The sci-fi masterpiece "Metropolis" and the horror classic "Nosferatu" were silent films made in 1920s, yet their profound influence can still be felt in films being made today. The German master Fritz Lang was a true visionary and a giant of the cinema. As early as the 1920s, he had already created a fantasy vision of a futuristic 21st century city, a mechanical devil-woman and a fire-breathing dragon in his films. Whether they were adventure films, epics, spy thrillers or noirs, his films explored struggles against destiny and entrapment with stunning visuals. Another influential German expressionist director, F.W. Murnau, created psychic labyrinths in his films with haunted castles, a stiffly cloaked vampire and Faust's aerial journey on Memphite's cloak. His stylistic works remain striking even after eight decades. Classics by the two cinema masters will be shown from this September to January next year.
Presented by the Film Programmes Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and curated by Mr Law Wai-ming, "Repertory Cinema 2012 - Fritz Lang and F.W. Murnau" will feature German classics from the 1920s, following on from the screenings last year on Charles Chaplin and Buster Keaton, the two great comedians of the silent era. Sixteen classics by Fritz Lang will be shown from September 1 to November 18 at the Cinema of the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) and the Lecture Hall of the Hong Kong Science Museum. The 12 surviving films by F.W. Murnau will be shown from December 22 to January 27. Many of the films are restored versions.
The selected silent films by Lang include the fantasy "Destiny" (1921); the pioneering suspense thriller "Dr. Mabuse the Gambler" Parts I and II (1922); the super production "The Nibelungen, Part I: Siegfried's Death" (1924) and "The Nibelungen, Part II: Kriemhild's Revenge" (1924); the first film inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, "Metropolis" (1927); the early espionage film "Spies" (1928); and the first "scientific" sci-fi film in history, "Woman in the Moon" (1929). His dialogue films to be shown are "M" (1931), a masterpiece of crime movies that tells of a serial killer; the anti-Nazi films "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" (1933) and "Hangmen Also Die!" (1943); Lang's favourite film, "Liliom" (1934); the spy movie "Man Hunt" (1941); the thriller "Secret Beyond the Door..." (1947); the classic film noir "The Big Heat" (1953); and "Human Desire" (1954), which depicts the twisting human nature.
Born in Austria, Fritz Lang (1890-1976) joined the studio of famous producer Erich Pommer as a screenwriter after the First World War. In 1919, he began directing. His German career came to an end when he fled to Paris and then America to avoid working for the Nazis. He directed over 50 pictures of a diverse nature. His silent films as well as his sound and colour films are visually stunning with a rich cinematic quality, combining popular genres with expressionist techniques. With a family background of builders, Lang created films that are particularly noted for their architecture and sets. His distinctive creation of magnificent settings such as the use of harsh outlines of skyscrapers to create a sense of suppression and suffocation has appeared in many Hollywood blockbusters. He received the Life Career Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film a few months before he died in 1976.
"Destiny" is an important early work by Lang and was the first film to win him wide European recognition. In it he created an extraordinary fantasy allegory with Death granting a woman three chances to save her lover from his demise. She then experiences three partings in Renaissance Venice, ancient Persia and an imaginary China.
"Dr. Mabuse the Gambler" Parts I and II, "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" and "Spies" are Lang's masterpieces centred on super-criminals. "Dr. Mabuse the Gambler" was different from other crime movies popular at that time. Dr Mabuse, a master of disguises, constantly reinvents his identity to manipulate people by hypnosis and cheating at gambling dens; he stops at no evil and is ready to kill anyone. In "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse", Dr Mabuse is arrested but a series of crimes still happens. The film was banned by the Nazis, alleging that it would affect the government's image. It received an enthusiastic response in France, however. It was Lang's last film before he left Germany. "Spies" is a forerunner of Hitchcock's British-period thrillers. With exciting action and espionage thrills, it was a cinematic reflection of the political reality in the 1920s.
"The Nibelungen, Part I: Siegfried's Death" and "The Nibelungen, Part II: Kriemhild's Revenge" are mega productions with special effects. Huge sets, lighting and costume design complement the narration of a medieval myth. The enormous dragon in Part I and the huge Hun army in Part II are breathtaking.
"Metropolis" is a legendary film with groundbreaking scenes and filmic techniques. Its powerful visuals on the futuristic city, planes shuttling through the concrete jungle and ant-like workers operating mammoth machines, as well as its explosive images of a mechanical devil-woman and dystopian scenes, have been imitated countless times on the screen in the past eight decades. The film was cut substantially after its premiere and the original version was not found until 80 years later in South America. Lang's last silent film, "Woman in the Moon", features an entrepreneur co-operating with a genius scientist in building a rocket to look for gold on the moon.
Lang's famous noir thriller "M" is a vivid study of a serial killer preying on children. It was his first sound film but he immediately grasped the advantages of the sound process. Whistles and children's songs are heard echoing throughout the film, creating an effect of suspense and breaking the early sound films' cliché of having only dialogue and singing. Another classic noir movie, "The Big Heat", was selected for inclusion in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in the US. The noir's motif of the femme fatale is fully elaborated as both the fierce murderer and the dauntless detective fall prey to her. "Human Desire" was based on the novel "The Beast Within" by Émile Zola. The film features a young and sexy beauty who has desire for the youthful body of a locomotive engineer and hopes he can get rid of her jealous old husband.
"Man Hunt" was Lang's first anti-Nazi film, wherein the Germans who had been protagonists now became the villains. The film was made before the Americans joined the Second World War. American censors regarded it as a "hate film" and excised the torture scene. Another anti-Nazi espionage film, "Hangmen Also Die!", boasted an all-star team including dramatist Bertolt Brecht and musician Hanns Eisler, who were refugees from Nazi Germany, and cinematographer James Wong Howe.
Adapted from a popular play, "Liliom" was so light-hearted that it was a far cry from the adventures and crimes in Lang's other works. A man resorts to robbery in order to provide for his pregnant girlfriend. He is killed and sentenced by a heaven official to purgatory, but is allowed to return to earth to visit his newborn daughter. In the psychological thriller "Secret Behind the Door...", Lang used charming expressionist light and shadow to tell the modern version of the Bluebeard fairytale. A bride discovers after her honeymoon that her husband is harbouring dark secrets involving a dead ex-wife and a loyal secretary whose face is disfigured.
The 12 films by Murnau to be shown are the love triangle story "Journey into the Night" (1920); the chamber drama "The Haunted Castle" (1921); his famous classic "Nosferatu" (1922); "The Burning Soil" (1922), which tells a modern "vampire" story; the realist film "Phantom" (1922); the light comedy "The Finances of the Grand Duke" (1924); the classic silent films "The Last Laugh" (1924) and "Tartuffe" (1926), the latter adapted from Molière's work; the enduring "Faust" (1926); "Sunrise" (1927), which won three Oscars; "City Girl" (1930), a sister production of "Sunrise"; and his last film, "Tabu" (1931).
An in-depth master study course on German classics to be conducted in three sessions, entitled "From 'Metropolis' onwards", "Understanding Weimarer Republik and International Politics through Film" and "The Cinematic Art of F.W. Murnau", will be held at 2.30pm on October 6, 13 and 27 respectively at AC1 or AC2 at Level 4 of the Administration Building of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. The course will be conducted in Cantonese.
A free seminar, "Fritz Lang & F.W. Murnau", is scheduled for 5pm on October 14 at the HKFA after the screening of "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" and will be conducted in Cantonese. Mr Law Wai-ming and film critics Chan Ka-ming and Lau Shing-hon will share with audiences their views on the two masters.
"Metropolis", "Sunrise" and "Tabu" have music while the other silent films will have live music accompaniment. "The Last Laugh" has German intertitles. Other films have English subtitles or English intertitles.
Tickets for screenings from September to November are now available at URBTIX outlets. Tickets for screenings from December to January will be available from November 22. Course coupons will be available from September 6. Screening tickets are priced at $55 and course coupons are priced at $80. Credit card booking can be made on 2111 5999 or on the Internet at www.urbtix.hk.
Programme details and information on various discount schemes can be found in the leaflets available at all URBTIX outlets. For programme enquiries, visit www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/filmprog/english/2012rc/2012rc_index.html or call 2734 2900.
Ends/Friday, August 24, 2012
A film still from "Metropolis" (1927).
A film still from "M" (1931).
A film still from "The Testament of Dr. Mabuse" (1933).
A film still from "The Big Heat" (1953).
A film still from "Nosferatu" (1922).
A film still from "Faust" (1926).
A film still from "Sunrise" (1927).
A film still from "Tabu" (1931).