Stand-up Movie Professor

“…By 1933, Dr. Mabuse, once a national nightmare is hospitalized and screaming: “I am the state!” A specter of the times, Fritz Lang would claim him sensibly much later, but as a victim of the 3rd Reich or its living embodiment? Who’s the criminal who opposes the state by personifying its infrastructure, restaging its machinations as a grotesque theater piece”

“The man of masks in a time of masks, Weimar’s pulp Odysseus as flâneur-Ubermensch, this Mabuse channels some strange currents. A prophet of his own times, his power in Lang’s social farce seems to be in playing writer, director, actor, and spectator all at once. The questions remains what this force represents, who seems capable of representing anything.

“1960, and another version of Mabuse (The 1,000 Eyes of…) has returned to a postwar Germany under the spell of chummy insurance agents in place of its old mad doctors. As a director from a hotel’s bunker TV room, ever a man of his time, this Mabuse is content to restage old clichés: history repeats itself as a greatest hits of moments from earlier Mabuse films.

“But something has changed in this switch from Weimar hedonism to vanilla Capitalism, from theater to TV, from the industrial mechanism of the city to this homogenous hotel whose spaces seem to multiply infinitely. It’s a new sight of surveillance, here:
It is as much Mabuse who stages the scenes as his security cameras turning the space into a giant simulation of life. No longer do these scenes need to be even plotted, directed, or viewed; the images on the monitor, like the spaces, like the Mabuses, seem to proliferate as an endless hall of mirrors covering any sign of an author. It was the idea of a bullet that could pierce a body without leaving a trace that inspired him, Lang said. Once the embodiment of the times, his new Mabuse is wholly disembodied, an empty brand name, an image without a trace. But Lang’s hoariest film is also his closest to documentary—the end of a tradition, it looks forward to a new cinema only by turning back on itself as critique.”

David Phelps is a writer, translator, programmer, and movie-maker, now at work on Fritz Lang. He is an editor at La Furia Umana, where he writes, and has contributed to publications including Notebook, Senses of Cinema, LOLA, Cinema Scope, BOMB, and The L Mag. He’s currently engaged in a cinetract series called The Secret History of America, and works as a private tutor in New York.

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