Alan Williams (essay date Summer 1974)

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SOURCE: "Structures of Narrativity in Fritz Lang's Metropolis," in Film Quarterly, Vol. XXVII, No. 4, Summer, 1974, pp. 17-24.

[In the following essay, Williams discusses the narrative structure of Lang's Metropolis using A.G. Greimas's system of analysis.]

This study will attempt a narrative analysis of Fritz Lang's Metropolis using concepts developed by A.-G. Greimas, particularly those of his "Eléments d'une grammaire narrative." Greimas's system analysis posits three fundamentally distinct levels in any text: a "deep" structure of meaning (similar to Levi-Strauss's notion in myth analysis but based on a dynamic model of generation rather than a static set of paradigms), an anthropomorphic level (shifts generated by the model become "actions" performed by "characters"), and finally the level of inscription in which the narrative is presented in whatever matter of expression chosen (in this case the filmic text as "read"). Rather than explain in detail Greimas's theory and then proceed to Lang, we will begin the analysis of Metropolis, introducing theoretical points as they become relevant. To this end—we will begin with a preliminary "reading" of the film in Greimasian terms (primarily at the "anthropomorphic" level), then proceed to an attempt at formalization of the narrative structure (the "deep" level), and finally place the text in other systems of discourse, the "texts" of culture and ideology (using mainly the level of the inscription).

Metropolis begins with a segment (a self-contained bit of expression read as a separate unit) which appears totally expository—having, however, a definite function in the narrative. Greimas points out, after Propp, that all narratives must begin with a manque, a lack of some sort. In many of Perrault's fairy tales this is a lack of food; in the Russian folk-tales analyzed by Propp it is the kidnapping of the king's daughter. Lang's film begins with a depiction of the totally alienated condition of the workers, their lack of control or even contact with their own conditions of existence. This lack marks the workers as the film's first "subject" or hero (as a collective unit), although their function as actant, as performer of a set of operations, changes in the course of the film, as we will see. (The lack posited by Greimas is, of course, similar to the "problem" considered as the root of narrative in texts on the short story or on scriptwriting. Greimas's notion has the advantage, however, of being more concrete from the point of view of analysis and comparison, if not of story writing. It is easier to compare the lack of two specific objects than to compare two problems defined in different terms, giving a greater power of critical generalization.)

One of the other major devices of all narrative is also introduced in this first segment, but in a non-operative manner: the film is divided into various "spaces," making possible various transfers or disjunctions. The workers are seen descending from the machine rooms to their homes, using the giant elevators which form part of one of the film's ruling oppositions, movement by machine/self-movement, one aspect of the central opposition Machine/Human in the film's structure of meaning.

This notion of space is central to the most daring aspect of Greimas's theories of narrative, his definition of all narrative events as some sort of real or attempted transfer of an object, accompanied by or implying a spatial discontinuity. By this criterion the first narrative function in Metropolis occurs in the film's second autonomous segment. Maria, as "subject," takes the group of children (the object of value) from the worker city to the "pleasure garden" on the upper level....

(This entire section contains 3264 words.)

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She is forced to leave, and the unit of narrative (and the segment) is ended by the failure of this attempted transfer. This narrative unit, isolated though it seems, does not remain unconnected with the narrative as a whole, by its creation of another hero, Freder, and its anticipation of the penultimate transfer of an object in the film, which is the return of the children to the upper level (again to the "pleasure garden") by Maria, assisted by Freder and Joseph.

This second segment of the film also introduces a second lack, this time individual rather than collective. This manque produces Freder as a "hero" of the narrative, for he discovers his lack of knowledge of the workers, which institutes the next portion of the narrative in which he descends to the machine rooms to observe the workers and witnesses the accident at the central power room. This constitutes, however, only the first stage of his acquisition of the knowledge which will enable him to act as a hero or subject in the film. The end of this portion of the narrative (and the third autonomous segment of the film) is indicated by his leaving the space of conflict, the machine rooms, to return to the upper levels with his (still incomplete) knowledge.

When Freder returns to the upper city, the residence of the ruling class, he attempts to give his father, John Frederson, his understanding of the workers' condition. Frederson at this point is simultaneously the intended destination of the object of value, knowledge, and anti-subject (traitor) who prevents its transmission. With the introduction of Frederson at this point the narrative must be interpreted simultaneously on two levels, for as an actant Frederson is the "subject" of another "story," in which the object of desire is the control (later the elimination) of the workers. For the discovery of the maps in the dead workers' clothing reveals another lack, similar to Freder's: the ruler of Metropolis lacks knowledge of the meaning of the maps, of the workers' intentions. From this point until the segment of the film in the catacombs the objects of desire sought by both father and son will be types of knowledge, which will enable them to function as hero and traitor in the decisive later stages of the narrative. In each case the knowledge will be acquired in stages. Thus, following the interview in Frederson's office, Freder redescends to the machines and Frederson goes to the inventor Rotwang's house, each in search of more adequate knowledge. At the level of expression the film emphasizes this similarity by the use of parallel editing.

Their acquisition of knowledge, this stage of which is delineated by the spaces in which both hero and traitors remain, brings them both closer to the full knowledge necessary to the power to act. Freder discovers the grueling effects of time and repeated effort by taking charge of a machine deserted by a failing worker. Frederson is shown the Robot by Rotwang, who also partially deciphers the mystery of the maps, which are revealed to be guides to the catacombs below the worker city. Again parallels are established expressively between these acquisitions of knowledge by intercutting.

In the first segment in the catacombs (which we would number as seventh segment of the film) the acquisition of knowledge for both sides is completed. Freder, his father, and Rotwang observe Maria speaking to the workers. The initial lacks of knowledge are eliminated, but reveal in each case another lack: Frederson discovers that he lacks control over the workers and Freder discovers his responsibility as "mediator." The new object of desire for both Freder and his father (through Rotwang) will be Maria, although she is desired by both as a means of obtaining another object, the workers, for their elimination (father) or liberation (son). Although Maria is still a subject or hero in the film, at this point she also becomes an object of desire.

The next narrative function in the film is the abduction of Maria by Rotwang from the catacombs to his house—a typical narrative transfer complete with spatial discontinuity. In the implied confrontation in the inventor's house between Freder and Rotwang (in the segment which follows) the latter triumphs by using machinery, which serves as helping agent to the traitors throughout the film. Freder is thus denied access to Maria whose features are transferred, quite literally, to the Robot. This is done in order to deceive Freder and the workers, that is, to transmit to them a false knowledge. The deception of Freder, in his father's office, removes his power to act. The function of the acquisition of knowledge in narrative is the creation of an ability to act, a power. Transmission of false knowledge is the classic means of neutralizing this power.

The individual deception of Freder is followed by the collective deception of the workers in the catacombs; this deception does not merely neutralize their power but converts them temporarily into traitors, allies of Frederson and Rotwang. The Robot, contrary to the real Maria, convinces the workers to act by violence for themselves, not peacefully through others, a frequent distinction made in Western narratives between traitor and hero. The children left behind in the lower city will assume the workers' actantial function as hero, as metonymic representatives of the proletariat. In these deceptions, the Robot, though a machine, is an actant and fills the role of anti-subject or traitor.

The deception of the workers, however, is followed by the restoration of Freder's power to act, by his acquisition of the knowledge that the Robot is not Maria. The workers, as traitor, subdue him. Their object, the destruction of the machines, entails the destruction of their own children, who are the final object of value in the narration. The restoration of power to the heroes continues as Maria achieves her release from Rotwang's house and prevents the destruction of the children by moving them to the upper city with the help of Freder and Joseph. The restoration of power to Freder and Maria is followed by the undeceiving of the workers and their return to the status of hero. The knowledge given them by the foreman of the powerhouse frees them from the traitors' domination. With this new status they seize and destroy the Robot, who becomes simultaneously anti-subject and object, as Maria was previously subject and object.

The second abduction of Maria by Rotwang creates one final lack to be dealt with by the hero Freder who by killing Rotwang eliminates the last of the traitors—John Frederson being transformed from traitor to hero by his son's actions. It is Freder's having saved the children which saves his father from being killed by the workers. At the end of the film, therefore, the lacks (of the subjects, not the anti-subjects) are removed, the traitors destroyed, and the imbalance which set the narrative in motion eliminated.

We should add parenthetically that some of the problems raised by the narrative structure of Metropolis stem from the fact that much of the original version of the film is missing from the copies currently available. Nonetheless the film as it exists has coherence and has been "read" easily enough by its audiences; thus our analysis has taken as its point of departure the text as we have it and not as it "should have been." In any case there is ample evidence that the original version has most of the inconsistencies which trouble the film in its current state. For a summary of these problems see Jensen, The Cinema of Fritz Lang.

Despite the apparent complexity of our preliminary reading, Metropolis does not have an inordinately complicated narrative design. The major difficulties of analysis come from the division of the functions of hero and traitor among six principal actants, with two of these switching function in the course of the film. The heroes appear in what we have considered the film's first two autonomous segments: the workers, Freder, and Maria. The traitors appear in segments five and six (in the office and Rotwang's house): John Frederson, Rotwang, and the Robot. The distribution of actants and also their order of first appearance in the text is thus symmetrical—Frederson and the workers will at times be both subject (anti-subject) and object, and Freder and Rotwang will function unambiguously as hero and traitor. This tripling of hero and traitor is maintained through a tripartite division of objects of value: the knowledge wholly human. The robot is, obviously, a machine, but Rotwang is also in part, having lost his right hand and replaced it with a mechanical one during the robot's construction. Thus the inventor is an embodiment of this central tension: he is half human and half machine, on the metonymic level of the hands. It is, significantly, his right, mechanical hand which Frederson shakes after first seeing the robot in action. Shortly afterward, Frederson also shakes the robot's hand: his transformation to hero will be signalled at the end of the film by his shaking for the first time a fully human hand, that of the foreman.

This master opposition is also present in a less consistent manner in methods of transportation depicted in the film. When the workers, oppressed by the ruling class, go to and from work they use the elevators, helping agents for the traitors, whereas when they descend to the catacombs to hear Maria they do so on foot. When the workers go as traitor to destroy the machines, their position as actant is underlined by their use of the elevators—thevery sort of machinery which they wish to eliminate. Freder, Maria, and Joseph take the children to the upper levels by purely "human" effort. These oppositions inscribe themselves in an almost Marxist discourse; they therefore contribute to the paradoxical nature of the film. The deep narrative structure, which we can justly characterize as reactionary, belies the contexts into which the production of this meaning is inserted.

A second sort of discourse alluded to in Metropolis is of a religious dimension. This is most evident in the names of the protagonists, Joh Frederson ("John" in the English titles does not suggest "Jehova" as well as the German), Maria, Joseph, and Freder, who is most often referred to simply as "the son" or "Joh Frederson's son." (Joseph, we might add, has a less important role than Maria, the Father, and the Son, as befits the Western religious tradition.)

But there is a consistent opposition present between the vague Christianity present in so much of the film and another tradition, mystical and alchemical, most evident in the connotations produced by the presentation of Rotwang. He is portrayed as a sort of medieval sorcerer (and his robot will be burned like a witch); compared to the archtypically Aryan appearances of Freder and Maria the inventor looks distinctly Semitic. On his door and above the robot in his laboratory is a five-pointed star. He lives alone in a curiously distorted, old-fashioned house, set apart from the rest of society. His "science" is occult and solitary.

The opposing, Christian tradition is most apparent in Maria and Freder. The latter, working at the curious circular machine during his second visit to the machine rooms, is quite clearly crucified on the hands of the clock face which appears behind the controls. Maria is clearly and uncomplicatedly associated with Christian teachings. In the catacombs, when she relates the tale of the Tower of Babel there emerges a curious juxtaposition of the Christian and mystic elements opposed in the text. Maria stands in front of numerous crucifixes, viewed reverently from below by the workers. As the shots appear which illustrate her story (differentiated from surrounding shots by a circular masking) it is apparent that the builders of the tower are visually and verbally equated with the tradition represented by Rotwang, that of the arrogant and occult "scholar." Even the clothing worn by the planners of the tower is similar to that of the inventor.

There is also a third manner in which the text, though less directly this time, may be viewed as inserting itself into larger contexts, into an "intertextual space." This aspect of Metropolis is composed of structures analyzable in psychoanalytic terms. We will mention here only Oedipal aspects of the film and the presence of elements suggesting a sort of "death wish." Through the cultural and political grids we have referred to above a three-membered "family" is created. Frederson, as leader of society and as a "Jehova" figure, becomes the Father. Freder, as the ruler's son, as representative of the workers, and as Christ, is the Son. Finally Maria, in her religious context and as spiritual creator of Freder and the workers—for it is she who reveals to them their respective manques, creating them as individual consciousness—is the Mother. Freder, to negate and assume the power of the Father, must have access to the Mother—which is precisely what is prevented by the abduction of Maria. He will see the robot in Maria's image in the hands of his father, which of course produces his lack of power (castration). Thus the film portrays an individual and collective, Oedipal and primal revolt against the Father, for Maria is also Mother to the masses. The father is retained at the end of the film only in a partially castrated form (he kneels on the ground while his son fights Rotwang). That Frederson is not killed outright, but merely stripped of some of his power which is transmitted only to the Son and not to the workers indicates the repressed, compromised nature of the Oedipal conflict in Metropolis.

But the film, and indeed most of Lang's work, lends itself also to an analysis in terms of life and death instincts. The preservation of culture itself is at stake in the prevention of Frederson's projected destruction of the workers. There is a persistent identification in the film of the machines and hence the traitors with death, both of the individual and of the structure of society. This is further identified with the pagan/mystic tradition, as when Freder sees the accident in the central power room as a sacrifice to the god Moloch. In a curious way this death tendency is portrayed as belonging to nature as opposed to culture (this of course is perfectly consistent with Freud's thought). Thus when the central powerhouse is destroyed, it is the released water which threatens to kill the children. Culture is always dangerously near a breakdown under the forces of nature. The maintenance of culture is the responsibility of the heroes. In most of Lang's work, particularly in his German silent period, there exist powerful forces for the end of culture, individuals whose goal is total destruction: Mabuse in Dr. Mabuse the Gambler or Haghi in Spione are perhaps the clearest examples.

Whether one wishes to consider these cultural and psychoanalytic contexts of the inscription of narrativity in Metropolis as primary or secondary as compared to "deeper" structures of the text depends purely on the perspective chosen for the analysis. In this study we have attempted to give more or less equal weight to the various levels of elaboration posited by Greimas. At the "deepest" level are the elementary structures of meaning which, anthropomorphized, produce the notions of "actions" and "characters" which with insertion into larger contexts are elaborated into the immediately accessible narration. In this analysis we have stopped short of considering the nature of the inscription of the film itself, how the text produces meaning from moment to moment: codes of lighting or representation of actions, the function of titles, methods of editing and composition, etc. This would be another aspect of the study of the text and an extremely interesting one. Hopefully, however, through this limited work on the profoundly resonant text of Metropolis we have suggested some of the levels of structuration involved in the analysis of the production of meaning through narration.


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Fritz Lang 1890–1976

Austrian-born director, screenwriter, producer, and actor.

The followingentry presents criticism of Lang's work through 1994. For further information on his life and career, see CLC, Volume 20.

Lang is considered by many critics to be one of the cinema's finest directors. From his technical accomplishments in the films from his German period to his experimentation with genre in Hollywood, Lang has influenced many directors. He is best known for the suspense, conflict, and violence inherent in his work.

Biographical Information

Lang was born in Vienna on December 5, 1890. His father was an architect and wanted Lang to pursue the same career. Lang studied engineering at the College of Technical Science in Vienna from 1908 to 1911 and then studied architecture at the Academy of Graphic Arts in Munich. However, his interest was in other artistic pursuits. Lang spent some time in Paris working as a cartoonist, fashion designer, and painter. At the outbreak of World War I Lang was forced to flee France, which was then at war with Austria. He returned to Vienna and served in the army from 1914–16. After his discharge from the army, he worked as a scriptwriter and an actor, and then moved to Berlin where he worked for Decla as a reader and story editor. Lang wrote and directed his first film, Halbblut (Half Caste, 1919), in 1919. In 1920, he married Thea von Harbou, a writer and former actress who collaborated with him on the films of his German period. One of these films was Metropolis (1927), which brought Lang to the attention of Adolf Hitler. After the Nazis took power in Germany, Joseph Goebbels offered Lang the position of supervisor of German film production; both Goebbels and Hitler admired his work and were willing to overlook the fact that Lang's mother was Jewish. Lang fled Germany in 1933 soon after the offer was made. When he left Germany, von Harbou remained and made movies for the Nazis. Lang spent a short time in Paris and London, then relocated to Hollywood. He became a U.S. citizen in 1939. In 1945 he became the co-founder and president of Diana Productions, which subsequently folded. He finally left Hollywood in 1956, citing continuing disputes with producers. He made several more films in Germany and then retired in California. Lang died in Beverly Hills on August 2, 1976.

Major Works

The silent films of Lang's German period are monuments of narrative technique. Lang's main theme is the link between the decline in morality to the technological advances of capitalism. Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler, 1921) follows the activity of a master criminal, but also shows the depravity of the society around him. In the film Lang criticized post-war Germany, which he depicted as plagued by economic chaos, political extremism, and a loss of values. Next, Lang made Die Nibelungen, Part I: Siegfrieds Tod and Part II: Kriemhilds Rache (Death of Siegfried and Kriemhild's Revenge, 1924) which focused on the heroic past of German mythology. The film relates the exploits of German mythological figures such as Siegfried, Brunhild, and Kriemhild. Lang went from contemporary Germany to Germany's mythic past, then to the future in Metropolis. Metropolis is a science fiction vision of a future in which technology is used to oppress, instead of liberate, the masses. In Lang's version of the future, men have built a glittering city, but it is built upon a subterranean factory and city of workers. The workers become part of the dehumanized technology of the factory and are not allowed to enter the city. The film showed Lang's continued interest in architecture, even though he had not pursued it as a profession. The studio spent $2 million on the film and the architectural design and scope of the picture was unprecedented. Die Frau im Mond (The Girl in the Moon, 1929) was the culmination of Lang's German work. It combined elements of mysticism, architectural motifs, and melodrama in a story about a flight to the moon to search for gold on the moon's crust. M, Morder unter Uns (M, 1931) was the first film Lang made with sound, enabling him to turn his attention to more psychological themes. The film is the study of a child killer and uses a changing point of view, with the killer at different times portrayed as horrifying or pitiful. Lang's last German film, Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, 1933) was banned in Germany because of its anti-Nazi overtones. Lang experimented with different genres while in Hollywood, including a few successful westerns and war movies, but most of his work from this time consisted of crime thrillers. His first American film was Fury (1936), an anti-lynching drama. His You Only Live Once (1937) is a drama about the consequences of wrongful conviction. In the 1940s he directed several pictures in the film noir style. These films dealt with such themes as guilt and innocence, and the role of the femme fatale. One of Lang's common concerns in both his German and American work was the impact of the decline in patriarchal authority on both the individual and society. In Lang's films the lack of a strong male figure creates feminized men, such as the killer in M and the characters of Manners and Walter Kyne in While the City Sleeps (1956). In Scarlet Street (1945) Lang also shows how the family and the corporation depend on a certain form of masculinity, and the disaster that follows from its absence.

Critical Reception

Critics praise the silent films of Lang's German era for breaking new ground and setting new standards for the industry. Lang was on the edge of technological accomplishment, using the most skilled artists in the German film industry. The films from his Hollywood period are generally less well-regarded because they are more conventional, typical of films made in the Hollywood studio system. However, some reviewers find the Hollywood films more important because of their emphasis on plot and psychological drama. Another important difference noted by critics is that in his German silent films, Lang wrote, or cowrote with von Harbou, his own scripts. Therefore the films were singular in vision from the start. In Hollywood Lang directed the scripts of studio writers. Even with this difference, however, some critics see a consistent vision in all of his work. Reviewers comment that Lang is concerned with character and how it affects human fate, and that he is preoccupied with the dark side of human nature.

Raymond Bellour (essay date 1974)

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SOURCE: "On Fritz Lang," in Substance, No. 9, 1974, pp. 25-34.

[In the following essay, Bellour provides an analysis of Lang's common cinematic techniques used throughout his career.]

An amazing fate, Fritz Lang's, and fraught with paradox.

Like Stroheim, he was one of the foremost directors, yet not an actor embellished by the surprising prestige accorded every wretched performance; he was like Sternberg, yet without a woman like Marlene at his side; like Murnau, dying (forty years ago) a death wrapped in mystery; in a sense, Fritz Lang was the first in his day, solely for his work as a filmmaker, to have become cinematic legend. There is Welles, of course, again an actor, whose reputation (being at least mythic) rests upon having provoked America. And there is Hitchcock. But the myth here is concealed beneath a sociological facility, an imagery which hides the essential man. In a sense Lang alone incarnates, decisively yet abstractly, the concept of direction or mise-en-scène. Nor is his life foreign to this idea: his opposition to Goebbels, his flight from Germany and his disillusioned return after twenty years of exile in America; the way he visibly poses, from the filming of Siegfried, as scenarist of destiny—all this gives Lang a quality of violent compaction. This is the horizon which protects the pure and rigorous image of cinema par excellence.

From Les trois Lumières in 1922, each of Lang's films confirms his status as a great artist—the greatest, with Murnau, of the German filmmakers. Twelve years later he is in Hollywood enmeshed in the gears of the American machine, he produces twenty-three films: a little more than one per year. Even though he often turns down one project and chooses another, he films every possible Hollywood subject: psychological and social drama, detective and adventure stories, war films, Westerns; he does everything but American or musical comedy, and he touches on that in You and Me. Lang becomes a Hollywood director; the independent author of Métropolis reluctantly shoots a remake of La Bêté humaine. He is a great director, praised for his exceptional rigor and keenness. Nothing more. The grandeur of Hollywood amply rewards the absence of critical distance.

But when Lang leaves America in 1958, his reputation has already been forming in France. For Astruc, Rivette, Rohmer or Douchet, Lang is no longer just like other filmmakers. Not that he is the greatest; it's quite another matter: Lang embodies, in a sense, the very possibility of cinema—what is ambiguously called direction or mise-en-scène. In the double set of his American and German works, he shows a particular faithfulness, rather explicit, and more and more strict. The paradox of Lang's American films, set back to back as they are to their German counterparts, rests in this: they properly show how a vision of things takes form; what one might call ultimately, if vaguely, a vision of the world which Lang showed unequivocally in his earliest films. Thus Lang acknowledges, through his own singular method of comparison, a primacy of vision; it is not by chance from Fury on, both in the script and the picture, Lang implicitly stages the vision itself, using every possible technique, especially the presence of the inquisitor, the reporter, and the photographer—the man who sees the image and retains its appearance in the narrow rectangle of his movie camera. Every filmmaker, in a sense, defines the essence of his art; but is there a single one of them for whom, as for Lang, the film is the ultimate metaphor, stark and beyond all circuity? When a Sternberg film opens the possibility of vision, we are sent back, as soon as we look for a reference point, to Woman, the visible subject and object; with Hitchcock, we are sent beyond a moral system bound to appearances to a dizzying duplication of a symbolically doubled subject; in Eisenstein's work, to a theatrical and visual potential of the historical dialectic. But what can be said precisely for Lang: vision of vision? This has none of the ineffective redoubling which would deplete Lang's art, ensnaring it in its own myth; on the contrary, the horizon is enlarged at every point, corroborating Lang's reply to the question: "What is the most indispensable quality for a filmmaker?" "He must know life." By this we must understand: life as a place where vision is experienced. It remains to discover what lies beneath this word, "vision," how exactly Lang endows it with force; and, finally, in what form it shows or shows through.

This is what explains the passion, which some find peculiar, of certain of Lang's admirers for his last three films. Made in Germany by a man whom the American experience made master of all the artifices of fiction (with one theme and subjects from his first period), Die tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse, Der Tiger von Eschnapur, and Das indische Grabmal offer this paradox: they are at once surprisingly disguised and misleadingly frank. Naive and almost puerile on the surface, they are not unlike the Hindu doublet; for beneath the conventionality and graruitousness of the serial, the last Mabuse reveals a particularly urgent gravity of theme. These extremely theoretical films reject the reassuring alibi of Lang's American work while transposing its basic facticity into a Germany where nothing has survived; they disavow the certainty of the myths which subtend the German period and thus bring them to the level of a double adventure, individual and collective, of film and historical conscience. Lang's destructive-reflective irony belies utmost integrity: he makes a game of the hackneyed subjects he is offered, as if through a derisory faithfulness to himself, but in his third Mabuse he foils the ultimate games of vision and life, precipitating the myth into a reflection which guides it towards its ultimate reality: the cinema as possible. The metaphor for this is evident not only in the symbolic title Die tausend Augen ("The Thousand Eyes"), but in the dazzling visual multiplication of television screens which Louxor Mabuse, reincarnated in his son, places in the hotel lounge—as if to imply (it has often been noted)—thedirectorhimself. As for the two Indian films: they are precarious, penetrated by blinding moments; they speak only of a beautiful and just stubbornness where despair blossoms; where the mise-en-scène and even its idea (as Blanchot said of writing) seems, in the silence which encloses it, a dissociation of its components, an inability to lie which reaches the tragic.

It is therefore not surprising that these films—the last of perhaps the only oeuvre which covers nearly fifty years of filmmaking—constitute the vital matter by comparison with the myth. For in France today, where Fritz Lang is becoming legend (far from America which was not able to recognize him, and his native Germany which didn't know how to rediscover him), those who flock to the Cinémathèque come more or less consciously to admire the man who in his work saw film as the ultimate metaphor, and whom Godard, by a happy decision, has precipitated in the double game of Le Mépris. Lang's only trump cards are the statues colored violently with Greek legend, just as in Le Tombeau hindou his trumps are the gardens, the palaces, and the actors placed there like huge marionettes around whom beauty has been suddenly born. Despised by the producer who pays him, despising everything which is not life or the power to tell the life which vision masks, Lang—alone, disillusioned, but always anxious to retain truth within and around himself—does not finish shooting The Odyssey, does not finish relating the life which is already woven into the threads of his own fiction.

Lang plays, then, a refined and skillful game with his stories and with each element of his material: varied, assertive, and more or less disguised, a game which it would be fitting to formulate visibly through his forty films. He himself, as one might expect, offers little help. In the handsome documentary book put together by Alfred Eibel, Lang contradicts himself, jokes, limits his discussion to questions of ideas and story, to thematic, political and social aspects of each of his films, or confines himself, with seeming irony, to remarks about technique. But the testimony of his many collaborators invites us to ask, if indirectly, the question of form about which Lang always claims ignorance. For all of them—actors, scriptwriters, cameramen, set designers—describe an extraordinarily attentive man, concerned with the smallest gesture, demanding from each frame of film a rigorous life which quite often defies the illusory banality of his tale. From his book (sparsely written in impassioned episodes which trace Lang's steps—illuminating him and making him more accessible), the certainty is born that the more Lang insists on the apparent meaning of his films, the more the enigma of that meaning must be determined through a systematic exploration of the form through which multiple correspondences are presented and which alone illuminates the irreducible feeling of totality.

It is surprising, then, that no text has yet thrown full light on an author so intimately bound to the essence of his art—as Claude Oilier has done, for example, in his very beautiful study (if only on a single film) of Josef von Sternberg; and, considering the infinite diversity and rigor of Lang's films, that no one has sought to define the paradoxes and the strange, broken unity which show through both the entire documentary book devoted to him and his recent confession which he entitles "La nuit viennoise" in memory of his birthplace; a statement so admirable in tone, in details, ambiguities and challenge.

I intend here only to bring together haphazardly some of the very numerous elements which, when described, analyzed in detail, and arranged according to the series of connections which they demarcate, would be the basis for a systematic approach to the Langian universe. Notes, of a sort, for a "cinemanalaysis."

1. The position of an author is defined by the relationship which he maintains with his characters. In the film, one form of this relationship rests on the systems of vision which the pictures reveal: how the author fragmentarily indicates and encloses the viewpoint of his characters within the continuity of his own viewpoint constitutes the viewpoint of the film. Minnelli, for example, generally remains external to what he shows; Hitchcock, inversely, makes the clearly defined vision of his characters a part of the system of his own vision. In this regard Lang himself shows a weighty and decisive ambiguity.

There is one strictly univocal manner of framing a character's vision: to enclose the shot of the seen object between two identical shots of the seeing subject. Lang seldom does more than indicate the possibility of such certitude, and then only to challenge it immediately and to plunge it into an equivocality. This occurs with the three looks of the assassin in While the City Sleeps.

—At the time of the first murder, he is framed from the waist up, in front of the door: one feels that the assassin is watching something in particular, but cannot say what; a very brief close-up of the door latch follows, but the shot which comes next is itself divergent in terms of the assassin's gaze.

—The assassin enters the studio of Dorothée Kyne: he sees her in a mirror smoothing her stocking with a long and very gentle movement; the close-up which follows, showing the assassin in the middle of the room, says nothing about his supposed point of view.

—Later he leaves the house and moves towards a low window which looks into the bar; he bends down, one sees a long shot of the barroom; we are assured the camera is outside the room by the deformation of the glass; everything clearly indicates that the shot reflects the assassin's exact view, but nothing proves it; for instead of reframing the assassin, Lang passes to something else.

In a different manner (using three methods of non-disclosure) Lang allows ambiguity to hover over the relationship which unites character and director in the vision. An attitude which one finds again and again in almost all his films, and which is completely manifest, for example, in the twice-repeated leper sequence of Le Tigre du Bengale and Le Tombeau hindou. And which Lang deliberately plays upon in The Blue Gardenia, where Norah's waking gives way to deformations in the substance of the frame, again leaving us faced with two possibilities: either Lang is showing that only an artifice can precisely situate a viewpoint—that vision of the real alone cannot; or he is deliberately moving to a symbolic level, making an assertion of this trick shot which, far from identifying the author with the characters even for a moment, distances him from them even more.

2. The author defines himself by his point of view towards the objects he unveils. This point of view is manifest in the first place by the distance at which the camera is held. The distance of the camera from its objects varies; this variation constitutes a first level of cinematographic reality (or unreality) and of all analysis. With Lang it seems to be either vivid or disguised in manner, keeping constant (by his multiple detours) the fascination and the difficulty one experiences in watching his films.

From a thousand possible examples, here is an almost theoretical one from The Blue Gardenia: Lang devotes three shots to evoke his three heroines in bed in their shared apartment:

—The camera frames a comic-book in close-up, then draws back, revealing Rose sprawled on her bed, seen in the light from the night lamp which she has not put out.

—With a wide still-shot, the camera frames Crystal who is murmuring her lover's name in her sleep.

—The camera frames in long-shot the corner of the room where Norah's bed is placed, and advances with a travelling-shot until she is isolated; thus only Norah is shown closely (for she is the main character); she is listening to the radio beneath her sheets.

The distance, the impression of distance, also depends essentially upon the interplay of forms within the picture. Hence, (a constant with Lang), the deepening of the vision through an unforeseen opening. In Mrs. Robby's office in the shadowy house of Le Secret derrière la Porte, an engraving with sharply defined and fleeting lines catches one's eyes, as if multiplying the view. Similarly, in Le Testament du docteur Mabuse, when Kent and his friend Lilli sit down in a café to confide their confusion to each other, the camera frames in the upper part of the shot a window which looks out on a long, white, almost unreal avenue whose dizzying depths are made more vividly manifest when a passer-by (only his head is visible) appears and crosses the frame. I shall note another such shot in La Mort de Siegfried, drowned almost totally in white; young newlyweds are conversing charmingly near a bench which is placed against a background of foliage; but above the trees, five wide arches caught in shadow appear to tear the frame; this contrast leaves a feeling of distance which unbalances the vision and secretly announces the fatal outcome of the plot.

Let us also note the interplay of distance which hinges not on the distribution of fixed masses but on movements within the frame. Thus, almost thematized—so often do they lend support to the story—are the opening and closing doors. They constantly vary spatial relationships as they reveal more or less hidden depths—according to the light and the terrain. Such are the doors which one encounters in each of Lang's films, most particularly in the Chinese quarter in Les Araignées, the cemetery in Les Trois Lumières, in Le Tigre du Bengale and Le Tombeau hindou—everywhere, with a violence that multiplies when Henri Mercier, going down the corridors as the doors are closing ends up in the tigers' pit.

Similarly, the queen's cloaks in La Vengeance de Krimhilde (cloaks with wide skirts) billow and fall endlessly, sometimes radically modifying the distribution of forms in the shot: Krimhilde (addressing the horde of Huns from the top of a staircase) with her cloak—black and dull on the inside, brilliant and adorned on the other—subjectsthe frame to a strange play of shadows and surfaces as she raises or lowers her arms against her body. A configuration which Lang will remember, and which will occur again (though less theatrically and more closely bound to the narrative adventure of the picture) in Die Spione, where the beautiful Sojia unfurls her immense black and silver lamé cape around Haighi in the same game of oppositions.

3. There are innumerable formal and thematic references, configurations which come into play from film to film and organize the enigmatic web of Langian knotwork. Hence the sign, the token, around which the narration is organized, the significant object Lang always indicates with a close-up which is the first easily located link between the chain of shots and the thematic chain. From the seal affixed to the fateful act in Les Trois Lumières to the grease pencil mark on Mercier's shirt in Le Tombeau hindou, there is a lengthy inventory of maps, plans, letters, photographs—multiple references which stake out Lang's forty films. These establish a definable series throughout the script; what might be called a series of events of the script which are manifested in one or several formal series in the picture: the close-up is followed almost invariably in this situation (for example, in the talking films and especially the American ones) by a movement of back-travelling starting with the brusquely introduced object. This short, precise movement, which reveals the object in its surroundings, breaks and demarcates the sudden fascination of the close-up.

I shall cite only three examples of this, all taken from the same film, Scarlet Street. The sequence begins with a close-up of a flower; the movement reveals Christopher lovingly painting the flower offered by Kitty. Later, a letter rests on a table among other objects: the movement which reveals Kitty's studio for the first time accurately defines the relationship between the young woman and Christopher—one immediately understands it is a letter from him. The travelling shot which brings to light Johnny's hat, hidden in Kitty's new apartment, states with ironic insistence and without the aid of a single word, the respective situations of the three characters in this harsh and cruel remake of Jean Renoir's La Chienne.

4. The generally intensified partialization of space which disrupts the viewpoint in order to lead it to its more rightful place which carries to an extreme, in cinematographic space, a dialectic of subject and object finding its origin in the German cultural tradition and its achievement in the fundamental materialism of industrial civilization. If the object possesses a particular importance in the unfolding of the action, it seems to recapture in the intensity of the film something of the symbolic life of the bewitched objects of Hoffmann or Arnim. The subject is often a vagrant body, only one object among other objects. One finds a particularly striking inversion of this order in the flight sequence of La Femme sur la Lune, between the rocket (which seems to be the only actor) and its interpreters (its accessories) and, in Human Desire between Jeff Warren and the locomotive, when he drives it down the track into the depot.

This subject-object game, when divided, provokes the eye, making an incredible fissure in Fritz Lang's films which is balanced with a type of shot that is particularly frequent and meaningful, multiplying the dialectic of continuity/discontinuity proper to the system of the Langian vision: the fragmented body of the subject and object, united as two mechanisms in a single frame, offers a perfect example of partialization of space. Thus, in Man Hunt, the hero's hand which hesitates again and again on the trigger of the rifle, is shot in extreme close-up. And in Les Espions are shown two forearms and the heavy, round handle of a chest which the hands want to turn; the muted light of the black leather raincoat answers the clearer steel one, and both of these reply to the whiteness of the hands: from the beginning of this film (this is the first shot) Lang places it beneath the sign of the enigmatic division of space.

5. Lang, like every filmmaker (but more precisely and more insidiously than others) bases the possibility of his narrative on the richness and the perversity of oppositions in the series of identical configurations.

From film to film one can follow the marks of a perpetual game of similar questions and different replies; one can evoke their rigorous nature extracting the types of opposition which are simultaneously arranged in the picture, the sound, the interpretation and the narrative, sufficient material for an unprecedented inventory whose very limits and meaning are difficult to define. But this game is the logical outcome of the writing and the vision. Here are two examples briefly summarized from a single story, While the City Sleeps.

—Walter Kyne, Jr., and Edward Mobley are conversing in the manager's office. In a fixed long shot, appearing from left to right, are: Kyne, Jr., standing, dressed in black; higher, against the wall, the portrait of his father, Walter Kyne, also dressed in black; then, through the window, the city, with its sharp and regular gray masses; finally, Mobley, seated, dressed in gray. Each of the four principal elements of the shot is placed at a different distance from the camera; the colors are distributed two by two. Some moments later, after brief detail shots of the various protagonists, Lang returns to the same long shot, from a slightly different angle. But the elements have changed. From left to right: Kyne, Jr., Mobley, the portrait, the city. The distances have changed. Mobley gets up; the camera follows his movement. A triple opposition is at work in two shots which are formally identical: an opposition between the distribution of the actors, between tonality and distance (each element sustains the two others) setting up the third opposition (immobility/movement), effecting the forward movement of the narrative.

—The bar where the New York Sentinel journalists gather. Again, a fixed long shot. We see Mobley sitting at the counter and the bartender standing; in the back of the room is a barely perceptible staircase, going up to the left. We wait; Lang prolongs the silent irritation of the shot, until Mildred appears on the staircase, with the intention of making advances to Mobley. Why does he hold such a simple shot for so long? Because Lang, some sequences earlier, had already filmed exactly the same space, in the same manner; because he had already lingered there in an almost casual way, and because no one had then appeared at the bottom of the stairs.

6. Lang thus keeps the point of view in perpetual hesitation; for the event, whether it is foreshadowed or has already occurred, always seems linked to something else whose force is arresting even though one does not know how to delimit it but which could not be sustained alone. The film plays subtly on an incessant disequilibrium by means of this dyssymetrical expectancy. This flagrant and deliberately abstract waiting in a shot (a visual and narrative sign) marks all of Lang's work. Its principle is simple. It is a matter of a fixed long shot with three terms: two actions which separate a dead time. A character goes out of the shooting angle; the camera remains facing the set; a second character enters the shooting angle by another entrance (this could be—though it rarely is—the same character who returns, and by the same entrance). The set, at this moment, is always particularly beautiful and heavy with meaning and possibilities: the commissary office in the first Mabuse, the corridor outside the doctor's office in the second, the staircase landing leading to the apartments of the two young women in While the City Sleeps, caverns beneath the castle in Le Tigre du Bengale and Le Tombeau hindou. The characters are bound by the imminent event: this shot almost always intervenes in the moments of greatest dramatic intensity. Thus in his own way Lang breaks the ideal hurried flow of the action, wounding his story and distorting time apparently for the benefit of a visual purity; thereby imparting a strangeness to the action (as if spreading it out) and likewise to the vision which becomes suddenly too heavy and insistent. Then he recaptures or almost recaptures what he is doing for a single vision, in a much briefer and tighter shot, when he assembles the elements in such a way that the viewpoint always seems badly placed—either too close or too far away. Thus in La Mori de Siegfried: three warriors occupy the near totality of the screen's surface; they are so close that one cannot see them in their entirety; between them are some blank spaces and a bare wall in the background. The frame is perfectly flat; one would believe the soldiers cut out of cardboard. When Krimhilde passes behind them, followed by her women, the perspective is brutally reborn—so vividly that one feels it too deeply, and it seems to be another illusion.

7. For Lang plays the most perverse of games. It is by means of the fissures—by means of the gaps which he sets up—that he can be understood. That is what must be deciphered, and at each of its levels. Thus Lang, more than anyone else, works with counter-shots. Here begins the quest which reveals that at the other extremity of his films, Lang also manifests this "counter" game—this time of the counter-script. As he strains the shot and unbalances it, he loses sight of his narrative, obscuring his characters. And thus he works (as Luc Moullet has clearly seen) in counter-genre; even in America, he simultaneously espouses and insidiously transgresses the laws of the most traditional art. He incorporates the principle and destroys it. Indeed, what are Frau im Mond, Rancho Notorious, Moonfleet, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das indische Grabmal to the science-fiction film, the Western, the adventure film, the police story and the exotic film, if not enterprises of violent perversion?

It remains for us to understand why Lang persists in this disjunction. Persists in often leaving in his films the mark of a subtle defeat which is revealed by the impossibility of a closed system, actually closed upon itself. Lang's films are so dense that they seem to have cracked, as if the author always wanted to leave a tenuous reality visible and evident, and to show the illusory nature of the idea of a harmony through an entire autonomy of representation. From shot to shot, from one end of the film to the other, a writing unfolds that is strictly defined, divided, always anxious to maintain, in each constituent operation, the effort which constitutes that operation; to mark the permanent turning of creation upon itself with the density of its material; and to do this with all the more rigor, as cinema conquers, with its technical mastery, new possibilities of expression. The camera possesses that magical ability which makes it so difficult for us to follow it: to be "an actor full of importance, mobile, alive," on the surface of life to which it always weds itself in order to capture life. Thus, with Lang, in a sense, the film always seems to be in the process of creating itself. One feels effort, the temptation of the possible, the distance between desire and its object, something like the typical experience of a book assured of its strength, but always a little defeated and wearied as well. Hence the fascination and the impression of distancing which his films—so beautiful—always leave. And the feeling that, for Lang, the mise-en-scène alone, attains the mythic.

Principal Works

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Halbblut [Half Caste] (film) 1919Die Spinnen [The Spiders] (film) 1920Der mude Tod: Ein Deutsches Volkslied in Sechs Versen [Between Two Worlds] (film) 1921Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler [Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler] (film) 1921Die Nibelungen: Part I, Siegfrieds Tod [Death of Siegfried]; Part II, Kriemhilds Rache [Kriemhild's Revenge] (film) 1924Metropolis (film) 1927Spione [Spies] (film) 1928Die Frau im Mond [The Girl in the Moon] (film) 1929M, Morder unter Uns [M] (film) 1931Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse [The Testament of Dr. Mabuse] (film) 1933Liliom (film) 1934Fury (film) 1936You Only Live Once (film) 1937You and Me (film) 1938The Return of Frank James (film) 1940Western Union (film) 1941Man Hunt (film) 1941Confirm or Deny (film) 1941Moontide (film) 1942Hangmen Also Die! (film) 1943Ministry of Fear (film) 1944The Woman in the Window (film) 1944Scarlet Street (film) 1945Cloak and Dagger (film) 1946Secret beyond the Door (film) 1948House by the River (film) 1950An American Guerrilla in the Philippines (film) 1950Rancho Notorious (film) 1952Clash by Night (film) 1952The Blue Gardenia (film) 1953The Big Heat (film) 1953Human Desire (film) 1954Moonfleet (film) 1955While the City Sleeps (film) 1956Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (film) 1956Der Tiger von Eschnapur [The Tiger of Bengal] (film) 1959Das Indische Grabmal [The Hindu Tomb] (film) 1959Die Tausend Augen des Dr. Mabuse [The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse] (film) 1960

Joseph S. M. J. Chang (essay date 1979)

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SOURCE: "M: A Reconsideration," in Literature/Film Quarterly, No. 4, 1979, pp. 300-08.

[In the following essay, Chang discusses the role that Schranker plays in the narrative of Lang's M, and questions the character's purpose in the film.]

In the almost fifty years since its release, Fritz Lang's M has attained deserved status as a classic, and on a number of points a consensus of critical opinion has emerged. Observers have commented on the similarities which exist between society, as exemplified by Inspector Lohmann and the forces he marshalls and directs, and the underworld, no less efficient under Schranker. At a more general level, the film's moral dualism, which almost approaches Manichean proportions, has been noted. The connection between the two sets of characters, the police and the criminals, and the thematic dualism has not received adequate comment, however. Unresolved is the question of whether the police and the underworld represent contrary forces contesting for the right to exercise their respective wills on the murderer, or whether they are variant forms of the same force against which the murderer must contend. What are the elements of the dualism, and how are they related to the three corners of the plot: the murderer, the police, and the criminals? There is additionally the curious rupture of tone in the film. On the face of it, the film's many comic elements are incompatible with the seriousness of the concluding scene of the murderer's trial, conducted by Schranker.

The critical problem may be stated in formal terms, though the solution will necessarily transcend formulas. Lang has combined two conventional narrative forms, the story of a psychotic killer and the story of a master criminal. In the first, rationality confronts irrationality; in the second, convention has it that superior resources and deductive powers triumph over an adversary who uses similar modes of operation. Schranker, after all, is himself a murderer who has eluded capture on two continents for six years.

Within the conventions of the standard story of the psychotic killer, the audience is permitted to alienate itself from aberrations which make him what he is. As is revealed in the coda to Psycho, he is a creature formed by extraordinary circumstances. However it may have been horrified by Norman Bates's atrocities, because of the clinical analysis of his schizophrenia, the audience is permitted to view the killer with some detachment. The containment of the killer thus goes beyond the simple fact of his apprehension and detention. Not only is the audience (and the characters with whom the audience shares identification) secure from his assaults, it is further detached from the energies which propel him. As normal and integrated people, spectators are inoculated from the killer.

In the conventional detective story, the audience is easily distanced from the crime because that fact is the donne from which the narrative evolves. Interest lies in the method of detection. Details which escape observation by others are culled from irrelevancies. Technology, whether in the methodical inquiry of the investigator or in the laboratories at his disposal, defines the significance of the clues gathered. The tale progresses from a chaos which offends the intelligence; the moral indignation aroused by moral disorder may color the narration, but it does not form the center, for one does not expect the investigator to explain why evil exists in the world.

The two species of crime fiction sketched do not of course describe all which fall within the genus, but they help to define a critical problem with respect to M. If the film's concern is with the killer's apprehension, then the incorporation of Schranker's role is superfluous. The resources Schranker brings to the search are essentially of the same kind available to the police. The motivation is the same; the murders have had a disruptive influence on society and must be brought to a halt. In the trial scene, the arguments for Beckert's death are those which any prosecutor would have urged. The underworld carries the burden of society's legitimate instruments, the only difference being in its status as a society of outlaws, and to that extent, their unwillingness to accept the possibilities of paragraph 51.

As in the conventional detective story, the dominant question is established early in the film with the poster which asks, "Wer ist der Morder?" As Elsie's ball bounces against the poster, M's shadow slides across the text, effectively restating the question, "What malignancy gives substance to this darkness?"

In the process of identifying the murderer by name, Hans Beckert, the film presents a series of possibilities for defining what the murderer is. The prevailing assumption is that the murderer, as evident in his crimes, is unlike the people who fear him. An alien creature, he nevertheless can move among men unnoticed. The early emphasis on the killer is that he is in disguise, that he may be one's neighbor or any person on the street. The hysteria depicted in the cafe and street scenes wherein innocents are abused because they are mistakenly identified as the killer indicates that the accusers are unprepared to deal with the assailant as one of themselves. The unstated assumption is that which is later, in the trial scene, explicit. The defendant's appointed counselor appeals on behalf of "this man," and his plea is discounted by a penetrating voice: "He isn't one." The premise from which the film moves forward is that the unknown force does not share in common humanity.

The point is repeated with vigor by the underworld. Although both Beckert and Schranker are sought by the law, the master criminal denies anything in common exists between the two. The murderer is not a member of the association; he is not on the same level as the criminals; an abyss separates the two; there is simply no comparison. The judgement is that "We are doing our job because we have a living to make. But this monster has no right to live. He must disappear. He must be exterminated, without pity, without scruples."

The argument has become sophisticated. Beyond the fact of the murders which attest to the perpetrator'smonstrosity, there is the point of motivation. What distinguishes the two criminals is that one operates within a rationale: crime is a way of life. The necessity to live dictates and sanctions deviations from law. The child-murderer presumably can offer no such defense.

If Schranker dissociates his organization from the murderer, Lang strengthens the underworld's alliance with the police. Quite apart from the fact that both groups work toward the same end in scenes which are presented in parallel cutting, there is the obvious rapport which exists between them even when they are at cross purposes. The raid on the Crocodile is disruptive, but with the appearance of Lohmann the congregation of thieves and whores is set at ease. It is as though they understand that with Lohmann, they will come to no serious consequences, and he in turn is solicitous, addressing them as his children. It may only be a symbiotic relationship, but it is a relationship. As Lohmann interviews each person caught in the dragnet, all participate in a game. That identity cards are always forged is mutually understood. The only thing that matters is how well the forgery is made.

The relation between the police and society at large—a city of 4,000,000—is more problematical. When suggestions are made that the police elicit the cooperation of the general public, Lohmann contemptuously reminds his colleague that the public has provided no clues and a mountain of baseless accusations. While it may be that the police are society's instrument against lawlessness, the people themselves are in an anarchic state, quite incapable of coping with the murders in a systematic fashion. The sequence which shows the people first accusing a harmless old man and then reversing their flow to heap abuse on a thief under police arrest not only presents the ambiguity of M's identity either as a normal citizen or as a criminal, it shows the population as motivated by fear and anger, eager to vent their outrage on any plausible target. In doing so, they adumbrate the pressures which Schranker seeks to exploit in the trial scene.

As the film proceeds, Lang enlarges the opportunities to discover who the murderer is. While it is true that Beckett's capture by the beggars and thieves is independent of any efforts by Lohmann, it is nevertheless significant that identification of the suspect is possible only after a colleague suggests that except for the moments when driven by his fits of madness, the killer is "a man who looks like a peaceful little family man, who wouldn't harm a fly." Probably insane, he is capable of functioning in society. For the landlady from whom Beckert rents a room, the man is unextraordinary. His single eccentricity is that he never buys his own newspaper. For the second child he befriends in the film, the prospective ninth victim, he is a man who can inspire innocent trust. She can twice address him as "Uncle."

The most important identification which Lang establishes for Beckert is with the film's spectators. At first, Beckert is only a cipher, the object of a game, a man to be captured. While it is a commonplace of film criticism that Lang's restraint in the murder of Elsie Beckmann heightens the audience's sense of horror by freeing its imagination to conjure the worst possible atrocity, and Lang himself has taken this position, the effect is otherwise. To be sure, the audience understands that something terrible has happened, but it is not enslaved to that fact. The murder is purely conceptual: that a child should be destroyed is vile. The audience is, however, spared the spectacle of the child's growing perception of its peril, its feeble efforts to escape, the savagery of the attack. For this reason, the audience is not energized by the blood lust of the citizens and their criminal counterparts.

Lang's decision not to depict the crime itself modifies the context for the audience's understanding in another way. The audience is not even permitted a glimpse at the murderer until after Elsie is killed. For this reason, it cannot begin to understand his motivations, his satisfaction or his compulsion. For apart from the horror of the act, the killing of a child, the depicted scene would necessarily reveal something about the murderer—an expression on his face, the movement of his body. Does he strangle his victims? Is he swift, or does he let the child hover near death? The audience, and perhaps the screen characters who as well search for the murderer, must not only learn his nominal identity but must discover the totality of his being. Actually, the killer and his deeds at the film's beginning exist at the same barely denoted level of the labels, "murderer" and "murders." At the outset, we can be satisfied with these terms because the film appears to demand nothing more. In a sense, the audience is like Henry, content to follow the branded creature, believing that in the simple "M" all that needs to be known is revealed—the murderer is exposed. However, as the film progresses, we move from such labels to more profound levels of being. The shadow is supplanted by the silent figure held by the lantern's accusing glare, who in turn emits the anguished confession of his tortured soul.

In the film's second phase, the attempt on the next child and the chase which leads to Beckert's being trapped in the office building, the audience begins to learn more about the killer than do the searchers. Very simply, we see him on the street; we can watch his face as he notes details in the world about him. We sense the struggle within him as he catches sight of the child. Much of this is still superficial and stylized, of course, and the limitations of the audience's perceptions are suggested by the vine-covered trellis which obscures the killer from peering eyes as he drinks his brandy. Little as we see, we still can see more than the blind beggar who identifies the murderer by his tune, and from this point forward, a gap separates the audience from the screen characters. In answering the question, "Wer is der Morder?" the advantage lies with the audience.

Coincident with the audience's growing understanding of who the murderer is is the reversal of his role from agent to victim. Lorre's handling of the role is extraordinary, for until the bravura performance of his defense, Lang's economy allows the actor the sparest opportunities in the film's second section. The shock on M's face as he discovers the chalked "M" on his coat—one might even speak of the horror which strikes him—marks the turning point: the stalker is now the quarry. What Loire brings to this remarkable reversal is the experience of compounding fear as Beckert turns to catch sight of Henry, appraise his situation and flee in terror, only to discover that all avenues of escape are closed. Equally effective is the camerawork, particularly in the high angle shot of the street, composed in the frame as a diagonal, with Beckert darting up the street, pausing as if to turn into an alley, then wheeling back to stop in the center of the street. All paths are closed.

As the net inexorably tightens in the film's third section, which takes place in the office building, M's fear grows more specific. He is given less room in which to move; his resources diminish steadily. He is not yet a round character, in that the unrevealed aspects which give a character unexpected dimensions remain hidden. We still know nothing more of Beckert than say Lohmann does as he awaits the report of his arrest. However, we have an opportunity to observe and perhaps participate in Beckert's increasing desperation. His helplessness is documented in the snapping of his knife as he attempts to open the lock, and in the use of his knife as a hammer to forge a key. In short, Loire manages to suggest that there is indeed a character buried under the soft flesh and overly large eyes. The film, then, moves in two directions. The criminals and Schranker remain consistent with their initial portrayals. The murderer promises emotional depths.

From the outset, the injection of comic incident serves to alienate, in the Brechtian sense, the audience. The confrontation between the small, timid, elderly man and the burly citizen; the dispute over the murdered child's hat as either red or green; the slanderous accusation in the cafe and the ensuing hubbub; the pickpocket's pulling out of three watches to fix the time; the "blind" beggar's peering over his dark glasses; the petty criminal, his forged papers exposed by Lohmann, throwing them down in disgust—such elements fictionalize the work and suggest to the audience that the film is no more realistic than any other of the genre, the detective story. And for the pursuers, official and criminal alike, Lang maintains this tone right up to the final scene in the warehouse. Discounting the shots involving Beckert's frantic efforts to escape, the search of the office building maintains the tone by such elements as the carrying of the second (or third) guard across the background, the long run down the stairwell to Schranker to inform him of M's discovered location, and the vanity of the fellow who made the discovery. There is to be sure, a sense of urgency, but it is different from Beckert's. In the same comic vein are the capture of the safecracker, calling for his ladder, his interrogation by Lohmann, and Lohmann's double take when he learns the object of the break-in, all capped by the rinsing of his hair.

This is the stuff of The Lavender Hill Mob, of the Rat-pack caper films, the demi-monde of Damon Runyon's imagination. It has less and less to do with Beckert as his role enlarges and is modified to the point of its final development, wherein he would seem to fit better in such worlds as Dostoievsky created. In the second section, cutting between the meeting of the officials and that of the criminals provides a truly parallel movement. In the third section, cutting from the criminals to Beckert results in a divergence of tone. Because the texture of the final phase in the warehouse is established by Beckett's agonized self-revelation, Lang necessarily abandons the use of comic elements. There the divergence created in the second and third sections will be repaired when Beckert's captors will be forced to deal with him in the same manner that the audience has begun to. There the audience will find better validity for its instinctive sympathy for the victimized killer, and for a split second so, too, will his accusers.

The function of the ambivalence established by the comic elements must be fully appreciated before extensive consideration of the final section is possible. The distancing of the audience encouraged by the comic intrusions in a work of uniform tone and texture defines the point of view to be taken: this film is a divertisement, amusing in its own right, but not to be regarded seriously. However, the attention paid to Beckert's situation violates the comic tone and draws the audience into involvement. Even before the audience can know why Beckert deserves some sympathy, it senses his desperation and fear. His helplessness is concrete whereas Elsie's was only to be inferred. Instead of alienating the audience from the film as a whole, the comic elements cause the audience to dissociate itself from the two sets of pursuers. Where at the outset we are willing to assume that M is a monster and we gladly accept the pursuers' goal as our own, if only for the sake of the genre's dialectic, by the time Lohmann thrusts his head under the faucet, we understand the superficiality of our original interest in the apprehension of the killer. The level of response to the cornering of the murderer demonstrated by Lohmann's gesture is at odds with that already experienced by the audience, a sympathy to be amplified in the fourth section, the trial.

The comic quality of the cafe and street scenes only mildly violates the tone of the film as established by the plaintive calling out of Elsie's name by Mrs. Beckmann. In the second and third sections, the continued development of the story in two veins is almost inexplicable, and the closing scenes with Lohmann and the safecracker are astonishingly out of keeping with the image of the terrified murderer. The significance of the contrapuntal movement becomes clear in the final section. For there, the audience appreciates the fact that its sympathies lie with Beckert, not as M, the faceless childkiller, but as the troubled man not much more threatening than was the old man on the street who had been thought the villain. Lang first allows his audience to adopt the point of view sanctioned by detective stories, that the killer should be apprehended. But he uses slapstick to arouse an uneasiness about what is going on. The vague sense of impropriety anticipates the ultimate realization that the murderer is indeed a person worthy of some compassion. Furthermore, the uneasiness inspired by the comic elements prepares the way for the ultimate perception that Schranker's trial does not meet the requirements of the situation. Thus, the comic elements which violate tone signal the reversal of the audience's sympathies when Beckert's full story is laid bare. They prepare for the audience's rupture from the will and desire of the murderer's pursuers. The severing of the alliance is completed in the fourth section's violent tone, which, in turn, exceeds the audience's own level of response.

In the warehouse the full force of Beckert's agony is released. The developing sense of his victimization is completed with the revelation of his own horror borne of self-knowledge. The man is a victim of his crimes to the extent that he is as repulsed by his deeds as any of his accusers are. His pain may be more acute, because as perpetrator of those atrocities, he must be more offended than they can be, and to the extent that he is powerless over his compulsion, he is a victim. One does not need to explore the legal ramifications which Schranker introduces—paragraph 51—to understand that Beckert, as realized by Loire, is helpless. All that we need to acknowledge is the fact that the man is incapable of self-control in certain situations; there is no inference that this fact provides valid grounds for permitting him to go free. Besides, the dilemma of society's response to his crimes is dependent on the film's persuasive presentation of the man as psychotic. Before his captors worry themselves about a legal defense of insanity, that aberration must be convincingly demonstrated.

The presentation of Beckert as victim is effected in two ways. The temper of the scene is violent. The brutality of those pulling him from the door, the shrieks of those demanding his death, and the terror manifest in his face and gestures make clear that the assembly thirsts for vengeance and blood. For the first time in the film, the will to violence which makes murder possible is evoked. It is palpable. For the third time in the film, the threat of death is brought to the screen, but this time, the motivations and passions of the killer—here, a crowd—are made specific.

The threatening atmosphere forces Beckert to make his appeal, which is his confession of guilt. His defense is undeniably inadequate in the simple light of fact; he is demonstrably dangerous and cannot be permitted to go free. But as he pleads for his life, his struggle is revealed to be as much against himself as it is against his captors. The pressure created by the assembly is supplanted by the intense monstrosity he constantly struggles against.

For the barest moment his accusers understand, and in that moment, they see the same man we in the audience see, that is, Beckert as he sees himself. He is able to sound responsive chords as he describes the darkness haunting his soul. Where the initial premise that the murderer could not be one of them was reinforced by Beckert's indictment of their crimes as fully willful and unlike his, his plea wakens memories of their share of his anguish. Distinctions between murderer and victim have become blurred: the murderer is victim, and those who have pursued him have been stirred by violent instincts.

The intensity of their rage has been foreshadowed in Schranker's characterization as cold, utterly self-willed. The shot of his face as he demands the gate be opened and the brief spasm of violence when the guard is tortured hint at the energies set free in the warehouse. The criminals are restrained only by their confidence in Schranker's ultimate purpose. Actually, it may be more precise to say that they extend into fact the metaphor of his gloved hand overwhelming the city map. They are his power; he is their embodiment.

The structure of the film employed two modes, the movement from simple identification of the murderer to the revelation of the unseen life within, parallel to the progress from the expanse of the city to the confines of the locker and the subsequent descent down the stairs to the astonishingly cavernous warehouse. Similarly, by the film's end, the question, "Wer is der Morder?" must be enlarged to the more significant one, "What is a murderer?" The models are there before us: Schranker, who operates, if he is to be believed, within a code understood by his adversaries. In a showdown, either he or the arresting officer may have to yield his life. There is reason here, there is choice, and the risks are accepted. In Beckert, there is only chaos. His disordered soul struggles with itself, and only chance dictates his crimes. Thus, the ambiguity of the film's close. As the hand grasps Beckert, in the name of the law, there is, simultaneously, arrest and redemption. He is freed from terror, and Schranker's arms are raised.

What then are we to say about the relationship between the criminals and the police? To all that has been said, that Lohmann is not permitted to make the arrest is worth adding. It is to the law that all parties must submit, and perhaps that ought to include the police as well. What law itself is may be difficult to define, but it can be inferred from the film. The initial premise of the child-murderer as alien is destroyed. Dangerous as he is, he is not radically unlike all others. Prostitutes can share the concerns of motherhood; a child-killer's fascination with those innocents he destroys may spring from confused feelings of warmth and hatred. The appeals for Beckert's death are, Schranker aside, those of society at large. In an actual court of law, that is, law as it is practiced by mortals, the same bases would be urged against the accused.

With the erasing of differences between the murderer, criminals and legitimate society, the film's thematic center emerges. It is not about the capture of a killer, nor is it about the legal problem presented by the criminally insane. It is about the currents of violence which run unseen in society, chaotic and irrational forces which coexist and sometimes merge with order and reason. The dualism of Lang's vision, in M, is not that of discrete and contrary realities; it is in the paradox of mutually exclusive instincts and values within the same entity. There is perhaps a richness of suggestion we have failed to note in Lang's bromide that mothers must protect their children from these jackals.

Schranker believed that he was entitled to act in the name of the law, and the appointed defense reminded him of his own crimes. The dilemma of the film is that when the reality behind the murderer is revealed, we find more than can be subsumed under so fixed a label. And the same is true of the law. Lang did not seem to find it possible to pursue the full symmetry of his theme by the more direct means of penetrating the superficial lawfulness of the police. His solution was to render the embodiment of the law as a stereotype and to develop Schranker as the implicit counterpart. Just as was asked of the unknown killer, "Is he one of us or an alien?" Schranker in disguise as a policeman poses the similar question, "Are officers of the law a breed apart?" The distinction between "murder" and "law" is absolute and irreconcilable. The differences between Beckert and Schranker exist, but they do not sort out very neatly.

Further Reading

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Bernstein, Matthew. "Fritz Lang, Incorporated." Velvet Light Trap, No. 22 (1986): 33-52.

Provides an overview of the development and downfall of Lang's independent production company Diana Productions, Inc.

Rolfe, Hilda. "The Perfectionist." Film Comment 28, No. 6 (November-December 1992): 2-4.

Provides a personal view of Lang as the perfectionist behind the camera.


Anstey, Edgar. A review of Scarlet Street. The Spectator 176, No. 6140 (1 March 1946): 219.

Complains that Scarlet Street does not live up to its imaginative opening.

Burch, Noel. "Fritz Lang: The German Period." In Cinema: A Critical Dictionary: The Major Film-makers, edited by Richard Roud, pp. 583-99. New York: The Viking Press, 1980.

Outlines the different stages and achievements of Lang's German period.

Conley, Tom. "Writing Scarlet Street" Comparative Literature 98, No. 5 (December 1983): 1085-1109.

Discusses the use of letters and words in Lang's Scarlet Street.

Cooper, Stephen. "Sex/Knowledge/Power in the Detective Genre." Film Quarterly XLII, No. 3 (Spring 1988): 23-30.

Discusses Lang's The Big Heat. John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, Roman Polanski's Chinatown, and Alan Parker's Angel Heart in terms of their place in the detective genre.

Green, Graham. A review The Fury, The Spectator 158, No. 5636 (3 July 1936): 15.

Praises the extraordinary achievement of Lang's The Fury.

Huyssen, Andreas. "The Vamp and the Machine: Technology and Sexuality in Fritz Lang's Metropolis." New German Critique, No. 24-25 (Fall/Winter 1981/2): 221-37.

Discusses how Lang fuses the expressionist fear of technology to man's fear of a threatening female sexuality in Metropolis.

Insdorf, Annette. "A Silent Classic Gets Some 80's Music." The New York Times CXXXIII, No. 46, 127 (5 August 1984): 15,20.

Asserts that purists might be upset at the disco rhythms added to Lang's Metropolis, but that others may enjoy the new life that the music adds to the director's film.

Johnston, Sheila. "Video/Dr. Mabuse the Gambler." Film and Filming, No. 334 (July 1982): 32-3.

Calls Lang's Dr. Mabuse "extremely accessible to anyone prepared to accept the different conventions and slow pacing of the German silent period purely and simply as a finely crafted and enthralling piece of cinema."

Jubak, James. "Lang and Parole: Character and Narrative in 'Doctor Mabuse, der Spieler.'" Film Criticism IV, No. 1 (Fall 1979): 25-34.

Asserts that Lang's Doctor Mabuse, der Spieler "questions the dominant ideology of character in the classical film. It suggests a view of character as unstable, inconsistent, and only fitfully in control of its own destiny."

Kaplan, E. Ann. "Fritz Lang and German Expressionism: A Reading of Dr. Mabuse, der Speiler." In Passion and Rebellion: The Expressionist Heritage, edited by Stephen Eric Bronner and Douglas Kellner, pp. 398-408. New York: Universe Books, 1983.

Analyzes Lang's Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler in terms of German expressionism and looks at the film as art, beyond the political implications of the time.

Kuntzel, Thierry. "The Film-Work." Enclitic 2, No. 1 (Spring 1978): 39-62.

Presents different methods of reading Lang's M.

Mellenkamp, Patricia. "Oedipus and the Robot in Metropolis." Enclitic 5, No. 1 (1991): 20-42.

Discusses Lang's Metropolis and how it fits into German Expressionism.

Prawer, S.S. "The Cost-Effective Visionary." TLS, No. 3906 (21 January 1977): 61-2.

Discusses the control that Lang exerts over his films, and how that control makes each of his films his own, focusing specifically on Lotte Eisner.

Stiles, Victoria M. "Fritz Lang's Definitive Siegfried and Its Versions." Literature Film Quarterly 13, No. 4 (1985): 258-74.

Outlines and compares the different versions of Lang's Siegfried that have been released by distributors.

――――――. "The Siegfried Legend and the Silent Screen…. Fritz Lang's Interpretation of a Hero Saga." Literature Film Quarterly 8, No. 4 (1980): 232-36.

Analyzes the literary aspects of Lang's Die Nibelungen, "specifically on the function of symbolic imagery."

Thomson, David. "Lang's Ministry." Sight and Sound 46, No. 2 (Spring 1977): 114-18.

Praises Lang for "compress[ing] so much into 85 minutes and mak[ing] a work more lucid than the novel" in The Ministry of Fear.

Wood, Robin. "Fritz Lang: 1936–60." In Cinema: A Critical Dictionary: The Major Film-makers, edited by Richard Roud, pp. 599-609. New York: Viking Press, 1980.

Provides an overview of Lang's films and career.

Ann Kaplan (essay date 1980)

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SOURCE: "Patterns of Violence Toward Women in Fritz Lang's White the City Sleeps," in Wide Angle, Vol. 3, No. 4, 1980, pp. 55-9.

[In the following essay, Kaplan asserts that while Lang correctly assessed the decline in male authority in the public and private spheres, he puts forth only one solution: a return to the old-style patriarchal authority, instead of a move toward something new and positive.]

Several feminist theorists have recently argued that, viewed historically, violence against women changes according to transformations in the traditional bourgeois family. Oppressive as it was, the cult of womanhood, entailing the protection of bourgeois women by their husbands, circumscribed violence against this female group. Poor, lower-class women and children have always been subject to violence (viz Jack the Ripper) and abuse by all kinds of masters, but in the modern period (particularly after the two World Wars) more classes of women became vulnerable as they adopted independent lives and began to exist without the protection of men.

The extension of violence toward women upward through the classes is reflected in representations of women in film. As early as 1919, Griffith dealt with child abuse in his startling Broken Blossoms, but significantly his little girls are always poor, orphaned and outcast. In the post World War II era, men's fear of women, and the violent impulses toward them that result from this fear, is expressed in the sinister film noir heroines who, frigid and castrating, obstruct the male hero on his quest until exposed and violently murdered.

In the Fifties, representations of violence become more complicated because of a shift in the image of men. In noir films, the investigator was still tough, virile and traditionally masculine, but increasingly in the Fifties images of weak, feminized men appear. The representations no longer carry the attributes that signify masculinity, but instead the gestures, stance, voice and values of male characters carry significations usually assigned to women. Film narratives often expose the consequences of feminized men in the domestic sphere, relying on Oedipal formulations (e.g. Rebel Without A Cause), but attention is rarely paid to the effect of declining male authority on public institutions.

Fritz Lang is particularly interesting because of his concern with the problem of male authority in both the public and private spheres. As early as the Mabuse films, and then more clearly in M, Lang had shown the increase of violence toward women and children as patriarchal structures weakened and as male authority in the public realm waned. Inherently conservative as is Lang's vision from a feminist point of view, his work is nevertheless fascinating in its presentation of an imaginative realm where women's worst fears are enacted. Always sensing intuitively subtle changes in the tenor of his times and tuned in to future developments, Lang's representations tap aspects of human behavior centered around violence because of its personal interest for him. In the films made between 1922 and 1932, Lang's main theme is the link between the decline in morality and the technological advances in capitalism. His Mabuse films show the corruption and decadence that emerge inevitably from advanced capitalism; Metropolis, a negative vision of the future, shows technology used to oppress, not liberate, the masses, while in Frau Im Mond we see disinterested scientific advances co-opted and ruined by greedy capitalists.

But M, which looks directly toward While the City Sleeps in its concerns, exposes the psychosis that modern civilization has spawned and which has become an increasingly frightening aspect of our lives today. The world of this film, as we've seen already, suggests a link between the breakdown of the family and violence. Beckert, the sick hero of the film, lonely and alienated, clearly represents the "feminized" male in his stance and appearance, although there is no explicit analysis of this in M. He has a soft, round face, large sensitive eyes and a high whining voice. His tentative, halting manner betrays his lostness, and we later realize that he is trapped by impulses, buried deep in his unconscious, that he cannot control. The violence against the little girls who are Beckett's powerless victims is peripherally linked to the absence of men in that Frau Beckmann's husband is dead and she lives alone with Elsie, bowed down by hard work. But in this film Lang is more concerned with showing that male authority has degenerated to the point that society is no longer efficiently run. Only in the underground can one find the old style patriarch, Schränker, who can control his men and establish an effective, if undesirable, organization.

Lang shows the inadequacy of modern society to deal with a certain kind of psychosis—there are no legal structures capable of containing Beckert's violence and no moral frameworks within which it can be explained. Lang shows the complex situation of his psychotic "feminized" hero, driven to assert his masculinity through raping and killing young girls, paralyzing his community through his attacks, but as much a victim as victimizer. Lang offers no insight into his condition—the level of the unconscious is repressed in the film in order to allow the social issues, which concerned Lang more at the time, to surface fully.

The result of this is an unnatural split in the film: on the one hand there are the extraordinarily powerful, often haunting, scenes with the murderer which draw our sympathies to him (a sympathy, of course, increased through Loire's sensitive performance) and on the other, the scenes of rather easy social satire that the critique of authority assumes. Lang establishes no link between these two levels of the film other than that authority is too inept to track down and capture Beckert without the help of criminals. There is no larger analysis that accounts for Beckert's behavior as part of the breakdown of social institutions and traditional codes. Alternately appalled by and attracted to Beckert, we are given no insight into what underlies his violent impulses against girls.

Although While the City Sleeps lacks, as a work of art, the haunting power of M (this for reasons too complex to go into here but having at least in part to do with Hollywood as an institution), Lang does return at the end of his American career to the themes of M, made twenty-six years earlier. Significantly, Lang now links the theme of the decline in male authority to that of violence against women in a chilling representation of the results of transformations in the nuclear family in advanced capitalism. But this liberal-humanist position is undercut by Lang's own participation in the violence against women in the way he uses his camera in the film and in his relianceon the film noir conventions that present women as faithless, manipulating and corrupt. There is no female discourse undercutting or exposing the dominant male one as there was, for instance, in The Blue Gardenia. This is a role that Nancy Leggett, Mobley's girlfriend, could conceivably have played, representing, as she does, the only innocence (good) in the film; but Lang is evidently too embittered at this point to give credence to her alternate discourse and present it as a value against the clearly bankrupt male one. The "revolutionary" aspects of the film, then, lie in the exposure of the bankruptcy of established male values in capitalism; but while he exposes abuse of women once they are no longer protected by the bourgeois family, Lang does not allow women to speak for themselves or to assert a discourse in the face of the repressive and corrupt male one; nor does he seek viable alternatives to the decline of the family, suggesting rather that modern society's ills stem from the decline of patriarchal authority.

Let me deal first with Lang's demonstration in While the City Sleeps that violence against women is integrally linked to the decline in patriarchal authority. This theme emerges clearly first in the figure of the young murderer, Manners, played by John Barrymore, Jr. The film opens with Manners' brutal and unmotivated murder of a young career woman living alone in an apartment house. The words "Ask Mother" scrawled in blood on the mirror take on meaning, after Manners has murdered a second young professional woman, when we learn that Manners is the adopted son of an over-protective mother who had wanted a female child and had often treated Manners like a girl. The father is weak and absent in this family, leaving Manners in the hands of his mother. At one point in the film, Mobley actually presents this psychological profile of the boy on his television show, suggesting that Manners, a "mommy's boy," came to displace his hatred of his mother onto all women and is driven to murder them. Like Beckert, Manners' behavior and the words he leaves suggest that he is asking for help but is powerless to prevent the acting out of his strong inner compulsions. In this case, however, Lang gives a psychoanalytic interpretation of Manners' impulses in revealing the boy's over-identification with his mother and his lack of the solid, masculine identity that, Lang suggests, can only come from a strong father.

A similar psychological profile is presented for Walter Kyne who, while not himself a murderer, is linked to Manners by analogy. Here again the son has turned out weak and effeminate, this time because of an indulgent father. But now Lang deals with this as it effects leadership in the public world. While Manners reflects the violence toward women that emerges from a weak, absent father, Walter Kyne shows the projection of this violence on to the people he has to deal with in the Kyne firm, once he becomes the new leader.

Walter's father, Amos, represented the old-style patriarch who built a flourishing newspaper business from scratch, who had strong moral and liberal sentiments and who was passionate, energetic and socially involved. His death at the start of the film symbolizes the end of an era, since we soon learn that none of the younger men shares Amos Kyne's commitment and integrity. The old-style authoritarian leader, who had a humane side, is replaced by young men who are cynical, disillusioned and out only for themselves. No longer believing in social responsibility, they seek only to outwit others on the way to success.

Walter typifies the new kind of leader. Not having built the business himself, he is uninterested in maintaining what it stands for. He is mainly concerned with obtaining revenge for his father's refusal to bring him into the business earlier, and he particularly dislikes Mobley, senior journalist, since Amos had favored him.

Immature, childish and vain ("feminine" significations), Walter is further "feminized" by his high, whining voice and his loose, drooping stance. He plays a stereotypically female game with his staff, gaining control by making them compete for a newly established post of executive director, suggesting that the one who gets the first story about the murder will have the job.

The weak father is thus seen by Lang to produce disastrous results in both the private and public worlds. But the "fall" of men is equally clear in the depiction of Ed Mobley, the investigator figure who in traditional noir films is the one we identify with as capable of unravelling the mystery and restoring order. Usually tough, virile and relentless in his pursuit of the criminal, the investigator manages to turn aside the women who seek to obstruct his quest, triumphing over them in the end. Mobley is far from this ambitious, aggressive heroic figure. He rather recalls both Eddie from You Only Live Once and Svoboda from Hangmen Also Die in his moral ambiguity. On the surface he seems the most trustworthy figure in the newspaper office, particularly since we learn at the start that he had won Amos Kyne's respect. His link with Nancy also makes us think well of him, as does his refusal to become involved in the scramble for the executive position.

Yet we soon learn that Ed is by no means the hero he appears to be. To begin with, Mobley's refusal to take on the responsibility for the firm makes us wonder about him: why would he not want to head the business? Is he lazy? Does he shun responsibility? Secondly there is something distasteful in his drunken attempts to force himself on Nancy at the start of the film and in his trick of fixing the door so that he can return to surprise her. He here links himself to Manners, whom we have just seen murder a woman, using the same trick with the door. If Kyne and Manners are linked by analogy, Ed and Manners come closer to the romantic Doppelgähger. While pretending disinterest in the murder, Ed in fact becomes very interested in it and apparently not out of ambition for the post or out of a moral responsibility like Amos Kyne. He rather seems to have a unique understanding of the murderer—an understanding that can only come from his sensing a similarity to himself. While most people, including the police, try to pin the murder on the janitor, Ed learns, with the help of his police friend, that there is little evidence on which to convict him; his friend talks about the effect of the mass media—television and comic books—on young impressionable minds, and Ed concludes that the murder must have been done by a psychopath calling for help, asking to be caught.

But the most dubious light is cast on Ed by his method of trapping the murderer which involves risking the life of his girlfriend, Nancy, whom he has just deeply offended by allowing himself to be seduced by Mildred. So not only is Ed unfaithful, but he is also willing to put his lover's life in jeopardy. His willingness to risk so much suggests that he needs to capture Manners because Manners represents a part of himself that he fears.

The link between Ed and Manners is suggested through the filming of the scene in which Ed appeals to the killer on his television show. The camera begins focusing on Ed within the television screen, although we do not know this yet, then pulls back gradually as Ed talks, analyzing Manners' psychology—his being a "mommy's boy" who hates his mother and her entire sex. Finally, the same shot brings us outside the screen and into a bedroom where we find Manners watching the program. Ed ends his show with the bait that is to catch Manners: he announces his engagementto Nancy, knowing that, angered by Ed's analysis of him, Manners will be seeking revenge and will most likely try to kill Nancy.

Manners does indeed fall for Ed's manipulation and begins to go after Nancy. Ed has given Nancy a bodyguard, but nevertheless Nancy would have been killed had she not been so mad at Ed that she refused to open the door to Manners when he feigned Ed's voice. Finally guessing that Manners is so desperate that he may try to kill Nancy even when she's protected, Ed rushes to Nancy's apartment, sees Manners running away and chases him. Manners goes down a subway and Ed follows in hot pursuit; the scene parallels that in Manhunt when Thorndike is chased by his double on the dark subway tracks. Ed forces Manners to leave by an exit and he falls into the hands of the police.

Ed only just manages to succeed in his quest as investigator, his moral ambiguity reflecting Lang's departure from the traditional noir hero. Lang is unable to believe anymore in the tough, virile, ambitious male representation. The conservative nostalgic longing for the patriarchal male figure is evident here as it is in his disillusionment in relation to women. This latter conservatism is clear in the treatment of the three main women in While the City Sleeps—Dorothy Kyne, Mildred and Nancy Leggett. Dorothy and Mildred are variations of the noir femme fatale, but even Nancy, the one supposedly "good" presence in the film, is viewed negatively. It is true that the depiction of Dorothy and Mildred is part of the larger cynical vision of the film, reflecting yet one more example of betrayal and the impossibility of trust between people, but these representations weaken Lang's other theme about women's sexual vulnerability. Lang links the moral degeneration of women to the decline in male authority as he had previously linked the decline in leadership to the "feminized" male.

In the case of Walter and Dorothy Kyne, Lang suggests that if men are no longer real men, taking charge of their wives sexually and demanding obedience, then women will no longer respect their husbands and will cheat on them. Walter, weak and effeminate, seems uninterested in his wife physically, although a dedicated husband on the surface. He is too preoccupied with his petty revenge to relate to Dorothy in any other than the most superficial way, so she is able to carry on an affair with one of Kyne's employees, Harry Kritzer, right under his nose.

Lang's representation of Dorothy renders her a disturbing, unpleasant presence in the film; seductive, often lustful, she flaunts her sexuality in her husband's and lover's faces. Conventionally attractive in the terms of the period (Dorothy has blonde curls, pert nose, full mouth and shapely figure), she is seen constantly making up her face, peering at her image in the mirror, cool and confident of her effect on men. She is particularly unpleasant in three scenes: that where her lover, Kritzer, comes to dinner at the Kyne house—she and Harry, hungry for each other, can hardly wait for Walter to leave the room to embrace; that where she and Walter are exercising in their home and Kritzer calls—here we see Dorothy coolly act as though she is talking to a girlfriend and then lie to Walter about going shopping when in fact she goes to meet Kritzer; and finally that where Dorothy and Harry are seen love-making and then bickering in Harry's apartment. Lang's sympathies are clearly with the men, and this undercuts the effectiveness of our horror at Manners' near assault on Dorothy.

Mildred is an example of the scheming, seductive, single woman. Brilliantly played by Ida Lupino, this representation suggests that a career woman, if not monogamously attached to a man, becomes promiscuous, manipulative and scheming. Not actually working in the office when the film opens, Mildred flounces in to meet Mark Loving, whom she is helping win the post of executive director. She stops by Ed Mobley's desk to flirt with him, while Mobley's "steady" girlfriend, Nancy, looks on disapprovingly from the glass-walled office where she is taking dictation. The tension between the women surfaces later when Mildred meets Ed and Nancy in the local bar; the sniping shows their dislike of one another—a dislike occasioned at least in part by jealousy for what the other has chosen. Underlying Mildred's scorn of the "straight," girl-like Nancy, is her envy of Nancy's apparently solid relationship with Mobley; while Nancy is clearly threatened by Mildred's overt sexuality.

Mildred's lover, Mark, is as cynical and manipulating as she is, and he ultimately sends the willing Mildred off to seduce Ed in the hopes of winning Ed's support for Mark as executive director. Mildred finds Ed forlorn in the pub because Nancy is, significantly, at a Red Cross meeting, being a "good" girl. Mildred likes being "bad" and seizes the opportunity to get Ed drunk and in bed with her. Mildred's general deception and manipulation is nicely highlighted when she teases Ed with a slide viewer, pretending to be looking at nude women when in fact the pictures are only of babies.

By the end of the film, Mildred has managed to reinstate herself on the newspaper staff, seen to it that Kritzer was fired (she happened to find Kritzer and Dorothy Kyne together one night) and that Mobley has been promoted. Although married, presumably Ed will still be fair game.

If Dorothy and Mildred are variations on the noir femme fatale, Nancy is presented far more negatively than the "good" girls usually are in the genre. We expect the sexual women to have a compelling presence; the good girl is usually warm, soft and humorous. But everything about Nancy is hard, tight, clipped, prissy. She has cropped hair, wears tight dresses up to her neck and walks with short, jerky steps. She is clearly no match for the sexual women, and seems rather ridiculous when one night she refuses to sleep with Ed on their return to her apartment. Her hurt reaction to Ed's flirtation with Mildred also seems misplaced in the world she moves in, a pathetic stance against moral corruption.

Lang's treatment of both Nancy and Ed reflects his concern about social changes in both the private and public spheres. The traditionally positive characters—the male investigator and the "good" woman who usually helps him—are now seen ambiguously because of the more general disturbance which is the decline in male authority. The dual movement—the possibility of a woman living independently and of the new "feminized" male—has shaken the balance that preserved a certain order. While apparently in favor of women's participation in the social sphere (as we can see from his attitude to Manners in the film), Lang is aware of its consequences in the potential unleashing of hitherto restrained violence toward women.

But Lang's representations do not imply any simplistic, psychoanalytic correlation between the decline in male authority and women leaving the home. While he presents certain male fears about and hatred of women, he also gives us images showing changes in the public realm resulting from the decline of the dynastic family. The success of family businesses was premised on fathers molding sons in their patriarchal image, but as this no longer happens the businesses falter. A larger structural change is of course behind all this, and it is felt if not explored in the film—namely, that of the new corporate society with its needs for a different male type: the manager as opposed to the patriarchal owner and president.

Lang's representations have some validity, given changes occurring in the nuclear family and business institutions; he correctly represents the decline in male authority and its dangerous results (a decline that had, of course, been going on ever since the two World Wars). What he does not do is expose the undesirable aspects of what had been destroyed or consider viable alternatives. While women may be more vulnerable without the protection of men and the cult of womanhood, this does not necessitate a return to dependency on men and to the old-style patriarchal authority. How do we know that the "feminization" of men may not be healthy and have entirely different, possibly beneficial results in non-capitalist social structures? This is a question that Lang never asks. But his films are useful in helping us see the complexity of the problems and the transitions taking place, even when all that Lang offers is a return to a past we have long abandoned.

E. Ann Kaplan (essay date 1980)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3258

SOURCE: "The Place of Women in Fritz Lang's The Blue Gardenia," in Women in Film Noir, BFI Publishing, 1980, pp. 83-90.

[In the following essay, Kaplan presents three ways in which the male discourse in Lang's The Blue Gardenia is undercut by Norah, the female protagonist, even though Lang restores the order of the film noir at the end of the film.]

In the typical film noir, the world is presented from the point of view of the male investigator, who often recounts something that happened in the past. The investigator, functioning in a nightmare world where all the clues to meaning are deliberately hidden, seeks to unravel a mystery with which he has been presented. He is in general a reassuring presence in the noir world: we identify with him and rely on him to use reason and cunning, if not to outwit the criminals then at least to solve the enigma.

By contrast, the female characters in film noir stand outside the male order and represent a challenge to it. They symbolise all that is evil and mysterious. Sexuality being the only weapon women have in relation to men, they use it to entrap the investigator and prevent him from accomplishing his task. Dangerous because their sexuality is so openly displayed and so irresistible, women become the element that the male investigator must guard against if he is to succeed in his quest.

The Blue Gardenia is a challenge to critics, because in it Lang does not simply follow noir conventions in the manner that he does in two other films (The Big Heat and Human Desire) made about the same time. Lang rather turns noir conventions upside down in The Blue Gardenia by presenting two separate discourses—that is, two modes of articulating a vision of reality. There is the usual male discourse familiar from noir films and represented here by Casey Mayo, journalist playing investigator, and the police; but alongside this, Lang has inserted the discourse of Norah, a young telephone operator—a discourse that presents the confusion and alienation of women in a male world. As I'll show, Lang's treatment of Norah exposes male assumptions about women in noir films; by juxtaposing the male discourse, with its noir conventions, to Norah's point of view, Lang reveals elements of that discourse that generally go unquestioned.

The film opens in an apparently traditional manner, with Mayo driving up to the West Coast Telephone Company and leaving his sleepy photographer in the car. Inside, we find Prebble flirting with Crystal, a friend who lives with Norah and who is also a telephone operator. Prebble, called to the phone, is irritated with demands being made by an hysterical woman. Visually, the men dominate the frames in the expected manner. Prebble is shot lounging beside Crystal, sitting above her and facing the camera. Mayo dominates by standing up and both men act seductively to the women, Mayo in a less sinister and offensive way than Prebble.

The second scene, set in the apartment that Crystal, Norah and Sally share, is in striking contrast to the first. The female discourse is now evident, although the women are still placed symbolically in a subordinate way to men. The cosy relationships among the working women and the sense of a female world recall Arzner's films and other so-called 'women's films,' like La Cava's Stagedoor and Bacon's Marked Woman. Visually, the women occupy the centre of the frames and face the camera. Within the privacy of their home, they have more confident gestures and body postures, and freely extend themselves in the space they are in as was not possible when men were physically present. There is friendly repartee between the women and obvious support and caring for each other.

But, as in the 'women's films' mentioned, the symbolic importance of men assures their domination even when absent. Men provide the main topic of interest and although presented from the women's point of view, their centrality to the women's lives is clear. Each woman has made her own accommodation to the need to have a man: Sally finds real men boring, and lives a vicarious but passionate love life through pulp fiction; Crystal is dating her ex-husband, Homer, having discovered that she gets much more out of the relationship this way; Norah at the beginning of the scene is in love with her soldier in Korea, and lives for his return.

Norah's sudden discovery of her soldier's infidelity sets the narrative in motion and conditions her behaviour on the fatal night of Prebble's murder. Earlier on in the evening, her friends had ridiculed Norah for preferring a lonely birthday supper with her fiance's photograph to a night out. Anticipating that the letter she has saved for this moment will be full of his love for her, Norah is cruelly disappointed by an abrupt announcement of the soldier's imminent wedding to a nurse. At this point, Prebble telephones for a date with Crystal, whose number he had finally obtained earlier in the day. Pretending to be Crystal, Norah accepts the date herself, out of a desperate need to drown her hurt.

Taken aback at first to see Norah instead of Crystal, Prebble quickly adjusts to the situation, the implication being that the particular girl does not matter that much to him. He sees that Norah gets thoroughly drunk at the Blue Gardenia club, where Cole Porter sings the Gardenia song and a blind woman sells gardenia flowers. He then takes Norah back to his apartment where he begins to make love to her. Norah goes drunkenly along at first, pretending her lover is her fiance, but on realising her mistake, she wants to leave. Prebble insists, and in defence against being raped, Norah grabs a poker and strikes out at him, fainting before she can see what she has done. Waking up some time later, she rushes out of the house without her shoes, and goes home.

When Norah gets up the next morning, she has no memory of the events that took place in Prebble's apartment. While on the level of the surface narrative, this is a clumsy device for providing the enigma that has to be solved, it has symbolic importance in relation to the placing of women. Norah's inability to 'remember' or to say what actually happened represents the common experience of women in patriarchy—that of feeling unable to reason well because the terms in which the culture thinks are male and alien. Women in patriarchy do not function competently at the level of external, public articulation, and thus may appear 'stupid' and 'uncertain.' Norah's 'forgetting' dramatically symbolises her lostness in the male noir world of the film; she experiences a nightmare-like feeling of not knowing whether she is innocent or guilty, and of being therefore vulnerable to male manipulation.

The mise en scéne of the opening sequences underscores Norah's vulnerability; the male world is presented visually as a labyrinth through which she cannot find her way and which is fraught with danger for her. There is a dramatic contrast between the mise en scéne in scenes representing the women's worlds (the telephone company, the women's apartment), and that in the male worlds (The Blue Gardenia Club, Prebble's apartment, and, later on, Mayo's office). While the scenes in the telephone company and the apartment are brightly lit, the atmosphere cheerful and bustling, those in the male locations are shot in noir style, with looming shadows, unusual camera angles, objects awkwardly placed in the frame, etc., to create a sinister, claustrophobic atmosphere. The first scene in the women's apartment demonstrates the threatening aspect of the male world for Norah in the dramatic change that takes place once the other women have left, and Norah discovers her soldier's betrayal.

Even before we know this, however, Lang has prepared us for something unpleasant. Norah is dressed in a black taffeta dress, and has darkened the room, supposedly to create a romantic candle-lit, atmosphere, but as she sits down the shadows loom ominously. She sits opposite her fiance's picture almost as if before an icon, the candle-light adding to the sense of something unnatural going on. Lang seems to be deliberately exposing the excessive nature of Norah's devotion here, as if to increase the shock of the soldier's infidelity. Once his voice is heard, Norah translating the letter to her lover's spoken speech, the scene becomes even more sinister and ominous, the shadows darkening to the point of seeming almost to invade the light. When the phone rings, and Norah crosses the room to answer it, the music becomes sinister and the screen is almost black.

The women's apartment, thus, is seen to change dramatically, to become sinister and threatening, once men symbolically invade it. The Blue Gardenia Club next presents the male world as manipulative, seeking to trap unaware women. We first see Prebble at the Club setting up his seduction and making jokes about women with Mayo, who is at the bar on the pick-up. As Norah enters, she is seen in long shot, a tiny figure lost in the maze of the elaborate Hawaiian decor of the Club. Guided to Prebble's secluded table, she is seated in a wicker chair with an enormous back that seems to swallow her up. Things become more sinister again as the couple drive home in the pouring rain and thunderstorm. The shots of the car hood closing over the couple suggest that Norah is being trapped, as does the corresponding shot of the skylight window in Prebble's apartment with the rain beating down on it from the outside. Once the couple move into the living room, the mise en scène becomes even more sinister; there is a large mirror on the wall, surrounded by plants that cast eerie shadows over the room. It is as if Norah is lost in a jungle, the decor symbolising male traps and wiles.

It is important to note that it is only at this point that Prebble begins to appear in a sinister light. The section of the film up to this point has merely presented the alternating discourses of the men, on the one hand, and Norah (and to a degree the other women) on the other, both being shown as equally 'valid'. As the film goes on, however, and as we come to identify increasingly with Norah rather than the men, so the male discourse begins to be undercut by that of Norah. Reversing the situation in most noir films, where women are seen only within the male discourse, here that discourse is demystified through the fact that Norah is allowed to present herself directly to us. There are three main ways in which the male discourse is challenged.

The first way in which the male discourse is undercut is through Norah's knowing more than the male investigators about what went on the night of the murder. As already noted, in most noir films we identify with the male investigator and rely on him to bring at least some coherence in an essentially chaotic world. Here, however, we identify with Norah and have been present, as Mayo and the police have not, in Prebble's apartment the night of the murder. Although neither we nor Norah know all the facts, we at least know that she was the girl in Prebble's room who left her shoes and handkerchief there, and who was wearing a taffeta dress. On the evidence we have, it seems likely that Norah did kill Prebble in self-defence, but we are sympathetic to her hesitation in giving herself up to the police. Because we are seeing from Norah's point of view, we identify with her, not the investigators, whom we perceive from the outside trying to piece together parts of a puzzle that already fit for us.

A second way in which the male discourse is undercut is through the perspective we acquire, by being placed in Norah's consciousness, on the hypotheses that Mayo and the police develop about the woman who was with Prebble on the night of the murder. They automatically assume that she was no good (most likely a prostitute, since what decent woman would go out with Prebble), and that she deserves all she will get for murdering Prebble. (There is, however, no condemnation of Prebble's seductions, no suggestion that he may have exploited women for his own ends, or taken advantage of women's loneliness.) The disjunction between Norah, whom we experience as a gentle, warm and honest person, and the 'fictional' woman the men and society in general conjure up, highlights the harsh stereotype that women must deal with and the sexual double standard.

Particularly painful for Norah is the way even her close friends assume that the woman with Prebble was no good, and is to be despised and punished. Through the device of Norah's increasing identification with the heroines of Sally's pulp fiction, Lang notes Norah's growing self-hatred as she hears the comments about the 'Prebble woman'. Earlier on, Sally discussed with zest her latest book about a 'red debutante [who] is hit on the head, stabbed in the back, and shot in the stomach'. Norah's increasing identification with these pulp fiction women is made clear after an upsetting conversation with Sally and Crystal about the murderess. When the two friends leave Norah in the kitchen, she picks up a knife and holds it suggestively toward her stomach. We cut to a cover of one of Sally's books, showing a woman brandishing a knife with a terrible grimace on her face; the image echoes Norah's growing frustration as she feels condemned, trapped and helpless.

Norah's increasing sense of being trapped comes from her inability to withstand a definition of herself imposed by an alien and indecipherable male discourse. She does not trust her own sense of what she is, or is not, capable of, uncertain as to where male definitions end and her own begin. As the events of her night with Prebble are reconstructed for her by the police, Norah suffers a terrifying dislocation from reality. Not having evidence to the contrary, she comes to accept their definition of her as a murderess, despite an underlying sense that something is amiss. She is reduced to a state of hysteria, acting like a criminal, jumping when she sees the police, burning evidence like the taffeta dress, listening secretly to the radio in the dead of night. Her personality changes, and she becomes irritable with her friends. She thus folds up under the weight of the male structuring of things, succumbs to their view of her, and takes the guilt upon herself.

The third way in which the male discourse is undercut is through the perspective we develop on Casey Mayo. Identified as we are with Norah, the alternation between the discourses 'places' what Mayo is doing and allows us to see it for what it is. In the ordinary noir film, the investigator's trapping of the murderess would be a demonstration of his triumph over sexuality and evil. Here, Mayo is seen to engineer a despicable betrayal of the murderess whose dilemma he exploits for a publicity stunt. He pretends to be the killer's friend, seductively offering help and secrecy but all along intending to give the girl up to the police once she has revealed herself to him. Norah resists Mayo's appeals for a long time (while, by the way, the audience is 'entertained' by a series of false responses by desperate women, who are made ridiculous), but her isolation finally wears her down. She is unable to confide in her women friends (although we sense that at least Crystal would be sympathetic), partly because they have spoken so badly of the Prebble 'women', but also because Norah presumably does not see them as being able to help. She assumes that only men, those in the place of power, can get her out of her fix. She thus turns to Casey Mayo, who has been presenting himself over the radio as someone able to make reason out of chaos.

Because of the total trust with which Norah turns to Mayo, his treatment of her is shocking. When she comes to him posing as the murderess' friend, Mayo responds warmly to her, partly because he is attracted to her but also because he is anxious to be the first to discover the murderess. When Norah finally reveals that she is herself the supposed murderess, Mayo's response is terrifying: she is now repulsive to him, someone to be shunned, cast off. He does not quite decide to turn her in himself as originally planned—because of his attraction—but is glad to be sent off on another job.

Lang's visual treatment of the meeting between Mayo and Norah underscores her vulnerability, and Mayo's manipulation. He asks Norah to meet him late at night in his office. Norah's arrival is shot from Mayo's point of view: when he hears the elevator coming, he shuts off the lights, presumably so that he will be able to size her up before she has a chance to see him. Also, perhaps, to frighten her. We see Norah emerge from the lit elevator in the back of the frame; she is a tiny figure in black, in the lit corridor, with the threatening blackness of Mayo's office looming in front of her. Mayo watches silently as she slowly makes her way up the dark room, lit only from outside. The visual presentation of the scene expresses Mayo's power over Norah, her dependence on him and his unworthiness to be trusted, since he thinks only in terms of power and not of human vulnerability. Mayo is exposed as incapable of pity or empathy, and as bound by stereotypes of women as either 'good' or 'bad' girls.

The progressive elements of The Blue Gardenia that I've been discussing are, as so often, undercut by the way the film ends. Mayo has to be 'redeemed' by being the one who finally does solve the mystery of who murdered Prebble. By noticing a discrepancy between the record Norah said was on the phonograph at the time of the murder and that found by the police on the turntable when they arrived, Mayo tracks the murderess down; she turns out to be the hysterical woman Prebble had rejected at the start of the film. Mayo's reward for liberating Norah is of course to win her for himself; he now has the 'good' woman and can throw over his black book to his delighted photographer.

Although by the end of the film all the structures defining men and women are safely back in place, Lang's achievement remains. In turning noir conventions upside down, The Blue Gardenia has revealed the place that women usually occupy in these films. We see that the view men have of women is false in that the set of implications about Norah generated from the male world turn out to be invalid. While the male discourse tried to define Norah as a femme fatale, we see rather that she is a victim of male strategies to ensnare her for something she did not do. Norah's submissive placing of herself in relation to the male world is also exposed. She accepts the male view of her and then experiences the world as a riddle that she cannot solve. In this way, The Blue Gardenia exposes the essential contradiction between the dominant male discourse and the subordinate (repressed) discourse of women in patriarchy.

E. Ann Kaplan (essay date 1983)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6665

SOURCE: "Ideology and Cinematic Practice in Lang's Scarlet Street and Renoir's La Chienne," in Wide Angle, Vol. 5, No. 3, 1983, pp. 32-43.

[In the following essay, Kaplan compares how different cultural contexts affect Lang's Scarlet Street and Renoir's La Chienne, two films made from the same literary original.]

A comparison of La Chienne and Scarlet Street—two films made from the same literary original but in different nations, periods and institutional settings—allows us more easily than usual to isolate the effects of political, historical and economic context as these can be read off from each work. The cinematic devices in each film express the ideology of its cultural context—Popular Front France on the one hand, post-World War-II America on the other—and it is thus not surprising to find more elements subversive of dominant bourgeois ideology in Renoir's film than in Lang's. But, given a spectator not committed to bourgeois values, Scarlet Street may be read in a progressive manner, while La Chienne, for all its criticism of certain aspects of bourgeois society, assumes the dominance of patriarchy and represses the female discourse.

The discussion of each film is organized around three main concepts: first, the idea of the family (domestic space) in contrast to the work world (public space), particularly as this relates to the notion of the individual versus the community; second, the construction of sexual difference as it functions to drive the narrative forward; finally, the idea of class in each film.

The cinematic form of Scarlet Street is for the most part that of dominant (classical Hollywood) cinema. The potentially subversive elements that are evident (particularly in the final section of the film) are a result of its falling, roughly, into film noir. For most of the film, Lang follows the rules of classic cutting: he fragments filmic space through montage as the organizing principle of shot change, but preserves the illusion of narrative continuity by disguising the fragmentation. The transition between shots through dissolve helps further to disguise the division between private and public space that is largely responsible for Chris' misery. This division, of course, is routinely structured into classic narratives, and has an ideological base in that the separation of domestic and work worlds has (at least to date) served the interests of capitalism. The polarity reinforces the concept of individualism on which bourgeois culture is founded, and represses the notion of community that could work to undermine capitalist structures. The myth that the home is the haven to which the weary (male) worker returns for spiritual and personal sustenance enables the public world to be defined, without prejudice, as non-supportive and non-nurturing. Hollywood narratives reflect, without question, this division between private and public spaces, and use montage to make it seem "natural," the way things are supposed to be.

The supposedly "natural" separation between home and work worlds is particularly interesting in Scarlet Street since the hero, Chris Cross, gets into trouble precisely because his home is not the haven it is ideologically supposed to be. The narrative is structured in typical fashion around a series of juxtaposed sequences that set up polarities, contrasts and oppositions. In the opening section of the film, Chris is seen in a series of separate spaces, none of which connect with each other, but whose disconnection is masked, made to "seem natural." The opening use of montage establishes an apparent contrast between the lonely, noir world of the street and a superficially "warm" business dinner commemorating Chris Cross' twenty-five years with his firm. The street scene is so darkly lit that one barely sees the passers-by, the beggar with the barrel organ, or the sleek shiny car that pulls up outside of the Club, lit with a neon sign, where the dinner is being held. The organ grinder plays "Santa Lucia," a romantic love song that prepares for the shot of the glamorous woman in the car, her white furs and jewelry briefly breaking the blackness. We cut to the scene inside as the chauffeur comes to fetch J.J., Chris' boss, who represents the patriarchal order and is obviously much admired by Chris. Chris is significantly introduced by a shot of the back of his head, as the camera focuses along the table to J.J. making a speech and presenting Chris with the commemorative watch. When we finally cut to Chris' face, we see his boyish joy at being made the center of attention, clearly an unusual circumstance.

J.J.'s manhood is established by his having the glamorous girl waiting for him in the car. The diners leave the table to crowd around the window and gaze down at her, while Chris and his friend take the opportunity to creep out, obviously not at home with this group despite the surface togetherness. Once out on the dark street, now deserted and rainswept, Chris confides his loneliness to his friend and wonders bemusedly what it would be like to be loved by a young girl. He admits that no woman has ever looked at him as that girl looked at J.J.

Paradoxically, the lonely street shortly thereafter offers Chris the "gift" of Kitty, but it is in effect a gift as false as the watch in terms of what it really signifies; the watch, simply a routine recognition of service, did not signify the love Chris needs, and Kitty also offers "false" love.

We cut to a bar where Chris begins to fall in love with Kitty, enchanted by her youth, beauty and her apparent interest in him. Ashamed to say he is indeed the cashier Kitty nearly "mistook" him for, he allows her to believe he makes his living by painting, while in reality he merely paints as a hobby, a way to relieve his empty, painful existence.

The noir street thus mirrors Chris' "true" existence, while the two "warm" spaces are illusions. We cut from the scene with Kitty to a closeup of the flower Kitty gave Chris in the bar and which he is now painting in his kitchen, trying to stay out of the way of his hostile wife. Chris' home is, as already noted, far from the haven it is ideologically meant to be; on the contrary, it is a place where Chris is made to feel unworthy, unloved and inadequate.

The next series of scenes continues this juxtaposition of disconnected spaces that Chris inhabits. The "romantic" scene between Chris and Kitty in an outside cafe (it is the one and only time in the film that nature is shown—there are trees, birds, sunshine) is placed next to a dark shot of Chris in his workplace, tempted to steal the money Kitty has begged for. Chris is alone in his box-like cashier's office, the lighting is shadowy and the camera so close in as to produce a claustrophobic sensation. Chris is then seen arriving home to shrill abuses from Adèle about not buying her a house or even a radio, and for not being a "proper man" like Homer, her former husband, whose portrait dominates all the domestic shots. When Adèle goes to listen to a soap opera at a friend's place, Chris takes his revenge by stealing some of the insurance bonds she obtained through Homer's supposed death. When Adèle returns, Chris goes in his usual beaten fashion to wash the dishes.

In this opening series of sequences, then, the use of montage has shown Chris in a series of disconnected worlds, two of which clearly give him little satisfaction. His alienation in the work world, however, is not seen as being a problem (it is how things are meant, to be), while his miserable home life with his bitchy wife is a sign of unhappiness, of things not being as they are meant to be. The spectator is made to identify with Chris and to hate Adèle as much as he does, Since his home is not the haven it is ideologically supposed to be, Chris experiences a lack, a void that has to be filled, and thus arises his first need for Kitty. But secondly, his need for her emerges from his "feminization," exacerbated by Adèle's shrewishness: he must "prove" that he is a man by taking a young mistress. Finally, in the hierarchically structured work world in which Chris is relegated to a low slot, Chris again finds his manhood on the line. He talks of himself as a failure later on in the film, and in terms of the competitive, achievement-oriented society he lives in, he can be described in this way. (Ideologically, we are made to assent to this view of himself.) Falling in love with Kitty seems to place Chris on the same footing as his boss, J.J., and thus fills yet one more need in relation to manliness.

After this introduction establishing Chris' vulnerability to Kitty's manipulations, the narrative focuses on the relationship between Kitty and Johnny, and on their plan to exploit Chris' supposed fame as a painter. Johnny, and to a lesser degree, Kitty, has been briefly established as up to no good in a short scene in Kitty's apartment near the start of the film. The full depth of his evil emerges as the film progresses, but is of course (in accordance with the rules of classical narrative) never ideologically accounted for in any terms other than implicit Christian ones. Cross' name suggests that he is some kind of Christ figure, prey to the "devil" that Johnny personifies. That Lang means Johnny, not Kitty, to be the "serpent" in the Garden of Eden (despite the sex-role reversal involved), is clear from the superimposition of Johnny's face and a snake in one of Chris' paintings at a later point in the film. Johnny, like many characters in more typical noir films, is a "fallen" creature in a world view that sees evil as a matter of individual distance from God rather than as something socially conditioned.

The traumatic discovery of his betrayal by Kitty (through Johnny's urgings) leads Chris to murder his beloved in a fit of jealous passion. From that point on, his tenuous place in normal bourgeois society ("tenuous" because of his low work status and unhappy marriage), is fatally ruptured. Because of the divisions between private and public space, and his enmeshment in worlds that refuse community or proper friendship, Chris, even before he commits murder, has nowhere to turn for help with his miserable marriage, with his newfound love, or with his need for money. Once he has done the deed he is completely, irrevocably isolated. Cross' alienation (masked by the montage in most of the film through cutting from Adèle's rejections to joyful meetings with Kitty) is fully revealed in the final sequence of the film. Film space is now fragmented in an expressionist manner (there are jarring cuts from witness to witness, oblique angles, figures silhouetted against white, empty spaces, distorted sound as in a dream). For a moment, there is a break in the smoothly contained, bourgeois ideology. When Chris is allowed to go free, it seems that public morality briefly follows private morality; for although Johnny is technically innocent, he is morally guilty, and society is shown to honor that guilt in its false reliance on circumstantial evidence.

However, bourgeois morality is hastily recuperated in that Cross, while allowed to go free physically, is not left spiritually free. As the newspaper reporter ominously warned in the train on the way to Johnny's execution, the guilty man never goes free, no matter what faults there are in the judicial system. Chris falls lower than ever after having committed murder; haunted by the persistent voices of Kitty and Johnny, mocking him and declaring their undying love for one another, Chris begins to go mad. In a scene that brilliantly reproduces through lighting, sound and editing, his inner experience of unbearable guilt and frustration, Chris finally tries to hang himself. Although he is saved just in time, he is forever morally and psychologically destroyed. Lost in his pain, Cross is stunned to see his painting of Kitty being moved into a van as he passes the art gallery. After staring at it uncomprehendingly, Cross continues on his way, haunted as ever by the jeering, seductive voices of Johnny and Kitty. He must suffer inner torment forever for having committed a murder—no matter how justified in personal terms—and in this way Lang brings Chris back safely within the bourgeois world, ultimately viewed as a trap from which there is no escape. Within the limits of Hollywood narrative conventions, breaking the rules is no solution.

We see thus how in Lang's film the division between public and private space is built into the structure of the cinematic world as a given, as completely "natural." The cause of Cross' tragedy is not the division itself (i.e., of the way social institutions are constructed), as it might be viewed in a "progressive" reading, but rather it is seen as first, the result of Adèle's not performing her wifely role in the manner prescribed (i.e., as nurturing, supportive, loving toward her husband); second, the result of Cross' lacking the kind of manliness patriarchal capitalism demands and expects of its men. Cross' tragedy is thus viewed as an individual tragedy rather than as a result of social organization or cultural demands.

Renoir's use of cinematic space reflects a very different ideology than does the bifurcation through montage found in Lang's film. This is not to argue, as have critics since Bazin, that Renoir brings us closer to "reality" through his on-location shooting, his devices of loose framing, panning camera, long takes and eye-level, medium-long shots, or through his use of deep focus. But rather it is to say that Renoir constructs an image of "reality" strikingly other than that constructed in classical Hollywood narratives. He presents a new way of seeing bourgeois "reality" a way that is not more or less "real" but simply different from that which we are used to in traditional narratives. To the average spectator, indeed, Renoir's use of cinematic space seems less, not more, "realistic" because it is so unfamiliar and not in accord with the constructions Americans have in their heads as "the way things naturally are."

To begin again with the treatment of private/public space: we find here a striking difference from Scarlet Street, since instead of setting up the two spaces as disconnected, separate, polarized, Renoir rather shows the connections between the spaces. It is not so much that Renoir links the work space and the domestic space specifically (Legrand is perhaps even more alienated at work, although for significantly different reasons than Cross), but that instead of showing his hero as isolated in an isolated domestic unit, Renoir places both Legrand and his domestic space in a community context. This is done through the techniques of deep focus, long takes, and a panning camera as against the placing of characters in a shallow field, the use of relatively short takes, and montage instead of camera movement, that we find in Lang.

Thus the community is present and dwelt upon in all the key scenes, as for instance when Legrand steals Adèle's bonds, when Alexis comes to the house, when Legrand murders Lulu, and finally when Dédé is convicted of the murder he didn't commit. And the connections are made not through intercutting (a separating device) but through use of deep focus, with the action being developed within one shot. The effect of the community presence is different in each case, but the technique suggests a view of reality where actions of moment are seen not as happening to isolated individuals but to people in a very specific cultural, social and institutional context. The individual is presented as a social being, as necessarily a part of a structure beyond himself.

In general, Renoir's editing establishes a method of sequencing unlike that in Lang's film and in Hollywood films in general. In Scarlet Street, we saw that the editing was used to mask disconnections, or to present disconnections as quite "natural." The sequences are set up as separate, complete and rather long units, and the spaces are constructed in accordance with our cultural expectations. Where Lang constructs the film with sequences acting like building blocks, Renoir moves from one short interaction to another in a quite jarring fashion. That is, we experience disconnection, fragmentation, and even have some difficulty in following the narrative at times. Thus we have the paradox that Lang actually presents a disconnected, fragmented world but smooths it over and masks the disconnections through continuity editing; while Renoir presents a more unified, connected set of spaces and a view of people as linked to their surroundings and their community, but does not disguise fragmentation between sequences.

The different constructions of public versus private space in the Lang and Renoir films leads in turn to contrasting constructions of sexual difference. In Scarlet Street, the ideology underlying the private space/public space dichotomy implies a specific construction of gender roles. J.J. in the public space, and Homer in the domestic space, signify the ideal of manliness that capitalist structures demand: J.J. bears the voice of authority as patriarchal leader in his firm, and his phallic power is demonstrated by his possession of the glamorous young girl; in Chris' domestic space, Homer stands as the voice of authority and possessor of the phallus (at one point Adèle notes proudly how Homer used to be attractive to other women since he was a real man). Cross' tragedy arises on one level from his lack of the manliness required in his culture; this lack disturbs the sex gender organization and creates disease. Adèle is dissatisfied and disappointed in Chris as a husband (she complains overtly about his failure to provide adequately for her financially, and from Chris' hint that he has never seen a woman naked, we can assume that he does not perform adequately in the bed either). As a result, she sees Cross as lacking the phallus, as symbolically "female," and therefore relegates him to tasks traditionally carried out by the wife.

Adèle in turn takes on the dominating role usually occupied by the husband, but we assume (from her comments about Homer) that she would have been willing to occupy her gender role had Cross been suitably "manly."

While Adèle pits Cross against Homer and finds him lacking, so Kitty pits him against Johnny and also finds him inadequate. Johnny's masculinity is of a construction the opposite of the benign patriarch J.J., and closer to that found in noir figures. He is the tough-talking, greedy, criminal type who manipulates his woman and is not beyond beating her up occasionally so as to keep her in line. This manly assertiveness, in addition to his implied sexual prowess (e.g., Kitty: "I don't know why I stay around a guy like you." Johnny: "You know why you do"; or the scene, that within the rules of the code is meant to indicate sexual passion, where we find Johnny sprawled out on the bed and Kitty's belongings all strewn around the floor), is what attracts Kitty to him. She is thus constructed as masochistically preferring the man who brutalizes her to the man who genuinely dotes on her and who is gentle to her. This is clearly revealed in the murder scene where Kitty finally allows her repressed scorn for the "feminized" Cross to emerge; "You kill Johnny?" she yells; "Why he'd break every bone in your body; he's a man." And "Me marry you? Why, you're old and ugly!" Cross, unable to endure the double pain of his shattered romantic illusions about Kitty and the attack on his masculinity, is driven to assert his maleness by killing what he had loved.

The two couples, Kitty/Johnny and Adèle/Chris, then, are juxtaposed so as to expose the "correct" and "incorrect" construction of sexual difference (although part of Millie's function as Kitty's friend is to show us that Johnny has overstepped his masculine role and will deserve punishment for this); Kitty can be properly "female" (seductive, worshiping her man, willing to sacrifice anything for him) because Johnny is properly "male" (dominating, assertive, sexual). The "trouble" in the narrative that drives the plot forward emerges from Chris' lack of sufficient masculinity. This failure causes domestic unhappiness, causes Cross to feel inadequate both at work and at home, and leads him to fall in love with Kitty and become vulnerable to her and Johnny's exploitation. His weak sense of himself as a man makes him unable to endure her brutal betrayal and leads to the murder, which in turn destroys his inner peace.

The problem of sexual difference takes on another cast in La Chienne because of the different conceptions of the hero's "problem," which is here related to the notion of the individual versus his community. Much more ambivalence surrounds the construction of all the characters, except Adèle, in their relation to moral absolutes of good and evil. While Cross' vulnerability to the absolute evil of Johnny and Kitty is linked to his lack of sufficient masculinity, the same is not true for Legrand.

Legrand's main problem is not seen as being one of inadequate maleness; rather, he is set up as a condescending man who considers himself above his peers. He is cultured and well read, while they are philistines; he is the artist with refinement and sensibility, while they lack culture and a taste for the finer things of life. Legrand thus separates himself from the others, and to this degree, since Renoir values community, is criticized by Renoir for arrogance. Legrand is not posed in the opening scene as in awe of a more "manly" boss, but is instead presented as a man who likes to keep himself to himself, and who refuses to go along with the silly exploits that his colleagues indulge in.

Although there is reference to Legrand's not daring to visit a whorehouse because of his wife, Legrand in fact seems self-possessed and used to being the butt of jokes. If he has a sin, it is one of pride (analogous to that of Professor Rath in The Blue Angel) as opposed to one of sexual inadequacy. Legrand's behavior results from a kind of snobbish bourgeois lifestyle which leads him to set himself up above others and to separate himself from the community. In a very painful way, Legrand has to learn humility; he has to be brought down to the level of the common man he so scorns, a "lowering" that Renoir views as a liberation from a stuffy, artificial way of being. His obsession with Lulu is thus caused by the bourgeois structures Legrand is locked into; once released from those oppressive structures, he is released from his passion and free to simply "be"—a state far different from the doomed, continual haunting by the past that Chris endures in Scarlet Street. Where Cross seems tentative about Kitty's love for him and keeps questioning her, Legrand assumes that because he loves Lulu, she must love him. Much more than Cross, he identifies himself as an artist, a special being set apart, as is revealed in his conception of himself in his paintings as a Christ figure, bearing the "Cross" of having to endure Philistines. Cross' paintings, on the other hand, deal with his sense of a world beset with dangers, a world where evil lurks in common places, like the Village streets (namely the snake around the El supports in one painting), where the human figure (as in the portrait of Kitty) assumes alarmingly vacant, distanced, threatening features.

Renoir's refusal to separate private and public space enables him to critique the separation that Legrand makes deliberately. As we have seen, in Lang's film the separation is an essential part of the film's structure and is never questioned. By contrast, the unquestioned assumption in Renoir's film is a patriarchal view of sex relations. While a feminist reading of La Chienne would expose the pitiful exploitation of Lulu by all the men in the film, there is nothing in the way the film is constructed to suggest that Renoir deplores the exploitation.

It is interesting to see that Lulu has been given many more traditionally feminine traits than Kitty in Lang's film; she is small, blonde and round—a figure and presence that cries out to be cuddled. She wears flowing shiny clothes with soft, feathery collars and cuffs that frame her little face, and which she pulls around her in a coy, retiring manner. This is very different from the brash, confident gestures of the dark-haired Kitty, who, sure of herself and her beauty, deploys her body in deliberately seductive ways. While Kitty is knowing, worldly-wise, and (except for her fatal blind spot regarding Johnny) has her head screwed on the right way, Lulu is more traditionally "innocent," despite her supposed role as prostitute. She behaves as if she hardly knows that is what she is doing, and her whole being exists to please Dédé. She is thus much more the traditional woman-as-victim (and accepted as such) than is Kitty.

Lulu receives far greater abuse than does Kitty; she is constructed as masochistically involved in a relationship that offers little more than beatings. For instance, immediately after being beaten up by Dédé, she is worrying about him. While Dédé is in some ways (particularly morally) a less obnoxious character than Johnny, he is much more brutal to Lulu.

While Kitty is equally involved with Johnny in the exploitation of Chris, Lulu stands outside of it all, hardly aware of what is going on. At least Kitty gets some acclaim as the supposed great artist, while in La Chienne Lulu ends up being a sexual object to physically distasteful art dealers. Her function as object of exchange between Dédé, her lover, the men selling her work, and the buyers is presented graphically in the scene where Lulu goes to a party arranged by her agents and is literally passed from one man to another, prodded by Dédé, who, thinking only about the money, is anxious for her to please all the other men. Lulu reluctantly complies, and the scene ends with a cut to Lulu signing over her hard-won earnings to Dédé.

Lulu's discourse is completely suppressed in her life with Dédé, and she functions as a mere economic signifier, reduced to the level of a piece of paper. Her function is hardly better in relation to Legrand, for whom she is the receptacle of fantasies and wish fulfillments, there to provide for his pleasure—very much on the level of the pets and flowers with which Renoir's imagery frequently associates her.

The varying construction of sexual difference in the two films creates quite different resonances in the murder scene. Legrand destroys what he loves not so much out of jealousy as out of disappointment that the woman he thought perfect could stoop so low as to love an unrefined man like Dédé. The techniques used to film the murder underscore this interpretation. First, there is the intercutting between the room where the murder is happening and the community outside where people have gathered to listen to a violinist playing a haunting old melody. The people Legrand so scorns are presented as capable of appreciating good music, while he, ironically, stoops to the level of murder. Their presence suggests a deliberate link between Legrand and those he has tried to rise above.

Second, Renoir's method of filming the action from outside the window establishes a necessary distance between the spectator and the action; we are deliberately placed as voyeurs, and are forced to think and judge, rather than simply participate in the horror. The flowerpots and the frilly curtains, along with the soft lighting suggest the tragic loss of Lulu, an innocent victim of men's desires. Legrand looks foolish for killing impulsively and needlessly.

The murder is represented in quite another mode in Scarlet Street. To begin with, the phallic imagery suggests that Cross' sexuality is involved in a way that Legrand's is not. The murder scene is linked to an earlier scene that foreshadowed it, both in its phallic imagery and in the rage toward women that Chris experiences because of his submission to them. This earlier scene takes place in Chris' kitchen, where he is seen, complete with apron, cutting up some meat with a huge knife. Adèle walks in scornful because, having seen Cross' paintings with Kitty's name on them, she assumes that he has simply copied the paintings. Cross at first thinks Adèle has discovered his affair, and holds the knife up ominously in center frame as she talks. When he realizes something else is going on, he lets the knife drop, and we get a closeup of it significantly right between Cross' feet.

In the murder scene, the ice pick is similarly focused on. Cross knocks it out of the ice barrel by mistake when talking to Kitty, and absent-mindedly picks it up. He holds it in his hand as he listens to Kitty and then plunges the knife in several times when he realizes that she is laughing at him—deriding his manhood and comparing him negatively to Johnny. In both scenes, the knife stands for the phallus Chris lacks—a lack that he tries to compensate by using the knife murderously.

There is no such emphasis in La Chienne. The paper knife that we assume is the murder weapon is only briefly seen, and then Renoir's camera cuts significantly down to the community below, listening to the violinist. The camera then pans slowly up the wall of the house outside to the window of Lulu's room, where it pans right, keeping us outside; from our position, we see Legrand apparently caressing Lulu's body, in great distress about the loss he has brought upon himself.

We are, again significantly, placed very much as voyeurs at this moment in La Chienne. We want to see what is going on inside the room, and Renoir's refusal incites our curiousity; one finds oneself peering into the screen, hoping each time to see a little more into the room. Paradoxically, Renoir's hero, while not motivated to murder through sexual inadequacy, nevertheless has a sexual reaction to his self-imposed loss. Chris, motivated through the desire to assert the phallus, is destroyed by his assertion, experiencing no tragic sense of loss and no relief. Legrand, motivated rather through social/class reasons, experiences loss, followed by the final renewal.

We can now see how the construction of sexuality and of public/private space is governed by the construction of class in the two films; and further how the construction of class is related to the political, historical and intellectual milieu in which Renoir and Lang were working. Issues of class were being foregrounded in Popular Front France, while in postwar America they were mystified. While this is partly always the case in America and in Hollywood films, it was particularly true following a successful war in which, ideologically, class interests had been subordinated to patriotism. For the moment, laborers and bosses were working toward the same end, united in their wish to win the war.

That this ideology continued in postwar America may be seen in the mystification of class in Scarlet Street. Everyone is leveled to a comfortable middle-class mean, and the narrative avoids inserting class as a cause for anything that happens. While at the start Kitty and Johnny are clearly living a rather sordid existence (although they are always dressed in a thoroughly middle-class style), this is seen as caused by individual laziness and greed rather than by economic or class systems. The conversation between Millie and Kitty early on establishes the fact that Kitty could earn a good living by modeling if she wanted to; a later conversation with Millie and Johnny establishes Johnny in turn as an indulgent dreamer who wants to get rich quick (note his fantasy of overnight success in Hollywood) without doing any work.

Very quickly, through exploiting Chris, Kitty and Johnny are set up in a fancy apartment. Their use of language alone betrays their class origins, and this is neatly masked by Kitty's legitimate adoption of a "refined" accent to seduce both Chris and the art dealers. Her kind of beauty and her poise, sophistication and elegance establish her iconographically as middle class. Johnny is for his part defined not in terms of class so much as of morality (i.e., he is evil incarnate). Finally, although Chris' work world is in fact hierarchical, this is again masked by J.J.'s stance as "one of the boys." Genial and jolly, he is sympathetic rather than aloof when Chris gets into trouble.

But underneath the surface of postwar America sex and gender issues were causing dis-ease. Again, one can look back at the history of literature in America and discover from early on a difficulty (on the part of the almost exclusively male authors who made up the dominant literary tradition) in relation to sex and women. But as the veterans returned and found that their places had been filled competently by women, ongoing problems of male sexual identity were exacerbated. It is for this reason that sexual difference is foregrounded in Scarlet Street, and takes precedence over class. Cross' family situation, indeed, reflects one that must have faced many a veteran: the "other man" in the background; the demand that he be a full-fledged provider; the assertive, confident woman, able to take care of herself, yet feeling that she has earned the right to be taken care of. Cross himself is in a sort of shell-shocked state, and, unable to deal with the demands, suffers a crisis in his masculine identity.

The context of Popular Front France resulted in a very different emphasis on the same original in La Chienne. Renoir's anti-bourgeois bias dominates his construction of the narrative and is the reason behind his drawing attention to the process of illusion through the device of the puppets, and the constant framing of the action through windows, doors, etc., that replace the proscenium arch. Renoir wants to avoid our identification with Legrand so that we can think about who he is and what he is doing, and also so that we can have some sympathy for Dédé. The distance enables Renoir to set up Legrand as a petit-bourgeois man who, because of his superior culture (he is a painter who understands great art) sees himself as above everyone else in his community, both at home and at work. Dédé, meanwhile, is thoroughly working class in his clothes, hair style, stance, gestures, speech, and is filmed in locations (the bars, the clubs) that reflect his class origins. Although we only glimpse him briefly, Legrand's boss is much more the aristocrat than is J.J. in Scarlet Street; he separates himself from his workers, thus completing the sense of a strong class hierarchy, rigidly adhered to.

Significantly, Lulu is the character least tied to class because of what Renoir intends her to represent in the film—namely, the eternal feminine. (In feminist terms, as we've seen, she is a mere projection of male fantasies with no voice of her own.) Adéle, on the other hand, is a comic stereotype as old as comedy—the working-class, shrewish wife, emotional, violent, abusive.

Renoir's narrative is thus driven forward by issues having to do with class. Legrand's misery is presented as due to oppressive, bourgeois structures; forced out of them by his murder of Lulu, he achieves a kind of existential anarchic freedom, living happily on the street, released from the cares and desires that bourgeois society entails. Dédé, meanwhile, is seen as the pitiful victim of his class status. Despite his brutality to Lulu, he retains our sympathy as a man who knows no better; lacking the education needed to think more deeply about things, he pushes on in the only way he knows how, not deliberately intending to hurt people, but acting out of a sad ignorance of human possibilities.

This analysis of cinematic practice and ideology in Scarlet Street and La Chienne, films made from the same original but in different nations and political periods, has allowed us to see how cultures speak through texts, shaping the means of expression, conditioning what can be said, and affecting the focus given the narrative. The bifurcation of cinematic space in Lang's text, smoothed over by continuity editing, reflects an accepted division between public and private worlds, and a view of the individual as alienated without, however, his being aware of this as something abnormal. The narrative focuses on the problem of sexual difference, reflecting a deep-rooted concern in American culture generally, but one that is of special significance in the post-World War II era. Cross' lack of sufficient masculinity causes the "trouble" in the narrative, and brings about his destruction. The film suggests that capitalist structures like the family and the corporation depend on a certain form of masculinity, and that disaster follows from its lack. Women cannot be properly feminine if their men are not sufficiently masculine, and a man leaves himself open to exploitation if not aggressively male. The film, that is, offers a series of warnings around sexuality in a period when sex roles were in a confused state as a result of the upheavals the war entailed.

Renoir's film, by contrast, structures cinematic space quite differently, relying on long takes, deep focus and a panning camera that probes space. Renoir shoots on location, and his gray, grainy image lacks precise definitions; it stands in sharp contrast to the deliberately stark black/white polarity of Lang's images where mise-en-scéne is all important, and definition clear-cut. Renoir's camera seeks to explore spaces beyond its purview, drawing attention deliberately to its own inherent voyeuristic properties; these are properties that Renoir exploits by using windows, doors, buildings and the dumbwaiter as framing devices that enhance our position as spectators.

The spectator in Renoir's film is thus addressed in such a way that he/she must stand at a distance from what is occurring on the screen; fragmentation is not masked by continuity editing, so that we have a sense of Legrand as alienated. But the refusal to separate private and public space makes us see that Legrand's alienation is of his own making rather than being inherent in the state of things. The way space is structured endows value on the community that Legrand himself scorns, and ensures that Legrand's bourgeois values are critiqued.

Since class was foregrounded in Popular Front France, it is this concern that drives the narrative forward, rather than problems having to do with sexual difference. In Legrand's world, Lulu is inserted as a fantasy, representing all his dissatisfactions, his yearning for more than his narrow bourgeois life can offer. In her own world, on the other hand, Lulu functions as the scapegoat for Dédé's frustrations, the means for his release of tension, and is exploited for her market value. She has no status, no voice of her own, and in placing her thus Renoir implicitly accepts patriarchal culture. The upshot of the film is a devastating critique of the ways men are bounded by, trapped in, bourgeois culture, but it leaves women out of the critique. If the ending is politically unsatisfying in being anarchic rather than revolutionary, that is Renoir's choice.

What my analysis has revealed is that while, paradoxically, the overall ideology in Lang's film is more conservative (it does not question accepted bourgeois structures), his film, in foregrounding sex roles, exposes (this is not to say that it critiques) the assumptions about sexuality that underlie bourgeois capitalism.

Roger Dadoun (essay date Fall 1986)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 12238

SOURCE: "Metroplis Mother-City—'Mittler'—Hitler," in Camera Obscura, Nos. 11-15, Fall, 1986, pp. 137-63.

[In the following essay, Dadoun discusses Lang's Metropolis in terms of its moral ideology and presents possible reasons why Hitler admired the film.]

Metropolis is a German film made by Fritz Lang in 1926. It is commonly held to be a "classic" of cinema; some even call it a "masterpiece." Apart from the stylistic qualities that make it, for many viewers, one of the masterworks of expressionism, it is chiefly the film's moral, or ideology, that has been singled out for praise. The final sequence, a model of the "happy ending," depicts the emotional reconciliation of the employer with his workers, brought about by the employer's son, who, with the blessing of Maria, the pure young woman who is soon to become his wife, assumes the role of Mediator (Mittler in German). The film drew harsh words from some critics. H.G. Wells pronounced it "an amalgam of all the nonsense and platitudes we have ever heard, upon which is ladled a sentimental sauce like no other." More significantly, some critics have seen parallels with, not to say instances of, Nazi ideas, values, and fantasies. For Francis Courtade, "Metropolis is a fascist, pre-Nazi work." Siegfried Kracauer's analyses in From Caligari to Hitler provide valuable evidence in support of this judgment, in particular Lang's own statements to an American newspaper. When the Nazis came to power, Lang was summoned by propaganda chief Goebbels, who told him that he and Hitler had seen the film together some years earlier in a small provincial town. "… Hitler said [to Goebbels] at that time," Lang recounted, "that he wanted me to make the Nazis' pictures." The theme of destiny being a recurrent favorite of Lang's, it is curious to note here the Nazi historical "destiny" of Metropolis. Before elaborating further on this point, I will briefly review the film's scenario. My main point, however, will be to demonstrate the need for, and pertinence of, psychoanalytic concepts in investigating the specifically filmic content of the work.

Abbreviated to the bare minimum, the film's credits are as follows.

Producer: UFA, 1926. Director: Fritz Lang. Cameramen: Karl Freund, Günther Rittau. Special effects: Eugen Schüfftan. Set design: Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, Karl Volbrecht. Music: Gottfried Huppertz. Cast: Brigitte Helm (Maria), Gustav Frohlich (Freder), Alfred Abel (Joh Fredersen), Heinrich George (foreman), Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Rotwang the inventor), Theodor Loos (Joseph, Fredersen's secretary), Fritz Rasp (an employee of Fredersen), Erwin Binswanger, Heinrich Gotho, Margarete Lanner, Georg John, Walter Kuhle, Erwin Vater, Grete Berger, Olly Böheim, Helene Weigel, and Anny Hintze.

Briefly summarized, the story goes like this:

Metropolis is a gigantic city of the future, filled with enormous skyscrapers. Workers are housed below ground, along with factories and machinery. There they live a hellish existence as slaves subservient to the needs of mechanized production. Above ground, in the Upper City, are the vast offices of industrialist Joh Fredersen, master of Metropolis, who dictates his orders to squads of secretaries; complementing the office building is an Edenic Garden, where the master's sons frolic.

Into this garden, which is protected by an imposing gateway, wanders Maria, the daughter of a worker, surrounded by a group of wretched children. She stares long and hard at Freder Fredersen, the employer's son, who stands transfixed, as though hypnotized. "These are your brothers," she says, pointing to the children. She is then driven out of the garden, but her visit has revealed to the son the horrible conditions in which workers live. As though walking in his sleep, Freder descends into the machine room. We see a tableau of workers on the job. An explosion takes place, killing some and injuring others. Freder then goes to see his father, who curtly informs him that class division is inevitable and that the worker must toil for his daily bread. The worker's place is "down below." A secretary, Joseph, is fired for not keeping an adequate guard. He contemplates suicide, but Freder prevents him from going through with it and they become friends.

Freder returns to the machine room and assumes the place of a worker. For ten long hours he submits to the torture of labor. Along with other worn-out laborers he then descends into the catacombs, where he finds Maria, immaculately white and gleaming, preaching patience and prophesying the coming of a "mediator." Meanwhile, the father, to whom a foreman has handed over plans found on the bodies of dead workers, turns for advice to the inventor Rotwang, who describes his masterpiece: a robot that never tires and never makes an error, designed to replace the human worker. The two go down into the catacombs and observe Maria's preaching from a hiding place. The father asks Rotwang to make the robot look like Maria. Thus disguised, the robot could be used to incite the workers to rebellion.

Rotwang, alone, continues to watch Maria. She approaches the kneeling Freder and kisses him. When Freder leaves, Rotwang pursues Maria and after a fierce struggle seizes her and carries her off. He ties her down and forces her to undergo a transformation. The mechanism of the robot is concealed beneath an outer shell that exactly resembles Maria. Thus the robot becomes her double. (I shall refer to the robot thus disguised as the False Maria, to distinguish it from the Real Maria.) Freder sets out in search of Maria but is caught and imprisoned in Rotwang's house, where he hears the girl's cries.

The False Maria is shown to the father. Fascinated by the resemblance, he takes her by the shoulders. The son arrives, witnesses the scene, and falls ill. The False Maria is presented to an audience of employers dressed in tuxedos and performs an extraordinary, erotic dance. She then returns underground and incites the workers to rebellion. A frenzied mob invades the machine room and wreaks havoc. There is fire and flooding. The Real Maria manages to escape and heads for the workers' city to save the children. Freder joins her in this task. The workers, suddenly aware of the situation, lay hold of the False Maria, tie her to a stake, and set her afire. The flames destroy her human covering but leave the inner mechanism intact. "Witch!" cries the mob. Rotwang pursues the Real Maria to the top of the cathedral, himself pursued by Freder. The two men fight and Rotwang falls. The father, on his knees, says, "Praise God!" On the porch of the cathedral the father advances, flanked by his son and Maria. Ahead of them a disciplined troop of workers in triangular formation also advances. The foreman steps out ahead and walks toward the boss. The son takes his father's hand and joins it to the foreman's. Thus the "heart" completes its mission of "mediating" between "hand and brain."

This summary, which may seem rather drawn out, is necessary for my purposes. Readers who have not seen the film need to know the main points of the plot. Those who have seen the film generally recall only brief snatches. Even the few who have seen Metropolis numerous times fail to recall all its details. Film criticism operates under an essential handicap: the raw material is evanescent. Fleeting images are lost forever (occasioning what has been called le deuil cinématique, or mourning of the lost image). When the substance of a film is rendered in words (as it must be in criticism), images are systematically eliminated. Hence the narration of a film plot always sounds like a rather tedious anecdote. The analogy with the psychoanalytic patient's account of a dream is obvious.

No film is unaffected by the material and ideological conditions under which it is produced. This is especially true of Metropolis, a film that played an important part in the ambitious plans of UFA (Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft), "one of the most powerful political filmmaking trusts that Europe has ever known." The corporation was set up with government capital made available by Ludendorff, a proponent of pan-Germanist policies for whom the war had amply demonstrated "the power of images and film as a means of educating and influencing the masses," and with private capital provided by a number of well-known trusts: Krupp Steel, I.G. Farben (chemicals), A.E.G. (electrical equipment), and Deutsche Bank, to name a few. The firm's mission was to produce films that would distract attention from reality ("escapist pictures," or Traumfilms) and in various ways cast doubt on the prospects for revolution. Later, under the Nazis, the film industry carried this policy even further, producing a mix of love comedies, elaborate production numbers, and Viennese operettas, apparently with great success: the Encyclopédie du cinéma reports that "in 1942 more than a billion movie tickets were sold in Hitler's Greater Reich." At the time Metropolis was made, the president of UFA was a publishing magnate by the name of Alfred Hugenberg, who was also the leader of the extreme right-wing "Steel Helmets" group and a financial contributorto Hitler's Nazi Party. Lang's wife, Thea von Harbou, approved of the Nazis's ideas; after Lang's departure in 1933, she remained active, making films for the Nazis.

UFA wanted Metropolis to be "the greatest film of all time." Advertising for the picture (which should be taken with a grain of salt) underscored the colossal character of the project: 310 days and 60 nights of shooting, from 22 March 1925 to 30 October 1926; 6 million marks; 750 actors; 26,000 male extras, 11,000 female extras, and 750 children; 1,300,000 meters of positive film and 620,000 meters of negative film; as well as 2,000 pairs of shoes, 75 wigs, 50 automobiles, and so on. The film followed the Nibelungen, an ambitious vehicle for traditional mythological themes, written and directed by Lang and Thea von Harbou in 1923–1924. The gargantuan size of the Metropolis project, in keeping with its overall ideological aims, could hardly fail to elicit a certain "gigantism" not only in the treatment of scenery and architecture and the use of extras but even more in the nature of the filmic discourse that was developed—a discourse of the paranoid type. To put the point in somewhat different terms, there is a certain accord or unity or interaction between the historical, political, financial, and existential or personal circumstances in which a film is made and the fantasy materials that shape or enter into the composition of the filmic text. In other words, the various elements that make up the film (characters, situations, forms, technical procedures, and so on), though in a sense circumscribed by history and politics, cannot be adequately articulated and organized except in terms of the unconscious processes and fantasy structures discovered by psychoanalysis. This, at any rate, is what I shall attempt to show in the remainder of this essay.

Etymologically Metropolis means "mother-city" (from the Greek meter, mother + polis, city). This historical residue of meaning is structurally embodied in the title, with all its cultural overtones; these overtones are marshalled into waves of meaning that animate the film as a whole (making it literally a "moving picture").

Metropolis is, superlatively, the City. The ranks of massive skyscrapers in the opening frames make this quite clear (these images were supposedly suggested to Lang by his first sight of New York City). Yet the masses of stone punctuated by square black openings in cold, geometric patterns do not stand erect like the Empire State Building in King Kong, for example, where the image of phallic erection is driven home by the lengthy scene in which the ape laboriously climbs the tower. In Metropolis, by contrast, oblique spotlights play over the buildings' naked facades and seem to lift or remove their skin; the moving spotlights weave the fabric of the city and, from the film's opening moments, suggest a stripping, skinning, or peeling away.

The city is sealed, closed in on itself, like a womb. The only movement we see (apart from the symmetrical, sublimating ascent in the cathedral) proceeds along tortuous, bowel-like passageways into the lower depths, the catacombs, to the central, altar-like structure where the two Marias stand and preach. Nature is almost totally absent; it is alluded to twice, once in the story of Babel, which is retold in the film (through a gray and barren landscape endless columns of slaves haul huge building stones—nature is thus petrified in myth and in stone), and again in two brief sequences. One of these depicts the Edenic garden, which is treated in painterly fashion with a pool, fountains, vegetation, and great white birds. But this garden stands behind an imposing gateway; it is a hothouse, an objet d'art, an artificial production. The second sequence reinforces this interpretation of nature: the sumptuous room occupied by the son, Freder, has walls covered with stylized plant motifs. Nature is reduced to a decorative sign, crushed and flattened against the surface of stone. These motifs (in all senses of the word) of petrifaction establish a complex of fantasies that plays an important part in the film's libidinal economy.

The film's opening frames consist of long, static shots of building models. These are immediately followed by more dynamic, animated shots, with impressive close-ups of machines, or, more precisely, of parts and pieces of machines, partial objects, cogs and complex mechanisms that throb, chum, reciprocate, or rotate. Looking at the image from close up, one might say: it is moving, it is turning within. One point should be made at once, before these images are subsumed in subsequent social and technological totalities: within this city of surfaces, this tissue of stone, there is something—the id (ça)—moving, working mechanically, like a machine. And since there is nothing in these frames but pieces of machines working without either raw materials or finished products, we can say: it (ça) is working on itself. Now, the usefulness of theory is that it enables us to transform this last statement as follows: the id (le Ça), the unconscious, asserts itself as a productive drive or mechanism; it is formed by or takes the form of machinery, a complex, repetitive, articulated interaction of various operations and processes. These quick opening images make it perfectly clear what the film's ideological and cultural position concerning mass production, exploitation, and alienation will be. More than that, they give the key to the production and development of images and signifiers; we might even say that they reveal the film's id: together, the work of the id and the work of the film are intertwined, as cinematographic technique and unconscious processes cooperate in the animation, development, deployment, and organization of figures and forms.

The first and perhaps the primordial operation is the division of the city into two radically different parts, which are kept separate by edict of the father/owners. This hierarchical division is strongly influenced by mythological and religious tradition (God began the creation of the world by separating the "upper" from the "lower" waters). The Upper City is that of the masters and owners, the superior place of supreme and total authority. Here, thought is magisterial. (Fredersen's huge office reflects the enormous size of his brain, which is indicated in the film by pointing: in one frame he is shown lying on his back, and before continuing with his speech he moves two fingers close to his head.) Here pleasure is as readily available as it was in the Garden of Eden (not unlike the garden in which the sons of the owners cavort). This is the "good" city. "Good" means that it is the owners who establish the law and name all things; we are reminded, too, of the Kleinian notion of the "good" mother.

The Lower City, where the workers work and reside, lies in the "lower depths." It is composed of three rather different layers, one lying more or less above the next: the machine room, the vast territory of labor, suffering, and death (which appears as Moloch in a hallucination experienced by Freder, the son); the workers' dwellings, which are seen, briefly, only from the outside, densely packed around an empty central square; and finally the catacombs, decorated with skeletons and bones. This is clearly the "bad" part of the city.

The spatial division of the city is mirrored in various ways, including the striking, indeed frightening and spectacular division of the Maria character into two quite distinct, indeed antagonistic, parts (the same actress, Brigitte Helm, plays both). Maria is clearly a maternal figure in two senses: the Real Maria is the "good" mother, and the False Maria is the "bad" mother.

In her first appearance, when she enters the garden of the sons after hurdling, as if by miracle, all the obstacles, Maria—the Real Maria, the Good Maria—is surrounded by a host of small children over whom she extends her arms, creating a sheltered zone outlined by the placenta-like veil that hangs from her shoulders. When she points to the children and says to Freder, "They are your brothers," he is so thunderstruck that he stops his lovemaking and places his hand on his heart, a gesture that will be repeated throughout the film; Maria thus turns him into a "child," an "infant." He becomes, in a sense, one of "her" children. Maria's maternal protective function is clearly in evidence in the catastrophe near the end of the film. She saves the children from the flood, rescues them from the water. A deliberately theatrical image, elaborate and decorative, shows her standing on a sort of pedestal in the small square at the center of the workers' city, surrounded by clusters of children who clutch her body. The central object, the gong that she sounds to give the alarm, is circular in shape with a protrusion at the center, exactly like a breast. What is more, Maria occupies, or is identified with, yet another central space that obviously resembles a uterus: the cave at the bottom of the catacombs, reached at the end of a laborious and somber "descent into the underworld." There stands a sort of altar, bristling with tall crosses and candles, a typical place of meditation. Maria's name here takes on its full religious significance. Like Mary she is an immaculate virgin all dressed in white, a virgin mother with arms extended in a cross as she raises her veil, and her evangelical speech soothes the pain of the workers and announces the coming of a messiah, the Mediator (Mittler). In this closed, mystical space, Maria's speech evokes and opens up, through a fantastic process of infinite regression, another, still deeper region, a more primordial mythical space, built around the story of the Tower of Babel. This provides Fritz Lang with the opportunity to indulge in (or reveal himself in) various fantastic, large-scale directorial effects: huge, crushing blocks of stone, endless staircases rising toward infinity, gray, antlike slaves emerging in interminable columns from the gray earth, great circles of light that swallow up the sky. In this hallucination, however, the Tower of Babel itself is nothing but a scale model, a paltry thing, a humble erection around which the masters gather to meditate. To all this colossal imagery Lang attaches, in grandiose letters as on an advertising billboard, the principle of a spectacularly inflated religious humanism: "Great is the Creator and Great is Man!"

A clearly more complex, extraordinary, and disturbing figure than the Real Maria, the False Maria (the robot disguised beneath Maria's skin and sharing her appearance) stands out immediately as an image of the "bad" mother, flaunting herself as a de-naturation of the "good" Maria with her lascivious winks and smiles, her stiff arm, and so forth. Significantly, it is the False Maria, far more than the would-be terrifying gestures of Rotwang, who frightens children aged five or six who see Metropolis. The False Maria systematically repeats in the "wicked" mode all that the Real Maria does in the "good" mode. She occupies the same key points in space and enters into relations with the same objects (Rotwang, Freder, the mob, etc.), each time inverting or subverting the system of values, that is, turning them upside down so as to reveal an archaic and repressed layer. We, too, must subvert this figure, turn it over, in order to discover its primordial meaning. The appearance will turn out to be the deeper meaning: the human skin that covers the metallic robot is precisely what the robot is trying to hide. The progress of the narrative itself suggests another reversal of this figure: born a mechanical contrivance wreathed in the prestige of science, a science fiction robot, the False Maria ends up a witch, burned at the stake.

The distressing and horrifying primitive maternal dimension of the False Maria is established chiefly in the various primal scenes that occur at intervals throughout the film. Before examining them, let me point out the notable absence of any individualized, homogeneous, and named maternal figure. Freder, the hero of the film, has no mother that we know of. When he falls ill, it is always his father that we see at his side. The fact that the institution of motherhood is so thoroughly expunged from the film makes it clear that the whole burden of maternity is carried by the two Marias, and that the maternal dimension underlies (fonde) and merges into (se fond dans) the totality of Metropolis, the mother-city.

Fusion, diffusion, and scrambling of figures, forms, and values beneath apparently solid, one-dimensional entities: therein lies part of the wealth and originality of Metropolis. So complex are the displacements and overdeterminations that there is scarcely an image in the film that cannot occupy the most surprising positions at any of the forty-nine levels of Talmudic interpretation. Yet the unusual abundance of signifiers is powerfully polarized by an organizing structure: the primal scene, which through a series of frequent reiterations occupies nearly the entire film. The most typical sequence occurs near the middle, as if in the center or "heart" of the film, and it brings into play a cinematographic rhetoric of rare virtuosity. Rotwang, the scientist, has made a robot that looks like Maria and sends it off to be examined by Fredersen. The latter is struck, moved, and seduced by the resemblance. He stares hard at the young woman, moves closer to her, places his hands on her shoulders. The woman plays the seductress with eyes, smile, and body. At that moment the son, looking for Maria, bursts into his father's office. He sees his father and Maria locked in a quasi-embrace. Dumbfounded, he feels the ground fall away; he staggers, and to his eyes, deluded by madness, the couple seems to draw together and begins to whirl about. The two figures—two parents now—are linked together in a rotation, caught up in a blur in which dark and light lines seem to merge. This geometry, these crossed and rotating figures create—do they not?—a swastika: two entwined bodies with four arms. Transfixed as by the sight of Medusa, the son sees an immense, expanding black hole dotted with glowing spots of light (phantasms in the strict sense) and experiences a sense of falling into a void, a loss of consciousness or, better, of a loss of the unconscious, as horror takes refuge in illness: Freder falls ill. After the spectacular image of the fall, we return to Freder lying in bed, racked by fever and hallucinations.

Furthermore, these hallucinations, indicated by Freder's haggard look of fright and horror, establish a link to another version of the primal scene, which is characterized not by traumatic effects but by an extreme, frantic voyeurism, lavishly filmed. The father leaves the room of his sick son to attend the dinner given by Rotwang. We see a crowd of employers, masters, all wearing tuxedos. All are men, who can be considered doubles of the son, because a very effective parallel montage alternates between, and hence identifies, the son and the guests, portraying their common vision of the scene. The purpose of the dinner is to introduce the False Maria, to present her to the public. In a very precise sense, therefore, she is re-presented. A large, glowing object, a sort of basin or cup, slowly rises. An enormous cover is raised, and the False Maria, splendidly dressed, slowly emerges. She spreads her veils, exhibits her almost naked body, and begins to dance. Her whole body revolves at a dizzying rate, turning faster and faster until all that can be seen is a moving, sinuous, serpentine line. Intensely, totally absorbed in voyeurism, the audience is all eyes, all stares—quite literally (or, since it is an image that is involved, iconically): a repeated frame shows a series of huge eyes, a mosaic of fascinated stares, of eyes popping out of heads. Plucked from their sockets, these eyes leave the spectator's tense bodies and voluptuously attach themselves to the spectacle. This is a hallucinatory voyeurism in two senses: it is a hallucination created by the technical means of the cinema, with the shot of a mosaic of eyes, and it is a psychological hallucination of the son, who, lying unconscious in his bed, follows the action. What this complex scene of the dancer watched by voyeurs reveals is that the False Maria is more than just a simple figuration of the "bad" mother. The choreographic rotation, which confuses the feminine shapes of the body and links belly, breasts, thighs, shoulder, and head in a brilliant serpent-like coil, together with the sumptuous display of the hot and smoking cup or basin, suggests that the False Maria should be seen as a condensed, pantomime representation of the primal scene. Recall that the False Maria is in fact composed of two radically different parts, joined together and perfectly fused (and the crucial importance of the process of fusion in the primal scene can hardly be overstated): a rigid metallic form, the robot, and a soft, feminine envelope of lovely flesh, extorted by Rotwang from Maria's body. In other words—to reduce it to the simplest possible conceptual terms—the robot is part phallus, indeed a sort of phallic principle. I say phallic principle because it cannot be clearly defined as either father or son: after the coupling with the father, he and the robot separate, and the robot goes off to serve as provocateur, sowing discord. At one point, when the mob believes that it has won a victory, the robot is even brandished like a trophy, a totem erected on the shoulders of all the sons, workers and bourgeois alike, joined together in communion. The robot is also the object in which the socio-political paternity of Fredersen couples and combines with the technological-scientific paternity of Rotwang. Thus the robot assumes the paternal functions of tyranny, repression, and punishment. But it also assumes the filial functions of criticism, accusation, resistance, and rebellion. (Here the robot is like the severed phallus of Rotwang, who has been symbolically castrated, his hand cut off, for having dared to lay hands on Mother Nature, for having "had" her, to use a slang term [French: entuber] that suggests the tubular machinery that fills his laboratory. The Promethean nature of Rotwang's enterprise is underscored by the shot that shows him, in the presence of the frightened Fredersen, claiming victory by raising his stump covered with a glove whose black color links it to the black shell of the Robot that stands motionless behind him. Like the liver of Prometheus eternally regenerating itself, the black form of the robot, which the hysterical crowd has accused of witchcraft, survives the flames at the stake, cackling with the witch's blasphemous phallic laughter. The son's phallus is structurally heretical; no hell can annihilate it, and no mutilation, castration, or Inquisition can do away with it. (Neither the robot nor Rotwang really dies in the film, as we shall see.) Thus the robot is in part the phallus, a mobile, inner core. But it is also—the second aspect of the construct known as the False Maria—the primordial maternal skin, the placenta, the hot, protective envelope, swollen by the heat, engorged as Hermann would say, and detached from Maria's body: pure intumescence, then, which returns to the bonfire in the ritual consummation of the burning forest (to borrow again from Hermann). This montage of mother-upon-phallus is a traditional but always impressive and fecund condensation, source of monsters from the Sphinx to the Gorgon: the False Maria is a monster of this type, a splendid mythological creation of cinema, baby sister of the formidable King Kong and a woman who no doubt seduced and aroused her own creator, Lang himself, who was able to find the precise shot to express his fascination: a montage of dazzled eyes exploring as a louse might the voluptuous woman's skin (voluptuous and—if the reader will permit—volutueuse, or curvaceous, flesh; the latter word, through its Latin roots volvere, volutum, suggests vulva or volva, vulva or womb). The primal dance, which the son hallucinates in his neonatal bed while his doubles, the men at the dinner, look on as voyeurs, is wonderfully amplified by the scenery. The vast smoking tub—pelvis of what phylogenetic mother?—from which the False Maria emerges (inwardly armed, one might say) is one of many circular shapes, along with its cover and the circle that surrounds Maria's head, and the curves of the veils and the hairdo and the woman's body. The tub itself is decorated with a motif of hydra-headed serpents upon which the dancer rests her body. The polymorphic sensuality of the dance and the use of redundant signifiers produce a powerful image of the primal scene. (It is not without interest to note that the spectator can easily miss various shots in the sequence just described, particularly the guard of hydra-headed serpents that surrounds the False Maria. In analyzing a film, what was not seen is just as important as what was.)

For the unconscious, of course, no amount of repetition is enough, nor can the variety of repetition be exhausted. In the major scenes analyzed above, sight and its hallucinatory representation of reality are the key elements. This is perfectly consistent with the rest of the film, in which eyes and gazes are powerfully omnipresent. In yet a third version of the primal scene, we are given highly dramatic "shots" of auditory perceptions. (I do not think that it is a misnomer to speak of "shots" of sound in this silent film, because the pantomime and gesticulations are so eloquent, not to say piercing.) These shots accompany, or more precisely herald, a sumptuous technological and "scientific" treatment of the fantasy. As further evidence of the film's innovative style and depth of comprehension of fantasy, primitive memories of the primal scene are given material embodiment in a very theatrical way: an unusual architectural form, a sort of curved or swollen triangle, like a grubby wart grown up, oddly (and insolently) enough, in the vicinity of the great cube-like workers' dwellings and the cathedral. The text says: "In the midst of the city stood an old house." Meaningful paradox: this old building houses the futuristic laboratory of Rotwang, "the genius inventor." Redundancy always multiplies the meanings of an image. Here, the notions Old, Ancient, Primal are emblematically inscribed in what we see as the label or trademark of occultism and the esoteric tradition, the five-pointed star or pentacle, which appears on the entrance to the house, on various inner doors, and, in a more monumental way, on the wall against which the robot's seat is placed; the head of the robot seems to fit inside the star's lower triangular cavity.

Freder hears Maria's cries as Rotwang drags her through the dark corridors of his house, which, given his predatory behavior and the nature of his victim, might also be called his den or lair. The son enters the house in a strange way. Rage and magic mingle and alternate as all doors resist Freder's blows only to open and close suddenly of their own accord—an imperious determinism that suggests both the omnipotent magic of infantile thought and the perfectly ordered structure of fantasy, which here requires a son caught in a trance and trapped in an enclosed room entombed in stone, petrified, while all around the alchemist continues with his work.

In a technological forest bristling with tubes swollen with black sap, with throbbing balloons, quivering levers, thermometers, measuring devices, and rotating coils (serpentins), Rotwang bustles about, rapidly moving his hands—the black and the white—over all his "gadgets." This energetic overexcitation centers on and culminates in a sort of glowing white sphere, a sun-like globe mounted high up in the room, which its radiant energy makes "fertile." Maria lies in a glass coffin, her body girded or encircled by black metal rings which create around it something like a space of pregnancy. Waves or rays or filaments of nervous electricity traverse this region and penetrate the body of the passive victim. The other Maria, the robot, mirrors this composition exactly. Motionless in a seated position, the robot is connected to the Real Maria by numerous filaments that slither across the floor like serpents. Large, glowing, white rings circle the robot's body and rotate around it, rising and falling as they turn in an accelerated masturbatory motion. Merely by changing the sign, we can view the black robot as engaged in frenzied copulation, moving rapidly in and out of its hot white sheath. Excitation reaches its peak in the orgiastic atmosphere of the laboratory. Rotwang, after his period of intense activity, is nothing but a gaze contemplating the miraculous impregnation. The robot acquires vessels, nerves, and organs and begins to move; a human skin now covers its structure. Maria, drained, lets her head fall to one side, in a primal gesture suggesting both orgasm and death. The creative act is done. A door opens, freeing the son and allowing the story to proceed.

This is a scene of remarkable density, and it is instructive to compare it with a similar sequence, also depicting the creation of a woman, in The Bride of Frankenstein, where the same battery of signifiers is used: electrical charges and discharges, light waves, ringlike forms, mechanical motions of the robot gradually changing to more supple human movements, and so on. In Metropolis a subtle movement and interplay of forms makes the scene unusually arresting. Inventor, creator, and impregnator, Rotwang is single, double, and multiple all at once: he is the paternal and divine One, symbolized by the solar globe from which all energy emanates (a globe heated until it glows red, suggesting the inventor's very name—Rot-wang, or red cheek; Wange also designates clay and hands). He is sovereign over the empirical realm as well as the realm of reproduction. Yet he is a man who not only desires, conceives, orders, and carries out the experiment but also contemplates it: after conceiving it and then carrying it out, he follows its progress with his eyes, in a state of anxious fascination. Thus he assumes the role of the voyeuristic son, the passive witness of the scene. He is the double (in both senses of the word) of the excluded and banished son. Prostrate, the son is castrated; his entire body fails to achieve erection. Rotwang takes on this aspect of castration. His severed hand is punishment for his filial curiosity and establishes a female component of his personality, clearly indicated by his black gown. Finally, Rotwang is multiple in that he disintegrates into the innumerable objects that he manipulates and operates; he is one with his devices (for it is these that we contemplate in his laboratory-lair). The mother herself is double, Maria and the robot. This split is pregnant with sexual dualities, moreover: both figures exhibit a phallic rigidity (Maria in her catatonic state and the robot with its stiff black metal structure, which also allows the phallic axis to be inscribed on the anal register) while the rings and circles suggest feminine and maternal curves. Add to this the plethora (of energy as well as forms) evident in the wires and filaments that fill the zone of copulation with waves and rings, which one cannot fail to recognize as the nerve rays imagined by Judge Schreber in his paranoid fantasy of sexual action at a distance.

Rotwang's dual function—as paranoid father and creator and as rebellious rival son—is also apparent in two more or less symmetrical sequences, one of which ends in triumph, the other in failure. The first precedes and lays the groundwork for the great technological primal scene analyzed above: Maria, having finished her sermon and bestowed her kiss upon Freder, is left alone when Freder departs. Nearby, Rotwang, having concluded his alliance with Fredersen, is left alone when Fredersen departs. In the dark, primitive depths of a cavern, he follows Maria by focusing the beam of his lamp on her. Lang's stylistic virtuosity is given free rein to indulge the expressionist taste for effects of light and shadow, for contrasts of black and white that set off, engulf, or heighten actual forms. In her flight Maria runs into jagged walls, gazes in horror upon skulls and skeletons, and finally succumbs to Rotwang's attack. Duration is here an important part of the meaning: the scene clearly lasts longer than is required by the narrative or the representation of a fantasy. The insistence on these effusions of the imagination is more than just aesthetic license. A principle is laid down, made explicit by images of pursuit, confinement, and death: psychic mechanisms are inflexible, overwhelming, and inexorable. Indeed, I would call the whole sequence principled. It establishes, first, the principle that fantasies are causal, which governs the progress of the entire film. Second, it lays down a general principle of fate (pursuit, confinement, death), which is so important an element in all of Lang's work and which is masterfully expressed in the psychopath's confession scene in M. Maria stands with her back to a wall as Rotwang slowly and almost sensually raises the beam of his lamp over her body. In a close-up her face appears to be divided in two: the dark upper portion endures the hypnotic power of Rotwang's sparkling eyes, while the lower portion gleams white in the light cast by Rotwang's lamp, held at mouth level. Maria is thus the object of a hypnotic stare and the focus of a rigid beam of light. Both touch her and hold her still, cover or penetrate her. Sexual action at a distance takes place thanks to an upward displacement of the phallic power. Rotwang's barred phallus (phallus barré) moves off (slang: se barre) in two directions at once, establishing Rotwang's extreme ambivalence. Intellectual sublimation invests the eyes with a power of penetration-fascination of a hypnotic type, which literally holds the object at a distance: this is the scientist's expert gaze. On the other hand, a process of regression tends to polarize and structure various libidinal investments around the mouth, producing a sexual syncretism (mouth as anus, urethra, phallus, etc.) characteristic of Hitler's libidinal structure (as we shall see in a moment). The sadistic element implicit in this displacement (piercing eyes, mouth spewing forth its luminous jet) is underscored by several shots of skeletons and finally triumphs in the aggressive posture of Rotwang, who dominates Maria and brutally holds her against and beneath him in an embrace-rape that is almost a preliminary take of the great scene of impregnation that follows.

In the final part of the film, Rotwang revives his aggression against Maria, but now every effort ends in failure. The triumphal birth of the False Maria is offset by the robot's immolation at the stake. The depths of the cave in which Maria was caught are countered by the heights of the cathedral to which she escapes. The alliance with Fredersen that was sealed in the cave is broken off. Above all, the lonely, diabolical work of the scientist now gives way to public confrontation with the hero Freder. For this battle a mythological atmosphere is created by a striking low-angle shot. This, together with gargoyles and a Manichaean handling of shapes, confirms Maria's maternal function by distinguishing, in that complex of forms named Rotwang, the grimacing figure of a "wicked," incestuous son, diabolical brother of the "good," angelic Freder, who is set up as the protector of the "good" mother. Rotwang, the "bad" son, symbolizes the "bad" mother with his black gown and black robot. The whirl of images is dizzying: the "bad" son engenders the "bad" mother as much as she engenders him. The themes are Hitlerian: "bad" sons—intellectuals, homosexuals, rebels, Semites, and so forth—have created a bad Germany. Purification will come through extermination and fire.

The "good" son triumphs as Rotwang plunges into the abyss. The father, on his knees, says "Praise God!" This suggests that Rotwang's fall is to be interpreted as the fall of Lucifer. Indeed, in the glowing globe and the beams and coils of light we have seen Rotwang as luci-fer, bearer of light; hence he is cast out of Heaven, where God reigns. But the images tell the story: the "wicked one" is not destroyed. The flames may destroy the False Maria's outer covering of flesh, but they leave the robot's inner structure intact. Rotwang falls, but we know not where. The "black nakedness of wickedness" (Michaux) regains the shadows, where it may carry on with its evil work. To track him down the "good" sons dress in black and, as they set out to eradicate evil amid the sound of bonfires and marching boots, tirelessly repeat that the battle is never-ending, that the extermination of the wicked knows no respite or remission or end. If "wickedness" can assume the guise of the "good" mother herself, it can hide anywhere. But here I am extrapolating in terms of known history the unconscious tendencies that Lang's film obscures, precisely with regard to Rotwang's fall. The slate must be wiped clean before the supreme displacement can occur: once the figures of fantasy are gone, the subjects of ideology can make their entrance—theater of representation, elevation of the Representatives.

The final sequence is shot in a theatrical way. We first see a deserted, empty space in front of the cathedral, a stage waiting for the play to begin. Then an audience arrives: the army of workers, in close triangular formation, moving forward in disciplined ranks (or rows), rises from the bottom of the screen. The cathedral serves as backdrop, frame, and enclosure of the final scene. Fredersen, Freder, and Maria pass through a narrow door and are somewhat surprised to find themselves at the dawn of a new day, so to speak, beneath the maternal arch of the porch. The foreman steps out ahead of the group of workers, brawny and awkward in his respect for authority. A pantomime (with movements of the arms, looks, hesitations, and signs of awkwardness and embarrassment) makes it clear that something seeks to be represented, and that the characters do not yet perfectly embody their roles. Perhaps this scene should be called a "super-representation": before us we see not mere circumstantial characters playing to a passive audience, but well-defined socio-economic and ideological entities identified by name. The foreman represents labor (the hand); Fredersen represents capital (the brain). Freder, along with his double, the white shadow of Maria, represents mediation (the heart). Thus the heart, composed, as in sentimental postcards, of two curves, links capital to labor. Hands that had groped tentatively toward one another join in a handshake, and linked arms stretch horizontally across the frame in a composition now in a sense egalitarian, all angles, volumes, and vertical differentiations having been eliminated in the general leveling. Such is the ideological platitude of this happy ending in the form of a handshake; the vast, heterogeneous, contradictory spaces explored by the film are relegated to a place somewhere behind the screen. But they can be brought back in full delirium, by a mere squeeze of the hand: Hitler's manacles, brutally applied, will give the madness a new lease on life.

The triangular structure of the final scene repeats the triangles and diagonals that delimit figures and movements throughout the film. (To meet Maria in the triangular hollow of the catacombs, for example, the workers descend along a left-to-right diagonal, while Rotwang and Fredersen follow a right-to-left diagonal.) Particularly spectacular is the black triangle formed by the army of workers as it moves into center screen; heads lowered, the workers move in lock-step, a black sea of slaves. The robot, seated on its chair with wires coming down diagonally on both sides, also formed a black triangle, repeated once more in the pyramid of the bonfire and in certain of Rotwang's attitudes. Rotwang, the robot, and the workers are thus parts of the same triangle, which rises from below (energy rises into the robot's body, just as the flames of the bonfire mount the stake and the workers' formation moves up toward the cathedral). This lower triangle is the "bad" triangle, as is indicated by stiffness and blackness—in a sense phallic, as we have seen. And just as the robot's head penetrated the lower triangular cavity of the pentacle, so, too, do the square workers' platoons penetrate Moloch's wide-open mouth, and Rotwang the inventor raises his black hand to begin the impregnation of the robot. But this interpretation conflicts with too much of the evidence: the femininity of Rotwang, the castrated male dressed in a black gown; the fact that the robot's head does not so much penetrate the cavity of the star as reinforce it; the robot's female flesh, destroyed by the flames; and so on. Accordingly, the phallic interpretation of this hardware seems rather misleading to me, valid and pertinent though it may be in some respects. It is a smokescreen, an overestimation, intended to conceal a more fundamental truth, something especially frightening, indeed truly horrifying, which can now be revealed simply by inverting the form or relation: turned upside down, belly up, the black triangle turns out to be the V shape of the female genitals. Recall that the False Maria consists of two parts, internal and external. A feminine skin, a swollen womb, materially covers the robot's phallic metal structure. But we can now say, at an even deeper level, in fantasy, that it is the phallic robot that hides and covers the female sex organ in the very act of exhibiting it. Rotwang's complex figure also requires re interpretation: his spectacular powers as impregnator and father, his aggressive virility, are mere pretenses designed to distract our attention from such less visible or striking signs as his black gown and missing hand-phallus. These signs point to a rich vein of hidden femininity in this highly ambivalent figure. Hence it follows that the black triangle stands primarily for the female genitals, and that the determination to deny, denigrate, camouflage, repress, and destroy it (by crushing the workers, crushing Rotwang, burning the robot, and so on) indicates horror of the female organ, and, since the female organ stands for sex in general, horror of sexuality. This is perhaps both a primal level of the film and an important piece of information for understanding the Nazi imagination.

Apart from the oppressive, destructive context of the primal scene, sexuality is depicted in the film several times as amusement or recreation. In the masters' lovely garden, Freder laughingly skips around a gay fountain in pursuit of a cavorting damsel decked out with jewels, flowers, and feathers. In general, however, the black sexual triangle is crushed: it is always pushed into the depths, the abyss of Moloch, the void, or the flames by a symmetric and antagonistictriangle—white, placed higher up, and opening upwards. This is evident in the final scene: while the black triangle of workers penetrates from below, from the bottom of the screen, the upper portion of the screen is occupied by the cathedral porch, on which two symmetrical rows of saints' statues converge toward a vanishing point, or vertex, where the Fredersen trio makes its appearance, as though it were a holy family sent from on high. The sublime, transcendental, angelic nature of this holy triangle is evident (from the cathedral, whiteness, goodness, and so forth); it reminds us of the spectacularly white and glowing triangle formed in the black depths of the catacombs by Maria's angelic figure, flanked by a fan-shaped array of candles and crosses. The purpose and composition of the structure are further highlighted by Maria's gesture as she raises her arm and spreads her veil—her wings. The kiss that she then bestows on Freder's face can only be an extension of this sexual "whiteness," this chastity; later, Maria herself falls victim to Rotwang's black aggression.

The first thing that makes Freder stand out is his white clothing, and Lang exploits this in a systematic and even brutal way by contrasting the son's glaring white garb with the black suit worn by Joseph the secretary, the gray fumes and huge black bulks in the machine room, the black uniforms worn by the workers, and so on. When Freder rejoins his "brother" workers, he trades his white clothing for a black uniform, since whiteness is now superlatively embodied in Maria (who appears to be radiantly white). In a third stage, we see Freder recovering from his illness (the whiteness of the bed and the sickroom represent the digestive process, the catabolism of the blackness and evil that accompany disease) and again putting on his white clothes, which will henceforth survive every adversity. This three-part chromatic composition (white-black-white) is by itself sufficiently strict and homogeneous to distinguish the three major segments of the film. If the primal scene is the fundamental and motivating structure of the film, then the son's role as mediator can be seen as the primary axis of the narrative and the key to the elaboration of an ideology.

Freder becomes aware of his vocation as mediator in a revelation of messianic type: Maria assumes the role of inspired Annunciatrix. Obviously this has Christ-like overtones, not only in the quasi-osmotic relationship between Freder and the Virgin-Maria (light is transferred osmotically through the gaze, among other things) but also in an image that occurs at a particularly dramatic moment in the film: when Freder is crucified on the needles of an electrical gauge of some sort (like the hands of a clock) and, in the midst of his torture, invokes the name of the Father. But beneath the reference to Christ lies a rich lode of mythological material. The biblical Babel in the background points to still deeper images (from the architecture of the tower to the huge gray furrows of human beings excreted by the earth). The narrative structure is based on traditional mythological models, in which certain sequences occur in a fairly constant order: annunciation of the mission, vocation, trial, failure, symbolic death and rebirth, confrontation with the monster, triumph and resurrection. In terms of manifest content, composed primarily of elements of narrative and ideological messages, the film essentially follows the actions of the mediator. Indeed, Freder is the only character who appears in all the spaces represented in the film (the Edenic garden, the father's office, the machine room, the catacombs, Rotwang's house, workers' city, cathedral, and so on). He is also the only character who touches (to the point of grabbing or embracing) all the major characters (Fredersen, Maria, Rotwang, Joseph, and so on). Freder's trajectory is one of circular or cyclic totalization rather than a dialectical one of mediation or mediatization. Adversity is seen not as a historical or present contradiction but as an accursed survival of archaic material (the pentacle, the witch) or a sudden unleashing of natural forces (the flood). When Freder encounters Rotwang's opposition, he is immediately forced to take evasive action or to rely on magic to refuse and flee the challenge. Recall, in particular, the spectacular sequences in which Rotwang orchestrates first the technological primal scene and then the choreographic one, thereby in a sense causing Freder to fail to perform. We see him first lying prostrate in a dark room in Rotwang's house and then lying on his bed hallucinating in his sickroom. The contradiction is neither analyzed nor pondered, and no response is made that would exploit its dynamic; it is simply abandoned, hidden, and if possible crushed in a burst of feverish activity that might be classed as activism.

The mediator's mission is accomplished when he reunites Capital and Labor, Brain and Hand, in holy wedlock in the holy church (and recall that re-uniting, re-tying, comes form religare, the probable root of the word religion). He brings the opposing parties together and unites what has been separate, fragmented, and antagonistic by placing himself in the middle, in between, that is, by acting as intermediary: in German, the word is Mittler, which means "mediator" but is also the comparative of Mittel, meaning middle, central, intermediate. (Mittel is also the word for "means," in the sense of "means and ends," which suggests a cultural and economic instrumentalism characteristic of Nazism.) Freder's position is crucial in the strict sense of the word: he is at the center, the crossroads, the crossing, the crux. He encounters (croise) everyone in the film; in his hallucination he believes that he has witnessed the copulation (croisement) of his parents; he is crucified on the cross formed by the hands of the factory's time clock; he is the crusader (croisé) who confronts the heretic Rotwang; and finally he is the one who effects salva-tion by joining (in a croisement, a crossing of hands) capital and labor in the final reconciliation-resurrection. Freder is also the one who believes [in French: celui qui croit—croit, the third person singular of croire, to believe, being a homonym of croix, cross—Trans.]. Freder believes in his father, in the "good" Maria, and in his revealed mission. And I would add, freely associating in a manner inspired by the frenetic history of the times, that after 1926 he also became the person who would grow (croitre: with the Nazi victory in the 1933 elections) as well as crow (croasser), as Hitler crowed in his speeches.

At this point it should be noted that Hitler was enthusiastic about Metropolis and a great admirer of Fritz Lang. Superficially, the reason for his interest is easy to see: the film's ideology coincides with the Nazi vision (set forth by Hitler in Mein Kampf, the book he finished in the same year, 1926, in which the film was made) of a national and cultural harmony transcending class divisions. This explanation is no doubt correct as far as it goes. To see the film as an apology for class harmony, a constant of conservative and reactionary thought, can no doubt account for some of Hitler's pleasure, but it is not really likely to elicit the deep and passionate commitment we know he felt (a commitment so passionate that he was prepared, we are told, to overlook Lang's Jewish background and put him to work making Nazi films). But the essence of the film's power lies not in its rather tiresome didactic themes (apparently a specialty of Thea von Harbou, Lang's wife and collaborator) but in the images that Lang created and constructed, produced and directed (to use film jargon that is perfectly appropriate here)—images rich in libidinal investment and fantasy and capable of seducing or horrifying the viewer. Ideological allusions and references cannot by themselves win a film a special and highly significant place in history and politics. For these references must themselves be carried, traversed, weighted down, interpenetrated by work that informs and figures—that is, gives form and figure to—the unconscious. And that is what Lang achieved. Perhaps this work of informing form is the much-sought place where history and fantasy meet.

To explore this meeting place would, I suspect, require considerable multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary effort aimed at drawing together analyses of style, rhetoric, historical pressures, social and economic data, politics, psychoanalysis, and so on—nothing less than a program for a new anthropology, one possible model of which has been outlined in the journal Psychoanalysis and the Social Sciences, founded by Geza Roheim in New York. My purpose here is much more modest: by bringing together the figures of Hitler and Metropolis, I want to draw out some parallels, which prove nothing but suggest areas for further research; in this I am indebted to Walter C. Langer, whose book The Mind of Adolf Hitler collects many useful documents. One is immediately struck by the similarity between the name Hitler and the title Mittler, which is attached to the hero of the film. Although the process by which identification through names, or even through the letters of names, takes place remains rather obscure, it has been shown to occur in too many, often quite spectacular cases to be ignored as a major factor in the shaping of the imagination. Hitler may have been especially likely to see himself or read himself into the Mittler of Metropolis because his own name was (according to Langer) a subject of uncertainty, frustration, and confusion. Early party documents were signed Hittler; Adolph's father, Alois Hitler, was an illegitimate child who until age forty, when he was recognized by his father Johann Georg Hiedler, used the name of his mother, Maria Anna Schicklgruber. Yet owing to a common ancestor, Hitler's maternal grandmother was also named Hitler. The nominal foundations are even more severely shaken (just as Freder feels the ground give way under him as he sees the figures of his parents whirl about) by the suggestion that Alois was actually the son of a Rothschild. (Maria Anna Schicklgruber became pregnant while working in Vienna in the home of the Austrian branch of the Rothschilds.) Whatever the basis for this theory (which seems rather farfetched), the important fact is that Hitler was aware of it, and that it may have stamped his paternal line with a sign of infamy extending far back into the past (just as the diabolical image of Rotwang is marked as ancient by the sign of the pentacle). Hitler's feeling that his ownership of his last name was fragile was compounded by the fact that his father's various marriages were to women of widely varying ages. Alois's first wife was thirteen years his elder; she died in 1883 without having given birth. His second wife, Franziska, died in 1884, leaving two children: Alois, born in 1882, and Angela, born in 1883. His third wife was his own cousin, Klara Poetzl, who had earlier been adopted by the couple and was twenty-three years younger than Alois. Of six children born to her, four died in early childhood. The only survivors were Adolph Hitler and a sister named Paula, who was apparently slightly retarded. What is more, Adolph's half-sister Angela, the manager of a Jewish student restaurant in Vienna, married a man named Raubal and had a daughter, Geli, with whom Adolph had a long and tortured affair that ended when Geli died in 1930, killed by a bullet fired from her uncle's pistol. This confused family history, frequently punctuated by death, may have heightened Hitler's sensitivity to the primal scenes in Metropolis, in which confusion of the figures plays such an important role. Death appears in Freder's hallucination (the same one in which the choreographic primal scene occurs) as a statue moving against a background of the seven deadly sins; to Hitler, death must have been a familiar figure, and he was to ensure that it would enjoy a triumphal future.

There are rather remarkable similarities in the early experiences of Lang and Hitler. Both were born in Austria, Lang in Vienna in 1890, Hitler in Braunau in 1889. Both later moved to Germany, indeed to Munich. Both aspired to become architects; Lang actually studied architecture, but Hitler, who lacked a diploma, could not. Subsequently, both became painters in a minor way, selling postcards and watercolors in order to live, Lang in Brussels in 1910 and Hitler in Vienna from 1908 to 1913. When war was declared in 1914, both felt a surge of patriotism. Both were passionate about the movies, cinephiles in the full sense of the word, and both were attracted to women who worked in theater or film: Thea von Harbou and Eva Braun were former actresses. For our present purposes, the most important similarity is the almost obsessive interest in architecture: in terms both of concrete accomplishments, political in the one case and aesthetic in the other, and of the formation of the imagination, the aptitude for projection, for turning fantasies into spatial constructions and architectonic volumes, is manifest in the two men. As many people have pointed out, Metropolis is an architect's film; I earlier alluded to the etymological sense of the word, mother-city. Hitler, Langer writes, "believes himself to be the greatest of all German architects and spends a great deal of his time in sketching new buildings and planning the remodeling of entire cities." Thus the "modeling" of the maternal figure as the mother-city in Metropolis corresponds to Hitler's desire to "remodel" his mother, to remake or repair (Mittler also means "one who repairs") her damaged body, dismantled by a violent and brutal father (just as the "good" Maria is dismantled, taken apart, by Rotwang). In Metropolis the "bad" part of the father is almost entirely invested in the figure of Rotwang. The real, social father, Fredersen, while always good to his son, remains an ambivalent figure (he plots with Rotwang, lays hands on the False Maria, and plays with fire by toying with the destructive rage of the workers) until the son's heroism and Rotwang's fall enlighten and purify him, liberating his essential "goodness" and thereby safeguarding the paternalist social model, the basis of order and discipline. The conclusion of the film, in a milky discharge of "goodness" by father, mother, and son on the cathedral porch, seems to correspond to (and therefore to satisfy) a syncretic vision of Hitler's in which he attempted to combine the maternal figure with a dominant father imposed by German tradition (as well as by western paternalism in general). In this connection, Langer notes that "although Germans, as a whole, invariably refer to Germany as the "Fatherland," Hitler almost always refers to it as the "Motherland."

Freder rescues Maria from Rotwang's clutches. He saves the children from the catastrophic flood. All in all, then, he saves the entire city, the mother-city, as the final, summary image of universal marriage suggests. The story of the film is obviously one of salvation, and no word better describes Hitler's political and historical vocation. Thus communication and correspondences between the film's images and various aspects of Nazi ambition are permanent. The sequence that shows the rescue of the children from the flooded workers' city readily lends itself to "Hitlerian" political interpretation. In the small square at the center or heart of the city the waters rise (mounting perils menace the victim Germany); Maria sounds the alarm and calls for help (Hitler, we know, felt that he had a calling, that he was merely responding to the appeal, the voice, of the mother country—his vocation); the children, abandoned by their unworthy parents (compare Hitler's attraction to children; his anti-familial feelings; his ability to address the childlike populace and shape their behavior; etc.), unite (as the populace united around Hitler, ending "partisan" divisions) around Maria, toward whom they extend their arms in a gesture of supplication (did not Hitler see the innumerable outstretched arms, the Heil Hitlers, as a gesture of supplication addressed to him, expressing a desire to be saved?); at the height of danger, Freder arrives in the role of savior; he clasps Maria to his bosom (Hitler declared that he was "wedded" to Germany) and leads Maria and the children (Germany and her people) out of danger; he is their guide, their Führer.

Those responsible for the disaster have already been identified: Rotwang, the "ingenious inventor," whom Hitler must have numbered among those whom he denounced as "over-educated, stuffed with knowledge and intelligence yet devoid of all healthy instincts," representing "the intellect [which] has swollen to the point of becoming autocratic" (the troubling autonomy of Rotwang's house) and which "now resembles a disease" (the morbid hypertrophy of Rotwang's intellect, indicated by his huge forehead and vast library); to some extent Fredersen himself, the father and industrialist who pays too little heed to his son's voice and who (at Rotwang's gala party) is associated with a decadent, soft, and effeminate bourgeoisie symbolized by the revelers in tuxedos and evening gowns who, while dancing, allow themselves to be led into the abyss by the False Maria; the working class, too, is guilty of impatience, of having heeded agitators (the False Maria) who incited rebellion—the mob is impulsive, irresponsible, "feminine" in a word ("the mob is a woman," Hitler said, and "the vast majority of people are so feminine"). Like Maria, Hitler comes to "possess" the mob through oratory and leads it back to the straight and narrow: rectitude is nothing less than an obsession in Metropolis. Behind all these figures of guilt and sin (the statues of the seven deadly sins) looms the False Maria. It is in fact quite correct to say that she looms, and looms constantly: over the shoulders of Rotwang as he shows her to Fredersen; above the luminous cup from which she emerges; above the crowd of workers and bourgeois who carry her in triumphal processions; and even above the flames of the bonfire that consumes her. If, as I have suggested, she is, above and beyond her various avatars, sexuality itself, seen or treated as a profound, ultimate power, as danger, anguish, and horror; then omnipresent and ubiquitously reborn she becomes something that cannot be tolerated, that must be tracked down, eradicated, annihilated, and burned—the interminable Nazi extermination.

Many other traits typical of Hitler find counterparts in Metropolis, "I move forward with the infallible accuracy of the sleepwalker," Hitler wrote; in the film we see Freder receiving Maria's revelation and then proceeding toward his destiny with both arms outstretched in the manner of a sleepwalker. The Christ-like aspect of Metropolis has its parallel in the history of Hitler and the Nazi movement, which for a time had a quasi-religious dimension; according to Langer, Hitler cited the Bible and drew "comparisons between Christ and himself." The obsession with architecture that we find in Metropolis has its counterpart in Hitler's construction of the "eagle's nest" at Berchtesgaden, reached through "a long underground passage … enclosed by a heavy double door of bronze. At the end of the underground passage a wide lift, panelled with sheets of copper, awaits the visitor. Through a vertical shaft of 330 feet cut right through the rock, it rises up to the level of the Chancellor's dwelling place…. The visitor finds himself in a strong and massive building containing a gallery with Roman pillars, an immense circular hall with windows all around…. It gives the impression of being suspended in space, an almost overhanging wall of bare rock rises up abruptly." The first part of this description accords remarkably well with some of the images of the underground city in Metropolis, while the latter part describes the precipice from which the paranoid King Kong surveys his empire. In citing these lines by [then ambassador] François-Poncet, Langer notes that "Hitler often retires to this strange place to await instructions concerning the course he is to pursue." The images of petrifaction that we noted in Metropolis (the Tower of Babel, the enormous blocks of stone dragged by the slaves, Freder immured in stone during the impregnation scene), along with the constant presence of eyes and intense stares (Freder staring at his father embracing Maria, Freder hallucinating the erotic dance of the False Maria), were associated with the figure of the "bad" mother and its primal sexual dimension, both represented by the head of Medusa, I therefore find the following note by Robert Waite (from the epilogue to Langer's book) particularly striking: "He was infatuated with the head of the Medusa, once remarking that in von Stuck's painting the flashing eyes that turned men to stone and impotency reminded him of the eyes of his mother." As Hitler watched Metropolis, how could he not have been fascinated and hypnotized by the repeated hypnotic stares (of Fredersen and Rotwang and Maria and Freder), so like his own gaze, filled with the magical and paranoiac omnipotence of the stare that petrifies, engulfs, and penetrates, the gaze that wishes it were a disembodied orgasm, which in a frightening reversal injects its venom and like a vampire sucks the blood of its victim in an ersatz of displaced and disfigured sexuality. Langer speaks accurately of the "diffuse sexual function" of Hitler's eyes and notes: "When he meets persons for the first time he fixates his eyes on them as though to bore through them. There is a peculiar glint in them on these occasions that many have interpreted as an hypnotic quality" (my italics).

The Führer's speeches shaped the Nazi imagination, which ultimately produced the crematoriums of Auschwitz: from Hitler's mouth to the "world's anus." Hitler's mouth, all observers agree, was capable of casting a spell over multitudes, producing what Langer, citing Axel Heyst, calls a "veritable orgasm": "In his speeches we hear the suppressed voice of passion and wooing which is taken from the language of love; he utters a cry of hate and voluptuousness, a spasm of violence and cruelty." Auschwitz, anus of the world, enjoys the dubious honor of symbolizing the extremity of horror. In Metropolis these images are fused in a layer of destructive and sadistic anality, concretely and compactly expressed in Freder's hallucination of Moloch. As human operators fail to watch over their machines, a series of explosions takes place in the machine room. Liquids and gases are set free, bursting forth with destructive energies. Injured workers roll about on the ground or plunge into the void, so much dark debris. On a buckled, melted screen Freder's hallucination of Moloch's head takes shape. He sees an enormous, fiery mouth framed by huge teeth, into which diabolic creatures toss human beings with their pitchforks. But this fiery fantasy of consumption—the "bad" mother with her tongue of flame swallowing her young, the head of Medusa (flames as serpents) leaving Freder petrified—is further complicated, indeed contorted, into an anal scene of sadistic domination: if we reverse the motion, the unbending black columns of workers who climb toward the mouth-hole become streams of fecal matter expelled or excreted from the anal orifice. A hallucinatory fusion of organs and functions gives rise to a monstrous chiasm, which the Nazis put into practice: the mouth excretes ("filth" flowed from Hitler's mouth) and the anus devours (Auschwitz).

The head of Moloch can serve as emblem for a reinterpretation of the signifiers in Metropolis in anal terms: the corridors and labyrinths are like viscera; the blacks and whites are expressive (expressionist) of filth (the material of the walls, partitions, ground, and clothing); the glossy blackness and mechanical rigidity (relative sublimation) of the robot and of Rotwang's prosthetic hand; the character structure of Fredersen; the explosions and destructions by gas, smoke, liquids, and so on. The phallic organization of Metropolis, which serves to cover the primal scenes and, in my view, to mask the horror of sexuality, incorporates this strong anality and thereby reinforces itself (as one says of concrete, but also of billy clubs) with fecal power in order to enclose the libidinal economy (the walls of the mother city are more visceral than uterine) within a rigid structure and orient it toward destruction.

P.S. If we view Metropolis as primarily a "spatialization," a shaping and figuration of fantasy, then we may speak of a Langian traversal or exploration of the unconscious, whose existence is recognized in aesthetic terms through an intuitive elaboration and construction of concrete forms, yielding a specific type of ecstasy (jouissance) in which knowledge of the unconscious remains trapped. The author plays on (joue), and takes pleasure from (jouit de), a magical commutability of differences (the two Marias). The Hitlerian exploration is quite different: the existence of the unconscious is recognized, but it is constantly displaced and exploited through active, activist miscognition (méconnaissance) of structures, of the intrinsic productivity and lawfulness of the unconscious, all mixed in with the ideological pap (along with a parallel political-economic fusion of social differences—bourgeois, petit bourgeois, workers, peasants—through an outpouring of nationalism and racism). Instead of knowledge we have "acting out," on a historical scale. The imaginary architecture of Metropolis becomes Berchtesgaden, Nuremberg, Berlin, Auschwitz. The nation wants all differences to be effaced. Radically different is the Freudian exploration: here the existence of the unconscious is recognized for the first time as a field open to the understanding, to the elaboration of theories and concepts; Freud envisioned a science, a critical rationality, and attempted to establish a praxis for liberating otherness. Here differences are spelled out and called forth (childhood, neurosis, arts, etc.) in order to be articulated.

It may be of some interest to point out that all three explorations, divergent as they are in many respects, start, along with innumerable other explorations of other realms, from the same place: another rich but identical mother-city, Vienna.

Gosta Werner (essay date Spring 1990)

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SOURCE: "Fritz Lang and Goebbels," in Film Quarterly, Vol. 43, No. 3, Spring, 1990, pp. 24-7.

[In the following essay, Werner traces the facts surrounding Lang's departure from Germany and the banning of his The Testament of Dr. Mabuse.]

Myths are born and grow and flourish. Those who unthinkingly pass them on end up believing that they are facts. Repetition creates a cloak of seeming veracity which confuses gullible minds so that they cannot detect the truth underneath.

Thus every knowledgeable member of the film trade believes in the story of film director Fritz Lang's precipitate flight from Germany following on the banning of his film The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. The story goes that Dr. Goebbels, who was responsible for the banning, offered Lang the post of managing director of the entire German film industry. He stuck to his offer, maintains Lang himself, even after being told by Lang that he was a Jew—in actual fact Lang was half Jewish, his mother being Jewish. The story then goes on to say that Lang was given 24 hours to reconsider Goebbels's generous offer. Before nightfall Lang fled Berlin for Paris. He did this so precipitously that he did not even have time to draw money from the bank—banks closed in those days in Germany at half-past two.

But is this the true story? Thanks to material recently made available by the Deutsche-Kinemathek in Berlin—which placed it at the disposal of the German Film Museum (Deutsches Filmmuseum) in Frankfurt and its young and very able program director Ronny Loewe—we are now able to discover the facts. These are as follows.

The Nazi seizure of power occurred on 30 January 1933. For some time traditional German censorship continued without a break as if nothing had happened. It was not until six weeks later, on 14 March, that the Ministerium für Volkserklärung und Propaganda was set up, with Dr. Joseph Goebbels as its head. At that time the Testament des Dr. Mabuse was not quite completed, so the film had not been submitted to the censors.

No one expected the film to be banned, however, and on 21 March the official film journal Der Kinematograph was able to report that the première was to be on Friday 24 March at the large picture palace called Ufa-Palast am Zoo. Two days later, i.e., 23 March, Der Kinematograph informed its readers that the première had had to be put off as the film only that same day would reach the censors. The day after, 24 March, the same journal wrote that the postponement of the premiere had been due to "technical reasons."

Nothing further was revealed about the film until not quite one week later. On 30 March Der Kinematograph announced that the German Board of Film Censors had banned the film on the preceding day. The decision had been reached at a meeting of the Board, "under the chairmanship of Counsellor Zimmerman." The reason given was that it constituted a threat to law and order and public safety—in accordance with a regulation to be found in the Law of Censorship.

The film was passed, however, for distribution abroad—there was both a German and a French version. The German version was first shown in Vienna on 12 May 1933, but the French version had had its première a month earlier in Paris. The cutter of the film, Lothar Wolff, had even earlier taken the French-speaking material to Paris during the final stages of the making of the film and had completed the editing of the French version there. This gives the lie to the story that appears from time to time about the negative of the film having been smuggled to France in suitcases filled with dirty linen.

The film had also been sold to a number of European countries (besides Austria and France). Among them was Sweden, where, however, on 26 April 1933, the German version of the film was banned by the Swedish Board of Film Censors in accordance with paragraph six of the Royal Ordinance for Cinema Productions, the paragraph against the depicting of violence on the screen.

In Germany the last week of March 1933 turned out to be an eventful and momentous one for the German film industry. Goebbels had lost no time in preparing a large-scale drive to "renew" German film production as a whole. On March 28th, the day before the banning of the Testament des Dr. Mabuse, Goebbels had invited in the entire top personnel of the German film industry to a Bierabend in the Hotel Kaiserhof. Among those present were producers, directors, and technical staff. Certain reports have it that Fritz Lang was among those present.

It was in the course of this private party that Goebbels expressed his admiration for four films: he said they had made an indelible impression on him. The four were Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin, the American Anna Karenina (with Greta Garbo in the lead), Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen, and Luis Trenker's Der Rebell. The last-mentioned film, whose motif is the struggle for freedom of the Tyrolese, had been released in Berlin two months earlier and was still being shown. Goebbels professed his admiration for Eisenstein's film for the power with which a political idea permeated the film. This, he thought, should set an example for the new, ideologically conscious and politically engaged film that he expected from all German producers, directors and manuscript writers—though of course the political overtones would have to be different!

It is very likely that Lang was present at this party. He was known to be a fierce nationalist and had at this time no intention of leaving Germany. The day before, 27 March, he had taken part in the founding of the "direction group" of the NSBO (= Die Nationalsozialistische Betriebsorganisation). Three other major film figures were also involved: Carl Boese, an experienced and highly successful director of comedies; Viktor Jansen, a young director of comedies for whom Billy Wilder had written a number of scripts; and Trenker, an actor and director reknowned for his dramatic "mountain pictures" with strongly nationalistic undertones.

Thus Lang can hardly have been surprised when, one day in April, shortly after the Kaiserh of party, he was summoned by Goebbels and offered the leadership of the entire German film production—instead of being only one of the four placed at the helm of the NSBO. It was not just a highly attractive offer. It was a logical [one] as well.

It was at this point, according to the story, that Fritz Lang, penniless and with Goebbels's offer ringing in his ears, fled headlong to Paris, only to return to Berlin and the Fatherland after the end of World War II.

Which parts of this story are facts and which are the "story"?

(A) The contact between Goebbels and Fritz Lang: Even though it is highly probable that Goebbels did offer Lang the post as head of the entire German film production, there is not a word about it in Goebbels's usually meticulous diary for the year 1933. Lang is not mentioned there at all.

(B) Lang's headlong flight to Paris:

The answer is to be found in Lang's passport. The passport, numbered 66 11 53.31, was issued in Berlin on 11 September 1931, and valid until 11 September 1936. It contains a large number of stamps and Fritz Lang's name is to be found alongside nearly every one of them. There are no visas or exit stamps for the months of February, March, and the beginning of April 1933. There is only one exit visa for Fritz Lang. It is made out by Der Polizeipräsident in Berlin and dated 23 June 1933. It is valid for exits for a period of six months. Up to that date Lang had therefore never left Germany.

The passport also contains several visas for entry into Belgium, every one issued in Berlin and at the end of June and July 1933. Further, during the same period Lang purchased foreign currency repeatedly at the Weltreisebureau Union in Unter den Linden in Berlin, totalling 1,366 Reichsmark. All these transactions are duly registered in the passport in dated stamps: 26 June, 27 June, 20 July. These days Lang must have been in Berlin.

According to the testimony of entry and exit stamps, in June and in July 1933 Lang visited England and Belgium, inter alia by air. He had a two-year visa for repeated entries into France. It was issued in London 20 June 1932 and was valid until 20 June 1934. The entry stamps for 1933 are all from June and July 1933, the first being dated 28 June, the last 31 July.

The foreign currency stamps from Berlin testify, as do the various entry and exit stamps, that between the journeys abroad in the summer of 1933 Lang returned to Berlin, which city he left finally only on 31 July 1933—four months after his legendary meeting with Goebbels and supposed dramatic escape.

Dr. Goebbels did not forget Lang and his films. When in October 1933 he celebrated his thirty-sixth birthday in his new and elegant official residence in Berlin he entertained himself and his guests in the evening by showing them the banned Testament des Dr. Mabuse. Lang, meanwhile, was in France, where he was shortly to begin filming Liliom.

Dietrich Neumann (essay date 1994)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5446

SOURCE: "The Urbanistic Vision in Fritz Lang's Metropolis," in Dancing in the Volcano: Essays on the Culture of the Weimar Republic, Camden House, 1994, pp. 143-54.

[In the following essay, Neumann discusses the urban architecture of Lang's Metropolis in light of contemporary thought about monumentalism, technological progress, and skyscrapers.]

Fritz Lang's Metropolis is widely considered one of the great classics of the cinema, celebrated and described in every anthology on the history of the motion picture. It was the first feature length science fiction film ever and had an enormous influence on later productions. It has rightly been regarded as a paradigmatic product of Weimar culture, reflecting the rich variety of its contemporary discourse.

When the film was finally released in January 1927 after two years of a well orchestrated advertising campaign, it was considered a major cultural event all over Europe and in the United States. In New York thousands lined up on Broadway in April 1927 to see it, and the New York Times alone printed seven different reviews of it. The reasons for its fame, however, are curiously difficult to determine. The majority of contemporary reviews were in fact critical, and the public success was not sufficient to compensate for the losses that Europe's most expensive film production to that date had caused.

Metropolis is set in a city of the future, ruled by the almighty John Frederson from his office at the top of a gigantic central tower, called the "New Tower of Babel." The buzzing skyscraper city with its many layers of traffic is kept alive by the machinery underground, which is operated under dangerous conditions by an army of slaves living in monotonous buildings situated even deeper underground. Fatal accidents seem to be frequent, and in one dramatic sequence the central machine turns into a hungry, man-eating monster. The son of the city's emperor, Freder, spends his time leisurely at sporting events and in a harem-like pleasure garden with his friends. One day, however, he meets Mary, a woman from the underground, who acts as the quasi-Christian priestess of some primitive cult, preaching peaceful change to the workers in ancient catacombs deep beneath the city. Freder falls madly in love and suddenly becomes aware of the injustice around him. His father, concerned about the awakened conscience of his son, secretly plots, with the help of a mad scientist, to keep control of his son's emotions through a robot look-alike of Mary; Mary is kidnapped, and her features are duplicated onto the metallic machine. This robot soon gets out of control and preaches violent revolution to the workers. The ensuing uproar leads to the destruction of the machines and the flooding of the underground housing quarters. In the meantime the evil robot with Mary's features has made its way to a party in the city above, where it engages in an elaborate dance performance promising sexual pleasures to upper class businessmen. Finally the masses discover that they have been misled and burn the robot Mary at the stake in a fire fueled by technological debris. Only at the last minute can the real Mary escape from the scientist's laboratory and, reunited with Freder, save the children from drowning in the flooded subterranean houses, survive a dramatic fight with the mad scientist on the roof of the cathedral, convert Freder's father into a conscientious and humane ruler and appease the revolutionary masses with the slogan: "The heart has to be the mediator between the hand and the mind."

It comes as no surprise that many contemporary critics pointed sarcastically to the weaknesses of this plot. Some of them were especially disappointed by the unconvincing reconciliation at the end; others claimed that the love story should have received more attention. Critics in the immediate postwar period, such as Lotte Eisner in The Haunted Screen and Siegfried Kracauer in From Caligari to Hitler emphasized protofascistic elements in the people's quiet submission under a dictator and the treatment of the masses in a purely ornamental fashion. In recent years Metropolis has frequently been examined for its Freudian connotations and its rather obvious sexual metaphors. Anton Kaes has discussed the film's fascination with the vices and virtues of technology and compared it to other contemporary voices, such as the expressionist theater of Georg Kaiser, Ernst Toller, or Karel Capek, and the writings of Ernst Junger and H.G. Wells. I would like to add to this the possible connection to the almost entirely forgotten film Algol, which was released in Germany in 1920, telling the story of a miner, who accepts a miraculous perpetual-motion machine from a stranger. This devilish contraption enables him to build a world-embracing empire based on unlimited industrial power. Robert Herne, the miner who makes the Faustian bargain, gains fame and wealth but loses his love and his happiness and finally destroys the machines in order to keep them away from his evil and decadent son. Algol not only shows striking similarities to Metropolis in its set design, but also seems to anticipate elements of Metropolis' story line.

The long-lasting interest in the film Metropolis and the diversity of interpretations show that the movie is by no means easy to categorize or analyze. It has many layers of meaning, speaks different languages, and in no way offers a coherent picture. Its interpretation can never be complete. One of the reasons for this is the simple fact that it is the product of a collaboration, of many compromises and coincidences. Apart from Fritz Lang, the director, there was his wife, Thea von Harbou, who wrote the novel and the film script; the imaginative cameraman Karl Freund also contributed to the film along with several set designers under the leadership of Erich Kettelhut. When the film was finished it was three hours long and had to be edited heavily for a general audience with a limited attention span. These cuts were apparently not carried out under Lang's supervision. Fritz Lang later explained away the incoherence of the film's plot by attributing the much-criticized ending of the film to his wife Thea von Harbou. In a famous interview with Peter Bogdanovich he declared: "I was then not as politically conscious as I am today. You cannot make a socially responsible film by saying 'the heart has to be the mediator between the hand and the mind.' I mean that is silly, really. But I was interested in machines." Lang used to illustrate his matured political consciousness by telling the famous anecdote of how in 1933 Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Propaganda Minister, told him that Hitler had been very impressed by the Nibelungen and Metropolis, and that he wanted Lang to become the official film director for the future propaganda movies of the Third Reich. Fritz Lang told Goebbels he would think about it, but instead he packed his bags and left Germany on the evening of the same day. Lang's former wife Thea von Harbou, however, remained in Germany and joined the National Socialist Party.

From the beginning the film's critics have almost unanimously expressed great admiration for Metropolis' impressive set design. The young Spanish film critic Louis Buñuel, soon to become a famous director himself, wrote in 1927:

Metropolis surpasses all expectations and enchants us as the most beautiful picture album imaginable. Hunte overwhelms us with his grandiose vision of the city of the year 2000…. Now and forever the architect is going to replace the set designer. The movie is going to be the faithful translator of the architect's boldest dreams.

Astonishingly, the film's architecture is one of the few features that has not been analyzed in any detail up to now; and yet the urbanistic vision of Metropolis offers a glimpse of the intense discussion of Americanism and issues of monumentality in contemporary German architecture.

The film set was designed in 1925 and 1926 by the architects Erich Kettelhut and Otto Hunte in close cooperation with Fritz Lang himself, who had originally planned to become an architect and was an excellent draughtsman. More than once he overruled Kettelhut's decisions. The architecture of the film set was apparently among those parts of the film that suffered only slightly from the heavy cuts made after the first screening. Research in this area is also made easier by the fact that Kettelhut's personal recollections have survived and many of his sketches are preserved in archives in Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, and London.

What do we know about this city of the future? There are several spatial layers underground: the ancient catacombs, where Mary reigns; gigantic caves with housing quarters for the workmen and their families; and the halls with the mighty machines. Above ground there are the towering buildings and many layers of traffic, overshadowed by the sublime "New Tower of Babel" in the center. Somewhere in this city are a gothic cathedral, a sports stadium, a nightclub, and the pleasure gardens of the "jeunesse doré." The haunted house of Rotwang the inventor has survived between skyscrapers and highway overpasses. It is, as the novel tells us, "older than the city," older than its cathedral, dark, threatening, and forbidding.

Fritz Lang asserted that the original idea for the movie Metropolis was conceived on a trip to the United States which he undertook with his producer Erich Pommer in 1924 in order to study American film production and to promote his most recent film, the great medieval epic Nibelungen. Lang stayed in New York and Los Angeles and met Ernst Lubitsch, Charlie Chaplin, and Mary Pickford. But in the end it was not U.S. film production that impressed Lang most, but the American landscape and the sight of New York city by night.

After Lang's return in November 1924 he shared his ideas and impressions with the leading German film journal:

Where is the American film of the "Grand Canyon," the film of the "Yellowstone Park," or the film about one of those Babels of stone which are the American Cities? The view of New York by night is a beacon of beauty strong enough to be the centerpiece of a film…. There are flashes of red and blue and gleaming white, screaming green … streets full of moving, turning, spiraling lights, and high above the cars and elevated trains skyscrapers appear in blue and gold, white, and purple and still higher above there are advertisements surpassing the stars with their light.

What Lang had witnessed here was not only the progress that had been made in advertising technology, but also the newly emerging fashion of an "architecture of the night," colored floodlight illumination of the tops of skyscrapers, often carefully planned and orchestrated by lighting engineers and artists. Fritz Lang's enthusiastic descriptions of this phenomenon are still palpable in Thea von Harbou's account of Metropolis as a city "bathed in an ecstasy of brightness, built from squares of light." Fritz Lang tried to capture the overwhelming impression of the multitude of lights on Broadway with his camera by exposing the film twice.

The general interest in science fiction and in views of the future had been greatly enhanced by the success of H.G. Wells's novels, such as The Time Machine and War of the Worlds, which had sold millions of copies since the turn of the century and were already considered classics by 1924, when Lang started thinking about his new film. It is not surprising that H.G. Wells was asked for his opinion of this new German science fiction movie by the New York Times, for which he commented regularly on current events. Wells published a long essay about Metropolis in the Times Sunday Magazine on 17 April 1927. That essay has remained the only analysis that dealt with Metropolis' urbanistic vision in any detail.

H.G. Wells was clearly not amused. He thought Metropolis was by far the "silliest film he had ever seen." He was annoyed because he recognized in Metropolis "decaying fragments" of his own juvenile work The Sleeper Awakes (1897), where he had described the London of the future as a monstrous skyscraper fortress in the middle of a destroyed landscape which contained on varying levels dark factories, living quarters for the workers, and in the higher, lighter regions the apartments of the privileged. H.G. Wells was convinced that such a vision was by now outdated. He argued that the real estate market would lead to the location of industry and housing for the poor in suburbs instead of underneath the city. He wrote, "This vertical social stratification is stale old stuff. So far from being a hundred years hence, Metropolis in its forms and shapes is already as a possibility a third of a century out of date." Wells argued that if Lang had talked to some contemporary architects his vision would have been more accurate.

Such accusations are not entirely fair. Of course Lang had not intended to produce a realistic projection of urban development or even an ideal city, because such a utopia would have provided an unlikely background for a dramatic battle between good and evil. And given Lang's interest in the architectural profession, we can assume that he was familiar with the visions of contemporary architects, such as Antonio Sant' Elia's Città Futurista of 1914, Auguste Perret's skyscrapers of 1921, Corbusier's Plan Voisin of 1922, and Hugh Ferriss' visions of a future New York, which he developed from 1922 onwards. All of these images had recently been published in Germany and might have informed the design of the film set in 1925 and 1926. Lang's city, however, was planned not on a grid like that of Manhattan or Corbusier's vision, but grouped around one dominating central tower.

This central building is worth closer inspection: it not only houses the headquarters of the almighty ruler, but also functions as central intersection for all traffic in the city. As we know from the film script, all the different means of transport were to flow together in the building's lower stories, and batteries of elevators, partly visible on the outside, would also connect it to the central airport on the top and to the halls for machinery underground. Among the abundant allusions to Christianity and the Old Testament in the film, the most obvious is to the Tower of Babel. The biblical story of this building's erection and destruction is told by Mary in a visionary sequence. Metropolis' central tower reveals knowledge of the numerous illustrations of this biblical motif throughout the history of art, such as Peter Bruegel's painting of 1563. Central towers had also been an occasional feature in utopian renaissance cities by Perret, Filarete, and others.

But there are also contemporary German sources. In the years immediately following the Great War, a group of young architects, such as Bruno Taut, Hans Scharoun, and Walter Gropius had published sketches showing a glowing central religious building hovering high above the roofs of a city. Bruno Taut had coined the term Stadtkrone (citycrown) for these designs, and in 1919 Walter Gropius had written in the first Bauhaus Manifesto:

Together let us desire, conceive, and create the new structure of the future, which will embrace architecture and sculpture and painting in one unity and which will one day rise toward heaven from the hands of a million workers like the crystal symbol of a new faith.

All these designs were clearly meant as religious buildings and cannot be directly compared to the central office tower of Metropolis, although there are some obvious formal similarities. The missing link here is to be found by examining a chapter in German architectural history that has so far been widely overlooked: between 1920 and 1925 German architects, politicians, and citizens were gripped by what contemporaries called a skyscraper mania. In a wave of enthusiasm unparalleled by anything else at that time and by far surpassing the attention given to the Bauhaus and the Modern Movement, conservative architects in Germany designed thousands of skyscrapers for all major and minor cities. Such designs were entirely unrealistic given the economic constraints of the time, and none of them was built. Office space was not nearly as badly needed as housing, but one frequently repeated argument in favor of skyscrapers claimed that huge office towers could help to relieve the enormous housing shortage by opening up apartments in the center city that had been used as offices. Surprisingly, this skyscraper craze was far removed from Weimar Americanism and infatuation with U. S. mass culture. Quite the contrary, it served as a platform for the anti-Americanism of conservative architects, citizens, and journalists. Innumerable statements had accused American skyscrapers of depriving their neighbors of light and air and of being the most vulgar symbols of rampant capitalism. Even Siegfried Kracauer, in 1921, called them "towering monsters, owing their existence to the unlimited greed of beastly capitalism, assembled in the most chaotic and senseless fashion, clad in a luxurious fake architecture, which is far from appropriate for its profane purpose…." Kracauer and many others, however, seemed determined that Germany should build skyscrapers anyway, as long as they were different from the American examples. Several architects went as far as to announce a "Germanization of the skyscraper" and claimed that the Germans were destined to create, on a higher cultural level, a valid alternative to this American invention, revealing for the first time "the true inner meaning of the skyscraper." The German high-rise building, such critics claimed, would be less historicist than the American skyscraper, and, as a result of highly restricted and socially responsible city planning, there would be just one huge building in the center of each city, a modern version of the medieval cathedral. "By celebrating the idea of labor, the skyscraper aspires to continue the role of the cathedral, which dominated the cityscape and was a symbol for the metaphysical longings and the spiritual tenure of the Middle Ages," wrote a critic in 1923. Some architects took this reference to the cathedral literally; they employed a gothicizing verticality in the facades and demanded, that their design should be executed in a common effort by the whole populace, in a fashion similar to the building of a gothic cathedral, and should be conceived and executed through the collaboration of different masters.

Many of the architects' statements show that these skyscraper projects owed their attraction to a large degree to their apparent symbolic and political potential. Many conservatives believed that the erection of skyscrapers could "prove visibly that the Germans are not a dying populace, but able to work and able to build new paths to a new ascent." The lost war and the enormous reparation payments of the Versailles treaty led to a desperate nationalism and to the idea that a monumental symbolic gesture could demonstrate the undestroyed German will to reemerge after the war and offer a reconciliation with the lost spirituality of the Middle Ages. In the disguise of a twentieth century building type, these designs continued a tradition of gigantic national monuments that had culminated for the first time in Karl Friedrich Schinkel's 1814 plan for a cathedral to celebrate the victory over Napoleon. This event had caused a wave of nationalist sentiment and the first prospect of German unification, pursued by many with an almost religious fervor. Karl Friedrich Schinkel wanted his monumental cathedral for this new religion to be placed in the center of Berlin, at the Leipziger Platz. It would have had a cruciform plan and a central neo-Gothic spire at an unprecedented height of 1000 feet. Gothic was then considered the most original German style, evoking reminiscences of allegedly happier medieval times. Nothing came of Schinkel's project, but the idea remained strong and eventually led not only to the completion of Cologne Cathedral but also to the subject of a commemorative monument in Leipzig, where the famous Battle of Nations against Napoleon had taken place. Finally, in 1897, a competition was held for the so called Völkerschlachtdenkmal (Monument to the Battle of Nations) in Leipzig, and this contest was won by Bruno Schmitz, an architect who already had a solid reputation as a designer of monuments. The competition had asked for a monumental building in a new German style which was not historicist but powerful, simple, and heroic. Between 1897 and 1913 Bruno Schmitz erected an artificial mound and on top of it a looming, towering structure 91 meters high out of bare concrete and rock-faced German granite. With its dimly lit chambers inside, its artificial lake, and a seemingly endless approach on the outside, the monument became a temple of fame and a symbol of national power and self-confidence.

At the same time that Bruno Schmitz was supervising the final work on the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, in the year 1910, he designed a building for Berlin that became known as the first German skyscraper design. As a monumental round tower it not only drew heavily on the forms developed for the Völkerschlachtdenkmal, but was also designed for precisely the same spot where Schinkel, a century earlier, had suggested his cathedral. Schmitz's compact tower design provided a second important prototype for the formal solution of the skyscraper craze in the early Twenties. It clearly influenced designs such as Leipzig's highly popular 1920 'Messeturm' (Trade Fair Tower). The heavy forms of the Leipzig Monument also provided a formal model for the final version of Lang's and Kettelhut's design for their New Tower of Babel.

Left wing avant-garde architects in Germany, such as Walter Gropius, the director of the Bauhaus, Mies van der Rohe, and Hans Scharoun did not share the enthusiasm for skyscrapers. They felt that these structures represented the forces of the past. After a short infatuation with crystal cathedrals directly after the war, most of them were interested in social housing, prefabrication, and the truthful display of structural elements. The famous critic Adolf Behne articulated their opinion: "Most of the suddenly appearing Ideal-Skyscraper-Designs are reminders of the epoch of the Bismarck memorial towers and the Leipzig Battle of Nations Monument: monumental arts and crafts kitsch." And he continued: "There is no reason to turn the skyscraper into a symbol with much rigor, seriousness, and dignity. It is merely a building for offices and stores, no reason for any pathos whatsoever." The few skyscraper projects that the avant-garde architects provided were clearly antihistoricist and as unmonumental as a skyscraper could be. Walter Gropius, for instance, in his design for the Chicago Tribune in 1922 gave up the idea of a unified and coherent geometric form in favor of an asymmetrical stack of building blocks and a facade that only displayed the structure of its steel frame. Mies van der Rohe was even more radical, designing a curvilinear skyscraper in 1922 without any reference to traditional architecture. The building had a reflective glass surface and was to be transparent, which meant a complete negation of the building as such—probably the most powerful possible rejection of the monumental dreams of the time. The avant-garde clearly rejected the centralized approach to city planning and favored instead an arrangement of endlessly repeatable housing blocks that would be carefully distanced from each other to ensure the same amount of sunlight for everyone.

The extent to which set designer Erich Kettelhut was aware of the ongoing discussion about high-rise buildings and town planning both in the U. S. and in Europe becomes apparent from his numerous preliminary sketches for Metropolis, which have been preserved in the archives of the Cinematheque Française and the Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin. A wealth of imaginary sketches flash up for only seconds in the film, showing fantastic versions of visionary setback skyscrapers or rigid structural steel skeletons with enormously protruding floors. Kettelhut worked in different media, providing simple ink line drawings as well as lavish watercolors and skillfully shaded pastels.

In his first version for the central area of Metropolis in 1925, Kettelhut showed a skillfully designed central urban intersection with several layers of traffic for pedestrians, cars, and railroads. The pedestrians stroll leisurely, there seems to be ample parking space, and bright sunlight hits the southern side of the street. An old Gothic cathedral serves as the centerpiece in the distance, surrounded by a densely grouped range of medieval buildings.

As if to support the conservative architects' contention that the skyscraper should take over the role of the cathedral as a new temple of labor, Lang or Kettelhut crossed out the cathedral in the original drawing with the note: "To be replaced by the Tower of Babel."

In a second version, the cathedral is gone, replaced by a functional skyscraper with a gigantic landing platform on its top, a common motif in science fiction since the turn of the century. This tower seems to have almost 50 stories, thus easily surpassing the buildings around it. The adjacent buildings in this version clearly display Kettelhut's knowledge of current architectural discussions. The skyscrapers are set back, nonmonumental, and unadorned, and they display their structural frame of steel or reinforced concrete. Some even seem to recall Mies van der Rohe's curvilinear skyscraper, or the structural rationalism of Walter Gropius' highrise design. The somewhat pleasant view of a future city displayed in both of Kettelhut's preliminary drawings is far from the apocalyptic vision that Thea von Harbou had described so vividly in her novel. One can only speculate that after the second version was designed there must have been an encounter between Lang and Kettelhut, in which Lang made it clear that such a pleasant vision was not what he had in mind: The city should be dark, threatening, overwhelming, nightmarish. At any rate, Kettelhut's final version provided what Lang wanted.

In that final version, the buildings had developed considerably. The street had become the dark and narrow abyss that the critics of the skyscraper had always prophesied. And the standpoint of the viewer had been lifted into the air, far away from any visual contact with the people who crowded the streets below.

The most important metamorphosis was that of the central tower, which had grown from about fifty stories to almost 200. Instead of the slender forms of a conical support for the elegant landing platform, we now have a looming, heavy mass, whose landing platforms have shrunk to nonfunctional wings. The similarity of this tower to the Völkerschlachtdenkmal is striking.

For anyone familiar with architectural debates in the Weimar Republic Kettelhut's final version not only stood for the most conservative approach to skyscraper design and city planning, but also clearly harked back to the German empire with its connotations of nationalism, imperialism, and a centralized system. Such a dark vision had been adopted by Lang and Kettelhut to represent the regime of the merciless John Frederson.

Conservative critics obviously did not notice the irony in Kettelhut's choice. They drew enthusiastic parallels between the film and the symbolic content of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal. After the first screening on 11 January 1927, one critic wrote: "This film is German in its metaphysical and technical boundlessness, in the immoderateness of its will and the chaotic stream of its ideas. This is monumental, outward-pressing expressionist film of the most fantastic technique. It is a tower of Babel to the world." And another critic declared: "The film Metropolis is a matter of the material, it is the Völkerschlachtdenkmal of the movies."

By taking this part as a symbol for the whole, the critics overlooked the fact that the film Metropolis, especially in its architecture, was by no means a simple celebration of conservative hopes and values. On the contrary, the set contains many clues that its designers sympathized with the opposite side of the political spectrum. The most striking antithesis to the looming tower with its reference to the Völkerschlachtdenkmal is to be found in the workers' living quarters underground. In the central square is a monument with a huge gong which calls workers to work, a symbol of repression. Significantly, the base for this gong is appropriately modeled on Walter Gropius' dynamic monument for striking miners who had been shot dead in Weimar during riots in the year 1921. Right-wing politicians had heavily criticized Walter Gropius for this monument. Thus in both levels of the city, one finds references to current debates on monumental architecture and the architecture of monuments.

The only references to contemporary expressionist architecture in Germany are to be found in the places of vice, such as the "Yoshiwara Nightclub" and the pleasure gardens of the elite's sons, thereby successfully labeling expressionistic architecture as decadent. It is no coincidence that "Yoshiwara," the name of Tokyo's red-light district, was chosen for this temple of vice; Thea von Harbou's novel contains numerous openly racist allusions to Asians being connected to gambling, crime, and prostitution. In contrast, the old Gothic Cathedral, where the final reconciliation takes place, clearly identifies the city as German, or at least northern European. (The scenes in the medieval cathedral also reflect the impression that the recent American production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, after Victor Hugo's novel, had made on its German audience in 1924.)

Metropolis had an almost immediate impact on urbanistic visions in other films and in popular culture, where the discussion on monumentality and the role of the skyscraper continued. The first such response was the American science fiction comedy Just Imagine of 1930 by Stephen Goosson. This film's gigantic set of a future city reflected Hugh Ferriss's recently published drawings for a "Metropolis of Tomorrow" featuring high-rise buildings spaciously located on a grid which extended endlessly.

In 1936 H.G. Wells became involved in creating a science fiction movie according to his own ideas, which turned out to be a somewhat belated comment on Fritz Lang's Metropolis. H.G. Wells wrote the screenplay and called it Things to Come. The film traces the story of "Everytown" from 1936 through the following 100 years, when after a devastating war (Wells clearly anticipated the Second World War) and long decades of suffering under diseases and despotic rulers, technology and reason finally lead to the erection of a new "Everytown" in 2036, where a new dispute over the vice and virtue of progress and technology is fueled over the launching of a rocket to explore the moon.

Although Alexander Corda was the producer and William Cameron Menzies the director, H.G. Wells seems to have been a constant presence at the production. He circulated a memorandum to the members of the film crew in which he wrote: "As a general rule you may take it that whatever Lang did in Metropolis is the exact contrary of what we want done here."

Wells hired former Bauhaus-member Lászlo Moholy-Nagy as set designer. Moholy-Nagy responded to Wells's challenge by designing a city of the future consisting of transparent cones and glass-clad skeletal towers. The towers are clearly reminiscent of Mies van der Rohe's curvilinear glass skyscraper of 1922, thereby adopting Mies's consciously antimonumental response to the heavy towers of his conservative colleagues. As Lászlò Moholy-Nagy's wife Sybil later remembered, he wanted to "eliminate solid form. Houses were no longer obstacles to, but receptacles of man's natural life force, light. There were no walls, but skeletons of steel, screened with glass and plastic sheets."

H.G. Wells decided in the end, however, that this design was still not radical enough as an antithesis to the skyscrapers in Metropolis. He asked another designer, Vincent Korda, the producer's brother, to create a city of the future which was even more literally the opposite of Lang's skyscrapers. Instead of pursuing the discussion of monumental and nonmonumental skyscrapers, Wells and Korda returned to the fundamental dichotomy between the gendered spaces of a skyscraper city and their counterpart in the subterranean caves, which Fritz Lang had already explored. In the final section of Things to Come, the old city of "Everytown" has completely vanished, the surface of the earth has been returned to nature, and instead Everytown of the year 2036 is entirely dug into the ground in a gigantic womb-like cavern. The skyscrapers of New York, which had been the departure point for Fritz Lang, shine up as a faded memory in Things to Come, only to be seen on films for educational purposes.

"What a funny place New York was," says one little girl, "all sticking up and full of windows."

Metropolis' central looming tower with an airport on top enjoyed a lasting popularity on the covers of science fiction magazines. More recently the film has found an echo in the sets of such contemporary movies as Bladerunner and Batman.

The urban architecture of Metropolis seems both to embrace and undermine the current notions of monumentalism, technological progress, and Americanism. The film will continue to elicit new readings and serve as a tool to unfold the rich texture of contemporary discourse in Weimar Germany. Its complexity and contradictions will continue to serve as a powerful example against the vision of a coherent, unifying notion of modernity.


Lang, Fritz (Vol. 20)