100 years of… «Dr. Mabuse»

For Gerardo Gonzalo.

In 1922, just now 100 years ago, it premiered in Berlin, Dr.Mabuse(Dr. Mabuse, the player, Dr Mabuse Der Spieler) a capital work of German silent cinema, directed by one of the greatest directors in history, fritz lang. A vindicable film, which currently oscillates between the recognition of some cinephile sectors and the relative oblivion of others.

Dr. Mabuse is a four-hour film, divided into two parts, segmented into various chapters, which tells us the story and adventures of a villain, Mabuse, an absolute bad guy, and his attempts to destabilize and cause the society of the time to collapse.

Based on a book by the Luxembourgish writer Norbert Jacques (never translated into Spanish and of which I hardly have any indirect references) published almost at the same time as the premiere of the film, the script was written by the artist himself lang and your partner, Thea Von Harbour. Quite faithful, apparently, to the spirit of the book, the film drinks from the cinematographic point of view of the serials of louis feuilladeespecially phantoms (1913) and The vampires (1915). But here lang goes further, in the technique, but above all, in the ambition of the message, drawing a fast-paced story, full of emotion, action, violence, with hardly a pause, which also portrays the state of mind of a sick society in a troubled time .

The film focuses on the figure of the Dr Mabuse, an iconic character that gives rise to all kinds of analysis, not just strictly cinematographic. But… who is mabuse? He’s not just a villain mabuse it is terror, it is the privileged messenger of a discourse, that of evil, which is presented to us here with multiple faces. mabuse he is a murderer, a thief, a mass agitator, a market manipulator, a speculator. mabuse he concentrates on himself all the aspects of crime, for which he endows himself with a thousand faces, multiple personalities, all kinds of disguises and is capable of exercising an excessive use of violence through the leadership of a criminal gang. All this in addition, he requires the annulment of wills, the manipulation of minds and having the gift of a hypnotizing power that renders his victims into submission. He is a criminal who has gone where no one else is because he is also a psychologist, almost a magician.

But mabuse It is the product of an era, of the Weimar Republicof that capital of vice and effervescence that was berlin, of the postwar period, the economic crisis and the great demagogues that hang over a battered society, on the verge of exploding. The social burden of a film, which is also the chronicle of an era, is undeniable. mabuse He embodies the great traumas and is behind each of the problems and everything bad that happens to Germany, where amorality and cynicism act with impunity through this unrestrained superman.

I am somewhat suspicious of prophetic interpretations, such as those of the writer and eminent film theorist siegfried kracauer, which sees how some films of the time anticipate the lurking Nazism. Works such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) either Nosferatu (1921). Both starring dark, manipulative minds, capable of annulling wills and leading others to death or self-destruction. But mabuse It is a more sophisticated leap, we are no longer evoking past or timeless periods, mabuse it is here today, it is among us and for mabuse We are all the victims, society as a whole. His ambition is excessive, infinite and nothing seems to be able to stop him.

All the complexity of this character requires an actor, a presence, capable of carrying the full load of his personality and going beyond the screen, so that the viewer can perceive that hypnotic and chameleonic force. The challenge assumes it Rudolf Klein Roggean experienced actor, who had already worked several times with lang and also appeared in The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari. His omnipresent gaze is the soul of a film, which gravitates over him, but which is not only him. Many other characters accompany him, most of them are his targets, from women and lovers to wealthy men. mabuse He usually wins the games, he is a player, but not all. In front of him, an antagonist at the height of the character he is chasing, but also at the interpretive recreation of it, Bernhard Goetzke (who embodied nothing more and nothing less than death in the previous film by lang, the three lights1921) that splendid, combines integrity and audacity being the only one capable of resisting the mental influence of mabuse.

Around both and the rest of the victims of mabuse, there are the members of his band, who, abducted, act like a sect before an indisputable leader, like the rest of the characters who end up turned into puppets in his hands. Because mabuse he has no feelings, no empathy, not even for his own. He is suspicious and does not hesitate to be cruel to those who follow him, if he perceives even the slightest risk. Doing evil is above all, he only accepts unconditional submission and does not feel that he should give anything in return.

From a cinematographic point of view, the way lang take this to the screen it’s brilliant. Some scenes are surprising that they could have been carried out in an art, which in 1922 was just taking its first steps. The rhythm, the action, the depth of field, the impressive sets, the iconic exaltation of the protagonist,….A lot can be discussed about the greats of this period, where together with the figure of langalso emerges that of murnau like the other great author. However, seen today, lang it gives a greater sense of modernity and his speech seems to have had more influence in retrospect. Within the difficulty and effort required of a 21st century gaze to watch a silent film, those of lang They seem to hold up better over time. His aesthetics do not look so far away, his themes in many cases seem current and the interpretations of the actors in his films are less affected and somewhat further from histrionics, perhaps helped by the distance he takes with respect to the expressionist movement.

In addition, the later influence of this film is evident. The character has given rise to several sequels, two of which were carried out by himself fritz lang in 1933 and 1960. Indirectly, the character’s shadow is very clear in this type of bad guy, who is not satisfied with dominating a neighborhood or influencing a sector. From mabuse connect those apocalyptic villains who want to end everything and everyone, who have their most immediate reference in the opponents of James Bond and that have evolved to the extreme caricatures of superhero movies, where the bad guy wants to destroy the world by causing chaos and where they also emerge, as in mabusesupernatural powers to execute their plans.

But all these references do not seem to have penetrated so obviously in the current cinephilia. It is striking that within the filmography of his own fritz langis not usually mentioned among the great titles of his career, and that in the context of his German stage, remains in the shadow of films like metropolis (1927) or M, The Vampire of Düsseldorf (1931). not even his own langin some of the interviews he gave in his last years, he makes too much mention of mabusemore than episodicly, seeming to hold higher doses of esteem for films such as the three lights (1921). In any case, it is difficult to be fair with all his films, when they are framed in a career as robust and riddled with masterpieces as that of lang. For my part, I recommend this film to you, even for those who are not very used to silent films, who I think will also be able to appreciate the aesthetic audacity, the frenetic pace and the ambition, both from an artistic point of view and as an exciting chronicle of a time, which is mabusethe root of the lurking evil, which in reality, as in this fiction, appears to us with a multitude of faces.

100 years of… «Dr. Mabuse»