Fritz Lang, 1890-1976: Pioneer of world cinema

A tribute to the one of history’s most important and prolific filmmakers, Fritz Lang, will be the focal point of cinematic events in the capital for two weeks as the Apollon Cinema screens the complete works of the Austrian screenwriter, director and actor, and the Goethe Institute hosts a discussion on his life and work. Ranging from landmark films, such as the definitive science-fiction thriller from 1927, «Metropolis;» the 1931 portrait of a killer and the director’s own regrets «M;» the 1937 classic American film noir «You Only Live Once» and the ground-breaking 1953 thriller «The Big Heat,» the tribute, which starts on Friday, showcases all 44 of Lang’s credited films. Organized by the Thessaloniki International Film Festival in cooperation with the Goethe Institute, the Lang tribute features gems such as «Hilde Warren and Death,» one of the first screenplays he wrote in 1919, his directorial debut from the same year «Harakiri» and the last film he directed before his death in 1976, the 1960 thriller «The Diabolical Dr Mabuse.» Lang’s films are a staple of any film school curriculum, offering a study into how a filmmaker can create a distinctive style over a large variety of cinematic genres and over a long period of time. According to Martin Scorsese, the quality of Lang’s films lies in their precision and clarity of narrative, while even his weaker films show a clear connection between the mechanisms of plot and the psychological tension in his characters. Born in Vienna in 1890, Lang briefly studied architecture before embarking on a four-year journey from 1910-1914 that took him around Europe, Asia and North Africa. He studied painting for a year in Paris before the outbreak of World War I when he returned to Austria and joined the army. Heavily wounded in 1916, Lang wrote his first screenplays during his long convalescence and then moved to Berlin where he got a job with Erich Pommer’s production company. He received widespread recognition with «Metropolis,» but the huge cost of the production (it featured over 35,000 actors and extras) drove the UFA studio to bankruptcy and Lang went on to create his own company, producing «M,» the first German film with sound. After filming «The Last Will of Dr Mabuse» in 1933, Lang was approached by Goebbels from the recently installed Nazi regime and asked to oversee the production of Nazi propaganda films. The very next day, Lang abandoned everything and left for Paris, living there for about a year before crossing the Atlantic to America in 1934. He moved to California, turning out an impressive number of films and building a reputation as a leading Hollywood director. But Lang was also notorious for being a difficult director who was said to treat his actors very harshly. Rumor even had it that he had murdered his first wife, who died under mysterious circumstances. His frequent run-ins with his producers and cast led him to return to Europe in 1956 and, after filming two low-budget films in India, he moved back to Germany in 1959 making his last film, «The Diabolical Dr Mabuse,» in 1959. His last cinematic appearance was in Jean-Luc Godard’s «Contempt» in 1963. Lang died in 1976 at age 85 in Beverly Hills. The screening program for the Lang tribute, which will run at Athens’s Apollon Cinema from Friday to February 13 and from February 13-27 at Thessaloniki’s Olympion Cinema, is complemented by an exhibition at Thessaloniki’s Film Museum (in the warehouse complex), with displays relating to the filmmaker’s life. The festival has also published a monograph on Lang’s life and work. Tomorrow at 8.30 p.m., the Goethe Institute will be holding a round-table discussion with film historian Enno Patalas, Thessaloniki Film Festival Director Michel Demopoulos and film critics Christos Mitsis and Ilias Kanellis on the life and work of Lang. Goethe Institute, 14-16 Omirou, tel 210.366.1000; Apollon Filmcenter, 19 Stadiou, tel 210.323.6811.

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