Sunday, 28 January 2007
Lang / Reinl / Argento - some observations on The Invisible Dr Mabuse
The theatre featured in German-set The Invisible Dr Mabuse is called the Metropole, allowing Reinl to allude to Lang's Metropolis. On the Argento side of things the re-opened cinema in the Berlin-set Demons is also the Metropole.
This Metropole is currently showing what is described as an “operetta,” set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, though it also involves ballet and “Grand Guignol”, the latter again being explictly referred to within the diegesis.
Here it is worth remembering here how the (Italian) Grand Guignol was an important influence on the development of the horror films of Bava, Freda and company, whilst the French Revolutionary setting allows for a connection to Trauma specifically, through the “moving guillotine” and credit sequence / nursery room imagery.
Compare to the divas in Argento's Opera and Phantom of the Opera
His master's voice – the shadowy but not invisible Dr Mabuse
The star / diva of the show has attracted the attentions of an invisible admirer. While he sneaks into her dressing room to better observe her, significantly he declines to speak or identify him presence. This silence helps establish that he is almost certainly not Mabuse, whose defining qualities, as per Michel Chion's notion of the acousmetre, are the voice we hear coupled with the face and mouth we do not see.
It also distinguishes him from Argento's phantoms of Opera and ... the Opera, where the acousmetric qualities of omnipotence, omnipresence and omniscience are once more foregrounded.
Bobo / Haghi / Mabuse
Among Mabuse's underlings is a clown, Bobo, who seems to function as a way for Reinl to allude to Lang's Spione, whose master spy, Haghi, is a Mabuse in all but name with his plethora of identities and disguises.
The director also has fun when the FBI agent makes contact with the local agents, whose cover is as an opticians – i.e. precisely something concerned with vision; extending to the investigator hero's ability to see through illusion to reality – and identifies himself by (mis)reading the letters off the chart, as EDGAR, as in Wallace.
Curiously the pseudo-scientific explanation behind the film's invisibility device does not seem all that removed from the James Bond film Die Another Day, reminding us of the long pre-history of Bond and the often unacknowledged traditions going all the way back to Fantômas ("who is Fantômas?") and beyond that Bond, Mabuse and countless others tap into.