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September 20, 2016


mude tod.jpg

Der Mude Tod
Fritz Lang - 1921
Kino Classics BD Region A

Luis Bunuel is quoted on the cover of the new blu-ray as saying that Destiny inspired him to make films because of Fritz Lang's "poetic expressiveness". The film is also said to have influenced Alfred Hitchcock early in his career. The influence on Hitchcock is most obvious in the use of scale. The most striking in Destiny is of the characters in front of a wall. We don't see the entire wall, which has no gate or entrance, but is a totally enclosed space. What is seen are people who are dwarfed by an impossibly high wall that has no top visible to the audience. I know that Lang liked huge props. I was able to have an idea of what it was like to be on a Fritz Lang set when I entered the Berlin Filmmuseum and immediately was overwhelmed by the size of the photos and props there.

But back to Hitchock, I had to wonder if there would have been the scene in the British Museum in Blackmail filmed eight years later, a process shot, with a very small man "observed" by a very large head sculpture, had Hitchcock not seen Lang's films. That shot was done using a method devised by Eugen Schufftan on Lang's Metropolis. In a similar vein, there is the better known sequence of Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint climbing around the faces of the presidents on the side of Mount Rushmore.

The influence Lang had on Bunuel is most strongly felt in the playfulness of the "Chinese" sequence, especially when the female magician turns her alleged master into a small tree. It was also this sequence that caught the eye of Douglas Fairbanks, who bought the U.S. distribution rights, and shelved Destiny for about three years while he and his crew figured out how to make convincing special effects with characters on a flying magic carpet. Lang's silent German films may have tackled the big themes of love and death, but the guy was also the Steven Spielberg of his time, with big budgets and state of the art special effects.

The German title translates as "The Weary Death", focusing on the tall, foreboding character played by Bernhard Goetzke. Not formally named, it is suggested that Mr. Death would like to retire after several centuries of accompanying people as they shuffle off this mortal coil. The English title is more fitting for the framing story and the three short stories within. A woman, unnamed, tries to bargain with death when her fiancé has died unexpectedly. She is told three stories of doomed love that take place at different times and different countries. Finally, she is given the opportunity to revive her fiancé if she is able to find someone equally young to take his place. The title Destiny suggests that there is no way one can change one's fate.

The commentary track by Tim Lucas offers some brief biographical information on most of the cast and key crew members, as well as connecting Destiny to several other films about death in the form of a human visitor. I also strongly recommend viewing the restoration demonstration, with an explanation regarding the choices made for tinting the film, as well as side by side footage showing scenes the same scene tinted and in black and white.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 20, 2016 07:55 AM