Fritz Lang M: Analysis

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Fritz Lang's M (1931), contains both dialogue sequences and silent sequences with music or sound effects. Lang edited the sound as if he were editing the visuals. We are introduced to the murder in shadow when he speaks to a young girl, Elsie. We hear the conversation he makes with her, but we see only his shadow, which is ironically shown on a reward poster for his capture. Lang then set up a parallel action sequence by intercutting shots of the murderer with the young girl's mother. The culmination of the scene relies wholly on sound for its continuity. The mother calls out for her child. Each time she calls for Elsie, we see a different visual: out of the window of home, down the stairs, out into the yard where the laundry dries, to the empty dinner table where Elsie would sit, and finally far away to the child's ball rolling out of a treed area and to a balloon stuck in a telephone line. With each shot, cries became more distant. For the last two shots, the mother's cries are no more than faint echo. In this sequence, the primary continuity comes from the soundtrack. The mother's cries unify all the various shots, and the sense of distance implied by tone of the call suggests that Elsie is now lost to her mother.

visibly and audibly--the major predecessor of that movie's low and high angles, its baroque and shadowy compositions, its supple and wide-ranging camera movements, its tricky sound and dialogue transitions, and above all its special rhythmic capacity to tell a "detective story" by turning most of its characters into members of a chorus, delineating a social milieu and penetrating a dark mystery at the same time.

t was also the first talkie to have a person heard off screen while an image unrelated to the dialog is displayed on screen (as seen early in the movie when Mrs. Beckman is heard calling for her child Elsie while an empty attic, an empty chair, and an empty stairway are shown). While Lang used sound heavily to enhance...
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