Lang (right) on the set of Woman in the Moon
|Born||Friedrich Christian Anton Lang
December 5, 1890
|Died||August 2, 1976
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
|Occupation||Film director, film producer|
|Spouse(s)||Lisa Rosenthal (1919–1921)
Thea von Harbou (1922–1933)
Lily Latté (1971–1976)
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang (December 5, 1890 – August 2, 1976) was a German-Austrian filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor. One of the best known émigrés from Germany's school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute. His most famous films include the groundbreaking Metropolis (the world's most expensive silent film at the time of its release), and M, made before he moved to the United States, which is considered to be the precursor to the film noir genre.
Life and career
Lang was born in Vienna as the second son of Anton Lang (1860–1940), an architect and construction company manager, and his wife Pauline "Paula" Lang née Schlesinger (1864–1920). Fritz Lang himself was baptized on December 28, 1890 at the Schottenkirche in Vienna.
Lang's parents were of Moravian descent and practicing Roman Catholics. His mother was born Jewish, but had converted to Catholicism when Fritz was ten. His mother took this conversion seriously and was dedicated to raising Fritz as a Catholic. Lang frequently had Catholic-influenced themes in his films.
Lang called himself a Catholic clear to the last few years of his life.
After finishing school, Lang briefly attended the Technical University of Vienna, where he studied civil engineering and eventually switched to art. In 1910 he left Vienna to see the world, traveling throughout Europe and Africa and later Asia and the Pacific area. In 1913, he studied painting in Paris, France.
At the outbreak of World War I, Lang returned to Vienna and volunteered for military service in the Austrian army and fought in Russia and Romania, where he was wounded three times. While recovering from his injuries and shell shock in 1916, he wrote some scenarios and ideas for films. He was discharged from the army with the rank of lieutenant in 1918 and did some acting in the Viennese theater circuit for a short time before being hired as a writer at Decla, Erich Pommer's Berlin-based production company.
Expressionist films: the Weimar years (1918–1933)
His writing stint was brief, as Lang soon started to work as a director at the German film studio Ufa, and later Nero-Film, just as the Expressionist movement was building. In this first phase of his career, Lang alternated between films such as Der Müde Tod ("The Weary Death") and popular thrillers such as Die Spinnen ("The Spiders"), combining popular genres with Expressionist techniques to create an unprecedented synthesis of popular entertainment with art cinema. In 1920, he met his future wife, the writer and actress Thea von Harbou. She and Lang co-wrote all of his movies from 1921 through 1933, including 1922's Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler), which ran for over four hours in two parts in the original version and was the first in the Dr. Mabuse trilogy, 1924's five-hour Die Nibelungen, the famous 1927 film Metropolis, and the 1931 classic, M, his first "talking" picture.
He produced a coherent oeuvre that established the characteristics, later attributed to film noir, with its recurring themes of psychological conflict, paranoia, fate and moral ambiguity, despite some of his films were considered to be simple melodramas by some[who?] critics. Filmmakers that were influenced by his work include as different authors as are Jacques Rivette and William Friedkin.
In 1931, after Woman in the Moon, Lang directed what many film scholars consider to be his masterpiece: M, a disturbing story of a child murderer (Peter Lorre in his first starring role) who is hunted down and brought to rough justice by Berlin's criminal underworld. M remains a powerful work; it was remade in 1951 by Joseph Losey, but this version had little impact on audiences, and has become harder to see than the original film. Lang epitomized the stereotype of the tyrannical German film director such as Erich von Stroheim and Otto Preminger; he was known for being hard to work with. During the climactic final scene in M, he allegedly threw Peter Lorre down a flight of stairs in order to give more authenticity to Lorre's battered look. His wearing a monocle added to the stereotype.
At the end of 1932, Lang started filming The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. Adolf Hitler came to power in January 1933, and by March 30, the new regime banned it as an incitement to public disorder. Testament is sometimes deemed an anti-Nazi film as Lang had put phrases used by the Nazis into the mouth of the title character.
Whereas Lang was worried about the advent of the Nazi regime, partly because of his Jewish heritage, his wife and screen writer Thea von Harbou had started to sympathize with the Nazis in the early 1930s and joined the NSDAP in 1932. They soon divorced. Lang's fears would be realized following his departure from Austria, as under the Nuremberg Laws he would be identified as a Jew even though his mother was a converted Roman Catholic, and he was raised as such.
Shortly afterwards, Lang left Germany. According to Lang, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels called Lang to his offices to inform him that The Testament of Dr Mabuse was being banned but that he was nevertheless so impressed by Lang's abilities as a filmmaker (especially Metropolis), he was offering Lang a position as the head of German film studio UFA. Lang had stated that it was during this meeting that he had decided to leave for Paris – but that the banks had closed by the time the meeting was over. Lang has stated that he fled that very evening.
In Paris, Lang filmed a version of Ferenc Molnár's Liliom, starring Charles Boyer. This was Lang's only film in French (not counting the French version of Testament). He then went to the United States.
Hollywood career (1936–1957)
Upon his arrival in Hollywood, Lang joined the MGM studio and directed the crime drama Fury, starring Spencer Tracy as a man wrongly accused of a crime and then attacked by lynch mob who burn down the jail where he is awaiting trial and it is assumed they killed him in the flames, but did not. The film is a study in vengeance, justice and retribution. Lang became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1939. He made twenty-one features in the next twenty-one years, working in a variety of genres at every major studio in Hollywood, occasionally producing his films as an independent. These films, often compared unfavorably by contemporary critics to Lang's earlier works, have since been reevaluated as being integral to the emergence and evolution of American genre cinema, film noir in particular.
One of his most famous films noir is the police drama The Big Heat (1953), noted for its uncompromising brutality, especially for a scene in which Lee Marvin throws scalding coffee on Gloria Grahame's face. During this period, his visual style simplified (owing in part to the constraints of the Hollywood studio system) and his worldview became increasingly pessimistic, culminating in the cold, geometric style of his last American films, While the City Sleeps (1956) and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956).
Lang found it harder to find congenial production conditions in Hollywood and his advancing age left him less inclined to grapple with American backers. The German producer Artur Brauner expressed interest in remaking The Indian Tomb (a story that Lang had developed in the twenties that was ultimately taken from him by studio heads and directed instead by Joe May), so Lang abandoned his plans for retirement and returned to Germany in order to make his "Indian Epic" (consisting of The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Indian Tomb). Following the production, Brauner was ready to proceed with his remake of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse when Lang approached him with the idea of adding another original film to the series. The result was The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960), whose success began the new Mabuse series of five sequels produced by Brauner (including the remake of The Testament of Dr. Mabuse) which Lang hasn't directed. The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse can be viewed as the marriage between the director's early experiences with expressionist techniques in Germany with the spartan style already visible in his late American work. Lang was approaching blindness during the production, making it his final project.
Death and legacy
While his career had ended without fanfare, his American and later German works were championed by the critics of the Cahiers du cinéma. Lang died in 1976 and was interred in the Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills Cemetery in Los Angeles.
In popular culture
- Lang appears as himself in Jean-Luc Godard's 1963 film Le Mepris. During the film, his reputation is discussed, and he somewhat lampoons his own reputation for being a temperamental director.
- An old German director with the demeanor of Lang appears during the filming of a bank robbery in Woody Allen's 1969 comedy Take the Money and Run.
- In David Foster Wallace's novel Infinite Jest, Lang is mentioned in tandem with James Cameron on page 48.
- A fictional Lang appears as a main character in the Fullmetal Alchemist movie Conqueror of Shambala.
- In Episode 11 of Season 1 of City Hunter, the antagonist's name is Fritz Lang.
- The film director "Fritz Wong" in Ray Bradbury's novels A Graveyard for Lunatics and Let's All Kill Constance is a composite of Fritz Lang and James Wong Howe
- Lang appears as himself in Indrajit Hazra's novel The Bioscope Man.
- Madonna portrayed Lang for a sequence in her 1989 music video for "Express Yourself", complete with Lang's signature suit and monocle. The video itself is a tribute to Metropolis.
- Obituary Variety, August 4, 1976, page 63.
- "Fritz Lang: Master of Darkness". British Film Institute. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
- "Architekturzentrum Wien". Architektenlexikon.at. Retrieved March 6, 2010.
- Vienna, Schottenpfarre, baptismal register Tom. 1890, fol. 83.
- Patrick Mcgilligan (1998). Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast. St. Martin's Press. p. 477. ISBN 9780312194543. "In the final years of his life, Lang had written, in German, a 20- to 30-page short story called "The Wandering Jew." It was "a kind of fable about a Wandering Jew," according to Pierre Rissient. After Lang's death, Rissient asked Latte [Fritz Lang's third wife] if he might arrange for its publication. "No," she replied, "because Fritz would want to be known as an atheist.""
- Tom Gunning, British Film Institute (2000). The films of Fritz Lang: allegories of vision and modernity. British Film Institute. p. 7. ISBN 9780851707426. "Lang, however, immediately cautions Prokosh, 'Jerry, don't forget, the gods have not created men, man has created the gods.'"
- Lang, Fritz. "Fritz Lang: Interviews".
- "The religion of director Fritz Lang". Retrieved January 22, 2009.
- Michel Ciment: Fritz Lang, Le meurtre et la loi, Ed. Gallimard, Collection Découvertes, 04/11/2003. The author thinks that this meeting, in fact, never happened.
- Havis, Allan (2008), Cult Films: Taboo and Transgression, University Press of America, Inc., page 10
- David Kalat, DVD Commentary for The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. New York City, United States: The Criterion Collection (2004)
- Plass, Ulrich (Winter 2009). "Dialectic of Regression: Theador W Adorno and Fritz Lang". Telos 149: 131.
- Robert Bloch. "In Memoriam: Fritz Lang" in Bloch's Out of My Head. Cambridge MA: NESFA Press, 1986, 171–80
- Krebs, Albin (August 3, 1976). "Fritz Lang, Film Director Noted for 'M,' Dead at 85". New York Times. Retrieved January 22, 2009. "Friz Lang, the Viennese-born film director best known for "M", a terrifying study of a child killer, and for other tales of suspense, died yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 85. He had been ill for some time, and had been inactive professionally for a decade."
- Michaux, Agnès. 'Je les chasserai jusqu'au bout du monde jusqu'à ce qu'ils en crèvent; Paris: Editions 1, 1997; ISBN 2-86391-933-4
- Friedrich, Otto. City of Nets: A Portrait of Hollywood in the 1940s; New York: Harper & Row, 1986; ISBN 0-06-015626-0 (See e.g. pp. 45–46 for anecdotes revealing Lang's arrogance.)
- McGilligan, Patrick. Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast; New York: St. Martins Press, 1997; ISBN 0-312-13247-6
- Schnauber, Cornelius. Fritz Lang in Hollywood; Wien: Europaverlag, c1986; ISBN 3-203-50953-9 (in German)
- Youngkin, Stephen (2005). The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-2360-7. – Contains interviews with Lang and a discussion of the making of the film M
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Fritz Lang.|
- Fritz Lang at the Internet Movie Database
- Fritz Lang Bibliography (via UC Berkeley Media Resources Center)
- Senses of Cinema – Biographie
- Fritz Lang at filmportal.de
- The Religious Affiliation of Director Fritz Lang at adherents.com
- Interview with Fritz Lang from 1967
- Fritz Lang at Find a Grave
- (French) "Symptôme, exhibition, angoisse. Représentation de la terreur dans l’œuvre allemande de Fritz Lang (1919-1933/1959-1960)", un article de Nicole Brenez extrait de De la Figure en général et du Corps en particulier (1998).