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M: Finally, Respect for the Image


slaytonf
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I recorded M on Sunday night, and just got around to watching it tonight. I've seen this great movie many times before, but it's still as engrossing as ever. It's rare that a film or it's treatment allow an opportunity for unreserved praise, but this is one instance. Fritz Lang's entire frame was shown. It has been mentioned in other threads that the ratios of many films didn't match the 4:3 of TVs, so they were enlarged, usually chopping off the top and bottom of the frame. Sure, in this version there is a black band around the picture, plus the bands at each side of my flat screen TV. But we get all of Fritz Lang's vision. The print was also beautifully pristine, with hardly a chip or fleck in it. This restored version is still some eight minutes shorter than the original release (according to information on the film), but it's better than what has been available since 1960. Thanks to the Netherlands Film Museum, and the other institutions that contributed to the 2000 restoration.

 

M is both a tour de force, and a textbook example of how to direct a movie. Although from an academic point of view of Fritz Lang's works, Metropolis would have to be judged a better and more important movie, based on its themes and imagery, it's hard not to rate M on an equal level. The opening scenes are a masterful expository sequence, made doubly powerful by its understatement and indirect imagery: the mother's doting care in preparing the meal, mirroing her love for her child, her growing fear, only intensified by the silence, the absence of the child from shots of the domestic scene; intensified also by our knowlege of the child's impending murder, and our helplessness to prevent it; the final shot of the balloon, a hideous mockery of the simple joy it's meant to convey, trapped in the wires like the child is trapped, and then released, along with the child's life. There is not a superfluous scene, shot, or word spoken. Everything in the film serves either to advance the plot, or develop character.

 

There is much the film explores, the psychology of compulsion, the striving for justice and order among all elements of society. On the surface, there is the police-procedural story of the hunt for the murderer. It is complicated by a parallel procedural story of the underworld seeking the same man. The underworld activities mirror, parrallel, and parody the activities of the legitimate world. Although Mr. Lang is at pains to show the justice of the underworld is a poor imitation, and inadvisable. There is the exquisite juxtaposition of our revulsion for the murderer, and our inevitable identification with him as the underdog, fleeing his pursuers, the object of a kangaroo court, and the victim of his irresistable compulsions. There is also a lot of humor in the film. It serves as a counterpoint to the serious subject of the film, and as a release from the tension.

 

It was deflating to learn Fritz Lang said the message he wanted to send with this movie was "Mothers, keep an eye on your children." That's it. Just keep an eye on your children. So all the examination of the psyche of a child murderer, played magnificently by Peter Lorre, all the examination of the role of law and justice, and the natural striving for it on all levels of society, all the wry and comic observations on human nature Mr. Lang worked in to the movie as the story unfolded, all of that was just so that he could say at the end of the movie, keep an eye on your children. Sounds shaggy to me.

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Did you really get much out of the psyche of a child murderer in that movie? I take Lorre to be a nut and that is about it, there is nothing in the movie that helps to understand the unthinkable.

 

What makes the movie is the underworld helping to nab the guy to keep their own interests going. Your enemies enemy is your friend sort of thing. Of coarse Lorre was nobody's friend but he made others work together to get him in the end. His crimes were even beneath the underworld.

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