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[personal profile] cjlasky7
I.

My mother will be 89 years old in July. My father passed away about ten years ago and her best friend died a few years after that. My sister and I visit and call (not often enough), she goes out to see her grandchildren, and she talks to her family in Germany...

But, for the most part, she's alone.

Recently, I've noticed that my conversations with my mother revolve around her childhood in Bavaria, with a great deal more detail than I've heard in previous stories. (I know what you're thinking; but mentally, she's still sharp as glass. She isn't blanking on the present and
sinking into reveries about the past.)

It's as if the time alone has given her the chance to reflect on the people and events that shaped her life. It's always enthralling to hear stories about my grandfather, his family and their influence in the region--but it's also sad; because, as my mother says, that world is gone now. After Hitler, after the war, they had to build it back up from scratch. What would it have been like to grow up in that world--between the wars and before the Reich?

II.

Fritz Lang's "M" is (at least) a partial window into that world. Most people know "M" as Peter Lorre's breakthrough performance as the child killer (and for ruining "In the Hall of the Mountain King" for the rest of the century). But the movie is so much greater than that.

"M" is the first movie detailing a police hunt for a seral killer, a procedural thriller decades before CSI, Seven, and the like. It's 1931 in Berlin and there's handwriting analysis, behavioral analysis, conflicting witness reports, and how a massive manhunt affects police shifts, department morale and public perception of the department.

Lang lovingly shows the take from a police raid, scanning across rows and rows of meticulously catalogued cash and weapons; he does the same with the bounty gathered by the city's highly organized beggars--huge stretches of food, money and bricabrac.

Through all these details and many more, he paints a picture of post-Weimar Germany: he shows us the hausfraus, the businessmen, the bootleggers, the whores, the school children and the politicians. We see how the police and the criminal underground work in parallel, with similar organizational structures, and--in the hunt for Lorre's Beckert--even similar goals.

It is a masterpiece of world building, maybe even better than the future he built for "Metropolis."

III.

Even though that world is gone now, I see a lot of Lang's Berlin in our modern city. Lang presents the city's underbelly matter-of-factly, without judgment, even implying that a city needs its dark side as an outlet for human passions that the "light" side can't provide.

But, on the other hand, Lang maintains that the rule of law must hold off the passions of the mob. In the Brechtian mock trial that closes the movie, Lang unequivocally states that even Beckert has rights under the law if he's too sick to stop himself.

Basic human rights, the everyday reminder of everyone's common humanity, are necessary to keep society in balance. Unfortunately, Lang's Germany lost that balance the very next year-- and the world has been constantly forgetting and relearning that painful lesson ever since.
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