M ★★★★½

I was going to be an instructor for a class in International Cinema 1930-1960 this semester, but because of the Decline of Western Education, only 31 undergraduates decided it was worth their time, and I was let go from the class for low attendance. Too bad, because I don’t think the MFA students who are serving in my place have a better handle on M as me (trust me—I’m not stretching my talents), which this viewing layered three double sided pages of a 8 ½ by 11 inch notepad. Now, it strikes me as Lang’s most avant-garde feature, mostly in its bold use of silence (something “silent cinema” rarely used). Maybe it’s the constant revisiting, but now I’ve become less interested in Lorre’s plight in his long confession (which turns him into a homme fatale as I argued here last year), and way more in the depiction of the city via plenty of top down and high angle shots in The Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Lorre’s murderous hands literally tower above the authorities, but he’s really the least interesting figure on screen until that last scene. Instead, what we get is a city that’s filled with technology—telephones, archives, complex alarm systems—but all that advancement (reported on with almost documentary-like precision) only makes the city more anonymous than the surveillance state one might expect. Thus it is the literal blind who solve the case; the police might get the name but the city can capture the man. And yet, there is a debate over the necessity of the law, and an ultimate futile gesture. The final line might as well be, “Keep the balloons hot, Joe,” except Lang doesn’t bother hiding his cynicism here, with the woman directly addressing the camera.

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