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


Guest Richard Edwards

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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.

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Guest MissDavis442

If you look at the image of M's shadow over his young(soon to be)victim, you might notice that the shadow is actually casted on the POSTER and not across the girl.

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Guest Jazsoty

Eerie opening.  Children innocently singing the song with dire consequences looming as the little girl happily bounces a ball.  Keeps you scared as to what you know is going to happen.

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Guest Jarrett_H

Unrest and paranoia are the words that come to mind. Fritz Lang definitely got those down to a science. Lang looked to establish that with his lighting. Although the clock read "12:00" in the afternoon, the lighting made it feel as if it was another long day in this town, knowing that there was a "man in black" out there, snatching up the kids. That definitely got my attention, but the lines also spoke out. When the second lady, who was washing the clothes mentioned that hearing the song was a form of peace to her, rather than getting mad at the subject of the song, that got my attention. But when we catch a glimpse of a man wearing a trench coat as the young girl was playing with the ball, I knew it wasn't going to end well... But the most glaring thing was the lack of music. I'm not sure if it was suppose to be that way or not, but having no music, nothing to give you that ominous feeling, made me feel more uneasy about it. GREAT start to the movie, and I can't wait to see the rest of it, soon! 

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Guest Jarrett_H

Unrest and paranoia are the words that come to mind. Fritz Lang definitely got those down to a science. Lang looked to establish that with his lighting. Although the clock read "12:00" in the afternoon, the lighting made it feel as if it was another long day in this town, knowing that there was a "man in black" out there, snatching up the kids. That definitely got my attention, but the lines also spoke out. When the second lady, who was washing the clothes mentioned that hearing the song was a form of peace to her, rather than getting mad at the subject of the song, that got my attention. But when we catch a glimpse of a man wearing a trench coat as the young girl was playing with the ball, I knew it wasn't going to end well... But the most glaring thing was the lack of music. I'm not sure if it was suppose to be that way or not, but having no music, nothing to give you that ominous feeling, made me feel more uneasy about it. GREAT start to the movie, and I can't wait to see the rest of it, soon! 

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Guest Chris Pierce

The first word that came to my mind was ominous,and really is the most descriptive to sum up the opening.

Right off the bat,you know where this is going in one simple setup. There's no music,or background noise...just little children playing a game about the "Bogeyman",which the lyrics of the song the girl is singing tells you all you need to know.

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Guest Chris Pierce

The first word that came to my mind was ominous,and really is the most descriptive to sum up the opening.

Right off the bat,you know where this is going in one simple setup. There's no music,or background noise...

just little children playing a game about the "Bogeyman",which the lyrics of the song the girl is singing tells you all you need to know.

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From the discussion of the disappearances between the two women the loss of the girl whom Lang focuses on coming out of the school becomes inevitable. Every thing she passes on her walk becomes a danger and I'm just waiting to see what form it's going to take. The car almost runs her down, the black, yawning doorway she passes, the man leaning on the lamp post....it's almost a mercy when the shadow of Lorre appears because the tension is palpable. I say mercy too because ultimately, we don't see the face of the man who murders Elsie or what exactly happens. 

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Guest Chris Pierce

 

 

 

 

The first word that came to my mind was ominous,and really is the most descriptive to sum up the opening.

Right off the bat,you know where this is going in one simple setup. There's no music,or background noise...

just little children playing a game about the "Bogeyman",which the lyrics of the song the girl is singing tells you all you need to know.

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All the shadowed corners in this little domestic world are unlit--the clothespins on the clothesline remind me of barbed wire, the bells, chimes, car horns, and clocks are the soundtracks of domesticity...countermelodies of how innocent things can presage evil. There are a lot of echo-ings here--the little girl bounces her ball on the murder poster, we read: "Who is the murderer?" And then the shadow figure emerges and asks "What is your name?" in a grim echo of identity searching. When the girl's ball taps on the poster, it's almost summoning her fate (which she just avoided by a friendly policeman escorting her past a near-miss accident). The tale tells us that mother love, God's watchful eye, the law--nothing prevails against this murderer taking his toll on the innocent. Which is pretty much why I won't watch this whole film--too creepy by a long shot. Peter Lorre is creepy when he's playing a nice guy--I can't imagine his brilliant acting on tap for this role! YIKES!!!

I like the previous comment about how happy the mother is and how obvious this is a loved child...particularly poignant!

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Guest Michael DiBella

A very tense and anxiety filled opening. The lack of music underpins the sense of oppression and impending doom. The use of shadow when the killer meets the little girl is very effective as is the ominous song the children sing. This is a great example of showing and not telling. The film visually sets the stage with very little dialogue and sparse use of sound and yet I was instantly engaged in the story.

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Guest Angela Horn

Wow! What a start!!

Shadows from the outset; innocence of childhood using macabre lyrics; bleak tiredness of the first woman; Lang's still-shots; devotion of the mother etc... Parents waiting at the school, a near miss with the little girl and then, at the end of the clip, more deep shadows of the softly spoken man.  What I noticed that the word 'Murder' seems highlighted between the shadow and the edge of the film itself.

Mastery of noir indeed!! 

Haven't seen the whole film yet but I'm really looking forward to it now!!

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Guest Paul F Dell

Not just ominous, but growing tension and growing horror caused by the juxtaposition of innocent children playing a game and the murder song, an innocent child bouncing her ball and the poster about the child murderer, and the shadow of the ,'nice' man who tells little Elsie that she has a pretty ball. Also, there is something impactful about the almost incredible crispness and sharpness of this back and white film print.

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Guest Emily

These opening minutes of Lang's M provide crucial plot information while setting the mood so imperative to the noir genre. This short clip alone is dark and tense. To speak of the director's use of sound, I'd agree that it is skillful and effective in contributing to the mood; there are no extraneous noises. When we hear sound, it breaks the otherwise tense silence. Dialogue establishes plot, the children's song puts us at a state of unease from the beginning. I found the car horn to be especially jolting, as the child comes so close to danger only to be put in harm's way again a few moments later in her meeting with the man.

Another nice detail I noticed on the second watch is the group of adults (presumably parents) gathered around the school doors and waiting for their children to exit. This really speaks to how the murders have already changed the routine and emotion of people in this town even before the film has really begun. When I noticed this, it felt all the more tragic knowing Elsie's mother chose to wait for her at home.

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Guest Emma

In this opening scene from M, I found the choice of sounds Fritz Lang uses (bell, cuckoo clock, horn) all are meant to alert people in different ways. In a literal sense the school bell marks the end of the school day or change of class or break; the cuckoo clocks marks the passage of time; the car horn catches the attention of other drivers or pedestrians but instead, Lang uses these conventional ways of alerting people to alert his audience of the events to come. The sounds are heightened due to the amount of silence in this opening scene.

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Since their have been previous murders, the children have created the chant/song perhaps as a warning to themselves to be vigilant - yet none of them seem to be.  The whole opening scene, to me, not only tries to establish "normalcy" but also to let us know that these are poor, working people perhaps in the lower rungs of society, and that these are the prey of the predator.

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Guest Noreen

The first scene drew me in immediately.  Here we have a small, hard-working neighborhood, but we know something is not quite right. The camera angle, shot from above, show the children singing and eliminating someone, after the sung ends.  After one person is "out", the song begins again.  The children understand they are not safe through singing the "awful song over and over" again. I was somewhat taken aback when the second mother replied to the first, "as long as we can hear them, they are still here." In today's world, none of our children would be outside of view.  There were some attempts at safety as we saw parents waiting outside of the school to walk their children home for lunch, the policeman nearby, and the making the public aware of missing children on the sign. In the last scene, the camera focuses on "the shadow" as he is speaking to Elsa. We, the audience, want to warn her in some way, but it is also the reason we keep watching, I suppose. 

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Guest Julie

I was struck by so much of the foreshadowing in the opening clip, the build up is intense and even though it is revealed almost immediately what's to come, there still is an element of suspense as to who and when. For me, the moment when the little girl steps out into traffic, the car horn blowing warning of danger, is symbolically strong and particularly effective in that she appears unaffected by almost being hit by a car, she is a child that does not comprehend that death or anything bad can happen to her, she conveys the innocent naïveté that makes her completely vulnreable to the evil approaching. On a larger scale, she convey the vulnerability of the community as well, as she walking home for lunch by herself, in spite of the fear conveyed by the adult women in the opening scene. This moment for me, makes the bouncing of the ball on the murder notice and the shadow of the man (good meets evil) so effective in producing that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach.

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I agree that the long and silent (nearly silent) shots add to the tension and slight growing sense of paranoia. The song itself is harrowing but you don't take it seriously off the bat because a lot of children songs are like that. However, as the mystery and crime start to quickly unfold through the conversation between the two women and, ultimately, the sign at the end of the clip, the significance of the song grows. It's also probably important to note that the children disregard the danger and fear of the adults through the clip. It's not just the group that enjoys the song, but the little girl who almost gets run over because she's unaware and unafraid of the world. I wonder if this will have an impact on the rest of the film. Will there be a conflict of innocence vs XXX? Be it experience, cynicism, paranoia... Also, incredible powerful moment when we see the shadow of the man who will most likely be the culprit. There is more tension and impact from the silloutte and darkness (in the mystery) than if we had seen a man. Which, brings to my attention, and I haven't seen the film at all, that it's in stark contrast to the police officer whose face we see clearly and who obviously has the little girl's safety in mind. What a great start. I sure hope to catch the entire film at some point.

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Guest Melissa Fox

This opening is everything that I love about film encapsulated in a tense sequence of four minutes. I love the subtle ominousness of it. I haven't seen the film yet but I can only look forward to it now. If I had to describe film noir with a single word, I would say "tense". This cluster of scenes exemplifies this word to me. 

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Long periods without dialogue give you a feeling of impending doom; something bad is about to happen. No background music enhances the feeling of doom and impending disaster.

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Guest Heidi

This one may or may not mean anything, but I was struck by all the verticals in the shots- hanging things like laundry, dish towels, kitchen utensils, clock chimes, draperies, staircase and landing railings. For me it evokes a helpless, somber feel- Even if you had no text to accompany it, you would anticipate a dark event to disturb it all.

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Guest Chris Pierce

This is totally grounded in horror. No music,simple setup,little girl singing a song about the bogeyman. Nightmare on Elm St. used this same tool to convey its whole meaning. While you may not remember the movie,everyone knows the song. Children,dolls,or clowns can have a much greater psychological effect,for playing on ones fears...leaving a lasting imprint in the mind,of just a few short lines and only seconds of screen time.

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Guest Jessica

I knew as soon as they showed the kids singing that song about the man in black that something not so nice was going to happen.  What really clinched that was once they started showing the girl bouncing the ball, I knew instantly she was going to be the next victim.

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Guest maryannky

I felt a sense of foreboding throughout. The children were playing, but the women loo tired and overworked. The darkness and black and white are hallmarks of film noir.

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