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M, sound, and off-screen space

by Kate Fortmueller

The opening sequence of M provides a clear example of how sound can open up off-screen space. The scene cuts between Elsie walking home (and the disembodied whistling) and her mother preparing a meal (against the backdrop of a children’s nursery rhyme). Although these sounds seem simply present to create mood, the distinctive whistle becomes an important plot point and ultimately leads to Beckert’s capture.

M (1931) - Elsie Disappears

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In the opening of M, Elsie Beckmann (Inge Landgut) walks home while Frau Beckmann (Ellen Widmann) prepares a snack that she never gets to eat. This early sound film uses sound in innovative ways to open up off-screen space.

from M (1931)
Creator: Fritz Lang
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Posted by Kate Fortmueller