Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Interview with Fritz Lang, Beverley Hills, August 12, 1972

And now for something completely different.

Via MUBI (formerly The Auteurs):

The full transcript of a 1972 interview with the great director, who discusses his work in Germany and Hollywood,

This is the first time the transcript of this interview has been made available in its entirety, although an edited version (entitled “The Lost Interview”) was published in Movie Maker Magazine in February 2004.  At the time of the interview, Fritz Lang (December 5, 1890 –  August 2, 1976) was recently home from hospital, recuperating from an operation. 
The interviewers, Lloyd Chesley and Michael Gould, were recent film graduates from York University in Toronto. Gould is the author of Surrealism and the Cinema: Open-eyed Screening 1972), one of the first English language books on this topic. One can access the complete audio of the Lang interview by buying an electronic version of the revised book at his website. Lloyd Chesley is the owner of Legends Comics and Books in Victoria, Canada.

FRITZ LANG: Danke schoen.
LLOYD CHESLEY: Interviewing you here in the Hollywood Hills, and you started off in Austria, and you’ve been an expatriate it seems all your life, does that seem strange? Do you not think of yourself as any single nationality?
LANG: No, not at all.  Don’t forget, I am born in Vienna, I was working a very long time in Germany, one of my best films I made in France, and then I was working here, so I became a kind of an international mind.  I don’t belong to anyone.  And I don’t think that what I am or what I do is important; I think films are important.   And generally I am very much opposed to interviews because a film should speak for me, not I.
CHESLEY: Don’t you think that if a work of art is sufficiently interesting, for example, we can go on watching any single of your films time and time again—I guess it was my fifth or sixth time watching Man Hunt—if you can discover information beyond that, don’t you think that’s worth going after?
LANG:  What kind of information?  No, I tell you one thing: I think if a film doesn’t tell you anything that a film has to tell, then the director is lousy.
MICHAEL GOULD: We did find that with your best films we came up with the least questions.
LANG: Come on.  I will try to answer them.
GOULD: One thing that interested me was that other than working with Dudley Nichols twice, you never worked with any other screenwriter more than once.
LANG:  Oh yes, in Europe, constantly.  Ja, but don’t forget here it is very difficult because it depends on the studio where you work, you know?
GOULD: Do you think not having a script collaborator hindered or helped you?
LANG: I tell you one thing, I think that generally speaking the script writer, the script creator, is very, unfortunately, not judged correctly here in Hollywood, you know?  Not as much as an actor or the director.  And I think that is very wrong, and when I work with a writer I was always working hand in glove, very close.
GOULD: From what stage?
LANG: That depends.  If it is my idea, from the beginning on, or if there is an outline, as it was, for example, in Fury, there was a four-page outline.  And in this outline was only one thing that interested me, for example.  It was my first American film.  It was that one could make a film about lynching.  But the outline, itself, puts the emphasis on something else.  So when I found this in the chests of MGM—and they have a very good writer, Bartlett Cormack—we talk what I wanted to do.  And I said “Look, there is one idea—we can make a picture about lynching in the United States.”  And about the same time, or a little before, there was a lynching and I spoke very lousy English in these days, and I collected all the newspapers which I could get, you know, and we cut out all the reports about the lynching and what happened there, and we started to work together on the script.  Does this answer your question in a certain way?
CHESLEY:  Yes, but it raises another question.  The lynching theme is a very serious and what we would call a “heavy” theme, and when you were back in Germany for the most part you were dealing with fantastic fantasies and fairytale-like romances, and then, well I suppose it was with M, you made this abrupt switch which I think no one could even predict.
LANG: No, that’s not quite correct. It’s not quite correct.  But, look, don’t forget when I was in Germany, as I told you, I was born in Austria, yes, I became interested in the German human being and I wanted to make some films about the romantic German human being in Destiny, or the German after the First World War it was the Dr. Mabuse films, or the German of the legend it was the Nibelungs, or the German of the future it was Metropolis and Woman in the Moon.  And then I became a tiny bit tired, and then there was something to do with my private life about which I don’t want to talk, and I got tired about the big films.  And I tried to do something quite different and I made M.  
CHESLEY: Big films is right.  That is the way to describe what you made.  Those are probably the most super-spectacular films ever done.  Metropolis and Die Nibelungen are…
LANG: No, I wouldn’t say that.  I’ve seen many French, not too many, French films and so on.
CHESLEY: I think of, for instance, in Metropolis to have the luxury of breaking off into a little tangent the story of Babel and yet to have those thousands of extras and immense set.
LANG: I don’t know if you read about it.  There has been written a lot of lies about Metropolis. There were never thousands of extras; never.
GOULD: What was the number?
LANG: Two hundred fifty, three hundred.  Not more.
CHESLEY: I think of that shot where there’s a man in the foreground with his back to the camera and then in the background there’s a huge stairway and all of a sudden it floods with the slaves running . . .
LANG: Ja, but it was never more than two hundred, two hundred fifty.  No.  It depends how you use a crowd, you know.
GOULD: The question of spectacle raises something else I am interested in.  A financial matter.  Your German pictures were really expensive, I imagine.  They seem like some of the most expensive films made at that time, and yet when you came to Hollywood a lot of your films were, I guess, budget films almost.
LANG: Look, don’t forget one thing.  After the war, after the First World War, there was an inflation, you know?  And let me say, to give you an example, when a worker in the studio went home, let me say after six o’clock, we are shooting at six o’clock, you know?  And the studios were about, by car, three-quarters of an hour from Berlin, at Babelsberg, which is now East Berlin.  He came home and all the shops were closed.  And the daily money which he got, because it was inflation, he got his salary in daily money every evening.  The next day he couldn’t buy anything, practically, out of it.  So, let me say in the Nibelungs I think I had one hundred and fifty knights, you know, the uniform would have cost a fortune, but when it came to paying it was no more than if he would have paid one knight at the beginning of the film.  You know, it is something which is very hard to explain.  It was the first time, I think, in history that a country had such an inflation....