These notes accompany the Nordic Gods and Directors program, which screens on February 17, 18, and 19 in Theater 3.
In a sense, there are two Fritz Langs, with his life, career, and sensibility split almost literally in half by the rise of the Nazis. The German Lang is monumental, existing in a realm of the fantastic, the superhuman, the surreal. The American Lang is naturalistic, existing in a real world inhabited by ordinary earthlings, people with feelings, folks with whom we can identify. The crossover film was M (1931), Lang’s first talkie, in which Peter Lorre’s child murderer is accorded a sympathetic hearing, evoking the genuine emotion lacking in Lang’s work over the preceding twelve years. This is not to suggest that Lang (1890–1976) ever became a conventionally naturalistic and humanistic director in the course of his honorable and mostly successful American career. He was as much a progenitor of film noir as he was of the expressionism from whence it sprung, and his later ramblings—from Brecht to Zola, from the Philippines of Tyrone Power to Jean-Luc Godard’s Capri in Le Mepris—bespeak no ordinary career.