One of cinema’s greatest directors in indisputably Fritz Lang. Born in Vienna during the fin-de-siècle as Friedrich Christian Anton Lang, he helped create the crime genre, serial killer film, German Expressionism, the fantasy epic, the science fiction epic, made some of the most important anti-fascist films of the ‘30s and ‘40s, and helped shape the film noir cycle of the ‘40s and ‘50s. He allegedly travelled the world, studied painting in Paris, and served in WWI in Russia and Romania before beginning a career in cinema. Soon after the war, he found a job at Germany’s most prestigious studio, Ufa, and began writing and directing films – many alongside his wife and collaborator Thea von Harbou. Lang was forced to flee Nazi Germany due to his outspoken nature and Jewish heritage (there is some controversy surrounding exactly how much time it took him to leave) and made one film in France before beginning a lengthy Hollywood career. He ran the gamut from silent cinema to early talkies, westerns, war films, crime cinema and film noir, science fiction, fantasy, adventure epics, psychological melodrama, and more. He went on to influence filmmakers of his own time – as diverse as Hitchcock and Luis Buñuel – while helping to set the course for an entire century of cinema.
To learn more about Lang, obviously watch his films – and check out Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt (1963), an homage to the great German director where he appears as himself. Also recommended are a number of excellent books: Patrick McGilligan’s biography, Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast, Peter Bogdonavich’s Fritz Lang in America (from a series of interviews), Lotte Eisner’s Fritz Lang and The Haunted Screen, and Siegfried Kracauer’s classic, From Caligari to Hitler.