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August 31, 2005

Fritz Lang: One by, one about

Fritz Lang - 1934
Kino DVD

Fritz Lang: Circle of Destiny - The German Films
Jorge Dana - 2000
Image DVD

I saw a part of Lilliom theatrically at Telluride about thirty years ago. Charles Boyer goes to Heaven amidst some hokey looking special effects. Now that Lilliom is restored and available on DVD, I figured I would see the entire film with the Heaven scene in context. The highest praise I can give Lilliom is that I did manage to see the entire film unlike An American Guerilla in the Philippines, which I gave up on after about half an hour when it was aired on AMC.

Most people would be familiar with the story of Lilliom from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Carousel. In retrospect, it is difficult to imagine a romance between a former carnival barker who's become a loafer with a seamstress. In addition to living in poverty, the relationship between Lilliom and Julie borders on the masochistic in the way that Julie accepts Lilliom's temper and occassional physical outbursts. Heaven looks like a bad Hallmark card. More fun to look at is the star Lilliom steals from Heaven. With the firmness of jello, this obviously hand scratched piece of very low tech special effects provides a welcome moment of humor.

Made in France between leaving Germany, and before his Hollywood career, Lilliom is more interesting for its historic value. In addition to Lang, producer Erich Pommer was in transition from Germany to Hollywood. In addition to several films starring Charles Laughton, Pommer's first American film, Music in the Air had lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein, future librettist of Carousel. Composer Franz Waxman and cinematographer Rudolph Mate were two films away from their respective Hollywood debuts, Waxman scoring The Bride of Frankenstein and Mate shooting the cult classic, Dante's Inferno. Mate is possibly remembered most for photographing several of Carl Dreyer's silent classics. Mate moved to the director's chair after moving to Hollywood. Sadly, his name is never mentioned in spite of the news that a science fiction classic he helmed, When Worlds Collide, is to be remade by Steven Spielberg.

While the documentary, Fritz Lang: Circle of Destiny does not add many insights into Lang, it should probably be required viewing for people who think film history begins with Star Wars. Not only was Fritz Lang the Steven Spielberg of his time with the oversized budgets and state of the arts special effects, but the shots of the futuristic city of Metropolis are still being duplicated almost eighty years later. While Patrick McGilligan's biography may be the best written source on Lang's life and films, the clips are fun to watch. The anecdotes and analysis from people like McGilligan, Volker Schlondorff, Claude Chabrol and producer Artur Brauner are all less interesting than the clip of Lang discussing his films with Michel Piccoli and Brigitte Bardot in Contempt. That Lang ended his film making career in the same place as he began, essentially remaking films he created in the silent era, is fitting for someone who's screen characters were people unable to escape from the patterns of their lives.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 31, 2005 06:12 PM