Debbie and I are well launched into our Fritz Lang film festival. Having watched The Spiders part 1 (1919), Destiny (1921), and just finished Dr Mabuse the Gambler (27 April 1922) (YouTube). These century-old black and white silent movies with German text and English subscript translations make modern movies seem like weak imitations of the ideas first explored in these pathological films.
How true are these film representations of Germany in the years shortly after these people’s loss of national dignity after World War 1; and the massive amount of dead young men and destroyed country? “A summary of World War I casualties, compiled by the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service, lists 1,773,700 German war dead, 4,216,058 wounded, 1,152,800 prisoners, for a total of 7,142,558 casualties, an amazing 54.6 percent of the 13,000,000 soldiers Germany mobilized for the war”
From the distributor’s hand-out for the film:
“The world which opens up before our eyes in this film is the world in which we all live. Only it is condensed, exaggerated in detail, concentrated into essentials, all its incidents throbbing with the feverish breath of those years, hovering between crisis and convalescence, leading somnambulistically just over the brink, in the search for a bridge that will lead over the abyss. This gambler, Dr Mabuse, was not yet possible in 1910; he will perhaps – one is tempted to say hopefully – no longer be possible in 1930 (sic!) But for the years around 1920 he represents a larger than life-size portrait, is almost a symbol, at least a symptom. Mankind, decimated and trampled under by war and revolution, takes its revenge for years of suffering and misery by eating its lusts and pursuing pleasure . . .” (Lotte H. Eisner, Fritz Lang, p. 57)
There wasn’t a trace of the recent horrific war directly mentioned or referenced, but the despair of the people was ubiquitous in the film’s over-acting, with its characters desperately seeking deeper meaning in their every action. This movie came out shortly before Hitler’s failed attempt to take over German politics with a putsch (a violent attempt to overthrow a government.) He succeeded in 1932. But the putsch of November 1923 was described in Mein Kampf. It was written while he was in prison for his crime. I make this comparison because Dr Mabuse said his goal was to take over the minds of people and the whole world through mind control.
Dr Mabuse was made in personally violent times that make our current national threats seem insipid and foolish.