Criterion re-issues Fritz Langís M on DVD, replacing their previous lackluster edition with a new 2-disc beauty, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.19:1 on the first dual-layer disc. The image has unfortunately been window boxed.
What we get here is certainly an improvement over the original DVD, which looked particularly awful. The print was in horrendous shape, its most glaring issue being a white horizontal line that appears throughout much of the film (a doc on the second disc attributes that flaw to the film being in the wrong aspect ratio, which was closer to 1.33:1.) This new transfer corrects that problem, along with many others after a thorough film restoration that removes a lot of the damage, though is still not perfect; there are still plenty of marks and imperfections present, but still not to the extent of the original DVD.
The digital transfer is also better, with far less noise and artifacts, and the image does look quite a bit sharper with more detail when the source allows. Gray levels have also been drastically improved, no longer the bright mess it was before.
In all a sharp improvement over the original DVD. 7/10
All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterionís first DVD edition of M, released in 1998, had nothing in the way of supplements. This 2-disc edition improves drastically over that addition with a numerous amount of supplemental material.
The first discís sole supplement is an audio commentary by German film scholars Anton Kaes and Eric Rentschler. Unfortunately itís a rather dry scholarly track with a surprising amount of dead space. There are some intriguing comments about the editing and transitions, as well as the framing, composition, camera position, and symbolism found throughout. Langís use of sound is brought up but isnít as heavily covered in the track as I would have thought, but they do offer some historical context that I found interesting. Overall itís possibly worth sampling but thatís about it.
The remaining supplements are all found on the second dual-layer disc. First to be found here is one of my favourite supplements in the set, a Conversation with Fritz Lang, conducted and directed by William Friedkin in 1975 over a period of two days. Running a little under 50-minutes it focuses on Langís early life and career from 1917 to 1933, which covers how he first got into filmmaking to making The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, with the director sharing some great stories, particularly one about a meeting with Dr. Goebbels that lead to him fleeing Germany that in and of itself is full of tension (though the notes for the feature do point out that Lang wasnít always truthful during interviews, and another interview on this disc calls into question how Lang actually fled German.) With his eye-patch, his natural way of storytelling, and a slight annoyance to some of Friedkinís questions, Lang carries this interview effortlessly and makes a most fascinating subject. Disappointingly this is the shorter, edited version of the interview; apparently a longer, 140-minute version exists. Also, the audio is a little rough and a subtitle option would have been appreciated. Still, despite my mild criticisms on the presentation Iím thrilled with its inclusion. It should be noted that though the interview is widescreen it has not been enhanced for widescreen televisions.
Following this is Claude Chabrolís M le maudit, an 11-minute short film made for a French television program in 1982 where directorís had to create short versions of their favourite films. It recreates key sequences from the film and is rather ďcuteĒ but I was a little unsure as to why this was included until I watched the interview with the director that accompanies the film. In the interview Chabrol talks about the painstaking task he went through to recreate certain shots, calling on him to study every detail of a shot, including the speed of a pan or a gesture by the actor. Through this interview, which is only 7-minutes, he of course really gets into Langís techniques and breaks down a couple of shots he recreated. Going back to Chabrolís film and then looking at the actual sequences in Langís M you then really see how these little touches really impact a scene. Though I questioned it at first it turns out to be a really informative feature, even better than what was covered in the commentary track.
Harold Nebenzal, son of M producer Seymour Nebenzal, recorded a 14-minute interview for this DVD edition in 2004. Itís a rather strong interview, with Nebenzal recalling a visit to the set of the film, his fatherís production company and the films it produced, and his fatherís move to the States, along with the eventual American remake of M which hurt his career severely. He also offers an alternate story to Langís leaving Germany and ďnever returning.Ē It was nice to get this interview because I was unfamiliar with what happened with Nebenzal later in his career, plus I only had a slight bit of knowledge about the remake.
The next supplement is an audio one, presenting editor Paul Falkenbergís Classroom Tapes recorded from classes at the New School in New York in 1975 and 1976. Unfortunately there are only 36-minutes worth of material here, but thankfully itís all rather good. Its presentation is also fairly clever, playing the audio over sequences from the film Falkenberg is referring to. The film also stops when he calls for whoever is projecting to stop the film, and it even rewinds when he calls for them to rewind, working to recreate the experience of actually being there. In the interview Falkenberg talks about the editing process of the film and Langís involvement. He breaks down scenes and the framing, and also comments on the use of lighting and space. He has some anecdotes, which includes Lorreís inability to whistle, and even points out some of the actors and mentions their career briefly, and even mentions the possible fate of one under Nazi rule. Though the audio can be a tad hard to hear at times, itís a great feature and I rather liked Criterionís presentation.
A Physical History of M is a 25-minute visual essay about M and its various versions and history. The aspect ratio is discussed and sequences are shown from the French version (at the time the feature was made the English version had yet to be discovered.) It then gets into detail about its banning and then how the Naziís were able to use the film in one of their anti-Semitic propaganda films, Criterion including a large nasty portion of that film to give context. It also brings up the source used for the original Criterion DVD and laserdisc, and the discovery of the new materials used for this 2-disc edition and eventually the Blu-ray edition. Though Iím sure thereís more material to be covered itís an excellent primer and worth watching.
The disc then concludes with a rather large Stills Gallery, which has been divided into five sections: The Crime, The Search, The Capture, The Trial, and Posters and Documents. You can navigate directly to them or start from the beginning and work your way to the end. The first four sections are made up of production photos, behind-the-scenes shots, sketches and comparisons between what was envisioned and the final shot, all dedicated to their respective sections of the film. The last section presents a variety of posters from around the world. Notes are scattered about giving descriptions.
A booklet also accompanies the release, though since this was a rental I did not have access to it at the time of this review. When I do see the booklet I will provide an update.
And that concludes the release. The commentary was not something I was fond of but the rest of the material pretty good. Missing here, though added to the Blu-ray edition released in 2005, is the English version of M, which was discovered too late to make it here. If I felt one thing was missing it was maybe more information on the remake, but Iím fine without it. In all itís very satisfying and another strong selection of supplements from Criterion. 8/10