“People talk sometimes of a bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
Often associated with the notion of destiny, his films have less to do with predestination than in the effect of internal and external forces upon thought and action. Depicting, through his body of work, a continual struggle with and predominance of the darker elements of human nature [greed, deception, cruelty, violence, etc.] Environments which seem charged with deception, suspicion and selfishness which corrupt as much as they’re corrupted. As individuals are confronted with mysteries and moral ambiguities in some desire for power, survival, revenge or some combination of the three, they further descend into states of doubt and distorted realities of everything around them. Consumed by these same desires to the point where they in turn become destructive forces towards others and possibly to themselves, even to the point of madness. In marked contrast to these warped behaviors is Lang’s lucid depiction of them. While frequently described as such, true Expressionism is seldom employed in his work, especially from the thirties onward. It would be more apt to view him as an Imagist, favoring a kind of fever-dream realism that captures people, environments and objects with documentary precision. Placing emphasis on them through imagery, visual rhymes and editing in order to imbue them with meaning often withheld from the protagonists and audience alike. Resulting in works of modernist mysticism, suggesting an interconnectedness that underlies individual trespasses.
You Only Live Once (1937) -
Hangmen Also Die! (1943) -
House by the River (1950) – Made on poverty row with Republic Pictures, he seems to have crafted this, one of his most beautiful films, out of darkness itself. This gothic fairy tale begins with an accidental murder by novelist Stephen Byrne, which seems both culmination and release of his darker impulses and by convincing his brother John to asisst in covering up the deed, not only transfers all guilt to the latter but it sets up a love ‘rectangle’ between the corpse, the writer, his wife and her lover [that sounds familiar…] As John exhibits spite towards any slight gossip of the missing woman and harbors an unexpressed desire for his brother’s wife, Stephen revels in his newfound fame and inspiration, in a vaguely ‘If I Did It’ sort of way, as well as the power he wields over his outcast elder brother. We not only see the progression of each of the brothers mental states, but the community’s bigotry through backdoor gossip and during a inquest which condemns John, socially if not legally, presided over by a one-eyed coroner, perhaps a Langian stand-in? Though there are shots of this ever-present river, like so many of his other works, the guilt and animosity plays out largely indoors and with a sense of isolation. No views of streets, the town or any apparent form of transportation save for rowboats. The protagonists stranded within homes, offices and courtrooms in this location of no specific time or place, their movements like somnabular corpses in and out of drawing rooms, talking of Michelangelo….
- Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)
- Der Tiger von Eschnapur (1959)
- Das Indische Grabmal (1959)
- American Guerilla in the Philippines (1950)
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