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Film Analysis: M

Peter_Lorre_M

How to Depict Psychopathy Correctly with Brilliant Storytelling and Cinematic Techniques.

“M” is a German film directed by Fritz Lang, an apparent master of his field, in the early 1930’s. It was a suspense drama with a mild infusion of comedy, written by Fritz Lang and his wife, Thea Von Harbou and starred Peter Lorre. This film was unlike any of Fritz’s past projects because it was his first film incorporating the element of sound into a motion picture. Most films at that time were silent films and only appealed to the audience visually.

The film is about an elusive psychopath who kidnaps and kills little girls. A full-fledge search for the psychopath is established by the local police. However the persistence of the local police causes interference with the local crimelords. As an alternative, the crimelords decide to devise a strategy quickly to capture the psychopath, thus relieving themselves of raids by the local police. The local criminals captured the psychopath and staged an “underground trial” that parallels the legal trial system. The psychopath pleaded insanity, but the criminals found him guilty and sentenced him to execution, however, his life was saved by the police.

With regards to film techniques, Fritz used parallel action, where two actions are shown simultaneously via cutback editing. He also used off-screen space, i.e. blocked areas on a movie frame that are still part of the screen space. It was done in such a way that the action in the blocked areas was insinuated, so the audience still got the gist of the situation. There were many “close-up” shots as well, to emphasize and even exaggerate facial expressions and features, eg the scene where the psychopath was looking into the mirror. But the most important technique that Fritz used was his savvy manipulation of sound. One of the psychopath’s M.O. was his very distinct whistling and ironically, it was his distinct whistling that lead to his capture. Figuratively and ironically, a criminal who was virtually invisible to law enforcement, was visible to a blind beggar. Fritz also used the theme of social order vs outsiders in M, where social order identifies law enforcement and outsiders represent the local criminals.

Overall, for an old film, the general plot was very interesting, the acting was good and the use of sound techniques was very brilliant. And did I mention that this film was made in the 1930’s. Damnnn! It’s ironic how filmmakers today have so many advanced resources available and still produce unbelievable crap fests; while the fathers of film-making had very limited technology and resources, but still produced brilliant masterpieces.

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