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Subject: 2012 Movie Challenge #2: M rss

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Joe Gola
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Redding
Connecticut
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and everything under the sun is in tune
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Details about the challenge are here.

I love movies. Well, everyone does, right? We all like to be told a good story; that's just part of being human. I think I love movies beyond even that, though; I love the unique way that movies are able to tell stories, and I love all the subtle tricks that filmmakers use to convey ideas and emotions to their audiences. It excites me when a movie tells a story in a new and unexpected way, and my favorite movies of all are those that tell stories in a way that only a movie could—to try to translate what's cool about such a film into a play or a novel would be missing the point, like trying to play tennis through morse code.

That's all the background context to why I think M is such a kick-ass movie.


M was made in Germany in 1931, and was directed by Fritz Lang. Lang had spent the previous decade making big-budget spectaculars in the genres of fantasy, science fiction and espionage, and of course he was also the director of the previously mentioned Dr. Mabuse der Spieler. M was something completely different, however; instead of dragons, rockets and supervillains, the film is about an ordinary city and the people who live there.

Specifically it is about a serial killer. Serial killers would have very much been on Germans' minds in the late twenties because of two notorious and gruesome cases, that of the cannibal Karl Denke and the then-unsolved crimes of Peter Kürten, "the vampire of Düsseldorf." In Lang's film the murderer is a child-killer who has baffled the police and driven the citizens of the unnamed city into a state of near-panic. The movie opens with a ring of children singing a ghoulish rhyme about "the man in black," little suspecting that one of their absent playmates will be the next to fall.

M is not a gruesome movie, however, and in fact it dwells very little on the crimes themselves; instead it is about the reactions, the implications, the hunt and the capture. It's actually a fairly unusual movie in that we are not necessarily focused on a specific group of characters for a fair chunk of the running time; there is the killer, yes, and the wonderfully memorable Kommissar Lohmann, and other lesser characters that we come to know, but a good portion of the film is spent with anonyms who tell only some fractional part of a larger story.

What's remarkable is that, despite its Godlike remove, M is still compelling, human and entertaining. There is not one story but a hundred little ones, and the movie is jammed full of life and details. There is tension and fear and action and mystery and yes, even humor. The film moves through all these moments with the fluidity of a figure skater, and it's only boring if you're not paying attention.


The film's relative distance also gives it a kind of freedom, and Lang's camera takes full advantage of this. We see the action from rooftops, around corners, down stairwells and up from beneath grates. The camera prowls through a submondane café like a cat, it scales up walls and through windows, and every frame is packed with things to see. Freedom also means speed, and Lang is able to bounce back and forth around the city by using sound as a transition; a character mentions something and we are there, and conversations flow across scenes like a connecting thought. In time, however, the freedom ends and the circle begins closing in; the second half of the film is devoted to the chase and capture of the killer...but the final end may not be quite what you expect.

Basically the movie is as clever as hell, and the cinematography is fantastic to boot. I once watched the movie with the subtitles turned off just so I could enjoy the images without the distraction of the words.

How did it hold up? Still a favorite. Every single minute of it feels inventive and cool. It's a movie-lovers movie, and if you're a movie-lover too I highly recommend it.

Netflixxable? Yes.

Dr. Mabuse der Spieler (1922)
M (1931)
Duck Soup (1933)
Black Narcissus (1947)
The Seven Samurai (1954)
The Nights of Cabiria (1957)
Psycho (1960)
La Dolce Vita (1960)
Yojimbo (1961)
Viridiana (1961)
The Exterminating Angel (1962)
Dr. Strangelove (1964)
Simon of the Desert (1965)
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)
The Conformist (1970)
The Shining (1980)
Blue Velvet (1986)
Miller's Crossing (1990)
Ed Wood (1994)
Boogie Nights (1997)
O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)
Spirited Away (2001)
No Country for Old Men (2007)

Bonus Features: TBD
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Huzonfirst
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Manassas
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The Mets, after an eventful, but productive, trade deadline, find themselves on top of the NL East. Amazing!
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Saw this once and enjoyed it. The lack of focus in the first half was a little disconcerting, but I was able to at least partially appreciate it. But the things that stuck most in my mind were Lorre's terrific performance and Lang's merciless camera stalking him almost like a law officer. There's a lot of techniques on show here and almost all of them work.
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Jeff Jones
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Round Rock
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A brilliant film by a filmmaker at the absolute top of his game. Almost perfect from the first to the last scene. Lorre is amazing and gives the performance of his career. it has always amazed me that Lorre was able to make a person who is doing unspeakable evil at least somewhat sympathetic. His mournful cries when he is finally cornered are unforgettable.

This is a great film.

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Stymie says, "No Fidgets"
United States
SF Peninsula
California
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"Sure ham an' eggs can talk -- they's sayin' hello to my stomach ri-i-ight now!"
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"Betcha can't throw that donut on my finger"
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Classic. My daughter and I whistle "In the Hall of the Mountain King" once in a while at each other to get a laugh, because of this movie.

And there's a cool microbadge (which I own): mb
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TOKYO Heartbroken
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Previously, in Chit Chat...
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