Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse [1933)

This might be the one great key of the 20th century.

The skeleton key, so to speak.

We have one of the great directors of all time (Fritz Lang) laying out the operational details of criminal conspiracies.

But perhaps even more, we have the fine line between genius and madness which Hitler was beginning to toe.

It is important to note that Hitler was synonymous with the Nazi party.

He was their God, so to speak.

And yet it seems to me that Hitler was not particularly bright.

A fiery orator?  No doubt.

But not really a criminal mastermind.

No.  There were others.

Things were just getting going in 1933.

We…

become enthralled by intellect.

As our minds are stimulated, we sometimes lose track of any ethical grounding.

Which is to say, intellectuals are the most dangerous.

I would like to fancy myself an intellectual, but I will let the Order decide that.

Yes, dear friends…there is no other way to put it.

Fritz Lang, the prophet, is clearly delineating a criminal Order which would come to rule the world in the 20th century.

His message is far-reaching.

The methods outlined in Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse are perhaps most applicable today.

The 21st century (which began on 9/11/01).

Terror for the sake of terror.

Hidden-hand machinations.

The man behind the curtain.

It is no small detail.

Every detail drives Otto Wernicke to the brink of madness.

He is the portly J. Edgar of this affair.

In Wernicke’s case, his opposition are mad geniuses.

Literally mad.

Goethes of crime.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge sums up the problem.

Knowledge is inextricable from high-level criminal insanity.

Dr. Mabuse has studied too much.

And so he spools out reams of handwritten blather.

He reexamines language.

Hinting at post-structuralism.

Language, year 0.

Whirls and whorls and squiggles.

And slowly the comatose “brains” of the operation finds himself a new body.

Each one well-paid.  And each compartmentalized in their knowledge.

We must come back to Max Weber for this one.

A couple of times the word.  simuliert.

The prospect.

That he could be faking it.

Madness.  To avoid the punishment he deserved.

But it seems rather that the psychiatrists have been infinitely engrossed in the case histories of their patients.  [Which is to say in their patients themselves.]

The psychiatrists have the secrets of the 20th century.

And the science rolls on.

On the one hand, we have Ewen Cameron of Project MKUltra.

On the other we have Dr. Steve Pieczenik.

And it is at this point which we need to discuss the counterintelligence apparatus of the Order:  2-B.

It’s not Abteilung.  Something different.  Less significant.  But tasked with the dirty work.  The cleanup.

Mord.  Murder.  Nipping the stragglers.  There’s no leaving the Order.

And so is it any wonder that Goebbels (or Garbage, as Charlie Chaplin rechristened him) had Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse banned in Germany?

Why?

Because it gave away all the secrets.

The secrets of control.  Each level glued together by terror.

And the controlled chaos.  The buildup of addictions.  The incredibly farsighted chess game of our conspirators.

The reign of crime.  A lusty pronunciation.

Vs. a homicide detective wont to sing strains of Die Walküre here and there.

Germany split in two.

Soon enough.

And something as simple as a love letter.

When one least expects it.

Few films deserve the label masterpiece quite like this one.

 

-PD

Vertigo [1958)

Lovesick.  To know love is to know vertigo.  The great French composer Olivier Messiaen described love as a dizzy feeling (I paraphrase).   To quote the great Bob Dylan from his best album (1997’s Time Out of Mind), “I’m sick of love.”

When I first saw Vertigo I didn’t particularly like it.  I was a neophyte cineaste and I suppose it went over my head.  Indeed, the film did not really click for me until I saw a 70mm restored print as part of the Paramount Theater’s summer film series in Austin, Texas some years back.  I finally began to appreciate the cinematography of Robert Burks…the way the city of San Francisco comes to life in front of the lens he shared with Hitchcock.  As a rather naïve film lover I had once seen Life Is Beautiful several times in the theater upon its release and there was something in the mise-en-scène which gave me a wonderful, cozy, rich feeling…an ambiance which I drank in with each successive viewing.  It is this aspect of film (mood) which really makes Vertigo go.

Bernard Herrmann’s music was never more important to a Hitchcock film than to the one at hand.  The whole production almost becomes a music video during Scottie’s initial trailing of Madeleine.  There is not a word of dialogue from the flower shop to the cemetery to the art museum.  I will not regale you with scholarly milliseconds, but I’m willing to guess that approximately five whole minutes go by completely buoyed by the photography of Burks and the music of Herrmann (all, of course, framed by the voyeuristic passage in our story…and all, likewise, under the watchful eye-of-eyes:  Hitch).

Suffice it to say that I now recognize this to be one of Hitchcock’s best films (if not the best) and therefore one of the best films ever made by any director.  Alfred Hitchcock seems to me as the Beethoven of cinema, but he might just as well be the Bach.  Of other analogies he might be considered our Rembrandt…and almost certainly our Shakespeare.

And so it is that the main protagonist in Vertigo is mood.  What mood?  Which?  Not just any, is it?  It is the mood of Tristan und Isolde…Wagner…that painful longing for love.  Bernard Herrmann borrowed nicely from old Richard in the rich, autumnal, self-consuming harmonies.  Other times, by the sea for instance, we are brought into the sphere of La mer by Debussy.  Whether at Fort Point or floating down endless San Francisco automobile inclines, the weightlessness is also reminiscent of the same composer’s Pelléas et Mélisande.  Herrmann even seems to reference Ravel in the pensive motif which seems like Carlotta’s Iberian clock (ticking to bolero snaps of the second hand).

Yes, Vertigo is a film which will send critics into an orgiastic dither from now till the end of time (I suppose).  My contribution is simple.  Watch it.  Then watch it again.  And then watch it yet again.  There are secrets in this tapestry.  It is pure mystery.

-PD