Fritz Lang: The Silent Films
- Street Date:
- November 21st, 2017
- Reviewed by:
- Matthew Hartman
- Review Date: 1
- December 9th, 2017
- Movie Release Year:
- 1894 Minutes
- Release Country
- United States
The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
What can one say about a master filmmaker such as Fritz Lang? Any film school student or graduate knows the man was a visual genius who crafted some of the most impeccably shot films of his generation. He was also a man with a rough reputation for being particularly hard on his cast of actors and crew members. As a veteran of WWI fighting for his native Austria and wounded four times, he fled Nazi Germany not long after being offered to run their propaganda machine by Goebbels himself. After making his way to America he churned out some of the best thrillers of the 1940s and 50s with films like M, Ministry of Fear and Scarlet Street.
That's just a brief look at a complicated filmmaker's life. If one is truly going to absorb and digest the works of a master filmmaker like Lang, you can not ignore his earliest films. As a figurehead of German cinema, his early silent films feature some of the most haunting images of humanity ever committed to film. From his science fiction dystopian outlook towards automation and technology in Metropolis to his terrific adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's works with The Plague of Florence (which he wrote for Otto Rippert to direct) to his hopeful yet tragic outlook at the future of humanity with Woman in the Moon, Lang was a master craftsman of a filmmaker capable of presenting any range of human emotions on screen.
Often when a filmmaker has a library of brilliant films, it's difficult to know where to start. While there are the obvious titles like the previously mentioned Metropolis, I would say that The Wandering Shadow and Spies are two, often overlooked, early films from Lang. But equally, in the same breath, I wouldn't hesitate one second at suggesting someone screen one of his talking films like Fury or the devilishly stylish The Woman in the Window. Essentially at this point, I'm suggesting you act like a dry sponge and absorb anything and everything you can. Granted, not all of Lang's films are strokes of cinematic brilliance, but so many of them are so wonderful that even if you've never seen a Fritz Lang film, silent or otherwise, you're all but guaranteed to experience something incredible.
That's where a collection of his films like Fritz Lang: The Silent Films from Kino Lorber is such a treat. With eleven films in this twelve disc set, you have what amounts to a near-perfect encapsulation of Lang's silent film work. From his two-part serial adventure The Spiders to the gritty crime thriller Dr. Mabus, The Gambler to the action-packed visual feast of Spies, this is one hell of a collection. While I have a deep love for Fritz Lang films, I strongly suggest you take your time with these. Don't try and marathon them, you'll be doing each film a disservice.
Granted, they're not all deep and thoughtful pieces as it's plain to see that Lang was having some fun here and there, but just the same you should take a breath between films. Give them a day or two to resonate and if you're so inclined revisit them at a later time. Metropolis is a movie that screams for multiple viewings and in the same moment, I'd suggest everyone give Woman in the Moon a couple viewings as it's a beautifully romantic and tragic science fiction film that is the polar opposite of the mood and feeling Metropolis exudes. These are great films to not only discover and analyze but sit back and enjoy.
All of the films in this set - aside from the bonus disc of The Plague of Florence - have all been made previously available by Kino Lorber individually. Where I'm usually reluctant to recommend big bold box sets of this sort if you already own any of these films, I'm tempted to go in the opposite direction here. Part of the brilliance of this set is the incredible amount of content you get all in one package. Eleven films in all, this is a magnificent set that gives you the opportunity to complete a collection in one shot.
The films included are:
The Spiders (Parts 1 and 2)
The Wandering Shadow
Four Around the Woman
Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler
Die Nibelungen (Parts 1 and 2)
Metropolis (The "Complete" version, not the more controversial Moroder version with contemporary music)
Woman in the Moon
Along with the bonus film The Plague of Florence, an adaptation of Poe's 'Masque of the Red Death' adapted by Lang and directed by Otto Rippert. I hadn't seen this film prior to this release, I'd only heard of it, and it was really exciting to see included here. As far as adaptations go, it's pretty loose, but you can still feel the vibe of Poe's original story even if we're not being given the poetic verse.
If you're ready to enjoy a collection of some of the finest films ever made - let alone some of the earliest films ever made - Fritz Lang: The Silent Films offers cinephiles a rare opportunity to look at the medium's history through the eyes of one of the greatest filmmakers. Lang's work can be felt through the ages inspiring some of the most important films ever made. Even if silent films really aren't your first love, I'm sure you'll get plenty of enjoyment out of this terrific set.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Fritz Lang: The Silent Films arrives in an eleven-film twelve-disc set courtesy of Kino Lorber. All discs are Region-A locked and come housed in a hardcover book-style package with each disc resting comfortably in their own cardboard page and easily removable without risk of scratching or scuffing. On each page are details about disc contents, restoration information, and details about bonus features - if any are available. Each disc loads directly to their own respective static image main menu with traditional navigation options. Also included with this set is an amazing 32-page booklet containing promotional artwork for each of Lang's films, stills, as well as a terrific essay by Tom Gunning.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
As each of these films is pressed on their previously available discs, there hasn't been any new restoration work performed. Each of the films is presented in 1.33:1 1080p, some are entirely in black and white, others have been color tinted for effect. Some of these masters date back to the early 2000s. Additionally, as a collection of Lang's surviving works, these transfers are indicative of their sources. Some are in excellent shape (relatively speaking) others are a bit rough. Metropolis being the most famous of the bunch, underwent a recent and expensive restoration, looks the best throughout. That said, each film exhibits a natural amount of wear and tear that should be expected from any silent era film. You also need to keep in mind that within very few short months, The Spider and Harakiri will be celebrating their 100th anniversaries! While each of these films is certainly watchable and even feature incredible restorations, they're shown in a condition that is as good as can be made possible at this juncture. Barring a massively funded major restoration effort, it's not likely these films will appear any better than the condition they're presently shown. As such, my scoring for this section is an averaging of the transfers. If you're looking at a range, Harakiri appears to be the roughest at 2/5 where Metropolis enjoys a truly marvelous 5/5 as it is the most stunning of the bunch. Every other film in the set rests somewhere in between those two extremes.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Also welcome is the fact that each of these films is giving a complementary score that was either written specifically for the film in question or was a recent composition for the Blu-ray release of the specific title. Either way you slice it, these score tracks are miles and away better than the bargain bin junk that randomly throws any piece of public domain classical music onto the film and calls it a day. Each of these music tracks is purposeful and does a tremendous job of evoking the desired mood and fit their respective films wonderfully.
The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff
As I mentioned previously, each of these discs is carried over from previous releases. As such, the bonus feature package can vary from film to film. Some of these films enjoy a robust package of bonus feature content, others don't receive anything of consequence. The scoring for this section is a look at all of the bonus features available throughout the entire set and not each individual film.
Fritz Lang's Destiny
Audio Commentary featuring film historian Tim Lucas.
Restoration Demonstration Footage (HD 15:36)
2016 Re-release Trailer (HD 1:30)
Dr. Mabuse The Gambler
The Story Behind Dr. Mabuse (HD 52:33)
The Legacy of Die Nibelungen (HD 1:08:36
Fritz Lang on Set (HD 1:44)
Voyage to Metropolis (HD 54:42)
Interview with Paula Felix-Didier (HD 9:31)
Trailer (HD 2:01)
Spies: Small Film With Lots of Action (HD 72:27)
Trailer (HD 5:14)
Woman in the Moon
Woman in the Moon: The First Scientific Science Fiction Film (HD 15:03)
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
In all honesty, I don't tend to go for box sets when and where I can avoid them. While it's nice to have things in neat and convenient packaging, I do like being able to pull out just one particular film without having to grab an entire collection. That said, Fritz Lang: The Silent Years is an exception to my little rule. As a long-standing fan of Lang's work, I love that I can turn to this neat and cleanly-styled little package and grab any one of his silent films. Admittedly, I'll be turning to Metropolis, Dr. Mabus, and Woman in the Moon more than the rest, but being able to randomly pull out The Spiders or dig into something lengthy like Die Nibelungen is a very exciting idea. Obviously, this set may not be for everyone out there. If you own most of these, you're kind of left out in the cold as for the individual films there's nothing new added to the set. However, the inclusion of the previously unavailable The Plague of Florence may be enticing enough on its own for some Lang fans out there to consider picking this set up. While I would normally call this set "Highly Recommended" perhaps even a "Must Own," I do understand that silent films, in general, aren't exactly everyone's brand of entertainment. if you're a devoted Lang fan and have wanted to own the best of his early films, this one's for you. For the fans.
- 12 Disc Set
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- DTS-HD MA 2.0 Music Tracks
- Audio commentary (Destiny)
- Restoration demonstration footage (Destiny)
- "The Story Behind Dr. Mabuse," (52 Min.), a three-part documentary exploring the musical score by Aljoscha Zimmermann, the career of novelist Norbert Jacques, and an analysis of the film
- "The Legacy of the Nibelungen," a 68-minute documentary on the making and restoration of the film, by Guido Altendorf and Anke Wilkening
- "Voyage to Metropolis," a 50-minute documentary on the making and restoration of the film
- Interview with Paula Felix-Didier, curator of the Museo del Cine, Buenos Aires, where previously missing footage was discovered
- "Spies: A Small Film With Lots of Action" (2006, 72 Min.) a documentary by Guido Altendorf and Anke Wilkening
- 32 page booklet with essay by Tom Gunning
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