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Guest Richard Edwards

Daily Dose #1: The Nasty Man in Black (The Opening Scene of Fritz Lang's M)

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Hi All - I'm a little late getting to the party, but here we go!  Apologies for repeating or overlapping any previous posts.

 

The opening scene of Fritz Lang’s “M” establishes the protective responsibility and relationship of society to its children.  In the first shot we see a group of children playing together in a courtyard.  After the camera tracks and tilts up we see a woman, busy at work with laundry, scold the children for the gruesome lyrics of the song they’re signing.  The song turns the unsolved murders into a children’s game, which in itself is disturbing because it suggests the children are unaware of how serious and dangerous the world can be.

 

What strikes me as particularly powerful and unique is the length Lang stays the open shot on the balcony after the woman disappears with the laundry basket.  Today’s movies cut so quickly that to see an open frame without any action or activity for more than a split second is almost unnerving.  I found myself imagining what might occur in the open frame or worse what might be going on off-camera.  The balcony shot is brilliant because the movie goes silent for several seconds after the woman disappears.  We hang on this shot for what seems like forever until the children start singing again, which results in the realization that no amount of scolding will convince the children of the possible danger they may face.  With the children’s song, Lang bounces back and forth between the naiveté of the children and the parental dread of not being to keep their children safe.

 

Lang is effective in “painting” his scenes with a heavy, dark and industrial sooty feel that creates a claustrophobic atmosphere.  The exterior shot in the courtyard and the exterior tracking shot on Elsie Beckmann are both shot from above looking down which has the effect of making the exteriors feel like interiors.  There is nothing expansive.  These shots don’t include the sky, nor are there any long shots to give the scene an airy openness.

 

I would say Lang is trying to create a mood of dread in the opening scene and specifically that which you fear will come true.  The tone contains powerful feelings of not being able to fully protect children; that eventually no matter what society does, determined predators will succeed in finding stray victims.  The whole opening scene is a dramatization of sorts of the free-range parenting debate and the ongoing Etan Patz trial.

 

In terms of it relationship to film noir, the urban location, the dark shadows and confining frame within a frame staging, particularly the interiors, all relate to film noir sensibilities.

 

Thanks - Mark

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I was reminded of the weird children in an old Star Trek episode who had been subverted and kept singing this odd song.  Probably unrelated, but it reminded me of those odd children

 

It's very somber in the opening scene.  Even the children seem somber, and you expect children to be laughing, screaming, moving around.  But they are somber and not moving much

 

A lack of music might have been common in 1931, they were barely into talkies then, but the lack of music also sets a somber move

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My first thought at the opening of this film -- How did these kids know about this "man"?  They had to hear adults talking about him in order to play their "game".  When the woman says that it's good to hear them regardless, you already know something bad is going to happen.  Obviously, the "man" knows how and when to pounce and the parents are not really paying as much attention as they should be.

 

This is the usual film noir beginning.  You just KNOW something bad happened or is going to happen.  You just have to wait it out to get all of the puzzle pieces.

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The mood Lang's recreating is simply the mood of regular Germans after WWI. The poverty, despair, sad and tired faces. Hard-working women had no time to watch over their children, who used to go school on their own. The kids - just like kids - can't see the danger, they treat the whole story just like another urban legend, another scary story. They do not expect any attack. The scenes with mothers are slow and heavy, just like their living - we notice it right away: the sadness, weariness, the younger one is restless, cannot bear hearing that "awful song", the older one is calmer, maybe seems more tired. But when the clock strikes 12 she smiles, because she knows the class is over and her beloved daughter will soon come home. The lunch is ready.


The parents waiting for kids in front of the school - I presume it's a sign of massive hysteria, they know about the missing, about the murder and are simply afraid of their children. They are probably better off and don't have to work long hours like regular workers. 


And the final sequence - an innocent child playing and a dreadful shadow. We think it's the tired mother's daughter and that she might be in danger. Anxiety, fear and a bit of hope that nothing's gonna happen. 


And what's Lang's contribution to the film noir style? Germany after WWI, just like other countries, experienced serious economical difficulties which resulted in massive poverty and depression. Firstly, Germans as a nation were defeated, secondly the hiperinflation turned rich men into beggars, the unemployment was high and the wages were very low. People were tired, poor and resigned, their prospects were grim. And this resignation and tiredness, along with fear and anxiety, are very characteristic in many noir movies. Life's not fair and when you are a victim of certain circumstances - you are simply helpless (even if you struggle) and that makes you a classic protagonist of noir movies. 


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 Obviously, the "man" knows how and when to pounce and the parents are not really paying as much attention as they should be.

 

It's interesting, because I think that the movie makes sure to show that there are good reasons that the parents are not watching the children at all times--the women are working (doing laundry, preparing meals) and the children are in a large group and in a semi-contained area. As the viewer, we have the advantage of knowing that something will happen, and so it's easy to feel like the parents are idiots for taking their eyes off of the kids.

 

I know that at the end of the movie, one of the mothers says just that (something to the effect of "We should have paid more attention"), but I'm not sure what the alternative is supposed to be. Keep the kids cooped up inside? The parents not do their work (which presumably puts food on the table in the first place)?

 

One of the reasons that M hits so strongly, to me anyway, is that I don't really feel like the children were overly neglected. Kids should be able to play outside and walk home from school without an adult hovering over them 24/7. Part of why I find it so horrific is that the killer really is a predator who takes advantage of the kind of trust and independence that kids should have.

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Hi All - I'm a little late getting to the party, but here we go!  Apologies for repeating or overlapping any previous posts.

 

The opening scene of Fritz Lang’s “M” establishes the protective responsibility and relationship of society to its children.  In the first shot we see a group of children playing together in a courtyard.  After the camera tracks and tilts up we see a woman, busy at work with laundry, scold the children for the gruesome lyrics of the song they’re signing.  The song turns the unsolved murders into a children’s game, which in itself is disturbing because it suggests the children are unaware of how serious and dangerous the world can be.

 

What strikes me as particularly powerful and unique is the length Lang stays the open shot on the balcony after the woman disappears with the laundry basket.  Today’s movies cut so quickly that to see an open frame without any action or activity for more than a split second is almost unnerving.  I found myself imagining what might occur in the open frame or worse what might be going on off-camera.  The balcony shot is brilliant because the movie goes silent for several seconds after the woman disappears.  We hang on this shot for what seems like forever until the children start singing again, which results in the realization that no amount of scolding will convince the children of the possible danger they may face.  With the children’s song, Lang bounces back and forth between the naiveté of the children and the parental dread of not being to keep their children safe.

 

Lang is effective in “painting” his scenes with a heavy, dark and industrial sooty feel that creates a claustrophobic atmosphere.  The exterior shot in the courtyard and the exterior tracking shot on Elsie Beckmann are both shot from above looking down which has the effect of making the exteriors feel like interiors.  There is nothing expansive.  These shots don’t include the sky, nor are there any long shots to give the scene an airy openness.

 

I would say Lang is trying to create a mood of dread in the opening scene and specifically that which you fear will come true.  The tone contains powerful feelings of not being able to fully protect children; that eventually no matter what society does, determined predators will succeed in finding stray victims.  The whole opening scene is a dramatization of sorts of the free-range parenting debate and the ongoing Etan Patz trial.

 

In terms of it relationship to film noir, the urban location, the dark shadows and confining frame within a frame staging, particularly the interiors, all relate to film noir sensibilities.

 

Thanks - Mark

I am also late is joining this discussion. I like what you contributed when you wrote, "Today’s movies cut so quickly that to see an open frame without any action or activity for more than a split second is almost unnerving.  I found myself imagining what might occur in the open frame or worse what might be going on off-camera.  The balcony shot is brilliant because the movie goes silent for several seconds after the woman disappears." I think that is the beauty of this cinematic style in that while it provides clues to the story as the movie advances, it is that silence or pause within the scenes that actually speaks more and leaves more to the imagination than today's movies with their fast action and camera movements.

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I am not sure if Lang intended for there to be no music but the lack of any muisical score in this scene is extremely effective. The one word i think of is "dread". What is really fascinating is the shot of our murderer's shadow over the word Murderer on the reward banner. Foreshadowing in a literal sense. This scene contributes the realistic style and story that film noir is known for. Everyday chores and routines against a backdrop with an evil undertone (here being the killer).

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I can't help but ponder the political environment in which a German, Fritz Lang, creates this film.  In 1931 the rise of Nazi power and Hitler as it's protagonist must have certainly influenced this German/Austrian film maker, screenwriter, film producer and actor.  The culture was certainly changing and it is interesting that Hitler eventually becomes the largest murderer of innocence in all of Europe. This is just what pops to mind as a possible precursor to the theme of "M". The murder of innocence.

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M:


It starts with a seemingly innocent child’s game (like one potato two potato) being played in the yard.  The words are disturbing to the mother who yells at her child to stop but the children continue to sing the words which have no real meaning to them but the mother knows it is about the murderer.  The words are a foreshadowing.  The mother’ friend says “as long as you can hear them…”  It’s when you don’t hear the children that is when you start to worry (I remember my mother saying the same thing:  As long as I hear you, I know you are OK,  It’s when I don’t hear you that I worry that you are up to something).  Everyday life goes on as the women washes the clothes.  The mother is preparing the night’s meal.  The time passes as indicated by the coo coo  clock and the usual sounds of daily life.  The day is seemingly normal as the school bell rings and people go about their normal day.  There is no music which adds to the mundane feeling of ordinary life.


 


As the children are let out of school, one girl (Elsie) bounces her ball and heads for a information kiosk.  She playfully bounces the ball off the kiosk not paying attention or understanding the words on the sign.  The information on the post is revealed to us and we realize what the song is really about and the terrible circumstances that have occurred.  As we comprehend the meaning of the post (and the children’s song), a shadow appears over the sign and the man begins to talk to the girl.  We never see the man’s face but we know that he is the culprit that the police are looking for.  The child is completely without fear as she talks to the stranger but we fear for the girl’s life.  The ball stops bouncing as he asks her name, she answers … face to black … the end is near.


 


The use of the shadow is very menacing and much more effective then showing the murder’s face.  The anonymity of the Murdered and the foreshadowing of the child’s death adds to the to the horror and mystery that peaks our curiosity.  The mundane has turned to horrific.


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I thought the opening with the kids chanting about the killer was a bit depressing. It wasn't like they were chanting about history or a myth, this was happening currently. Very fitting for a noir film.

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Children's games and rhymes have always had a macabre element, ring around the rosey, Lizzie Borden took an axe, and this chanting, counting out game is just another, but it gives a clue that something is going on that is terrifying and the woman's reaction on the balcony reaffirms this for us. We see a loving, hard working mother happily preparing a meal for herself and her child, wiping the dish, checking the soup to make sure all is ready when the child comes home. At the school more affluent parents await their children, but one little girl walks home alone, bouncing her ball and oblivious to the danger of a car. Just when we think she might be safe after all a shadow falls across the kiosk where she is standing and you know that this is an evil thing. The very fact that you do not see the face of this person tells you something is wrong. The words he says are innocuous enough, but dread fills you after having read the words about the missing, murdered children.

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I thought the opening with the kids chanting about the killer was a bit depressing. It wasn't like they were chanting about history or a myth, this was happening currently. Very fitting for a noir film.

When you think about it, a lot of children's chants and games are depressing. Even chants like "London Bridge" and "Rockaby Baby" are about people falling to their deaths ("all fall down" or "when the bough breaks, the cradle will fall..."). I wonder where the precedent for this came from, and if that is why horror films picked up on using children to set an ominous tone from very early cinema.

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Omnious is the one word which comes to my mind watching the opening of M, and this feeling of dread is confirmed by the black silhouette on the poster about the reward of 1000 marks for the murderer.  Fritz Lang stages the characters in a stratifying sequence--children are down below playing what they think is an innocent game with an innocent rhyme.  We know now that seemingly innocent game like Ring Around the Rosies actually intimates children falling down sick and dead with diseases like small poxes and measles.  The second stratification is the adults above, especially characterizes by the woman burdened with the laundry basket.  Daily taskes like cleaning and cooking weigh down adults and they are irritated by childish pursuits like games.  The woman/mother at the top apartment is the hopeful parent who holds daydream like visions of childhood and life being rosy and sweet, satisfying and nourishing like the meal she tastes on the stoveThen we go back down to the street level where the base instincts of life exist--the strak contrast between the innocence of a child meets the twisted perception of the disenchanted adult.  Considering the horrors we hear and see many days in the media of child molestations, abductions, and murders it is chilling to realize this event has occurred for all long time.

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Okay, maybe it's the fact that I've seen too many horror movies, or maybe it's my modern cynicism, but I don't find the opening to Fritz Lang's "M" that ominous, atleast not right away. There is a definite tension, established by the angles used in cinematography and the lack of score (causing the sound cues that are there to pop out), but the one word I keep thinking of is juxtaposition. Lang seems to be showing a tad bit of a sense of humor, as is most evident in the children's song/rhyme. In a very simple, sing-song, playful style the child tells about the man in black and child murder. As the second woman says, she doesn't care what the children sing about so long as she can hear them. Come on, I would prefer my child not sing about murder when there is a killer on the loose. Also, when the little girl is bouncing her ball against the sign, as a viewer I was slightly annoyed. Maybe this doesn't work as well for an audience reading English subtitles at the bottom of the screen, but the little girl is bouncing her ball right infront of what the camera has directed the viewer to look at (and for the original German audience, read). So again there is tension, but a slightly off humor to it. It's like Lang is taunting us. Here is a sign, that the camera's motion, framing, and focus tell us are important, but there is a little gnat flying in front of us, the child's ball to distract us. It is only when the man's shadow appears on the sign, that the doom sinks in, to me. We know who the man is and we can suspect what his actions will be. Then the ignorance of innocence makes it all too sad-- the careless children singing so freely of such horrible things, the little girl disregarding the sign right in front of her clearly telling her of the danger ahead. This scene reminds me a lot of Hitchcock's "Shadow of a Doubt" with it's mundane, everyday setting being interrupted by the train that pulls into town and the shadow it casts across the frame.

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I found the subtle yet anticipated dark mood of the opening scenes built a sense of apprehension. The movement between the carefree innocence of a children's game, played against the dreary daily life of typical (for the time of the 1930s) housewife/mother add a stark contrast that presents an impending dread. The shadow of the likely child murderer at the reward post with the young girl playing with her ball is not, in my opinion, representative of the time gone by, but still evident in today's world. Whether it is perpetrated by an unknown/unseen killer or a modern techno-predator, child victims are still disappearing and being murdered. Art imitating life, or life imitating art?

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The mood Lang's recreating is simply the mood of regular Germans after WWI. The poverty, despair, sad and tired faces. Hard-working women had no time to watch over their children, who used to go school on their own. The kids - just like kids - can't see the danger, they treat the whole story just like another urban legend, another scary story. They do not expect any attack. The scenes with mothers are slow and heavy, just like their living - we notice it right away: the sadness, weariness, the younger one is restless, cannot bear hearing that "awful song", the older one is calmer, maybe seems more tired. But when the clock strikes 12 she smiles, because she knows the class is over and her beloved daughter will soon come home. The lunch is ready.

The parents waiting for kids in front of the school - I presume it's a sign of massive hysteria, they know about the missing, about the murder and are simply afraid of their children. They are probably better off and don't have to work long hours like regular workers. 

And the final sequence - an innocent child playing and a dreadful shadow. We think it's the tired mother's daughter and that she might be in danger. Anxiety, fear and a bit of hope that nothing's gonna happen. 

And what's Lang's contribution to the film noir style? Germany after WWI, just like other countries, experienced serious economical difficulties which resulted in massive poverty and depression. Firstly, Germans as a nation were defeated, secondly the hiperinflation turned rich men into beggars, the unemployment was high and the wages were very low. People were tired, poor and resigned, their prospects were grim. And this resignation and tiredness, along with fear and anxiety, are very characteristic in many noir movies. Life's not fair and when you are a victim of certain circumstances - you are simply helpless (even if you struggle) and that makes you a classic protagonist of noir movies. 

 

I fully agree with your analysis of German culture after WWI, and, I would say, European culture generally. They thought they had conquered the world and all its problems prior to 1914, only to fall into a depravity that is still keeping them looking over their shoulders. Despite the horrors of WWII, the Europeans were only sent to a deeper, tighter circle of evil closers to evil's source. (Apologies to Dante). I would also like to mention The Cabinet of Dr. Caigari. As dark a film as I have ever seen. At the end the viewer realizes nothing is what it seemed. (I am trying to avoid spoilers).

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The mood(s) Lang is trying to create in this opening scene is tension and uncertainty. The older women fear for the lives of the neighborhood children. 

 
As mentioned in the curator's note, the sounds (children singing, cuckoo clocks, car horns, etc.) are important. I like that the use of sounds were clues as to what is wrong, making us put the pieces together instead of being flat out told through dialogue. The sounds bring out emotions, too. The song caused one of the older women to yell. Once the other woman washing clothes hears the clock, who I assume is Elsie Beckmann's mother, she smiles because she knows her daughter will be safe at home with her soon. The car horns startle Elsie because she almost gets hit by one; it was a close one, but little does she know her life will be once again be in danger. 
 
The man's shadow over the sign is definitely an aspect related to film noir style. His physical appearance is not needed for us to know he's the murderer and/or to be scared of him...his shadow is enough! 
 

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My initial impression of Fritz Lang’s M can best be summed up in the words “foreboding” and “obscure”.  Time after time, my emotions and thoughts transition to questions, some answered in time, some lingering long after the clip ends. 

 

Instantly, the viewer is met by darkness in the form of a blank black screen, whose eerie silence is broken by a youthful voice and the words, “Just you wait, it won’t be long.”  What “won’t be long”?  Who is speaking?  Lang provides a voice before a face: I can recognize the tone as that of a child’s but I am left without a face or a source.  Suddenly, the face and figure behind the voiceover appears.  The high angle camera shot captures the scene of a girl child (central figure) leading other children (standing in circle) in a game: pointing her finger at each child successively and singing a tune about “the man in black”.  Dark foreboding tones flow from her lips, reminiscent of the bizarre rhymes and lullabies adopted into domestic life and nurseries (ex. “Ring Around the Rosie” and “London Bridge”).  The song is haunting: a staccato voice with high, upbeat and cheery tone marked by a quick smile on the singer’s face yet dark, distressing lyrics about the future fate of others. 

 

As the camera slowly rises, a long and low angle shot reveals an empty balcony draped with clothes lines.  Behold the urban scene.  Why are we here?  Why is this Lang’s choice setting?  How has evil penetrated the home?  A woman enters shot from left, yells to the girl to “stop singing that awful song”.  This woman is cognizant of and troubled by the lyrical tone but what of the child?  Is she innocently unaware of what she is singing, having picked it up from another child, or is she somehow untouched by fear?  Lang ends this scene with another voiceover: this time, the child’s tune continues into the darkness.  This return to darkness coupled with the disturbing atmosphere created by the child’s words leaves me unsettled and establishes a definite tone of anxiety and fear at what is to come.

 

Again, a medium camera shot captures an empty space, this time a stairwell and landing.  While the man in black may still be unnamed, his presence nonetheless haunts the voids and the dark gradated shadows.  Even inside, his spirit and his crime pervade.  Lang masterfully orchestrates these opening minutes.  With every passing moment, he releases tidbits of information about this man in black and cleverly withholds others until the proper time.  When the woman from the balcony converses with another woman at the top of the stairs, she refers to the man in black as “that murderer”.  Yet, who is he and what has he done exactly?  Who has he killed and why is she so afraid?  At the beginning of the film, we are told about what he will do.  Now, we know what he has done…at least, in general, making him a grim reality.  For the second woman, the child’s singing is a source of relief.  The children are alive as evidenced by their noise.  Here, Lang reveals the victims of the murderer’s rampage(s)—the young and the innocent—instantly darkening the mood of the scene and adding depth to my anxiety.

 

The entrance of the cuckoo clock magnifies the obscurity.  Its noise, similar to the children’s, brings relief and even a casual smile to the face of the second woman washing clothes.  But why does the second woman smile when she hears it?  Suddenly, Lang turns our attention to a public school by means of a brief but long-distance camera shot.  Immediately thereafter, he returns to the room and to the second woman.  The noon chime denotes the homeward return of the endangered children and renews the woman’s joy.  However, Lang disturbs that peace when a girl child steps off sidewalk and is nearly struck by a passing car.  That one incident wrecks whatever good feelings the clock may have induced in me, revealing the treacherous journey between the school and the home.  Returning again to the room where the woman is now setting a table for two, I am led to believe that the girl child is hers.  But, if so, will she make it safely back to her mother’s arms?  After all, the singing is over and the clock is quiet….possible signs of vulnerability and far too much room for my imaginative mind!

 

Bouncing her ball against a column plastered with a murder notice, the girl edges closer and closer to danger without even the faintest sign of fear.  As the subtitles disappear, a close up, eye level camera shot reveals the shadow of a man wearing a wide brim hat: no face, no expression, no words…is this the man in black, as evidenced by the dark silhouette cast against the poster?  Lang unravels the shadow’s identity as the man begins to engage the schoolchild…creepy! 

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Re Daily Dose #1:  Aptly titled M, because menace is the mood which underlies all aspects of the opening clip.  The child in the center of the circle threatens to cut out any playmate that both follows or doesn't abide by her game's rules.  The woman on the balcony warns the children to stop the nursery rhyme; her "Or else!" doesn't have to be spoken.  The woman risks falling from the stairs with her unwieldy basket.  Elsie's mother is in danger of losing her once youthful appearance by performing her daily chores.  All–no matter their present social class–"live" in precarious levels of comfort.  They are just "one paycheck" way from descending into lower socioeconomic classes.

 

Elsie is not as streetwise as she should be and so cannot insulate herself from these instabilities.  As long as she plays the role of the pretty little girl with the short little dress, Elsie need only distract herself with her "pretty ball."  She relies on the police officer to guard her from inattentive adult drivers.  She observes social mores of showing respect to those in the same or higher socioeconomic levels, especially towards adults.  Her upbringing requires her to respond to the attentions and the polite question from a clean, well-dressed adult.  Her "stranger danger" alarm doesn't activate.  It is inevitable she will be exploited by this person (if not others in her future, e.g., police officer, teacher, family member, husband, ... ).

 

M deals with crime and fatalism, something in common with film noir.  The sounds are discrete and the scenes are well-defined blacks and whites.  But the people portrayed lack intentionality; they are without well-defined boundaries that originate from within.  The police officer "protects" at a particular moment but is ineffective at the deeper role his/her training is supposed to engender.  The female adults "provide" food, clothing, and shelter, but they do not inspire the compassionate yet self-protective spirit within their offspring.  The others are good as placeholders for what their culture describes as "adult" and "child."  But they are all submissive to whatever happens next.  Like the murderer M, they are all waiting, waiting to enter the gray fog painted by their uncontrolled impulses.

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Fascination is the word I can think of. The children is fascinated with the dark times. The little girl's death was inevitable. She was the leader of the horrible song so it would seem she had to be punished for her rebellion of the adults. 

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1. What word or combination of words best conveys the mood that Fritz Lang is trying to create in this opening scene? Combo of words -- dark, dreary, dangerous. 


 


Dark opening in the courtyard, dark song is chanted, dark hallway, dark interiors, dark uniform and streets, dark shadow of the man.


 


Dreary adult lives of drudgery and duty. Dreary interiors with a dreary exchange of words during the interchange of baskets which foreshadow the danger that can affect anyone of them -- the woman giving the basket has just seen the children; the woman receiving the basket will never see her Elsie alive again. Yet she's the one assuring the basket-giver that as long the women can hear the kinder, they can be relieved their kids are alive.


 


Danger -- in the lyrics, in the scene of scared parents waiting for the schoolchildren to come out, in the street traffic, in the poster. Of course, the ultimate danger in the shadow of the child killer.


 


 


2. In what ways can the opening of M be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style?


 


In 2 ways -- ambiguity and foreshadowing. The atmosphere of ambiguity which shows darkness and lightness, or innocence: dark words-innocent children; dark staircase-bright, clean clothes; dark interior-bright smile anticipating mealtime with child; fearful parents (dark atmosphere)-sunshine at noon as kids exit school; dark shadow on light poster.


 


The foreshadowing of the light (blonde, yet her mother is brunette) girl reciting a dark chant about death; the foreshadowing of the same leading girl escaping death by jumping back to the sidewalk for safety; she then trusts the adult male (cop) to stop traffic danger for her to cross safely; the innocent post (to her) which serves for her as a place to play ball (throw-catch) that the viewer reads as dangerous, due to the dark works written in the poster; finally, the poster represents the suspension in time between the girl who just escaped danger by trusting the adult male authority and the killer coming close enough to distract her and exploit her innocent trust.

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The first compliment I can give to the scene is that I haven't seen M, and the scene made me want to see it. 

 

But on a more technical level, there are different ways in which Lang creates the sense of dread and unease. The "awful song", the uneasiness in the lady upon hearing it, the passing reference to a "murderer", the car almost hitting the child as she crosses the street, and finally the billboard announcing the murders. The lack of music also contributes to the sense of dread. The sound of cars and people walking around gives that feeling of a bustling city where people don't care much about others. That sense of apathy that Fincher also evoked in the first scene of Seven.

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I read a couple of people mentioning the children song in Nightmare on Elm Street, and I agree with their point in that listening to children singing creepy songs always evokes a sense of dread and fear. The fact that children are singing such a song gives a certain mundane aura to the murders, as if it was nothing to worry about anymore, something that people have grown accustomed to; again, the apathy I mentioned earlier. 

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 again, the apathy I mentioned earlier. 

 

Apathy, but also maybe a little of that "but that would never happen to me" attitude that kids have (and adults, to a certain degree). Kids can sing about murder and run carelessly into the street because death is so abstract to them that the actual idea of being killed (whether by a murderer or in a car accident) literally does not register with them on a visceral level.

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First, I loved the noir use of the letter "M":  
The Title - a white "M" against a black screen. 

The "M" in the palm of a hand - the criminal has mastered the skill of murder ... it's "in the palm of his hand."  (until later, when he carries the burden of "M" on his shoulder).

The hand itself  - the fingers folded in such a manner as to suggest the ascent of the murderer: pinkie lowest, each finger folded slightly higher, until the pointer finger is straight. This is the plateau the murderer reaches, after which he "falls from grace" down to the thumb.  

 

Second, an important contribution of this opening is in the use of Music.

The very first "Gong" - ominous in tone with a lingering buzz, or 'cutting' vibration.  Utilized as a mark of danger thereafter via various types of gongs: clock chimes, car horns, another single gong.

The game of musical chairs - only it is "off" to describe the kids vocals as music, or a song.  It is more like a repetitive voice in the head, the voice in the murderer's mind, the "chopping" by the black man.
Footnote: The shadows cast by the children's legs look rather like scissors ...or something to chop with!

 

 

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