In connection with Lulu, I've recently been fairly obsessed with trying to understand Weimar Germany (and it's not an easy thing). Though my Lulu is set in (more or less)modern-day Chicago, and the plays were a product of pre-WW1 Germany, which seems to me justifies using the piece--as Pabst did, which is why most think of it as the Weimar work--as a means of looking at one's own hard times. In the usual jumps from tangent to tangent I often follow, this led me into looking at more of the quite amazing Fritz Lang, usually with Thea Von Harbou, a favorite since my childhood because of M, which I saw accidentally on SCETV one afternoon when I was about 8. I'd never really seen more than that and Metropolis. Thanks to the wonderful completists at Kino, I got to see his masterpiece DR. MABUSE: DER SPIELER--which is actually, like KILL BILL, a two-part film, "The Gambler" and "Inferno". Here's the first one.
And--banned by the Nazis themselves, the deeply creepy TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE, complete.
Basically, this is your prototype Lex Luthor-style evil genius-manipulator, warring on the very economy of Germany itself. The opening scene is almost a film to itself, where he wreaks havoc on the stock market merely by stealing one diplomatic pouch., But he's not just that. He's something a bit more...sinister, implied in the latter film I mention. He's a bit like Spartacus Hughes in THE FILTH: more meme than man.
Mabuse, interestingly, is played by the same fellow who played Rotwang in METROPOLIS.
If you haven't seen them, or in the case of the former, you think silent films--which are a huge amount of the inspiration for my methods of making comics--are hard to follow or boring, you must see these, and more Lang. He holds up well, I think, because of the very cynicism that he was often criticized for in his time. And if you look at his work, you can see prototypes spread all around for what became a lot of the style of American adventure and superhero comics. You can certainly see his influence shot through, most especially, such comics as Batman and Dick Tracy. And Lang virtually invented the spy genre in film.
What I like about Lang, besides that his movies all look stunning, is his way of making the centrality of the protagonist(in the Hollywood "hero" manner), not matter, even if there is a supposedly central character. His films aren't even ensembles--they're collectives. His films are about cities as organisms, and their dynamics as living beings. This, I think, as expressed in M(itself the subject of an excellent 1990 adaptation by Jon J. Muth, which was an inspiration for my wanting to do Lulu, along with P. Craig Russell's approaches to adaptation of opera) has carried through in such works as Moore & Campbell's From Hell, the comic Lang's M most resembles in its decentralized dissection of London. I don't think I've ever seen that comparison elsewhere, but I'm making it.
Thanks for prompting me to finally watch this masterpiece, John. Having seen The Testament of Dr. Mabuse shortly after its release through Criterion, and loving it, I don't know why I had neglected from seeing The Gambler for so long. Reminds me I still have quite a few other films by Lang that I need to get to.
"Eternity with Beelzebub, and all his hellish instruments of death, will be a picnic compared to five minutes with me and this pencil." - E. Blackadder, 1791 Questionable
words & pictures from John Linton Roberson SUPPORT US AT PATREON!