In an interview to William Friedkin in 1976(this), Lang admitted to the interviewer that films like Dr.Mabuse: The Gambler, Die Nibelungen, Metropolis and Spione had tired him out by the end of the ‘20s and that what he really wanted to do was a ‘personal film about one or two characters.’ Of course, he tried it with M, but M is nothing if not about the problematic notion of a mob-mentality and the very idea of a shared belief. Perhaps, Lang got the sort of independence (a filmmaker euphemism for ‘just let me be, sucker!’) he sought when he finally got around to making films for/in Hollywood – even if a lot of his 30s English features are marked for their admonishment of the mob and of a resolute belief that a person can only ever take right decisions in private, and never while influenced by a collective(this idea is manifest in Fury but also in You Live Only Once; mob-paranoia is also something that can be thought of as a direct yield of Lang’s political preference). As such, crowds/mobs in Lang are always looked with a distinct suspicion – they are capable, as is shown in a number of films, of incidents of great violence, absolute thoughtlessness and misguided sentiment. As a precursor to these, they are also easily misled (the ‘Sandor Weltemann’ sequence in Dr. Mabuse Part II – Inferno: A Game for the People of our Age, where Mabuse en-disguise hypnotises a whole auditorium of people that outside of the film screen, includes us) and influenced (bad-girl Maria in Metropolis) or just plain irrational (M). For all his distrust, therefore, of the mob, however, Lang could shoot crowds bloody well – better perhaps than most, notable contenders include Lean, Niblo, Gance, Monty Python, K.Asif. He knew a thing or two about how to let massive hordes of people populate his geometrical compositions/austere frames, but his real skill lay in actually providing them with a real personality as opposed to just impressive, but shallow presence. This, I believe, was an ability that rose out of a genuine intrigue for human sentiment/impulse as opposed to an ultimately empty fascination for scale/magnitude. As such, Lang could insert close-ups, long-lens shots and ‘faces’ where others would satisfy themselves with wide-shots filled pictorically with dots of varying intent and sizes.
Below, some Lang crowds: