Fritz Lang

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Fritz Lang
Fritz Lang (1969).jpg
Lang in 1969
Born
Friedrich Christian Anton Lang

(1890-12-05)December 5, 1890
DiedAugust 2, 1976(1976-08-02) (aged 85)
Resting place Forest Lawn Memorial Park
Citizenship
  • Austrian
  • German
  • American [1]
Occupation
  • Filmmaker
  • film producer
  • actor
Years active1919–1963
Spouse(s)
Lisa Rosenthal
(m. 1919;her death 1921)

Thea von Harbou
(m. 1922;div. 1933)

Lily Latté
(m. 1971;his death 1976)

Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang (December 5, 1890 – August 2, 1976) was an Austrian-German-American filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. [2] One of the best-known émigrés from Germany's school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute. [3]

German Expressionism consisted of a number of related creative movements in Germany before the First World War that reached a peak in Berlin during the 1920s. These developments in Germany were part of a larger Expressionist movement in north and central European culture in fields such as architecture, dance, painting, sculpture, as well as cinema. This article deals primarily with developments in German Expressionist cinema before and immediately after World War I.

British Film Institute Film archive and charity in the United Kingdom

The British Film Institute (BFI) is a film and charitable organisation which promotes and preserves filmmaking and television in the United Kingdom. The BFI utilises lottery funds to encourage film production, distribution, and education. It is sponsored by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Contents

Lang's most famous films include the groundbreaking futuristic Metropolis (1927) and the also influential M (1931), a film noir precursor that he made before he moved to the United States.

<i>Metropolis</i> (1927 film) 1927 German Expressionist science fiction film directed by Fritz Lang

Metropolis is a 1927 German expressionist science-fiction drama film directed by Fritz Lang. Written by Thea von Harbou in collaboration with Lang, it stars Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge and Brigitte Helm. Erich Pommer produced it in the Babelsberg Studios for Universum Film A.G. (UFA). The silent film is regarded as a pioneering science-fiction movie, being among the first feature-length movies of that genre. Filming took place over 17 months in 1925–26 at a cost of more than five million Reichsmarks.

<i>M</i> (1931 film) 1931 German drama-thriller directed by Fritz Lang

M is a 1931 German drama-thriller film directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre. The film was written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou and was the director's first sound film.

Film noir Cinematic term mainly referring to stylish early 1920s–late 1950s Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those emphasizing cynical attitudes and sexual motivations

Film noir is a cinematic term used primarily to describe stylish Hollywood crime dramas, particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations. Hollywood's classical film noir period is generally regarded as extending from the early 1920s to the late 1950s. Film noir of this era is associated with a low-key, black-and-white visual style that has roots in German Expressionist cinematography. Many of the prototypical stories and much of the attitude of classic noir derive from the hardboiled school of crime fiction that emerged in the United States during the Great Depression.

Life and career

Early life

Lang was born in Vienna as the second son of Anton Lang (1860–1940), [4] an architect and construction company manager, and his wife Pauline "Paula" Lang née Schlesinger (1864–1920). He was baptized on December 28, 1890, at the Schottenkirche in Vienna. [5]

Vienna Capital city and state in Austria

Vienna is the federal capital, largest city and one of nine states of Austria. Vienna is Austria's primate city, with a population of about 1.9 million, and its cultural, economic, and political centre. It is the 7th-largest city by population within city limits in the European Union. Until the beginning of the 20th century, it was the largest German-speaking city in the world, and before the splitting of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in World War I, the city had 2 million inhabitants. Today, it has the second largest number of German speakers after Berlin. Vienna is host to many major international organizations, including the United Nations and OPEC. The city is located in the eastern part of Austria and is close to the borders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary. These regions work together in a European Centrope border region. Along with nearby Bratislava, Vienna forms a metropolitan region with 3 million inhabitants. In 2001, the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In July 2017 it was moved to the list of World Heritage in Danger.

Lang's parents were of Moravian descent [6] and practicing Roman Catholics. His parents (his mother, Jewish born, converted to Roman Catholicism) took their religion seriously and were dedicated to raising Fritz as a Catholic. Lang frequently had Catholic-influenced themes in his films. [7] [8] Late in life, he described himself as "born Catholic". [9]

Moravia Historical land in Czech Republic

Moravia is a historical region in the Czech Republic and one of the historical Czech lands, together with Bohemia and Czech Silesia. The medieval and early modern Margraviate of Moravia was a crown land of the Lands of the Bohemian Crown, an imperial state of the Holy Roman Empire, later a crown land of the Austrian Empire and briefly also one of 17 former crown lands of the Cisleithanian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1867 to 1918. During the early 20th century, Moravia was one of the five lands of Czechoslovakia from 1918 to 1928; it was then merged with Czech Silesia, and eventually dissolved by abolition of the land system in 1949.

Catholic Church Largest Christian church, led by the Bishop of Rome

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017. As the world's oldest continuously functioning international institution, it has played a prominent role in the history and development of Western civilisation. The church is headed by the Bishop of Rome, known as the pope. Its central administration, the Holy See, is in the Vatican City, an enclave within the city of Rome in Italy.

After finishing school, Lang briefly attended the Technical University of Vienna, where he studied civil engineering and eventually switched to art. In 1910 he left Vienna to see the world, traveling throughout Europe and Africa and later Asia and the Pacific area. In 1913, he studied painting in Paris, France.

At the outbreak of World War I, Lang returned to Vienna and volunteered for military service in the Austrian army and fought in Russia and Romania, where he was wounded three times. While recovering from his injuries and shell shock in 1916, he wrote some scenarios and ideas for films. He was discharged from the army with the rank of lieutenant in 1918 and did some acting in the Viennese theater circuit for a short time before being hired as a writer at Decla, Erich Pommer's Berlin-based production company.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Austria-Hungary Constitutional monarchic union between 1867 and 1918

Austria-Hungary, often referred to as the Austro-Hungarian Empire or the Dual Monarchy, was a constitutional monarchy in Central and Eastern Europe between 1867 and 1918. It was formed when the Austrian Empire adopted a new constitution; as a result Austria (Cisleithania) and Hungary (Transleithania) were placed on equal footing. It dissolved into several new states at the end of the First World War.

Kingdom of Romania kingdom in Southeastern Europe between 1881 and 1947

The Kingdom of Romania was a constitutional monarchy that existed in Romania from 26 March 1881 with the crowning of prince Karl of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen as King Carol I, until 1947 with the abdication of King Michael I of Romania, and the Romanian parliament proclaiming Romania a socialist republic.

Lang was an atheist. [10] [11] [12]

Expressionist films: the Weimar years (1918–1933)

Lang's writing stint was brief, as he soon started to work as a director at the German film studio UFA, and later Nero-Film, just as the Expressionist movement was building. In this first phase of his career, Lang alternated between films such as Der Müde Tod ("The Weary Death") and popular thrillers such as Die Spinnen ("The Spiders"), combining popular genres with Expressionist techniques to create an unprecedented synthesis of popular entertainment with art cinema.

In 1920, Lang met his future wife, the writer Thea von Harbou. She and Lang co-wrote all of his movies from 1921 through 1933, including Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler; 1922), which ran for over four hours in two parts in the original version and was the first in the Dr. Mabuse trilogy, the five-hour Die Nibelungen (1924), the famous 1927 film Metropolis , and the science fiction film Woman in the Moon (1929). Metropolis went far over budget and nearly destroyed the Ufa which was bought by right-wing businessman and politician Alfred Hugenberg. It was a financial flop as well as his last silent films Spies (1928) and Woman in the Moon produced by Lang's own company.

Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou in their Berlin flat, 1923 or 1924 Fritz Lang und Thea von Harbou, 1923 od. 1924.jpg
Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou in their Berlin flat, 1923 or 1924

In 1931 independent producer Seymour Nebenzahl hired Lang to direct M for Nero-Film. His first "talking" picture, considered by many film scholars to be a masterpiece of the early sound era, M is a disturbing story of a child murderer (Peter Lorre in his first starring role) who is hunted down and brought to rough justice by Berlin's criminal underworld. M remains a powerful work; it was remade in 1951 by Joseph Losey, but this version had little impact on audiences, and has become harder to see than the original film.

During the climactic final scene in M, Lang allegedly threw Peter Lorre down a flight of stairs in order to give more authenticity to Lorre's battered look. Lang, who was known for being hard to work with, epitomized the stereotype of the tyrannical German film director, a type embodied also by Erich von Stroheim and Otto Preminger. His wearing a monocle added to the stereotype.

In the films of his German period, Lang produced a coherent oeuvre that established the characteristics later attributed to film noir, with its recurring themes of psychological conflict, paranoia, fate and moral ambiguity.

At the end of 1932, Lang started filming The Testament of Dr. Mabuse . Adolf Hitler came to power in January 1933, and by March 30, the new regime banned it as an incitement to public disorder. Testament is sometimes deemed an anti-Nazi film as Lang had put phrases used by the Nazis into the mouth of the title character.

Lang was worried about the advent of the Nazi regime, partly because of his Jewish heritage, [13] whereas his wife and screenwriter Thea von Harbou had started to sympathize with the Nazis in the early 1930s and joined the NSDAP in 1940. They soon divorced. Lang's fears would be realized following his departure from Austria, as under the Nuremberg Laws he would be identified as a part-Jew even though his mother was a converted Roman Catholic, and he was raised as such.

Emigration

According to Lang, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels called Lang to his offices to inform him that The Testament of Dr Mabuse was being banned but that he was nevertheless so impressed by Lang's abilities as a filmmaker (especially Metropolis), he was offering Lang a position as the head of German film studio UFA. Lang had stated that it was during this meeting that he had decided to leave for Paris – but that the banks had closed by the time the meeting was over. Lang has stated that he fled that very evening. [14] [15] [16] This statement has been found wrong after his passport of the time showed that he travelled a few times during 1933 to and from Germany, [17] where he got his divorce from Thea von Harbou, who stayed behind, late in 1933. [18]

Lang finally left Berlin on 31 July 1933, four months after his meeting with Goebbels and supposed dramatic escape. He moved to Paris. [19]

In Paris, Lang filmed a version of Ferenc Molnár's Liliom , starring Charles Boyer. This was Lang's only film in French (not counting the French version of Testament). He then went to the United States. [19]

Hollywood career (1936–1957)

In Hollywood, Lang signed first with MGM Studios. His first American film was the crime drama Fury (1936), which starred Spencer Tracy as a man who is wrongly accused of a crime and nearly killed when a lynch mob sets fire to the jail where he is awaiting trial. From the beginning Lang was struggling with restrictions in the US. Thus, in Fury he was not allowed to represent black victims in a lynching scenario or to criticize racism. [20] [21] Because of his anti-Nazi films and his acquaintance with Brecht and Hanns Eisler, he came into the field of view of the Communist hunter Joseph McCarthy.[ citation needed ]

Lang became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1939. He made twenty-three features in his 20-year American career, working in a variety of genres at every major studio in Hollywood, and occasionally producing his films as an independent. Lang's American films were often compared unfavorably to his earlier works by contemporary critics, but the restrained Expressionism of these films is now seen as integral to the emergence and evolution of American genre cinema, film noir in particular. Lang's 1945 film Scarlet Street is considered a central film in the genre.

One of Lang's most famous films noir is the police drama The Big Heat (1953), noted for its uncompromising brutality, especially for a scene in which Lee Marvin throws scalding coffee on Gloria Grahame's face. As Lang's visual style simplified, in part due to the constraints of the Hollywood studio system, his worldview became increasingly pessimistic, culminating in the cold, geometric style of his last American films, While the City Sleeps (1956) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).

Finding it difficult to find congenial production conditions and backers in Hollywood, particularly as his health declined with age, Lang contemplated retirement. The German producer Artur Brauner had expressed interest in remaking The Indian Tomb (from an original story by Thea von Harbou, that Lang had developed in the 1920s which had ultimately been directed by Joe May). [22] So Lang returned to Germany, [23] to make his "Indian Epic" (consisting of The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb ). Following the production, Brauner was preparing for a remake of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse when Lang approached him with the idea of adding a new original film to the series. The result was The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960), whose success led to a series of new Mabuse films, which were produced by Brauner (including the remake of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse), though Lang did not direct any of the sequels. The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse can be viewed as the marriage between the director's early experiences with expressionist techniques in Germany with the spartan style already visible in his late American work.[ citation needed ] Lang was approaching blindness during the production, [24] and it was his final project as director. In 1963, he appeared as himself in Jean-Luc Godard's film Contempt.

Death and legacy

On February 8, 1960, Lang received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the motion picture industry, located at 1600 Vine Street. [25] [26]

Lang died from a stroke in 1976 and was interred in the Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. [27] [28]

While his career had ended without fanfare, Lang's American and later German works were championed by the critics of the Cahiers du cinéma , such as François Truffaut and Jacques Rivette. Truffaut wrote that Lang, especially in his American career, was greatly underappreciated by "cinema historians and critics" who "deny him any genius when he 'signs' spy movies ... war movies ... or simple thrillers." [29] Filmmakers that were influenced by his work include Jacques Rivette and William Friedkin.

Grave of Fritz Lang, at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills Fritz Lang Grave.JPG
Grave of Fritz Lang, at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills

Preservation

The Academy Film Archive has preserved a number of Lang's films, including Human Desire , Man Hunt , and The Art Director. [30]

Filmography

See also

Related Research Articles

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Thea von Harbou German actress

Thea Gabriele von Harbou was a German screenwriter, novelist, film director, and actress. She is especially known as the screenwriter of the science fiction film classic Metropolis and the story on which it was based. Harbou collaborated as a screenwriter with film director Fritz Lang, her husband, during the period of transition from silent to sound films.

Dr. Mabuse is a fictional character created by Norbert Jacques in the German novel Dr. Mabuse der Spieler, and made famous by three films about the character directed by Fritz Lang: Dr. Mabuse the GamblerThe Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) and the much later The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960).

<i>The Testament of Dr. Mabuse</i> 1933 film by Fritz Lang

The Testament of Dr. Mabuse is a 1933 German crime film directed by Fritz Lang. The movie is a sequel to Lang's silent film Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) and features many cast and crew members from Lang's previous films. The film features Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Dr. Mabuse who is in an insane asylum where he is found frantically writing his crime plans. When Mabuse's criminal plans begin to be implemented, Inspector Lohmann tries to find the solution with clues from gangster Thomas Kent, the institutionalized Hofmeister and Professor Baum who becomes obsessed with Dr. Mabuse.

<i>The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse</i> 1960 German crime film directed by Fritz Lang

The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse is a 1960 black-and-white crime film/thriller made in West Germany. It was a West German/French/Italian international co-production and the last film directed by Fritz Lang. It starred Peter van Eyck, Dawn Addams and Gert Fröbe. The film made use of the character Dr. Mabuse, who had appeared in earlier films by Lang in 1922 and 1933. The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse spawned a film series of German "Mabuse" films that were released over the following years to compete with Rialto Film's Krimi films.

<i>Dr. Mabuse the Gambler</i> 1922 film by Fritz Lang

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<i>The Tiger of Eschnapur</i> (1959 film) 1959 film by Fritz Lang

The Tiger of Eschnapur, or in original German, Der Tiger von Eschnapur, is a 1959 West German-French-Italian adventure film directed by Fritz Lang. It is the first of two films comprising what has come to be known as Fritz Lang's Indian Epic; the other is The Indian Tomb(Das Indische Grabmal). Fritz Lang returned to Germany to direct these films, which together tell the story of a German architect, the Indian maharaja for whom he is supposed to build schools and hospitals, and the Eurasian dancer who comes between them.

<i>Spione</i> 1928 film by Fritz Lang

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Rudolf Klein-Rogge German actor

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Das indische Grabmal is a 1918 novel by the German writer Thea von Harbou. It tells the story of a German architect who is commissioned by an Indian maharajah to create a large monument, only to learn that it is meant for the maharajah's unfaithful lover, who will be buried alive as punishment. The novel has been adapted for film three times, and was not translated into English until 2016.

References

  1. Kürten, Jochen (December 4, 2015). "Born 125 years ago: Celebrating the films of Fritz Lang". Deutsche Welle . Retrieved November 18, 2017.
  2. Obituary Variety , August 4, 1976, page 63.
  3. "Fritz Lang: Master of Darkness". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on December 18, 2008. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
  4. "Architekturzentrum Wien". Architektenlexikon.at. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
  5. Vienna, Schottenpfarre, baptismal register Tom. 1890, fol. 83.
  6. Ott, Frederick W. (1979). The films of Fritz Lang (1st ed.). Secaucus, NJ: Citadel Pr. p. 10. ISBN   0806504358 . Retrieved January 19, 2018. Lang's father was a native of Vienna, born in the Roman Catholic parish of Alservorstadt in 1860. His mother Paula was Jewish, a Catholic convert, born in 1864 in the city of Brunn (Brno), the capital of Moravia.
  7. Patrick Mcgilligan (1998). Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. St. Martin's Press. p. 477. ISBN   9780312194543. In the final years of his life, Lang had written, in German, a 20- to 30-page short story called "The Wandering Jew." It was "a kind of fable about a Wandering Jew," according to Pierre Rissient. After Lang's death, Rissient asked Latte [Fritz Lang's third wife] if he might arrange for its publication. "No," she replied, "because Fritz would want to be known as an atheist."
  8. Tom Gunning, British Film Institute (2000). The films of Fritz Lang: allegories of vision and modernity. British Film Institute. p. 7. ISBN   9780851707426. Lang, however, immediately cautions Prokosh, 'Jerry, don't forget, the gods have not created men, man has created the gods.'
  9. Lang, Fritz. Fritz Lang: Interviews. p. 163.
  10. Tom Gunning, British Film Institute (2000). The films of Fritz Lang: allegories of vision and modernity. British Film Institute. p. 7. ISBN   9780851707426. Lang, however, immediately cautions Prokosh, 'Jerry, don't forget, the gods have not created men, man has created the gods.' This is more than a simple statement of Feuerbach-like humanism or atheism.
  11. Patrick Mcgilligan (1998). Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. St. Martin's Press. p. 477. ISBN   9780312194543. In the final years of his life, Lang had written, in German, a 20- to 30-page short story called "The Wandering Jew." It was "a kind of fable about a Wandering Jew," according to Pierre Rissient. After Lang's death, Rissient asked Latte [Fritz Lang's third wife] if he might arrange for its publication. "No," she replied, "because Fritz would want to be known as an atheist."
  12. Mark Kermode (2013). Hatchet Job: Love Movies, Hate Critics. Pan Macmillan. pp. 25–26. ISBN   9781447230526. The Austrian-born film-maker Fritz Lang once commented that, although he was an atheist, he supported religious education because 'if you do not teach religion, how can you teach ethics?'
  13. "The religion of director Fritz Lang" . Retrieved January 22, 2009.
  14. Michel Ciment: Fritz Lang, Le meurtre et la loi, Ed. Gallimard, Collection Découvertes Gallimard (vol. 442), 04/11/2003. The author thinks that this meeting, in fact, never happened.
  15. Havis, Allan (2008), Cult Films: Taboo and Transgression, University Press of America, Inc., page 10
  16. Thomson, David (2012) The Big Screen: the story of the movies New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux ISBN   9780374191894 pages 64–65 Lang's version suspect
  17. "Fritz Lang Tells the Riveting Story of the Day He Met Joseph Goebbels and Then High-Tailed It Out of Germany". Open Culture. April 28, 2015. Retrieved March 29, 2018.
  18. Hughes, Howard (2014). Outer Limits: The Filmgoers' Guide to the Great Science-fiction Films. NY: I.B.Tauris. p. 1. ISBN   1780761651 . Retrieved January 22, 2015.
  19. 1 2 David Kalat, DVD Commentary for The Testament of Dr. Mabuse . New York City, United States: The Criterion Collection (2004)
  20. Letort, Delphine; Lebdai, Benaouda, eds. (2018). Women Activists and Civil Rights Leaders in Auto/Biographical Literature and Films. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing. p. 98. ISBN   978-3-319-77081-9 . Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  21. Scott, Ellen C. (2015). Cinema Civil Rights: Regulation, Repression, and Race in the Classical Hollywood Era. Rutgers University Press. p. 1736. ISBN   978-0-8135-7137-9 . Retrieved September 7, 2018.
  22. Plass, Ulrich (Winter 2009). "Dialectic of Regression: Theador W Adorno and Fritz Lang". Telos . 149: 131.
  23. Gold, H. L. (December 1959). "Of All Things". Galaxy. p. 6. Retrieved June 15, 2014.
  24. Robert Bloch. "In Memoriam: Fritz Lang" in Bloch's Out of My Head. Cambridge MA: NESFA Press, 1986, 171–80
  25. "Fritz Lang | Hollywood Walk of Fame". www.walkoffame.com. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  26. "Fritz Lang – Hollywood Star Walk – Los Angeles Times". projects.latimes.com. Retrieved June 11, 2017.
  27. Fritz Lang
  28. Krebs, Albin (August 3, 1976). "Fritz Lang, Film Director Noted for 'M,' Dead at 85". The New York Times . Retrieved January 22, 2009. Friz Lang, the Viennese-born film director best known for "M", a terrifying study of a child killer, and for other tales of suspense, died yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 85. He had been ill for some time, and had been inactive professionally for a decade.
  29. Dixon, Wheeler Winston (1993). Early Film Criticism of Francois Truffaut. Indiana University Press. pp. 41–42. ISBN   0253113431.
  30. "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive.

Further reading