Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Friday, August 12, 2011

PLUNGE! Dr. Mabuse vs. Ameritrade

If you're adverse to silent films, maybe you're like me and really just adverse to their usually trite orchestral or piano scores. The trick to enjoying DR. MABUSE, THE GAMBLER (1922 - avail. on DVD and Netflix Streaming) is to turn down the sound (no comment on the included score, which I've not heard) and connect your ipod on shuffle. Surrender to the possibly synchronistic juxtapositions rather endure the banal orchestral or piano score that tends to underlines even the smallest of gestures without a whit of counterpoint or ironic distance, to the point that even John Williams might accuse you of overdoing it.

Fritz Lang films can move like molasses at times, but this silent two-part event is never dull with the random counterpoint of your ipod. If you trust in the process you're bound to get at least a few songs worth of real, eerie synchro-connect through this random collage process. I had the theme from John Carpenter's Escape from New York: Main Theme start right as the action shifted to a big night club where a crazy woman was dancing on top of two giant wooden noses. It became Lynchian, this Lang-Carpenter synthesis, like two rights canceling each other out and leaving only 'Silencio'. Meanwhile hypnosis and staring eyes and disguises pervade the film - paranoia and shiftiness, the mad rush to get rich obscuring all instincts for self-preservation. You know how those Germans were, and how we are... driving over a cliff as we argue over whether or not seat belts are important.

The big day trader moment comes early: Mabuse's agent looming like a spectre over the Berlin stock exchange, kidnapping briefcases to drive stocks down and then releasing them to drive them back up. The timeliness is never far off, but now, more than ever, it's hauntingly relevant. America's credit rating has plummeted! Mein Gott! We're not far off from that Expressionist moment of post-WW1 Weimar Berlin when the mark was devalued and Americans went over to celebrate how far their dollar could get them thus birthing the era of Weimar decadence. Don't forget that the Great Depression was years way, partying was in high effect and blonde prostitutes cheaper by the dozen.

The recent bouncing of our national worth along the stock exchanges of the world has a lot to do, in my opinion, with the day traders who think they're actually doing something important with their lives by their slot machine-like hunkering over the E*Trade accounts, guys who wear khakis and high five a lot, so their beer ads claim. They must still be out there, but they're not the true Mabuses. They got took by the master behind the scenes, the sneaky pete conservatives who deliberately shorted the market for their own sinister agenda. They sold out their own country in a lemming stampede. The less self awareness they have, the easier they are fleeced, according to Mabuse's supernatural theology. It's in clinging to the illusion that you are normal, a 'regular guy,' that you befoul the world, funneling the treasure you never knew you had into the pockets of criminal cartels.

Mabuse would return under Lang in 1932 with TESTAMENT OF DR. MABUSE, albeit confined to a mental ward and using his fierce Teutonic will alone to control sabotage. Like DER SPIELER, the film mirrors its dire political present very well -- Hitler wrote Mein Kampf in jail, after all, and European nations grossly misunderstood Germany's ability to sneak around the post-WW1 economic and military constrictions.

Lang hated the common man as much as anyone and you can see him siding with the sinister cash-hungry Mabuse during this stock sequence. You could probably stop watching, for awhile, right after the poker game that follows (scored by my ipod to Jacques Brel and Serge Gainsbourg's La Chanson de Prevert) as I did, and then watch again later, in 20 minute chapters of your ipod's choosing, but even as strictly a random collage of great expressionist images MABUSE is ever-awesome. Weimar evil has seldom looked so inviting, so artsy, so terrifyingly expressionist, and Lang never seemed to be having as much fun as he is here, venting cobra venom with the mechanical cool of a cuckoo stock ticker.

Thanks to Lolita Kane's awesome blog post.


  1. I always turn the sound off completely when I watch silent movies. Dr Mabuse the Gambler is great fun.

  2. I agree with the above. Silence is the only way to go. I don't even like hearing the sounds of traffic outside my window. Lights out, too. I make Nosferatu a yearly thing and try to introduce someone new to it every year. No complaints so far.


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