A few things about this frequently nail-biting (truly) interview of Fritz Lang (Metropolis and M) by William Friedkin -- we don’t go into depth about Lang’s craft, style, or method. We also don’t learn very much about him personally (Though we do know he passed away in 1976, the year after this was filmed). Also, we don’t talk noir or thrillers or very much about silents vs. talkies. Or noir as a genre. Or delve much into the more obvious Lang topics. But this is to our benefit -- in a big way.
We don’t get those things because Friedkin doesn’t really ask about them. In fact, Friedkin, whose last two pictures were The French Connection and The Exorcist (not too damn shabby), manages to be both hyper-intense and hyper-earnest (as we watch him in silhouette listening to and questioning Lang, smiling and urging him on, nearly breathlessly agreeing-prodding “Yes…yes.”) while letting Lang tell stories. The bulk of the last twenty minutes of the interview is Lang talking about finishing the last of his Dr. Mabuse trilogy, being told by Goebbels he should be “the voice of national socialist film”, and thereafter his flight from Germany.* This is a very exciting story and should not be missed.
It's difficult not to wonder if Friedkin enjoyed the direction of the interview because Lang continued to say things like (pertaining to what kind of artist he became): “There is no one I wanted to be like.” Or, on collaborating with the audience to imagine what is happening off-camera but moreover not wanting to curse or stain us with definite images of horror (so very unlike Friedkin): “I hate to show violence.” And “I hated Metropolis when it came out” (Friedkin was prone to saying the last movie he finished was his best ever). Friedkin seems to be either mining Lang’s motivations for confirmation or else re-thinking his own (which is only natural). Or, maybe, he really is lovingly anxious to draw Lang out.
Either way his intensity and interest in what Lang says absolutely draws you in. We get to think about Friedkin’s films in light of his questions. What were his goals? Was he making entertainment or attacking social evils? How does one go about doing both without doing a disservice to either goal? Think about The French Connection as a morality tale on top of being a whiz bang of an entertainment. Watch Friedkin’s next picture Sorcerer (1977) and wonder if he took anything away from Lang. It's hard to come up with any definite answers, but it's fun to ponder.
*The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, 1933; Sidebar time: For my money the Mabuse movies are incredibly underappreciated, especially this last. Mabuse is one of the most complex, bizarre, loonytown, and semi-messianic of evil geniuses. And he is a freaking double-genius willing humanity towards doing his bidding. Lang perfectly frames the most meaningful portion of the interview when he says he made films in order to talk about and reveal “social evils.” Yes MINDPOWER. Also, there is heavy and smart surrealism here that is on a par with or even superior to Cocteau -- only far earlier than Cocteau narrative film-wise. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bLMRPpSToI but, er, definitely check out and compare with Cocteau’s awesome The Beauty and the Beast, 1946 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hA45y-RRfwE. One more thing: We are next to positive that the rad deco clock behind Lang on the sofa is the same clock we see throughout the Mabuse trilogy.