#61. M. (1931)

M. is really good, I like it a lot, but I made the mistake again of going into the movie expecting the director, Fritz Lang (whose two entries in the List up to now, Dr. Mabuse and Metropolis) to bring out the tricks he used in the 1920s.

He doesn’t.

And so I was honestly a little disappointed that M. wasn’t as manic as Dr. Mabuse or Metropolis and that the old visual motifs weren’t there (the use of angles and lines that I talked about in the first Mabuse essay), but it reminds me too of this new Leonard Cohen album that came out last week, You Want It Darker, which I wasn’t crazy about at first, on account of Cohen doesn’t really use the melancholic wise guy voice he perfected with “Everybody Knows” or “A Street” or “Closing Time” or “Slow”, but I’m coming to love the whole album (and I mean seriously love and fawn over it) with each successive sit-through because, well, it’s different.


Because it subverted my expectations. It took me a while to get over my disappointment and appreciate the change but, once I did, I turned to the reviews and saw that pretty much everybody was fawning for the same reason: Leonard Cohen, at 82, is still trying new things. That he’s not just regurgitating his stuff from the previous decade.  (And thank God for that. The first decade of the new millennium wasn’t a booming time for Cohen’s creativity. Dear Heather is just embarrassing. Ten New Songs doesn’t offer much either. [Writing those album titles reminds me: Cohen remarked in an interview, in regard to the banality of such album titles as Ten New Songs and Recent Songs and Songs from a Room, that, given this progression, his next album would be titled Songs in English.])

Tracking the development of major filmmakers has been one of the List’s most interesting facets. As I mentioned in the essay for Tabu, Murnau’s is the only career that we’ve seen in its entirety up to this point, but there are others who’ve grown. Eisenstein and D.W. Griffith. I’m wondering, though, if there ought to be a few bad movies on the List in order to give a comprehensive overview of somebody’s career. Like, “Here, watch this awful failure of a movie because it marks a big change in cinema.”

M. is probably best remembered for Peter Lorre’s performance as a child murderer who’s apprehended by a group of vigilantes and made to stand trial underground before a court of citizens in the role of judge and jury. He goes to the floor, crumpled, and claws at himself while shrieking about what a monster he is, about every day losing the fight against his impulses. The horror of having to confront himself each day.

On Wednesday night I went to a nearby bar that I’ve gone to for years. They’ve got a new bar tender, she’s my age, and she treated me really well. Comped one of my drinks. Very friendly. After a while I asked for the check, expecting it to take a while, but she brought the check out quickly and so I let it sit there for a while and started multitasking. Texting, editing the last couple paragraphs of an essay, Facebooking. I was drunk and when I looked at the bill again I thought it was the receipt, figured I’d paid, and left. Went back two nights ago, Friday, and the manager approached me (whom I’ve known since she was a barback). Friendly, but stern, she told me I forgot to pay my tab the other night. Put a weird emphasis on “forgot”. I felt like shit. Still do. Wanted to tell her emphatically that it wasn’t on purpose, but I didn’t. Just kept drinking and hoped that, after three years, she knows I wouldn’t do that.

She merged the two bills into one and I paid it.

My friend tried to impress upon me how insignificant this is. That, as my friend Pavel would say, it’s not going on my list of trespasses. But it comes on the heels of some other poor performances, fuck ups in my social and familial and professional and artistic life, and so I guess it rang a little louder than it should have. Strange confluence of disappointments. I’ve been shuffling about for the past couple days just wondering what I’m doing, how long I’ll have to wait and how much I’ll have to work before the light gets in.


But I get like this sometimes. It comes and goes. The mirror becomes an enemy, these essays become a confessional. It comes and goes.

m 1

I saw M. once before, about eight years ago, with a high school girlfriend, Linda, who had her thumb on several pulses, indie cultural stuff, and so was constantly introducing me to interesting shit. She’s still my most dependable source for music recommendations. Watching the movie again last night was of course a bit nostalgic (though I remember very little of the movie itself beside sitting down to watch it) and got me reflecting on how our lives have diverged. Hers and mine. She’s a good friend now, married to another good friend (the much-mentioned Bob), both lawyers and presently living about a half hour away. Their lives are very together. I take solace from their friendship because – apart from just being compatible and always laughing and having good conversation – I have a lotta respect for their accomplishments and lifestyle, their general maturity, and so whenever they invite me someplace, or bring me into a conversation, it feels validating. Like I know they’re way too self-respecting and cool and mature to ever spend much time with the sort of person that, when self-loathing’s at its peak, I might figure myself to be.


  • M is pretty awesome, no? It was on my list of best movies of the thirties. I actually liked that Lang broke with stylistic emphasis and focused on story and characters. The balloon image is also chilling in the extreme.
    I recently went to a Leonard Cohen exhibition here in Copenhagen, which was absolutely awesome. I love his music as well and the exhibition gets deep under the skin of the person.


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