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Lang remembered this as a period of “great, decisive change” in Vienna. Miraculous twentieth-century technology, beginning to transform daily life, exerted a profound effect on the future director. The fantastical was made real before his very eyes. The marvels Lang would predict in his career–the television devices, criminal, police, and spy gadgets, rocket-ship flight–were a logical outgrowth of the fact that his boyhood was a time of unprecedented scientific and technical revolution.
The Fiaker were typically Viennese, and Lang fondly remembered these two-horse open carriages on springs, their wheels covered with India rubber. The name applied to the drivers too, famous for their facility with whip and tongue, as well as the vehicle. The Fiaker were drawn by two well-fed horses trotting in harness. Only the “very rich,” in Lang’s words, could afford to ride in the luxurious carriages, yet he was able to ride the Fiaker often enough to learn to recite the Fiakerlieder, the rollicking folk songs sung by the coachmen and popularized by Alexander Girardi, an irreverent Viennese actor of the turn of the century.
The Fiaker gave way to electric rails and horseless vehicles. Lang remembered, from his boyhood, the city streetcars pulled by two horses. When he was old enough to go to Volksschule on Josefstadterstrasse, several blocks away, he had to ride the city transport up a hill, and a third horse had to be harnessed to the streetcar in front of the other two. The little boy was sometimes permitted to sit up front on the coach box.
Lang remembered how the lantern igniters disappeared as the gas lanterns were replaced by electric ones. He remembered his father’s phonograph “as his most modern acquisition,” and a time when all the music was recorded and played on metal cylinders. He remembered when his father took him out to the suburb of Breitenfurt to see a wagon that moved without horses–the first automobile; and how the proud Fiaker were forced gradually to defer to automobiles on the chestnut-tree-lined boulevards of the city.
The family enjoyed distinctly Viennese activities, such as the promenade past elegant shop windows in the late afternoon. Lang remembered the men in their frock coats and toppers, the military clicking of heels, the corseted women with furs and boatlike hats. Idly gazing into shop windows–kicking one in, in Rancho Notorious–became ritual behavior in Lang’s films. Two of his finest Hollywood dramas, The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street, begin, with deceptive innocence, with window-shopping.
There were annual parades and pageants tied to the changing calendar, and regular trips to the scenic parks and formal gardens; best of all were the family outings to the Prater, the huge amusement park on the east fringe of the city. Naturally the Prater was the boy’s favorite haunt, his adventure through the looking glass. The park boasted the famous giant Prater wheel, a carousel, amusement booths, a penny arcade, a shooting gallery, test-your-strength machines, a freak show, the Wiener Watschenmann (“a big leather mannequin” that looked “like a cross between a gorilla and an antediluvian Cro-Magnon man,” according to Lang’s sometimes uncanny memory, “dolled up in silken knee breeches and a green hunting jacket”); and simple open-air restaurants with female orchestras.
Unlike many of the places the boy visited with his family, the Prater was a democratic crossroads, egalitarian in its appeal. The gentry mixed with servants and factory workers, the privates of the Viennese house regiment, swells, hustlers, and peasant girls. (“Their faces are fresh and radiant and their breasts full and inviting under embroidered blouses,” Lang wrote of the peasant girls in one of his unproduced scripts. “They all carry the indispensable fat umbrella and wear gaudy-colored, wide-skirted native costumes, hair tucked in under big fringed kerchiefs.”) When Ferenc Molnar’s Liliom was translated from Hungarian into German, the setting was shifted from Budapest’s amusement park to Vienna’s Prater. Later on, when Lang fled to Paris and was handed the screen adaptation of Liliom, some people thought it was a case of “director miscasting,” yet he was quite at home commemorating the Prater.
Viennese theater was at a historical peak of creativity. The Hofburgtheater was probably the leading playhouse in the German-speaking world, while the Theater in der Josefstadt, near Lang’s home, was run by a gifted impresario from Budapest, Josef Jarno, who alternated French farces, for audience appeal, with productions of two forerunners of modern expressionism, Strindberg and Wedekind. (In the 1920s, this theater would be taken over by Max Reinhardt and his celebrated ensemble.)
It must have been Paula Lang who prompted regular excursions to these and other legitimate theaters. “My parents went twice a month to see a play, and then they discussed it with friends,” Lang once recalled. “It was an event.” Sometimes the boy was permitted to accompany his parents; later in time, Lang attended many plays on his own and with school friends. He remembered frequenting the Volkstheater, where the plays of Anzengruber and Grillparzer were performed, and especially the Raimund-Theater, which specialized in fairy tales by leading dramatists.
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