film analysis

movie : M, Fritz Lang (Germany, 1931), 94 min., b+w.

AHVS 363: First Assignment

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For your first assignment, you are asked to write a short (3-5 pages, double-spaced) essay about the Expressionistic qualities in M.

There are a number of ways to approach this topic. Those who have little or no experience with Film Studies might find the idea of tackling stylistic elements to be somewhat daunting, but that needn’t be the case: you can approach the film by focusing on thematic or narrative elements (the idea of the double; the sense of a malevolently powerful figure influencing the lives of others; the incursion of menace into the everyday world), and that approach will, inevitably, involve some discussion of stylistic elements like mise-en-scene. The crucial thing is to examine the film’s Expressionist qualities based on the discussions in class.

It might prove helpful to consider the film in relation to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. This doesn’t mean that the paper should be a comparison of the two films; rather, you could use the Expressionist elements found in Caligari as a template for Expressionist elements in general. How does M reflect similar qualities? M’s use of mise-en-scene will prove particularly relevant to your discussion, as will the film’s reliance on low-angle (from below, looking up at the subject) and high-angle (from above, looking down on the subject) shots. In particular, the film’s maze motif or its use of “the double” might prove useful for consideration.

What I would suggest is that you concentrate on a simple thesis—for example, that the film uses light and shadow in Expressionistic ways, or that the film shows a more “naturalized” version of the distortion seen in Caligari—and then explore that thesis using specific examples that caught your attention during the screening of the film.

It’s worth mentioning here that M is widely available on DVD (including a few versions in our library’s collection), and is probably pretty easy to find on YouTube or other web sites.

Note that this document is what a double-spaced document should look like (i.e., there aren’t huge gaps between paragraphs)—an effect achieved by writing in single-space & then converting it to double-spaced. Please follow this example in your essay.

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