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DIRECTORS IN FOCUS
The Dark Worlds of Fritz Lang

The forty films Fritz Lang directed span diverse political situations, geographical settings, and historical moments, from his monumental Ufa productions of the Weimar era to genre films in Hollywood and postwar Germany. As a corpus, they offer exemplary lessons in the possibilities of cinema; indeed, they have helped define what we might expect of the medium in its most dynamic countenance. In the first part of this continuing retrospective, curated by Harvard Professor of German Eric Rentschler, we examine works from Lang’s early years in Germany. Here, the mise-en-scène is one of complicated setups and disturbing prospects; its preferred spaces are urban haunts and subterranean reaches; its field of vision alternates strategically between partial views and panoptic gazes. Like his renowned protagonist Dr. Mabuse, Lang’s sensibility is akin to the criminal mastermind’s in its detailed precision, obsessive calculation, and analytical finesse--creating dark worlds that are, in equal measure, enthralling, disturbing, and imposing.

HFA wishes to thank Goethe Institut, Boston, for assistance with this series.


Live Piano Accompaniment
February 4 (Monday) 7 pm
February 6 (Wednesday) 8:45 pm

Destiny (Der Müde Tod)

Directed by Fritz Lang
Germany 1921, 35mm, b/w, silent, 79 min.
With Lil Dagover, Walter Janssen, Bernhard Götzke

Subtitled “a german folktale in Six Parts,” this atmospheric, Expressionist-influenced work employs elaborate set design, lighting, and special effects that prefigure the brilliant architectural flare of Lang’s later films. Combining historical spectacle, melodrama, and fantasy, the story follows a young woman’s attempts to save her lover from the clutches of Death by traveling in time to three alternative “destinies”: the Arabian nights of ninth-century Baghdad, a carnival in seventeenth-century Venice, and a mythical Chinese imperial court. Ultimately, she is unable to trump destiny when a moral dilemma intercedes. Far from a success in its original release, Destiny became one of the first German films to gain an international audience and is said to have had such an effect on the young Alfred Hitchcock that it persuaded him to become a director.

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Live Piano Accompaniment
February 8 (Friday) 7 pm
February 11 (Monday) 7 pm

Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler) PART I

Directed by Fritz Lang
Germany 1922, 35mm, b/w, silent, 153 min.
With Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gertrude Welcker, Alfred Abel

The first in a celebrated cycle of films about the evil machinations of a maniacal criminal, Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler is presented in two parts: The Great Gambler--A Picture of Time and Inferno: A Play about the People of Our Times. In a world of depravity and anarchy, Dr. Mabuse is a master criminal with psychic powers who employs disguises and uses hypnosis to make people do his bidding as he plays havoc with the stock market, steals, and kills. Made at a time of political turmoil in Germany, the film is imbued with vivid impressions of Weimar-era decadence, while its famous finale, the police attack on Mabuse’s home, powerfully conjures the postwar street clashes in which war minister Gustav Noske’s Freikorps, forerunners of the Nazi storm troops, put down the communist Spartacus uprising by murdering its leaders, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. 

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Live Piano Accompaniment
February 9 (Saturday) 6 pm
February 13 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler) PART II

Directed by Fritz Lang
Germany 1922, 35mm, b/w, silent, 112 min.
With Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Gertrude Welcker, Alfred Abel
.

See description for Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler (Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler), Part I above


Live Piano Accompaniment
February 8 (Friday) 9:30 pm
February 18 (Monday) 7 pm

Die Nibelungen Part I: Siegfried

Directed by Fritz Lang
Germany 1924, 35 mm, b/w, silent, 141 min.
With Paul Richter, Margarete Schön, Theodor Loos

This film version of the medieval German saga of lovers, kings, jealousy, treachery, and revenge--based less on Wagner’s opera than the original sources of the legend--is brought to life in an elaborate production that includes magical forests, massive castles, fantastic creatures, and spectacular battles. The two-part story is portrayed in two distinct stylistic modes: the first, Siegfried, is geometric, architectural, and painterly; the second, Kriemhild’s Revenge, is dynamic, rhythmic, and fiery. Together, they comprise a master text for a paean to the German nation that Lang would ultimately flee. Shot completely in the studio with massive sets and elaborate lighting configurations, The Nibelungen revisits ancient myths of heroism and treachery, beauty and violence with distinctly modern, cinematic inflections.

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Live Piano Accompaniment
February 9 (Saturday) 8 pm
February 20 (Wednesday) 9 pm

Die Nibelungen Part II: Kriemhild's Revenge

Directed by Fritz Lang
Germany 1924, 35 mm, b/w, silent, 148 min.
With Paul Richter, Margarete Schön, Theodor Loos

See description for Die Nibelungen, Part I: Siegfried above

 

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February 10 (Sunday) 7 pm
February 27 (Wednesday) 9:15 pm

M (Mörder unter uns)

Directed by Fritz Lang
Germany 1931, 35mm, b/w, 99 min. 
With Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke, Ellen Widmann
German with English subtitles

Based on news accounts of an actual murder case in Düsseldorf, Lang’s landmark early-sound-era film was produced almost entirely in the studio. Eschewing his earlier expressionistic techniques, he creates a stylized realism to depict the growing agitation of a town in which a child murderer is on the loose. M captures the prevailing sense of despair and corruption of Germany in the early thirties in its portrayal of the pathetic killer (Brecht-trained actor Lorre in his film debut), who is hounded by an odd alliance of pursuers: both the chief of police and the highly organized criminal underworld.

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Live Piano Accompaniment
February 25 (Monday) 7 pm

METROPOLIS (Das Schicksal einer Menscheit im Jahre 2000)

Directed by Fritz Lang
Germany 1926, 35mm, b/w, silent, 130 min.
With Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich

The greatest science-fiction film of the silent cinema, Metropolis was made by Lang at Berlin’s Ufa studios with an unprecedented budget for its huge sets, inspired by the New York skyline. Set in the twenty-first century, the story is derived partly from medieval legends, partly from the dystopic vision of a future of intensified conflict between capital and labor. Photographed in Expressionist style and designed to display powerful geometric symmetries, many of the film’s sequences are unforgettable, especially the dramatic laboratory creation of the robot-woman.

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