Jump to content

 
Search In
  • More options...
Find results that contain...
Find results in...
Guest Richard Edwards

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

Recommended Posts

Guest Katrina

For me, when I was watching the little girl sing I couldn't help but remember "Lizzie Borden took an Ax, gave her mother 40 whacks" and doubtless to these children that was an equivalent. Which makes me wonder if my own parents were as disturbed by their children singing that as the woman with the basket was in the film. Someone mentioned already the line about "if we can hear them". I completely agree that it makes silence the enemy. I was also struck by the fact that we see a black shadow of a man so soon after hearing "the man in black" and it's natural to assume that it was done deliberately, to identify this person as someone we should fear. I think what is also brought to the front is the fearlessness of the children...I don't know that I would call it stupid or anything of that nature but rather that they don't see any reason to be afraid. That one child is walking about on her own, talking to strangers, not paying attention to traffic. She doesn't fear any of it. When she has ample reason to be afraid. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think 'tense' best sums up the opening of the film - right from the start with the juxtaposition of children singing about a murderer through to the end with the shadow appearing on the notice & the disembodied voice talking to the little girl.  Everything seems too normal... the calm before the storm hits.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think 'tense' best sums up the opening of the film - right from the start with the juxtaposition of children singing about a murderer through to the end with the shadow appearing on the notice & the disembodied voice talking to the little girl.  Everything seems too normal... the calm before the storm hits.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Bill Engleson

I both love and absorb the dread of the beginning. In classic fashion, the children are singing their updated version of ring around the rosey. The camera catches glimpses of the darkness of the lives of the people in this small neighbourhood. Small pleasures, the tasting of food cooking, the table set, perhaps for the child we expect may not reach home. A world unsafe for children is a dreary and hostile place, a place noir.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Kevin Clink

The thing that strikes me the most about the opening scene of M is how much life is full of order and routine, even taking into account the Germanic setting. A woman is carrying laundry, as she presumably does every day. She hands the laundry to the woman who likely washes it every day. We see a crowd of adults - parents - waiting to pick up their children from the local school as they do every day. The washer woman smiles when the clock strikes twelve. She begins to set the table - another part of her daily routine. Who is she waiting for? A child begins to walk home for lunch. Is this the child of the washer woman? The child is so used to her route home that she throws her ball in the air as she walks. How much of life is led on autopilot? Earlier, the child almost walks into traffic - as if oblivious to her surroundings, as so many of us are. It is only when things interfere with our routine that we pay attention - and in many cases, sometimes too late.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What I take away from the opening is that what is normal has changed, and the "kind" adults don't want to acknowledge it. Everything is ordinary, plain even with the exception of that which is altered by the potential for violence. The children recognize the possibility of a brutal death through their song play, and accept that. The "kind" adults remember a safer time, and wish to keep that version of normalcy. Then the long shadow of the murderer encounters Elsie, and the "new normal" is reality.

 

I've never seen this particular film, but I'm looking forward to viewing it. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Michael Picarella

Doom is near . . . 

 

The opening of Fritz Lang's 1931 film "M" is filled with long takes. Lang lets his frames go empty, and he hangs on them, makes his viewers wait for, wonder, fear what's going to enter.

 

Happy kids sing a "cursed" song in a playful game, but as long as the adults hear them, one mother says, at least they know they're there.

 

Cuckoo clocks, church bells, a little girl's close call with a passing automobile in the street . . . And then Doom finally fills the frame in the form of a shadow.

 

The aforementioned sequence exemplifies Lang's mastery of design.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Michael

This is the first time I've seen this film and the opening is certainly powerful. The overhead angle of the camera looking down on the kids singing, the movement to the balcony with the washing and the arrival of a clearly stressed woman shouting at the kids to stop all lend to a very foreboding and menacing atmosphere. The laundry woman with the heavy almost unmanageable load all tell us these are put upon people. The first words "Just you wait, it won't be long till the man in black is here" really set the scene for the horror we imagine is to come, also there is a element of randomness about the whole thing from the song randomly picking a kid, to the kid nearly being hit by the car, then being helped across the road by the policeman only for a sinister stranger to randomly pick on her. Can't wait to see more. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Pro Democracy

What an opening! I'm not sure that this scene would have be as effective in any language other than German. The clockwise motion of the children's song instantly conveyed the message that someone's days were numbered.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Neilythere

A truly striking opening, at once full of dread and underplayed. The contrast of the child's voice and what she's singing sets the tone that builds to the shadow of the man falling across the word "murderer" on the wanted poster.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

​The lack of titles, though the whole thing, is deliberate, There's nothing to distract you from the action.  The contrast between the kids playing in the safety of the courtyard, and the dangers they face once they leave, the little girl almost getting hit by a car, and the poster setting the background scene.  The old people working hard, and cooking anticipating the arrival of the kids from school, as marked by the clock telling the time, it also  says that the time has come for another victim to be had.  the fact you don't see the villain, only his shadow , is more use of  foreboding, and danger. and builds suspense, will she, or won't she be the  next victim ?   Of course we know she will be.  The kids don't completely understand how real the danger is,  Until its too late.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Burt

I, too, caught the prescient quality to the child's rhyme of a "Man in black coming to get you" only two years before the rise of Hitler. Positively eerie! Another oddity about the camera's first panning shot is the door some five feet from the ground without any steps leading up to it. Is this how one is supposed to get to the courtyard? If so, there is no safe way in and, especially for the children, no way out!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Eduardo Wolbert

Hello Noir Cohort!

 

The noir use of shadow is most prominent when Peter Lorre comes into the scene, or rather, his shadow.  The homage to Murnau's 'Nosferatur' (1922) is unmistakable: 

Fritz Lang would have been familiar with this film and the larger sequence of German Expressionism (Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the Golem, etc.)  Sonically, I'm interested in the element of the voice in this scene from 'M.'  We are shown a variety of different voices.  Most of the dialogue in the scene pertain to the use of voices.  The children sing, the woman with the laundry basket attempts to use her own voice to silence them by yelling, and all we hear of Peter Lorre's character is his voice albeit tethered to some ominous shadow cast on the very poster that exhibits the evil of his crimes.  This scene is interesting in relation to what film scholar Michel Chion calls the "acousmetre," or what is often referred to as the disembodied voice.  This technique was popularized by Lang himself later in 'Das Testament Des Dr. Mabuse' (1933). (

).  What we have in this first scene is something like that, but we know the sound to be connected to something already esablished on-screen.  I think that the sound is being used to stretch the frame.  In the scene with the children, we see them singing and playing that game in reference to the child-killer.  The camera moves up and away, but we can still hear them singing.  They are still a presence in the diagesis through their sound, their off-screen sound in particular.  Later, when we first see Pter Lorre's shadow, his off-screen voice implies his off-screen presence.  We see only the the darkness he casts, and sound expands the scope of the scene by creating an off-screen space.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest mardigus

The thing that strikes me the most about the opening scene of M is how much life is full of order and routine, even taking into account the Germanic setting. A woman is carrying laundry, as she presumably does every day. She hands the laundry to the woman who likely washes it every day. We see a crowd of adults - parents - waiting to pick up their children from the local school as they do every day. The washer woman smiles when the clock strikes twelve. She begins to set the table - another part of her daily routine. Who is she waiting for? A child begins to walk home for lunch. Is this the child of the washer woman? The child is so used to her route home that she throws her ball in the air as she walks. How much of life is led on autopilot? Earlier, the child almost walks into traffic - as if oblivious to her surroundings, as so many of us are. It is only when things interfere with our routine that we pay attention - and in many cases, sometimes too late.

 

I both love and absorb the dread of the beginning. In classic fashion, the children are singing their updated version of ring around the rosey. The camera catches glimpses of the darkness of the lives of the people in this small neighbourhood. Small pleasures, the tasting of food cooking, the table set, perhaps for the child we expect may not reach home. A world unsafe for children is a dreary and hostile place, a place noir.

Pretty scary if you are a parent.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Sherry Myers

Innocence vs an implied threat moves through everyday life. One wants to reach out and warn the girl. The tension builds quickly. Already we foresee the possibility of sadness and fear visiting this neighborhood.

 

Lang builds on the visuals of ordinary people whit a darkness, a shadow lurking just out of sight.

 

Just this snippet gives me chills! I haven't watched this film in a long time. Looking forward to seeing it again.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Bob Kolvoord

While I appreciate the mastery of Lang's technique, was I the only one that wondered about the very long shadows when the clock was striking noon?  This seemed very discordant - on what was clearly a sunny day, the shadows made it seem like early evening, rather than the midday break for lunch from school.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"As long as we can hear 'em singing, at least we know they're still there."  After that line is given I spent the rest of the clip hoping that I would hear them singing. Such a beautifully ominous opening.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Christopher Malcolm

The tone of the opening of the Fritz Lang classic M, is ominous.  We start with a POV view of a girl playing amongst a group of children.  The camera lingers in a voyeuristic way as one specific girl is placed center frame.  We then hear the older women discussing the crime wave threatening the children in the community.  We even see the little girl almost hit by a speeding car.  And while the driver isn't a murderer, it adds to the level of impending doom.  So, by the time we get to the police poster announcing the search for a child murderer, the audience is already primed.  Then, once the silhouette of a man arrives, the high contrast dark shadow being a film noir hallmark, we know the child is doomed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest tshawcross

For me, the most chilling moment in the opening scene of "M" is when the little girl tells her name to the shadowy figure. The impact is heightened because the camera stays focused on the man's shadow instead of going to the lttle girl's face when she speaks. By now, we assume that the man casting the shadow is a child killer, so by seeing his shadow while hearing her innocent voice allows the opportunity for the evil and the good to cohabit the same space. Very effective! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Weda

I'm not sure how to define film noir, but the mood, shadows and slow movement of the camera are, in my opinion, features of this genre. The presence of children was a surprising addition, one that I did not associate with film noir. But, delving into this is great fun and I'm anxious to learn more about it.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Stacy Sobotka

Saw this film at the Detroit Film Theatre at the Detroit Institute of Arts about a year ago as part of their DFT 101 series. And I'm glad I did. This film was soooooo creepy, and I understand why Peter Lorre ended up typecast in so many roles of the psychotic murder/mad man character.

 

Children seemed to be fascinated with the macabre and will risk getting into trouble exploring it, despite their superstitious parents. The first mother has the right to be scared, and the second prefers to take it easy, and her quote "as long as we can hear them, they'll be fine" shows she is trying to be optimistic despite news of the killer.

 

I agree with another post that our lives are often on autopilot; we do the same rituals every day.

 

If it were today, perhaps it would be a smartphone or IPhone that occupies the girl's attention, instead of her ball. (though I think she is way too young to carry a cell phone, but it's all up to the parents)

 

Her mother probably warned her not to talk to strangers, but in the heat of the moment, we often forget rules and the appearance of the stranger probably fascinated her.

 

It is ironic it all occurs in front of the wanted poster, as Lang toys with us on what's to come.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest MissDavis442

"As long as we can hear 'em singing, at least we know they're still there."  After that line is given I spent the rest of the clip hoping that I would hear them singing. Such a beautifully ominous opening.

Agreed!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Linni

I think the clip is mostly operating on the tension between the shadow world and world of the innocent that Kristal pointed out. The children, as markers of the innocent, are in constant danger because of their innate qualities-they do not expect that anything bad should happen to them. In this way, I think the use of children sets the ominous, tense mood characteristic of later noirs.

 

I also liked how Lang uses the prolonged focus on the washerwoman/mother as a way to build dramatic tension between these spheres. As she tenderly prepares a meal for her children, we as the viewers hang in suspense, waiting for some sort of terrible news to befall this innocent woman. The sounds used here add to the tension-each jars the viewer a bit, suggesting the impending disaster. As each sound proves innocent, the line between the two spheres in tension blurs, increasing the scene's dramatic potential.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Rita

The children are playing but singing a song about the black man who will cleave them.  The woman is annoyed and tells them to stop singing the song.  The second woman states we can hear them.  Yet as the first woman went into the building, the little girl's voice fades.  It gives the impression she might have been taken.  Then when the school is introduced and the child is helped by the police officer, the cutting between scenes lets you know she is the target.  There is no doubt when the shadow appears across the wanted poster.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

© 2020 Turner Classic Movies Inc. A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Cookie Settings
×
×
  • Create New...