Fritz Lang Restored
The Spiders and Destiny on Blu-ray
Fritz Lang was one of pre-Nazi Germany’s great directors. M and Metropolis are the films for which he is best known, and deservedly so, but all his movies are of interest. Recent years have seen a spate of carefully restored prints, in some cases enabling us to make sense of films that had long seemed fragmentary. Two of the latest restorations, The Spiders and Destiny, have been issued on Blu-ray.
The Spiders, his third project as writer-director, was released in two parts in 1919 and 1920. Apparently influenced by such French serials as Fantomas and L’Vampires, as well as the era’s Edgar Rice Burroughs pulp fiction, The Spiders contains many elements that would remain prevalent in adventure flicks for decades, if not a century, to come. It includes a lost civilization, an Inca remnant somewhere in Latin America; elaborate technology including push-button doors and closed circuit television; globe-hopping chases; clock-ticking action sequences; and a sinister international criminal organization with vague anti-Western aspirations.
Curiously for a German film in the immediate aftermath of World War I, the hero of The Spiders is American (or at least a legal resident), the adventurer-yachtsman-millionaire with the curious name of Kay Hoog. His nemesis is a woman, Lio Sha, introduced as an exotic femme fatale but soon enough wearing the pants, literally and figuratively, as a criminal mastermind. Like many movies of its kind, the first installment is better than the sequel. Both are packed into a single Blu-ray disc.
With Destiny (1921), Lang directed a film that would nowadays be classed as art house—and as a likely influence on Ingmar Bergman. The star is a grimly purposeful but not evil figure in black, Death, who visits a 19th century German town and leases land around which he builds a wall with no gates. Only the souls he claims can pass through the barrier. Lang’s irresistible urge toward action in exotic places leads to digressions set in late medieval Bagdad, Renaissance Italy and Imperial China, with Death as the character linking each of the stories and their characters.