December Highlights on TCM
FRITZ LANG BIRTHDAY SALUTE (December 5, 6am)--December 5 marks the 127th anniversary of the birth of Fritz Lang. This alone is a source of amazement to me. The art of cinema itself is just a few years younger than Lang would be if he were alive today, but for me it will always feel like it's just been born--I think that many other filmmakers and film lovers who came of age in the 20th century feel similarly. When we talk about the films of Lang and Hitchcock and Ford and Powell-Pressburger and Renoir and Kurosawa, among others, we're talking about something bigger than "influence." Taken altogether, the great works of cinema were more like a presence in our lives. We were witnessing an art form as it was developing and being understood--the language of cinema, the relationship between the art form and its audiences. There was a sense of constant discovery and re-discovery that inspired us and energized us. Speaking for myself, it still does. I think things are a little different for younger filmmakers now, because they literally have all of film history at their fingertips, which means that they have a different kind of relationship with the films of the last century. And when they do find their own way back to the past, they will inevitably find Fritz Lang. The six films being shown in this birthday tribute give you a good sense of the span of his work, starting in Germany with his extraordinary early sound pictures M (a landmark) and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Lang left his home country in the early '30s and eventually made his way to Hollywood. He made his first American picture, a deeply affecting anti-lynching drama called Fury, at MGM in 1936 (Fury was based on a true story that would serve as the basis for Cy Endfield's 1950 film Try and Get Me, also a powerful experience). Lang worked at most of the major studios in the '40s and early '50s, but he also did independently produced projects like the stark anti-Nazi film Hangmen Also Die! (1943), a collaboration with Bertolt Brecht and the left-wing screenwriter John Wexley. He made quite a few pictures that are now classified as films noir, but he also moved in other directions--for instance, Clash by Night (1952), an adaptation of a Clifford Odets play that takes place in the fishing community of Monterey; and the great period melodrama Moonfleet (1955), set in the world of 18th century pirates on the English coast. Moonfleet was a box office failure when it was released. It was dismissed by many critics. Lang claimed to dislike CinemaScope, and he didn't care for the cuts made by his producer, John Houseman. The star, Stewart Granger, hated Lang and thought that the film was a betrayal of the original J. Meade Falkner novel (which he had convinced MGM to buy for him). But we were taken with it at the time. And thanks to the French critics who would later become the directors of the New Wave, Moonfleet was seen in a different light. I guess you could call it the light of cinema.
by Martin Scorsese