#91: Metropolis [1927]

First, a summary: the plot revolves around the growing tension between the privileged inhabitants of Metropolis and the impoverished workforces which labour below the earth’s surface to maintain their masters’ lifestyles. There is of course a love interest: that which unfolds between Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the Master of Metropolis’ son, and Maria  (Brigitte Helm), the saintly beauty from below the surface who is cloned in machine form to wreak havoc on the city. After destroying the robot-Maria and its evil creator, Dr Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), the young lovers finally manage to bridge the gap between the two classes,  constituting the “heart” which connects the “head” and the “hands”.
Silent and science fiction aren’t two genres of film you’d expect to go together particularly well. Despite this seemingly odd marriage, director Fritz Lang has made a masterpiece of his work Metropolis, which remains greatly influential in the film industry today. Metropolis is well known for how incredibly expensive it was to make, nearly bankrupting its German production company  UFA. Clearly, it was money well spent, as Lang’s work is frequently described as continuing to “wow” modern audiences with its visually stunning sequences. Given I watched this film on my friend Jess’s laptop while she slept next to me, I can’t comment upon any audience’s reaction save my own.
I thoroughly enjoyed Metropolis, mainly because it was so unlike anything I’ve ever watched before. As this was my first silent film experience I was fully enraptured by the unfamiliarity of it all, not that this film requires much deep concentration. In fact, Lang’s later distaste for his own work and the more negative contemporary criticism of the time specifically despised its clichés. I’m inclined to agree, as Metropolis is somewhat one-dimensional, thematically speaking. Obvious symbolisms pervade the film as its moral, “The mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart”, is pummelled into the audience from the off. Scenes of vast machines consuming scores of labourers contrasted with the vulgar revelry of the decadent ruling class make personal interpretation redundant. However, clichés don’t negate the validity of a thematic point, and given the practical limitations a filmmaker faced in the 1920s, I think we can make allowances.
What I should really be talking about it the unbelievable visual effects which Lang has employed; he was clearly an ambitious and talented director. Lang and his effects specialist Eugen Schüfftan made use of truly ingenious methods to capture the film’s more demanding sequences: look up ‘the Schüfftan process’. The mis-en-scène is flawless throughout Metropolis, with sets such as the evil Dr. Rotwang’s laboratory creating a stereotype still familiar today. The shots of the city itself are stunning, especially when we remember that this movie was made in the 1920s. This artistry is why Metropolis remains so widely influential on modern filmmakers, and it’s the film’s (and its director’s) status as ‘visionary’ which places it in the IMDb’s top 100. This belief in the medium of film and what it can achieve is simply captivating, and is responsible for Metropolis’ continued popularity. 


Jess was asleep throughout the film, so she can't give a summary, and doesn't really count as an assistant. Thanks still go to her for the provision of a screen, even though she didn't watch with me. Well, actually I did wake her up to watch Brigitte Helm's 'exotic dancing', but that's an experience not to be missed.

Comments

  1. Amazing to think this film was your first silent. Would've thought you had seen more. Science fiction has really been around since the dawn of cinema. Georges melies film la voyage dans la lune (1902) arguably has the most famous shot in silent film. That of the rocket in the moons eye so science fiction and silent cinema can work. Also another point is that the robot looks incredibly like c3pos' sister. I havent seen it yet so can't wait for the exotic dancing Haha.

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