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Rare Glimpse at the Early Fritz Lang

Times Staff Writer

No one is likely to complain that Fritz Lang’s long-lost 1920 “Four Around a Woman,” discovered only last year in Brazil and now launching the County Museum of Art and the Goethe Institute’s “Aspects of German Expressionism,” is in fact not in the bold Expressionist style that Lang would soon adopt. A chance to see a Lang film believed forever lost is cause for celebration, and it offers a rare glimpse into the director’s earliest period.

“Four Around a Woman,” a romantic melodrama adapted by Thea von Harbou (who became Mrs. Lang the same year) and Lang from a script by Rolf E. Vanloo, shows the director to be already a master of using the resources of the camera to reveal complicated sequences of events. In essence the film is about a corrupt and jealous Berlin stockbroker (Ludwig Hartau) redeemed by the love of the wife (Carola Toelle) he wrongly suspected of infidelity in the first place. What intrigues Lang is not this conventional tale but the expression of differing “Rashomon"-like views of an incident that occurred the day the couple became engaged.

Astonishingly well preserved, “Four Around a Woman” with its rich, sharp sepia imagery, offers a sophisticated, cynical view of post-World War I German society in which the luxury of Berlin’s Tiergartenstrasse has closer connections to the “Lower Depths” quarters of the impoverished and the desperate than most would care to acknowledge. (It’s a view of society that Lang would continue to express throughout his career.) “Four Around a Woman” is a small gem, and it will be presented with a live translation of its German intertitles and live organ accompaniment by Robert Israel.

Playing with “Four Around a Woman,” tonight at 8 in LACMA’s Bing Theater, is “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” (1919), a film that Lang helped plan but whose schedule prevented from directing.

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Information: (213) 857-6010.

The UCLA Film Archive in association with the Independent Feature Project/West is presenting in Melnitz Theater tonight and Friday at 7:30 Rob Tregenza’s “Talking to Strangers,” which is composed of nine 10-minute continuous shots. (Hitchcock did this in “Rope.”) Each is a vignette in the life of Jesse (Ken Gruz), a young would-be Baltimore writer. Tregenza trusts the camera’s powers of observation and capacity for expressive movement, but his intense sense of the visual is too often at odds with the theatricality of the individual episodes; too much of the time he takes us into a very real world with very real and unsettling situations and incidents only to render them artificial by dialogue and acting that cry out for a proscenium. (A sequence involving a terrorist takeover of a bus is especially unconvincing.) It’s therefore not surprising that the opening and closing sequences are the most effective because they are silent.

“Talking to Strangers” leaves with you with the feeling that Tregenza is a genuine talent in which the cinematic and the theatrical are at odds. (213) 206-8013.

Note: “New Korean Cinema” continues Sunday at Melnitz Theater; for program information call (213) 206-FILM or 206-8013.

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