Revealing the Life of a Great German Director
Patrick McGilligan’s Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast is a model for film biographies. The Milwaukee author’s 1997 study of the director behind Metropolis and M (reissued now in paperback by the University of Minnesota Press) establishes a perspective—a tone—in the opening sentence. McGilligan has mixed opinions about Lang—a filmmaker who was often brilliant, occasionally a hack, generally duplicitous and sometimes a cruel bastard. And McGilligan maintains a critical edge throughout, from Lang’s embroidered account of his Viennese family through the long end game after his final film in 1960. Lang lived another 16 years.
The research behind The Nature of the Beast is impressive and capably threaded into a narrative of the director’s life and films. If McGilligan was skeptical of the man, he walked away with renewed respect for his talent, ticking off five excellent Hollywood movies and four German films—Dr. Mabuse: The Gambler, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, Die Niebelungen and Metropolis—he called “works of wonder that would awe and entertain people as long as the cinema was celebrated.” And with M, Lang “showed the humanity of evil—and to his surprise, the more he thought about it, the humanity of Fritz Lang.”