Day 325: ‘M Stands for Masterpiece’ 2018

Day 325
Monday 21 May 2018  3.43am
‘M Stands for Masterpiece’  2018

M  (1931)  A Fritz Lang Film

Not many of the Top 100 Films rank – for me – as masterpieces on a first viewing but M (1931) does. It’s brilliant. It masterful on every level. It’s a film so brilliantly executed that it is many years ahead of its time. It is sleek and beautiful and it was made while other important filmmakers were still making silent movies with dialogue. Lang is making a film with sound with the eye of the silent filmmaker.

– Philip Powers, May 2018

The visual inventiveness is extraordinary, scene after scene. Fritz Lang puts the camera in unexpected places and creates unusual camera setups which don’t match real life, but do exaggerate what it could look like from a certain – unusual – personal perspective. In fact, Lang creates the frame around his characters with such a deliberate approach that it is the opposite of what the viewer thinks real-life would look like. It makes the film look extremely stylized and yet it creates hundreds of incredible images, some of which are amongst the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

If I was watching this film, knowing it was directed in 1930 or 1931, based purely on images (forgetting that people are speaking German), I would have guessed it was made by Alfred Hitchcock. The films that Hitchcock did before it and after it are similar to what Lang does in M. Curious, inspired, angles, wih extreme (for its time) close-ups. But then, some of what Hitchcock does after M, could have inspired him as well.

On top of this Lang makes extraordinary juxtapositions of shots and scenes which are related, but which aren’t chronological. He compares one scene to another by cutting back and forth while the characters in both scenes talk about similar things. The most inspired example is when the criminals sit around a round table, and law enforcement are seated around a long, rectangular, table. Both groups are trying to find ways to find the murderer and restore everything to the comfortable relationship that has existed between the criminals, the law and the public. It’s in the interest of everyone to find the murderer, deal with it, and get back to business as usual.

There are other moments almost as good.

1. Dialogue from the previous scene is heard after the visual cut to the next scene. That’s very sophisticated.
2. The murderer is caught but not by the police.
3. A robbery is spoiled by the police but it’s not for the reason they think it is.
4. Television for many decades has had films which are police procedurals. This is a film which shows step by step how the police and the gangsters identified and located the killer.

There are so many things the film does well that it would take a chapter of a book to identify them all.

Top 100 Films Ever Made –
This film is equal #56 in the 2012 BFI Critics Poll and #75 in the Directors Poll.