Ricardo La Rosa 9/2/2011
History of Cinema II Prof. Amy Herzog
The crime film “M” by director Fritz Lang, is an excellent film that depicts film making with ingenuity and graciously exaggerated characters that gives film students an insight on how to develop a story through the presentation of images and sound.
After viewing the film, through some research I discovered that Lang was the later part of the movement known as German expressionism. The German expressionist movement emerged during the recovery period following World War I. In contrast to the lush Hollywood films at the time, Expressionist filmmakers developed their own style by using symbolism and mise en scène (arrangement of performers and properties to develop a scene) to add mood and deeper meaning to a movie, concentrating on the dark fringes of human experience. At the time this film appeared, Germany was falling under Nazi control and there were strong controversial thoughts about race superiority including social Darwinism that was used to justify Nazi ideas.
In a protected German film industry where film directors did not have much money to create their films, Lang used sound, a relative avant-garde, to associate whistling with the Killer’s personification. We also see the exaggerated acting of the traditional suffering mother of the child to be murdered, she moves slowly with a tired face and body, always performing her duties and worrying about children. The killer is also exaggerated in his acting, with his bulging eyes and his almost clinical personification of a schizophrenic including “hearing voices.” The film was enjoyable because it presents the flow of the story very well, in a didactic manner, offering a glimpse of hope that we can learn to make films if we follow the sequence of events as chosen by Lang.
The story is about a killer of children who terrorizes a city, creating paranoia among the neighbors who blame one another about who the killer may be. It also presents the dilemma about what to do with mentally ill persons who are a danger to society. Can moral nihilism be tolerated in any society?
To narrate the story, Lang uses exaggerated presentation of characters and continuity editing to follow a natural presentation of the story. I particularly liked the parallel cutting of the meeting by the police and another meeting by members of the underworld, both teams trying to find a way to catch the killer.
Lang questionably left some scenes without any sound at all. These scenes felt a bit long and over done. However, the research done by the screenwriter regarding police methods and the systematic way the police pursued the killer was very detailed.
Although it was likely unintended, I found it comical that German beggars belonged to a syndicate and the intentional parody of the killer’s trial by members of the underworld trying to present themselves as higher members of society to a low life killer. Here, the film shows a human desire of men to create order even among people who has defied a more strict order in the real world they live in. The truth was that the members of the underworld really only cared about terminating the killer, so that their business can go back to normal without the constant interference of the police.
The similarity between this story and that of the “Son of Sam” that happened in New York in the seventies is astonishing, despite being almost half a century later. In reality, this is not surprising because Lang’s depiction of his killer was almost a full clinical description of schizophrenic people, who will always habitat this world. The similarities with organized crime and the police are also present in the Son of Sam story.
At the end of the “M” film, reflecting the times of the story, the filmmaker sees fit to present the mothers, in the trial, lamenting that nothing will bring back their children and a painful challenge about children stating, “We must protect them.”