pioneering director takes great care to make the details of his story as real and as state of the art as possible. And he does so with documentary precision, even anticipating how a lunar rocket would have to be moved to its launch pad. While some of its scientific notions are flawed (von Harbou gives the moon atmosphere for one), the film has great technical skill and inventive direction. The script however is another matter. Boasting a heady fusion of espionage tale, serial melodrama, and comic-book sci-fi, it should be great fun, but its actually a bit leaden, overly sentimental and confusing in parts (and some of the scenes do go on a bit).
While the sci-fi’s serious themes (like man’s hubris) don’t have the same dazzling and disturbing impact as the social and political concerns underlying Metropolis, Lang’s film spookily foretold Germany’s wartime push into rocket-science and was inventive enough to force the Nazi’s to withdraw the film from distribution and destroy the film’s spaceship model in order to keep their development of the V1 and V2 rockets a secret. Assisting with the special effects is acclaimed abstract artist, Oskar Fischinger, who created one of the sequences in Disney’s Fantasia (1939), while the film’s scientific advisor was German physicist Hermann Oberth, who is regarded as the founding father of rocket science. Another advisor Willy Ley later wrote Conquest of Space, which was filmed in 1955.
THE DUAL FORMAT RELEASE
Restored to its near-original length, Frau im Mond is released (from 25 August 2014) in a dual format special edition in the UK as part of Eureka Entertainment’s The Masters of Cinema Series.
• 1080p transfer on the Blu-ray of the 2000 FW Murnau-Stiftung restoration
• Original German inter-titles with newly translated optional English subtitles
• The First Scientific Science-Fiction Film German documentary about Frau im Mond (15min)
• Booklet featuring an edited analysis of the film by Michael E Grost, and on Fritz Lang’s body of work