Clippings

Repetition


Structurally, repetition is located in the episodic excess of the narrative. The recurring images of groups of three women, for example, function both decoratively and symbolically, but do not participate in plot-related action. Mabuse's three female aids - Susy, Passat and Golem - are the stylish backdrop to the tycoon's actions and at the same time represent the whole host of techno- and bureaucrats that uphold the enormous media concern. The corresponding trio in the opera section are the three goddesses of fate, played by the same actresses. They help Dorian with the difficult process of memory, a process which takes him through the "sea of stones", until, at the furthest recess of this journey, he happens upon a scene of taboo-breaking: a kosher butcher is handing to the child Dorian the skinned head of a pig. The force of this transgression of the Law catapults Dorian into two awakenings. First, the child Dorian wakes up to the adult Dorian still holding the rope and the pig's head. (The image also brings full circle the departure scene of the prince/Dorian in the opera, where he sets out onto the "sea of stones," his vision obstructed by a cloth tied over his eyes and equipped with a guide: a pig tethered to a rope.) And, second, the adult Dorian wakes up from his opium dream to the world of Dr. Mabuse.
The divergent function this repeated constellation of three serves suggests that repetition here is not employed to stabilize the subject-ego, providing cohesiveness in the narrative, but rather to abolish this unity by drawing attention simply to the autonomous existence and transformation of this constellation. The parodistic use of triad - three naked old men (Independence, Nonpartisanship, Objectivity) embodying the virtues of journalism in Mabuse's archive - should emphasize this point even further. The same applies to the many double and twin configurations in the film, a couple of Bavarian spies, Siamese twins, twin children by the name of Right and Left, and so on. These recurring pairs do not act to bind the spectators into the plot; they are symbols, if anything, of the opposite narrative concern: plurality and diversity. Yet, in keeping with the mock plot, there is also the kind of repetition which lends itself to a narrative strategy interested in maintaining the illusion of continuity and unity. Naturally, these repetitive narrative patterns are handled with a good deal of irony and humor, befitting their mock status. The woman in gold, who knows the "open sesame" and whose excessive size metonymically refers to her function as Mabuse's foil by virtue of her sheer irrepressibility, turns out to be the key to the "enigma" of Mabuse's stronghold. A more confusing series of clues was never invented. The woman in gold appears at the beginning of the "story" thwarting one of Mabuse's spies from communicating an apparently urgent message. She does this by blithely occupying the only telephone booth in sight for the sole purpose of correcting her make-up. Next we see her riding a boat on a body of water, which, as an extended camera shot reveals, borders directly on the "sea of stones" which we have seen traversed by Dorian's aimless wanderings. As she is treading the boat, she is singing sovereignly conducting her own song, while behind her in tow are the Siamese twins swaying gracefully in the breeze. Her voice is drowned out by the concerted efforts of a great number of fog horns, which reinforce the romantic lure and promise of this comical Siren. The absence of her voice is all the more effective, as it finally proves to be the instrument which opens Dorian's passage into Mabuse's underground realm. At the end of this series of narrative clues, the irony that this figure representing irrepressible and uncontrollable forces should provide cohesiveness to the story becomes apparent. Structurally ordering while representing chaos, she serves narrative untiy while aiding in the destruction of the creator of stories, Dr. Mabuse. This "both ... and" attitude again testifies to the film's capacity to support the contradiction between linear traditional narration and modernist autonomy of the fragment and repetition for its own sake.
The same attitude is strongly embedded in the compositional principles as well as in the point-of-view structure of the film. As an example of the former, Mabuse's conference table provides a good focus for discussion. Because of its great length, this table acts as a line which divides the image into two equal parts. The symmetry of this centrally composed view is further emphasized by the enormous circular vats placed on either side of the divide. The vats also furnish the frame with additional depth of field already established by the vanishing point of the table's outline. This balanced and contained view positions the spectator-subject in an identification with the camera, affording him/her clarity and coherence of vision that central perspective has come to mean since the Renaissance. Camera movements and movements by the characters in the frame are slight enough (not) to upset the spectator's sense of mastery over the spectacle. Yet, at the head of the conference table, the strongest point in this composition, stands the villainous, powerful Dr. Mabuse as if the whole tableau had been created just for her - charming to be sure, but hardly an object of display for the master-spectator. She is master herself and contemptuously throws back the look, so forcefully that the camera actually begins to recede, very slowly revealing one after another the obliging journalists for whom she has nothing but scorn. And slowly, very slowly, the spectator, instead of being in control, feels pushed to the side, cringing because the one final oppositional voice at the other end of the table proves so pitifully weak and ineffectual. The sense of power usually granted the spectator in classical examples of central perspective is undermined through a switch in the gender of the object of secondary identification. Yet, the reversal is not quite as simple. The phallic woman, upholding and representing male order, succumbs to a discourse of an entirely different kind.
Roswitha Mueller, excerpt from "The Mirror and the Vamp", New German Critique, No. 34, Winter 1985