Director: Fritz Lang
Writer: Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou
Cinematographer: Fritz Arno Wagner
by Jon Cvack
I’ll be honest, seeing that I was about to receive a two and a half hour German silent film didn’t exactly make me thrilled, but wow was this a treat. As usual, I put the thing on mute in order to play my own soundtrack: a mixture of post-rock and jazz, and was whisked away into another world.
Spies is a complex and engaging story that would go on to inspire every modern rendition of the spy story - there are reversals, double crosses, car chases, bank robberies, numerical codes representing many of spies, such as central character Number 326 (Willy Fritsch), which would obviously evolve with the James Bond series along with the strange and malign looking villain sitting behind the desk, orchestrating his plan, smoking endless amounts of cigarettes I couldn’t sit down and watch this movie in one sitting, but divided into three parts this is an incredibly enjoyable film, which just goes to show how prescient Fritz Lang was. Whether it’s the allegorical M, the sci-fi masterpiece Metropolis, or his numerous forays into film noir with Clash by Night, Scarlet Street, The Big Heat, or Fury I am in awe every time I check out a new movie from the man and see how much it influenced generations of storytellers from there on out.
Many of Lang’s film contain an incredibly modern feel, as though they were light years ahead of their time in demonstrating how to work the camera and tell an engaging story. I think of so many spy films that have failed. Recently, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, which while containing some incredible action sequences, just didn’t feel as coherent or large as I expected it to (given its budget). I’m confident that in a few years it’s going to blend together with parts II - IV, as currently I can’t think of what separates one from the other, except that Philip Seymour Hoffman played the villain once (though I can’t remember in which part).
Perhaps it’s the infusion of special effects, and the current problem of CGI overload that’s made many of its sequences fall flat, for even though a lot of MI:V was captured practically, there were too many moments that felt fake. Watching Spies shortly after, I realized that this was a film that was geared toward making things more cinematic and immersing you within another world. I’m not sure what it is, but common to many of the great silent pictures, there’s something otherworldly about this story, where although we feel like we’re watching a palpable narrative, it is exists in the escapist fantasy realms that the great films have provided us - where life seems bigger and more exciting.
BELOW: Just watch this two minute intro and you'll see what I'm talking about
Thoughts on films, old and new
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