FRITZ LANG: a filmmaker face to face with a real monster

Heino Ferch as FRITZ LANG

If you’re making a dark crime movie, what better protagonist than Fritz Lang, the creator of the masterpiece M and a founding auteur of film noirFritz Lang imagines Fritz Lang (Heino Ferch) gathering research for M by tracking and interviewing a real serial killer, all while under police suspicion for his own past.

Writer-director Gordian Maugg sets Fritz Lang at after he has triumphed with the sci-fi epic Metropolis.  Most directors are worried about transitioning from silent movies to talkies, but Lang is consumed pivoting from the grand epic to the personal – he aims to focus each film on the inner struggles of one individual.  He begins work on his next film (what will become M) and hides from his agent, producer and even from second wife and co-writer Thea von Harbou.

Lang travels to research a real serial killer.  We see him visualizing scenes for M (and actual snippets from M are inserted in Fritz Lang).  He is confronted by the detective chasing the serial killer, who still suspects Lang of murdering Lang’s first wife.

Indeed, in real life, police were summoned to find Lang’s first wife dead of a gunshot wound to her chest. Lang and von Harbou explained that the wife had discovered them in frangrante delicto, rushed to get Lang’s pistol and killed herself. Because there was no forensic evidence to contradict the two eyewitnesses, no one was charged. But who commits suicide by shooting herself IN THE CHEST?

Also in real life, von Harbou warmed to the Nazis.   Lang saw that the Nazis would eventually learn of his Jewish mother, and a troubling meeting with Joseph Goebbels caused Lang to leave von Harbou in Germany.  The real Fritz Lang went on to become one of the pioneering masters of American film noir, creating a classic body of work: Scarlet Street, House by the River, The Blue Gardenia, The Big Heat, Human Desire, While the City Sleeps and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

The fictional narrative Fritz Lang explores Lang’s creative process, particularly in the creation of M, still one of the most unsettling examples of cinema.   Heino Ferch (Albert Speer in Downfall, the crime boss Ronnie in Run Lola Run) is very good as an imperious but tortures Lang.

Fritz Lang will play the SFJFF at:

  • Castro (San Francisco), Thursday, July 27 9:30 PM
    Albany Twin (Albany), Thursday, August 3 8:30 PM.

The SFJFF runs from July 20 through August 6 at theaters in San Francisco, Palo Alto, Albany, San Rafael and Oakland. You can peruse the entire program and buy tickets and passes at San Francisco Jewish Film Festival.

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