Weekly Top Five: Funerals and snakes—the best of Fritz Lang | Bleader

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Weekly Top Five: Funerals and snakes—the best of Fritz Lang

Posted By on 06.02.13 at 12:00 PM

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Ministry of Fear
  • Ministry of Fear
All spring, the University of Chicago's Doc Films has been running films under the banner "Lost Wings: Film Noir Femme Fatales." The series, which has previously screened Gilda (1946), The Glass Key (1942), and Gun Crazy (1950), culminates on Mon 6/3 with Fritz Lang's classic The Big Heat. Considering his vast and rich filmography, Lang seemed the ideal subject for this week's list. See my five favorite Lang films after the jump.

5. Clash by Night (1952) This stately romance is one of Lang's most underrated works, most likely due to the fact that it was released the same year as the sensationalistic Rancho Notorious, as Dave Kehr notes in his capsule for the former. The film is based on a Clifford Odets play and adheres strictly to the source material's two-act structure, but its overall tone is so naturalistic that it transcends the rigged staging of a typical theater adaptation.

4. Fury (1936) His first American film, and one of the most crucial films of the 1930s in this or any other country. Noted for its Nazi Germany allegory and incredible performance by Spencer Tracy, it also features some of his most compelling visual designs, such as the scene in the barbershop, with its circular compositions and unsettling use of mirrors. Haunting, dreamlike stuff.

3. While the City Sleeps (1956) A sort of spiritual update of his classic M, this caustic noir about a newspaper's shady pursuit of a serial killer's identity doubles as a satire of mass media. As is the case with all of Lang's work, the film is a visual wonder, brimming with geometric compositions and intricately designed interior set pieces, but the narrative aspects also dazzle, as Lang mirrors the dual plot lines with lyrical precision.

2. Ministry of Fear (1943) Though not one of Lang's personal favorites (primarily due to some contentious dealings he had with the film's producer), this wartime thriller is unmistakably Langian, even if one needs to dig a little to find what makes it so personal. If only for the thrillingly surreal opening sequence, this may well be Lang at his most thematically resonant. Elements of Freudian psychology, Nazism, the burden of time, and paranoia weave their way through the story in ways that are both subtle and disarming. In many ways, it resembles the nightmarish qualities of his early expressionist period, with exaggerated set pieces and an overall tone of menace.

1. Spies (1928) Easily the best film of his German period, this silent thriller lacks the bloat of Metropolis (despite being just about as long) and anticipates some of the editing techniques he'd use in M as well as much of his American work. Its episodic structure gives the sense of multiple stories within in a single, overarching narrative. Each segment is thorough and self-contained—in fact, it isn't infeasible to watch a single episode and get the sense that you're watching a work unique unto itself. The fact that they form a larger tapestry makes the film that much more rich.

Drew Hunt writes film-related top five lists every Sunday.

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