Tuesday, May 20, 2008

You and Me

This month, the Cinématheque Pusan is having a retrospective of the films of Fritz Lang.

You and Me (1938) was Fritz Lang's second film with Sylvia Sidney as a woman in love with an ex-con trying to escape his past, but unlike You Only Live Once (1937), which was more of a liberal melodrama, the later film is cynical, funny and boldly experimental with a score by Kurt Weill.

Much of the film takes place in a department store where Joe Dennis (George Raft), an ex-convict, and his girl, Helen (Sidney), both work. Lang establishes the setting with a non-narrative montage scored to "Song of the Cash Register." Disembodied hands push buttons on a cash register and Lang's camera tracks across store displays as an off-screen singer explains how you can't have something for nothing.

In You Only Live Once, the Sidney character was idealized and unconvincing, but Helen is more interesting. She's keeping a secret from Joe (which I won't reveal) and it threatens to tear them apart. When Joe discovers her deception, he goes back to his old gang.

In many Fritz Lang films, there's a scene in which a group of criminals sit around a table in their basement hideout, illuminated only by a single overhead light--but never one quite like this. The scene quickly turns into a kind of improvised musical number with percussive tapping and chanting ("Five years isn't so long"). It's a very strange sequence.

Another great scene: Helen sits down Joe and his gang to explain to them how crime doesn't pay in dollars and cents. You really can't have something for nothing.

You and Me is perhaps the weirdest of all Lang's films before Rancho Notorious (1952). It looks even weirder today than when it was released. The style of montage in the opening sequence is closer to silent and early sound films than a movie from the late 1930s, let alone contemporary technique. It's a very strange film.

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