Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

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Mr Sausage
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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#201 Post by Mr Sausage » Tue Aug 29, 2017 9:00 am

matrixschmatrix wrote:There are a lot of interesting things in this, in terms of the representation of the Huns- I'm not entirely sure of how we're supposed to take them. The actual common people among them look and act very much like the dwarves in Siegfried, hairy and primitively armed (though the movie seems to be cheating, since Attila's court existed around the 300s, and the Burgundians appear to be using weapons and armor from something like a thousand years later) and Attila himself looks almost like the modern portrayals of orcs. The movie even represents him as having the elongated skull associated with skull binding- though I can't imagine that would be especially helpful to a warrior. Yet Attila himself is the one man in the series who genuinely never loses or compromises his honor- fascinating, given that his name is almost always associated with historical monstrosity. We get a lot of interesting shots, too- a particularly memorable one is when Kreimhild is standing halfway down a stair case, screaming at the Huns to kill Hagen- the geometrical pattern of her garb, combined with the geometry of the staircase, creates a fascinating effect, and gives her great power, as does her stillness throughout the movie.
I've always taken the huns to be a perversion or parody of the order Sigfried was trying to establish with the Burgundians in the first half. With Sigfried's death, the world has slid back into chaos, and this chaos is represented by a degraded and barely human court, a structure of order that doesn't seem to offer much order. Perhaps this is the echo of a real historical memory: the coming of the huns seemed an apocalypse to the Germanic tribes who were either snuffed out or conquered. It would seem to them like chaos was engulfing an ordered world.
matrixschmatrix wrote: (though the movie seems to be cheating, since Attila's court existed around the 300s, and the Burgundians appear to be using weapons and armor from something like a thousand years later)
The movie is just being accurate to the source material. The Nibelungenlied takes far older legends but sets them in the context of the courtly romances popular at the time of writing (circa the 13th century). I suppose the effect is a bit like setting a Shakespeare play in modern times.
matrixschmatrix wrote:I think there was some discussion earlier in the thread about this movie being two unrelated stories, stitched together, and that comes through-
It's not quite two stories stitched together so much as two--well, more than two, technically, but this is the biggest instance--different takes on the same narrative tradition compiled.
matrixschmatrix wrote:I can't help but to think I'm being stupid here, since a lot of spectacle movies have bad politics or bad implications in their plots- Metropolis, for one, and I adore Metropolis- but to me, it felt overwhelming here, inescapable.
You're not being stupid at all. I think that reaction is fair--further even than old movies, what you're dealing with here are a politics and sensibility that are alien. The Nibelungenlied was written down in the thirteenth century, but the stories go back centuries further, maybe to around 700 or earlier. That value system won't and should not appeal to you, really. If you think the implicit approval of Hagen killing the children is horrifying, in The Volsunga Saga and Poetic Edda, ie. the norse sources, Gudrun (Kriemhild) murders her children with Atli (Etzel) and then feeds them to him before lighting his room on fire and burning down the hall, killing all the huns. And she's not even a villain, like Kriemhild. She's doing this to avenge the deaths of Gunnar (Gunther) and Hogni (Hagen) after Atli conspired to kill them--ie. she's doing the right, heroic thing. And that's not even the most fucked up child murder that happens in this cycle. It was a weird, brutal time. There is much that is offputting. I just treat it--Lang's film included--as a window on a completely different ethos that, in a lot of ways, is too old and too dead to bother condemning. Or, as providing an interesting glimpse of the history of certain negative attitudes still current (eg. with the depiction of women).

So, far from being stupid, your reaction is a healthy one. And there is no reason why you ought to shrug off what you're seeing--these politics and values, seen from modern eyes, are batshit crazy. They may or may not reflect an historical reality, but they do reflect how a specific culture saw, if not themselves, then at least their history. So, there's that, I guess.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#202 Post by noirbuff » Tue Aug 29, 2017 11:57 am

domino harvey wrote:Thanks for submitting a list, noirbuff! For any other new participants who would like to contribute a list, please PM me your list in lieu of posting it in the thread. Once the final results are posted, then everyone can freely share their full lists in the thread if desired

Human Desire at number one is a bold choice-- I'd love to read your thoughts on it, noirbuff
The things I like most about Human Desire are the strong film noir vibe and solid acting. To me it is a classic of film noir in both style and substance. Also very underrated in my opinion. Along with The Big Heat, in my estimation it is the most noir-ish of Lang's films. Gloria Grahame is one of my favorite film noir actors, and she is at her best in this film. She's sexy, sassy, and seems to suffer from battered wife syndrome and is therefore sympathetic. Broderick Crawford gives a strong performance as a hopeless drunk, wife-beater and murderer. Glenn Ford plays a good guy/anti-hero who is attracted to Grahame and gets mixed up in the nefarious activites of Grahame and Crawford. Solid foundations for a film noir classic.

I'd like to add that after writing this, I realize that my preference for this film is coming from a preference for film noir over other styles. Of course this is what motivated me to seek out Lang's films in the first place. Setting aside the bias for film noir, it's hard to say that Human Desire is intrinsically better than many of Lang's other films.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#203 Post by Shrew » Tue Aug 29, 2017 3:08 pm

I just watched Human Desire and also enjoyed it, but it's definitely going to fall outside my top 10. There's a lot to admire on the surface, and the first big scene between Grahame and Crawford is pretty great; I enjoy how they actually seem like a functional couple at first, bucking the usual Beauty/Beast noir conventions, until things go sour. However, the rest of the film tries to have Grahame be both Anne Baxter in Blue Gardenia and Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity, and it doesn't quite work. In particular, the rest of Grahame and Crawford's relationship doesn't seem to mesh with that first scene, and it's never clear how much Grahame's character is lying about her past, even when she's seemingly confessing at the end. And the script is desperately trying to push its male lead one direction in a love triangle, only for the direction and acting to be very much pushing the other way (though part of that is modern social moors).

And while it left me confused at first, I do like the non-ending of the film more and more as I think about it--there's something very sad and poetic in the way the train (and Ford) just carries on without any hint at what's happened.
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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#204 Post by domino harvey » Tue Aug 29, 2017 3:42 pm

If I understand your reference, I believe you mean Anne Baxter, not Ava Gardner

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#205 Post by Shrew » Tue Aug 29, 2017 3:53 pm

Er, whatever do you mean? Nothing to see here officer. I certainly didn't out one actress for another. Carry on now with your proletarian rebellion.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#206 Post by HJackson » Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:16 pm

I rewatched Human Desire twice during this project and it rose significantly in my estimation, probably to somewhere around number three. I think Grahame's final confession is quite convincing but the film never falls out of sympathy with her. I don't see any Phyllis Dietrichson in here - even when she's ensnaring Glenn Ford you know that she's as much of a victim as he is, being controlled by the total psycho she's stuck with. Think about the pitiable scene where she crawls on the floor and shoves her hand desperately through the air vent.

Ford's boyish looks work better in this role than they do in The Big Heat, where they inhibit me from fully buying him as the hard-nosed avenger (I love Ford though). Crawford's transformation from amiable colleague to cold blooded killer is pretty rapid but it works, and I think the stabbing is appropriately frank and brutal. I think this is apiece with the suicidal ending of Scarlet Street - Lang really doesn't shy away from staring right into these pitch black scenarios.

A few things I really enjoy: the small house with the yard that opens right onto the train tracks, the washed out early morning scene as the three main characters get off the train and Ford gets his first glimpse of the pile of shit he's fallen into, the train masking Ford and Crawford's confrontation, Grahame's final exit from the frame.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#207 Post by Drucker » Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:37 pm

Is this film accessible on Netflix or Amazon in some way I am missing out? Hadn't found a source for it, just wondering how to see it with 5 days left.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#208 Post by swo17 » Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:39 pm

It's in the 2nd Columbia noir set (along with a fantastic Quine).

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#209 Post by DarkImbecile » Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:41 pm

Drucker wrote: Robinson plays a fool, quite contrary to his character in Woman In The Window (or Double Indemnity, for that matter). Yet it's fully believable and he earns the sympathy I felt while watching this film.
What was amazing to me upon rewatching Scarlet Street is how thoroughly and consistently emasculated Robinson's Chris Cross is throughout, most notably and famously by the two prominent women in his life (e.g. the flowery apron he wears as he does the chores at home; Joan Bennett forcing him to paint her toenails), but in more subtle ways by other characters and Lang as well: Chris flails at Johnny with his umbrella like the stereotypical old lady with a purse, his boss views him as so fundamentally harmless that he doesn't bother to press charges for embezzlement, his paintings are feminine enough that no one questions Kitty as the artist. Even Adele's corrupt, fat, drunk, absentee husband jeers at Chris that Adele would leave him in a second for a real man like him, and even as Chris plays along that he's terrified of this outcome to manipulate himself free of his wife, I'm not sure he or the film sees that assertion as incorrect. Even the use of the ice pick as a murder weapon seems like a more feminine choice (and the fact that he couldn't just use his own two hands), though maybe I'm just inappropriately associating that method of murder with its most prominent pop-culture example in Basic Instinct. This kind of gender subversion just seems so extreme for the era that I wonder if it was the unacknowledged primary force behind the censorious reaction to the film, which is usually attributed to the fact that Chris "gets away" with his crimes.

Anyway, Scarlet Street is maybe my all-time favorite melodramatic noir, so it'll be near the top of my list.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#210 Post by TMDaines » Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:55 pm

Drucker wrote:Is this film accessible on Netflix or Amazon in some way I am missing out? Hadn't found a source for it, just wondering how to see it with 5 days left.
Must be available to stream somewhere too, as there is a very decent HD rip floating about online too.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#211 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Aug 29, 2017 4:55 pm

Kalat argues, and I agree, that there's an implication that Robinson gets off on being emasculated- less so with his wife, though his discomfort never seems to be with that element of their marriage, but pretty clearly with Kitty. He isn't so much forced to paint Kitty's nails as that he's delighted to do so, and he is genuinely (and again, somewhat kinkily) excited by the idea of having Kitty put her name on his paintings. He's, shall we say, a recognizable type in this regard, one that I don't think would be unfamiliar to anyone who works as a camgirl or whatever- including his EXTREME anger when the game they've been playing together pops. It's not exactly male entitlement in its normal form, so much as that Chris cannot bear to lose his fantasy life, and he's more or less blinded himself to everything pointing to the fairly obvious fact that she's in love with someone else.

I disagree that the icepick is a feminized weapon- it's extremely phallic, and the attack is a penetrative one. I think there's a pretty clearly sexualized association being made, though it might be an unfortunate one (remember that Lang presents gender non-conformity as resulting in murderous behavior towards women in While the City Sleeps- its possible that the logic here is simply that, though I surely hope not.)

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#212 Post by knives » Tue Aug 29, 2017 5:04 pm

I don't think his problem is with gender non conformity as such (and this is also the place to remember he didn't write the scripts under discussion) since you have positive examples of it throughout his career. Rather, I'd argue, he prioritizes masculine traits even in women. That joke said earlier about whores and virgins strikes me as in a rather juvenile way highlighting this. Going back to Harakiri tough women tend to get the most respect with Lang occasionally even fetishizing masculine women (I'm thinking of The Spiders with that). So if we were to play auterist with these two films I'd say it is more in line with his overall career to condemn feminine people in general.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#213 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Aug 29, 2017 5:13 pm

Fair enough- though I think the degree to which his character is feminized is probably extratextual, since it's mostly brought out in details of performance and costume, and isn't really present in La Chienne. I don't think it's an entirely compelling argument anyway- Chris is too fully formed and real of a person to be fobbed off on halfassed Freudianism the way the killer in City is in any case.

I think there's a more sophisticated logic to his behavior, where his fault is not that he is feminized- Robinson appears charming and fairly sweet throughout most of the beginning of the movie, not sweaty and obviously villainous as the kid in City does, and he's just as feminine then as he is later. I think the line of his fantasies being shattered is much stronger than any sense that he's a 'deviant' or whatever, in terms of explaining his actions. I think there's just a, I don't know how to put it, revenge of the suppressed phallus maybe? motif to the ice picking- which reminded me, and not for the better, of Dressed to Kill, which in turn brought on the thought that the whole thing might be built on ugly grounds.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#214 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Aug 29, 2017 5:25 pm

Also, I meant to respond to this earlier:
Mr Sausage wrote: I've always taken the huns to be a perversion or parody of the order Sigfried was trying to establish with the Burgundians in the first half. With Sigfried's death, the world has slid back into chaos, and this chaos is represented by a degraded and barely human court, a structure of order that doesn't seem to offer much order. Perhaps this is the echo of a real historical memory: the coming of the huns seemed an apocalypse to the Germanic tribes who were either snuffed out or conquered. It would seem to them like chaos was engulfing an ordered world.
That's an interesting thought, and the visual similarity of the Huns to the trolls bears that out somewhat- instead of order in the midst of chaos, as the German court is, we have a parody of order made up of the elements of chaos. It's interesting, though, that the movie others the court at Burgundy before Sigfried arrives almost as thoroughly as it does the Huns, playing again with stillness and motion; the Huns are manic to the point of appearing bestial, the Burgundians are still to the point of appearing to be statues. This dichotomy becomes true again in the combat at the end, when the Burgundians are seen as often as not as shield walls, or as suits of armor with barely any human visible- robots, statues come to life.
The movie is just being accurate to the source material. The Nibelungenlied takes far older legends but sets them in the context of the courtly romances popular at the time of writing (circa the 13th century). I suppose the effect is a bit like setting a Shakespeare play in modern times.
Interesting- I just meant that it seemed unfair because the Huns appear to have relatively period accurate weaponry for the 300s, which makes the 300 esque ease with which the Germans slaughter them something of a stacked deck- it would be like if you depicted Agincourt with Henry's guys having assault rifles.
You're not being stupid at all. I think that reaction is fair--further even than old movies, what you're dealing with here are a politics and sensibility that are alien. The Nibelungenlied was written down in the thirteenth century, but the stories go back centuries further, maybe to around 700 or earlier. That value system won't and should not appeal to you, really. If you think the implicit approval of Hagen killing the children is horrifying, in The Volsunga Saga and Poetic Edda, ie. the norse sources, Gudrun (Kriemhild) murders her children with Atli (Etzel) and then feeds them to him before lighting his room on fire and burning down the hall, killing all the huns. And she's not even a villain, like Kriemhild. She's doing this to avenge the deaths of Gunnar (Gunther) and Hogni (Hagen) after Atli conspired to kill them--ie. she's doing the right, heroic thing. And that's not even the most fucked up child murder that happens in this cycle. It was a weird, brutal time. There is much that is offputting. I just treat it--Lang's film included--as a window on a completely different ethos that, in a lot of ways, is too old and too dead to bother condemning. Or, as providing an interesting glimpse of the history of certain negative attitudes still current (eg. with the depiction of women).

So, far from being stupid, your reaction is a healthy one. And there is no reason why you ought to shrug off what you're seeing--these politics and values, seen from modern eyes, are batshit crazy. They may or may not reflect an historical reality, but they do reflect how a specific culture saw, if not themselves, then at least their history. So, there's that, I guess.
I guess the point that confuses me here isn't so much the original morality of the story- the classics are full of morality that's totally alien to me, but usually when a modern adaptation is put on for something like Medea, the assumption is that we'll read the characters' behavior through modern eyes, in which Medea's behavior feels like the product of mental illness brought on by endless patriachal cruelty or whatever. Lang implies that there's something for modern Germans to attach themselves to here- the movie is dedicated to the German people, and the line in which Attila's advisor tells him the Burgundians will never give up Hagen, and that for him to expect that they would do so betrays that he does not understand the German spirit seems very pointed. If that's the case, though, I don't understand the German spirit Lang (or I guess, von Harbou) is alluding to either, because I genuinely don't understand how that is different from their betrayal of Sigfried, except that Hagen deserves it.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#215 Post by knives » Tue Aug 29, 2017 5:31 pm

matrixschmatrix wrote:Fair enough- though I think the degree to which his character is feminized is probably extratextual, since it's mostly brought out in details of performance and costume, and isn't really present in La Chienne. I don't think it's an entirely compelling argument anyway- Chris is too fully formed and real of a person to be fobbed off on halfassed Freudianism the way the killer in City is in any case.

I think there's a more sophisticated logic to his behavior, where his fault is not that he is feminized- Robinson appears charming and fairly sweet throughout most of the beginning of the movie, not sweaty and obviously villainous as the kid in City does, and he's just as feminine then as he is later. I think the line of his fantasies being shattered is much stronger than any sense that he's a 'deviant' or whatever, in terms of explaining his actions. I think there's just a, I don't know how to put it, revenge of the suppressed phallus maybe? motif to the ice picking- which reminded me, and not for the better, of Dressed to Kill, which in turn brought on the thought that the whole thing might be built on ugly grounds.
I think I agree with you. I was merely running with the idea that Lang is negative in his treatment of feminized men which as you say is more often than not much more complicated than some simple Freudian thing.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#216 Post by lubitsch » Wed Aug 30, 2017 6:16 am

matrixschmatrix wrote:I guess the point that confuses me here isn't so much the original morality of the story- the classics are full of morality that's totally alien to me, but usually when a modern adaptation is put on for something like Medea, the assumption is that we'll read the characters' behavior through modern eyes, in which Medea's behavior feels like the product of mental illness brought on by endless patriachal cruelty or whatever. Lang implies that there's something for modern Germans to attach themselves to here- the movie is dedicated to the German people, and the line in which Attila's advisor tells him the Burgundians will never give up Hagen, and that for him to expect that they would do so betrays that he does not understand the German spirit seems very pointed. If that's the case, though, I don't understand the German spirit Lang (or I guess, von Harbou) is alluding to either, because I genuinely don't understand how that is different from their betrayal of Sigfried, except that Hagen deserves it.
That's because you're an uncivilized American and live in a land without culture and history :lol:.
I already pointed out that it is not possible to interpret the Nibelungenlied coherently and attempts by dramatists like Hebbel to rewrite it in a coherent way didn't achieve much. Not only does it merge unrelated stories like the fantasy Siegfried epic with the Attila story, the second part e.g. merges the latter one with the Dietrich von Bern saga circle (that is Theoderic the Great). And the morality behind these stories going back to the 450s is indeed totally alien to us.

As for it being relevant to Germans, you have to absolutely remember that this was the single one old epic story from the age of the Germanic tribes which has come to us in a medieval German text. all the other stuff are translations and adaptations of French stories. So pretty much by default this had to become Germany's Illiad whatever its contents. I mean Germany is probably the single country which picked a myth of a complete downfall and total destruction where almost everybody dies as a national myth. That already makes no sense if you look at it from a rational point of view.
And as I've already mentioned the solution to the problems of coherence was simply eliminating the parts which didn't fit when you talked about the aspects that you appreciated. That was Siegfried as the hero (conveniently overlooking his role in the whole Brunhild as bride charade) and the Nibelungen honor and loyalty (which means that you have to ignore that Hagen is the villain in the first part, the original Nibelungenlied repeatedly criticizes him in the first part). Especially the latter could be adapted to extremely dubious and aggressively nationalistic goals and aims.

Harbou and Lang just had to give the public the great moments the conservative and nationalistic public expected to see, the story needn't make sense as a film because it never had done so in the first place.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#217 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sat Sep 02, 2017 9:54 pm

Liliom is a fascinating movie- it feels well observed, Renoir-esque at times, with a real sense of specificity about it, but my god does it have the worst ending it could possibly have.
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From what I can tell, it's basically sort of like A Matter of Life and Death, a movie that uses a heavenly trial- with a heavenly system that's deeply satirical, here mirroring the absurdly bureaucratic French justice system- to examine a sort of day to day question of morality. Only here, it's not 'should English and American people be allowed to get together', it's 'is it pretty ok to be a wife beating dude who makes his wife do everything for him as long as you feel love for her in your heart and also feel kinda bad about it sometimes' and the climatic answer is 'yes, as long as she loves you anyway.' Which, like... it's not that far from Heaven Can Wait, which I like, but not only does it include the specter of physical abuse (as opposed to that movie's relatively benign womanizing,) it turns on it. The final beat of the movie, the one that saves Liliom's soul, is his wife telling his daughter that she effectively understood his abuse as a form of love. At that point, regardless of how charmingly nonchalant Boyer is in playing the character (very!) the movie just feels, I dunno, icky.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#218 Post by matrixschmatrix » Sun Sep 03, 2017 1:01 am

An American Guerrilla in the Philippines wasn't great, but given that I knew Lang hated it, it was better than I thought- it's mostly just sort of fine, but it has a few moments of real toughness that seemed to show Lang's hand- the Japanese are ruthless in executing people, which is to be expected in this kind of movie, but the Americans are equally ruthless, drowning one hapless guard in a scene that prefigures something like Army of Shadows. The movie is a bit divided against itself- Tyrone Power is just kind of a friendly, pleasant seeming guy in a way that makes the whole thing seem kind of nonchalant and not like a 3 year long underground resistance campaign, and it can't totally shed military cliches (or a romantic subplot that never seems to have much purpose) but overall it's very watchable. Maybe a bit below the level of Moonfleet, though.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#219 Post by Shrew » Sun Sep 03, 2017 5:21 pm

Yeah, there is so much good about Liliom right up until that ending, where it finally takes a flying leap over the line its being carefully toeing for the whole film and ends up breaking its neck. And while that awful final line seems to come right from the play, Lang's film really digs in by exonerating Liliom, where the other versions play this more ambiguously. I really wouldn't be surprised if Tyler Perry eventually remakes this (Madea Goes to Heaven?), as it seems to jibe with his particular take on Christian Morality.

The Return of Frank James-- I don't know what to make of this film, perhaps because I didn't follow Domino's advice to check out Jesse James first. Like Fury, there's a sense of Lang looking at the traditions of his adopted home and asking what the fuck is wrong with everyone. However, there's a tension in the tone of the film that never resolves for me. It's much more comedic than I was expecting, but Fonda and the Ford brothers (who are basically silent film villains looking for a girl to tie to some train tracks) seem like they're in a different, much more primitive Western than everyone else. There are fun bits of satire (at least, I think the line "Killing people's one thing, but letting an innocent man die!" is supposed to be satirical), and I appreciate the effort to address the sidelining of women in the genre and its usual lack of black actors, but like with Young Mr. Lincoln, I have little patience for trials getting sidelined by folksy charm (and here with an extra large dollop of southern pride).

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#220 Post by matrixschmatrix » Mon Sep 04, 2017 2:13 am

I thought The House By The River was very watchable- the ending is kind of a weird cop out, but the build is good, and Louis Heyward keeps looking like a deranged Harry Lime in a way that helped sell his character to me. He's an over the top villain, but there's a fairly consistent personality behind it- an utterly cold sociopath, yes, but not necessarily an inconceivable person. The brother is tragically dull, especially for someone who should be complex- a romantically unexplained limp (one assumes he got it somehow helping his brother, but it's never actually brought up) and a guilty conscience should be more interesting, really. Jane Wyatt is pretty good, though I kept imagining how the part would be played by the similar-looking Joan Greenwood, and how much more interesting it would have made the movie. The Kino print I watched looks like garbage, but this would probably be a pretty good looking sort of gothic horror noir hybrid along the Rebecca lines visually if it were in better shape.

I'm nearing the finish line at this point- I've had to cut all my remaining rewatches (Testament honestly lives well enough in my memory not to need it, but I feel bad for poor Spione) to finish off Lang's filmography, but at this point I only need to finish Four Around a Woman (I fell asleep for the last half hour, which lead to some deeply confusing dreams) and watch Frank James (I'm hoping to squeeze Jesse James in too, of course.) Nothing too ambitious for one night's viewing, hopefully. I'm a little disappointed that none of the movies I watched for the first time for this felt like top tier lang apart from Mabuse, which was something of a known quantity, but Human Desire came close, and there are moments I really treasure from several of the others- the whole first reel of Liliom can stand with a lot of Lang's best stuff, and as much as I loathed Nibelungen it ranks with Lang's best, visually. It is strange stringing a half dozen or so of his most anonymous features together in a row, though- I weirdly have less of a sense for what 'Langian' means than I did before we started.

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#221 Post by domino harvey » Mon Sep 04, 2017 2:46 am

Shrew wrote:The Return of Frank James-- I don't know what to make of this film, perhaps because I didn't follow Domino's advice to check out Jesse James first. Like Fury, there's a sense of Lang looking at the traditions of his adopted home and asking what the fuck is wrong with everyone.
I think you're close to how I view it, as I take it more as Lang looking skeptically at America's folklore and film representations and doing his best to undermine both from the position of someone who could not give less of a shit

Matrix, I'm interested to read your response, especially if you end up watching the original too, as I think Lang's subversion will find a welcome viewer in you if you are able to meet it at its wavelength

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#222 Post by domino harvey » Mon Sep 04, 2017 10:53 am

Reminder that lists are due tonight, which really means by tomorrow morning when I wake up. Word of caution, I've been getting up earlier these days, so don't dawdle!

Seventeen lists in so far. Only three films have been orphaned... and two of those are from my list Image

(Post edited to remove a not particularly challenging edition of Two Truths and a Lie)

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matrixschmatrix
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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#223 Post by matrixschmatrix » Tue Sep 05, 2017 1:44 am

The Return of Frank James (and also, Jesse James)

Jesse James is a movie that works much better if you don't know anything about the actual Jesse James, I suspect- it's easy enough to read the railroads as unrelieved villains, even if Brian Donlevy and Donald Meek overplay it a bit, and the overall arc James takes of purposeful, anger driven outlaw who suffers mission drift into a desperate bandit works fairly well on its own terms, even if it feels a bit pat. Some of the shots and stunts in this are SPECTACULAR, and worth watching the movie for by themselves- there's a really remarkable continuous tracking shot of James catching up with a train, climbing on top of it, and edging his way all the way to the engine, all in silhouette, with the lighted activity of the train sliding below him, and near the end a stunt in which two horses, one after the other, are jumped off a cliff into water. I can't imagine that kind of thing would clear the ASPCA now, but the horses seemed fine, and the stunt is amazing. It ends as one knows it will, with the coward Robert Ford assassinating James, and while the more Hollywood-ized arc of James' life means it can't attain the sort of meditative, mythic quality that Dominik's movie has, it's pretty effective as a western.

Now- the actual James brothers were bastards, members of Quantrill's raiders- who murdered something like two hundred civilians for being anti slavery, with the James boys present- and committed their first robberies wearing Klan hoods. Given that a James descendant consulted on the first movie, it's not surprising that this is elided- the only time the war is mentioned is as an unfortunate incident, in the prologue, and one would have no idea that the Jameses were involved from it. The Return of Frank James, however, dives headfirst into it- but not before moving through the rest of a very strange sequel to a very straightforward movie. Frank, in the aftermath of Jesse's death, has taken up farming with Pinky, a black man whom one assumes to be a former slave, and Clem, an unpleasantly wisened looking Jackie Coogan, who was genuinely only 18 but looks like if someone left Michael Cera out in the sun for about thirty years. Frank rides off after his brother's assassins when the law pardons them, with Coogan tagging along in the standard incredibly annoying kid in a Western role, but is stopped short when Pinky is indicted and sentenced to hang for a robbery in which he was not involved. Frank is thus forced to choose between his vengeance and the life of an innocent black man, and the movie acknowledges the racism of the society in several places- in arguing against Frank's decision or in highlighting the morality of it, Pinky is constantly called a 'darky', with the obvious implication that his life is worth less than that of a white man (though Frank never does so.) Frank is then tried, and the trial basically turns on setting the jury of southerners and Confederate sympathizers against the railroad, who are all from the North- they literally brink Quantrill on as a character witness for Frank, and their actions are brought up and defended (though not the specifics of the massacre they committed.) Frank is pardoned, essentially, out of Confederate pride, and his lawyer (a man who, in the first movie, called for all lawyers to be shot) writes an editorial praising the governor for a complete pardon, nicely balancing his earlier calling for the governor to be shot for pardoning Ford.

I honestly can't tell how much one is supposed to notice the historical irony and how much one is just supposed to roll with it- it does take on farcical elements at a lot of points, and it's not hard to read as something made by someone who finds the whole north vs. south ideology as confusing as I find Die Nibelungen (though Lang takes the issues of vengeance and its costs much more seriously.) It's certainly the most Fordian thing I've ever seen from Lang- not just in the trial scene, which resembles Young Mr. Lincoln at times, but in the sort of picture of the town and the odd take on race relations, which reminds me of The Sun Shines Bright, and the juxtaposition of broad folksy humor with more serious questions of murder and honor. Also, like half the cast are major Ford players, from Fonda to Donald Meek to John Carradine, though most of them are inherited from the first movie.

I don't really know what to make of it overall, but it's certainly more memorable and likable than the dull Western Union- the ending feels as confused as I am. Frank James is free because of lingering hatred over the war! A young man is dead, but so is the bad guy! Nobody really seems to know what to do next!
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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#224 Post by domino harvey » Tue Sep 05, 2017 7:42 am

A fair response, and while the historical revisionism is par for the course in this genre, I agree with your positives for the first film-- it's a good movie, even if Lang thought otherwise. His is better though! Fun fact: Gene Tierney died because of this movie. After seeing her perf and hearing how high her voice was, she started smoking to modulate it down. She later died of emphysema

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Re: Auteur List: Fritz Lang - Discussion and Defenses

#225 Post by domino harvey » Tue Sep 05, 2017 7:43 am

...and on that note, voting is closed!

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