Monday, February 7, 2011

David Kalat's Mabuse commentaries

David Kalat is a rare individual, he is a man who can talk endlessly on one subject and make it seem as though he is never repeating himself. A film scholar, preservationist and living encyclopedia he has produced a glorious series of commentaries for the films that make up the Dr Mabuse cycle that never fails to amaze. The commentaries which are spread out over a variety of DVDs from a variety of companies when listened to in close proximity to each other form a wonderful whole. Kalat is truly the man who wrote the book on the Mabuse films, having written The Strange Case of Dr Mabuse which covers every Mabuse film and reference you can imagine.

The Mabuse films started in German in 1921 when Fritz Lang made the two part film Dr Mabuse The Gambler. The films tell the story of the super villain Dr Mabuse who uses his gambling dens in order to get money and information for his various criminal enterprises. Over the course of the two parts we watch as Mabuse eventually oversteps himself and falls ending up a broken wreck of a man.

Several years later Lang made the Testament Of Dr Mabuse as a follow up (and sequel) to M. This film has Mabuse locked up in an asylum. Despite being catatonic he seems to control the head of the hospital, even after death. The notion of Mabuse's spirit or mind moving on from person to person is what drives the entire 1960's series.

Thirty years passed and Lang once more returned to the character in his final film the Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse. It was made by Lang because a producer obtained the rights to the character and was going to make a sequel remake to the earlier films whether Lang participated or not.

From there a Lang-less series began that seemed to be a mix of the James Bond and Edgar Wallace Films being made in German at the same time. It ran for I think another six films before ending in a confused mess.

David Kalat provides commentaries for all of the Lang commentaries that are out on DVD both in the US and in the UK. They are simply put some of the finest commentaries I've ever come across. Kalat sucks you in and and drags you along from the start. Not only are his commentaries informative on the films in the series, but also on the history of film, especially German film. I've been studying film since I was in grade school and Kalat told me things and pieced things together that I never noticed or never was in a position to notice. For example Kalat paints a wonderful portrait of the post Second World War German film industry. Its the sort of thing that weaves together not only film history but social history as well. If you want to know why the German industry turned to the novels of Bryan and Edgar Wallace to survive and how that and the social attitudes brought back Mabuse. And he'll even explain how all of this begot the explosion of young German filmmakers like Fassbinder, Wenders, Herzog and Schlondorff.

I'm not going to lie to you and tell you I remember each commentary, I don't. I heard all of them with in a few weeks of each other and they all blended together. Even better the commentaries don't get dull. yes Kalat covers the same material, but he does so in such away that he never seems like he's repeating himself, even if he is.

How good is Kalat's ability not to seem like he's repeating himself? If you look at the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes you'll notice that the commentaries which appear on five of the fourteen films all say roughly the same thing in exactly the same way. I was bored by the second film, though I toughed it out to the end.

What's even more amazing is that only by hearing all of the commentaries and reading Kalat's book on all things Mabuse will you know everything. The book is absolutely fascinating and it covers even more material than the commentaries.(And by the way there is material in the commentaries that is not in the book). If Kalat stumbles anywhere in telling the long story of the Dr Mabuse it's that toward the end of the book he gives too much space to some truly awful films that are late in the game.

If you love film you need to hear these commentaries.

Kalat's Commentaries appear on the following DVDs:

The Image release of the Mabuse The Gambler which according to Amazon came out in 2001. This is not a restored version of the film. Kino released 2006 and which is more complete. That version is just as wonderful and epically longer however if you really want to understand the film you need to find the Image edition and listen to Kalat go into detail on the film and it's making.

The original version of The Testament of Dr Mabuse is out in a Criterion edition has Kalat's commentary. As Kalat points out this film is also a sequel to M, which Kalat also talks about extensively. Interestingly Kalat's own company, All Day Entertainment has attached the short dubbed version of this film to their release of the this films remake, which is more a rethink. Kalat also does a commentary for the remake.

Lastly Kalat does a commentary on The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse, also release by All Day Entertainment.

Sadly All of the All Day Entertainment editions are out of print, but worth tracking down.

However if you don't want to go through the expense of tracking down all of the various editions and you can play Region 2 DVDs you may want to buy the box set of Lang Mabuse films which Kalat did new commentaries for. I'm debating picking up the set myself even though I have them just because I'm a big enough fan that I think it would be worth hearing the material in a new way.

For a complete list of David Kalat commentaries as well as his blog and other neat stuff you'll want to check out the All Day Entertainment website.

Now that I've come to the end I should probably mention, the that all of the Lang Mabuse, and some of the early ones in the 1960's series are good to really good unto themselves and worth seeing.


  1. I bought my copy with David Kalat's excellent commentary in China of all places. Of course it is a bootleg because that's all they have there.

  2. I'm listening to David Kalat's commentary for Dr Mabuse, Der Spieler. It is quite an amazing commentary. He is definitely answering some of the questions I had about Lang and the film. Best commentary ever! Although I've noticed that he does repeat himself as I am watching everything in one go, yet it is not irritating.

  3. Thats the thing I find facinating about Kalat's commentaries, even when he repeats, as he does over the course of all of the films (which he has to since each filmis in theory stand alone) you never feel like he's wasting time.