It’s not easy with the classics. They “smell” of school classrooms, of compulsory exercises you endure rather than enjoy. The reading of classic literature and the viewing of classic films are often done as an educational experience, the “teachers” increasingly selling them as indispensable to the “students” as they lose interest in the work themselves. Their efforts generally fail for a simple reason: you can’t force a reader or viewer to connect authentically with a body of work, no matter how good the arguments are. Fritz Lang once put it this way: “If you premise your work upon theories or arguments, you create something dead.” Thus, the pleasure of the classics comes about solely through a personal approach, where prevailing judgments don’t count because nobody has a need for them.
In the pantheon of ultimate classics, Lang has his place next to Hitchcock, Chaplin, Ford and Renoir. But Lang possibly has an especially hard time emancipating his works from scholarly opinions: when you think of him, you don’t only think of the monocle-wearing star director of
METROPOLIS, M and the DR. MABUSE films; you also think of the man to whom Goebbels offered the directorship of German film production in 1933. He refused it and became an emigrant, fleeing via France to the USA, where he lived and worked mostly under tough conditions for the next 40 years. In addition to the aura of classics that hangs over his name and work, they are shrouded just as much in a fateful fog of 20th century history that’s as thick as the mythological mist in the woods of “Die Nibelungen”. Seen this way, our view of Lang’s American œuvre in particular, covering 22 films of virtually every genre – more than he made in Germany, is obscured.