Lang - A Tangle of Binary Oppositions

Fritz Lang, the oldest of the five great storytellers of classic film (besides him, they are: Ford, Renoir, Hawks and Hitchcock), directed about forty films in about forty years - he made his first film in 1919 and his last one in 1960.

What immediately distinguishes Lang is the fact that his opus can be divided into two great periods: the German period (from the beginning of his career to 1933) and the American period (from 1936 to 1956), along with two separate episodes (French in the mid 1930s and West German in the late 1950s). This autobiographical fact is significant to a career, the existential equivalent of the basic i.e. absolute dialectical foundation of reality with its tangle of binary oppositions (visible-hidden, light-dark, up-down, above-under, world of law-world of crime, the rational-irrational in a man). This tangle finds its formal manifestation in Lang’s consistent reliance on parallel editing: stringing together parallel actions that are illustrative of the basic duality of the world, and the domination of a parallel universe where the reversed values are expressed as prevailing. As proof of the homogeneity of Lang’s opus, all the aforementioned characteristics are clearly expressed in the director’s films shown in this program; those from the German period (the omnibus Destiny (Der müde Tod), the first great example of Lang’s preoccupation with the theme of man’s inability to fight his destiny; the thrillers Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler and Dr. Mabuses Testament with their characteristic figure of the obsessive villain mastermind; his spectacular adaptation of the epic Nibelungen; M, his first sound film and probably his ultimate masterpiece), as well as the American (Fury, his first Hollywood film about a hero who becomes a victim of circumstance; the western Western Union, which enriched the genre with its, till then unknown, component of fatalism; brilliant contributions to film-noir, the adventure-war-spy thrillers Man Hunt, Ministry of Fear and the irony-rich The Woman in the Window). According to some, Lang is, along with David Llewelyn & Ward Griffith, particularly responsible for the development of several genres of feature films (especially all kinds of thrillers - spy, adventure, serial killers, as well as film adaptations of legends, SF and particularly dystopian SF). Moreover, if we rely on other directors’ statements, it seems that Lang, besides Hitchcock, is one of the directors who most influenced later generations. Lang is the creator of an opus based on the spirit of romantic serial novels, which is evident in all the aforementioned titles from this program. Like his colleagues from the great quintet, he was able to masterfully overcome these populist patterns by means of his recognizable author signature which expressed the neurosis of the modern world and created an atmosphere of anxiety and an almost all-encompassing pessimism -- the fatalist feeling and expectation of inevitable ruin, usually caused by some burden from the past. Due to this preoccupation with past times, Lang holds a special place among the five greatest director/storytellers; he forms a specific, unexpected and divergent counterpoint to another director, John Ford, who just like him, wore an eye-patch, focused on the past and was a master of composition. This might be a curious coincidence, but it confirms that in Lang’s case biographical facts are equivalent to esthetical facts. (Bruno Kragić)