Tag Archives: Fritz Lang

200. METROPOLIS (1927)

“I have recently seen the silliest film. I do not believe it would be possible to make one sillier… Never for a moment does one believe any of this foolish story; for a moment is there anything amusing or convincing in its dreary series of strained events. It is immensely and strangely dull. It is not even to be laughed at. There is not one good-looking nor sympathetic nor funny personality in the cast; there is, indeed, no scope at all for looking well or acting like a rational creature amid these mindless, imitative absurdities.”–H.G. Wells

“Those who understand cinema as an unassuming storytelling mechanism will be deeply disappointed in Metropolis. That which it recounts is trivial, overblown, pedantic and outdatedly romantic. But, if to the tale we prefer the “plasitco-photogenic” background of the film, then Metropolis will fulfill our wildest dreams, will astonish us as the most astonishing book of images it is possible to compose.”–Luis Buñuel

Must See

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

PLOT: The future city of Metropolis is starkly divided between two classes: the rulers who spend their days in pleasure gardens, and the workers who live underground and run the massive machines that supply the city with power. Freder, the son of Joh Fredersen, the most powerful man in Metropolis, discovers the existence of the underground world when he becomes entranced by beautiful Maria, a woman who prophesies to the workers that a Mediator will come to unite the two classes. Joh is not happy with this development and he enlists the scientist Rotwang to kidnap Maria and create a robotic duplicate of her to discredit her with the workers; but the doctor, who harbors a personal grudge against Fredersen, sabotages the plan.

Still from Metropolis (1927)
BACKGROUND:

  • Metropolis cost 5 million reichmarks to produce (about $24 million in inflation-adjusted dollars). This would make it one of the most expensive movies of its era, and although its cost has often been exaggerated, it did almost send its studio into bankruptcy. The movie utilized thousands of extras: reports range between 25,000-37,000 people.
  • Adolph Hitler was a fan of Metropolis, despite having banned another of Fritz Lang’s films, The Testament of Dr. Mabuse, for its anti-Nazi sentiments. Joseph Goebbels told Lang that he would be made an honorary Aryan despite his Jewish heritage (the director’s mother was a Jew who converted to Catholicism). Goebbels offered him a position as head of UFA, Germany’s national studio, which Lang declined.
  • Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou, wrote the screenplay for Metropolis and followed up with a novelization of the story. She willingly joined the Nazi party in 1932. Lang and von Harbou divorced in 1933. Lang fled to France in 1934, and then went on to Hollywood in 1936.
  • In the early years of movies, the concept of film preservation had not yet been formed, and many movies were lost when the prints decayed or were deliberately destroyed. At 153 minutes, Lang’s original Metropolis cut was too long for many exhibitors of the time, and 30 minutes were deleted after the premier for international audiences. Portions of the original uncut prints of Metropolis did not survive, and it was long thought that a complete version of the film would never surface. In 2008, however, a nearly complete print containing an additional 25 minutes of footage was discovered in Buenos Aires. Although of poor quality, the segments were incorporated into existing prints of Metropolis and the film was re-released to theaters (and later on home video) as “the Complete Metropolis.” A few minutes of footage are still believed to be forever lost, however.
  • Ranked #35 on Sight & Sound’s poll of the greatest movies of all time.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: The robot encircled by electrified rings as it takes on the form of Maria is not only Metropolis‘ most memorable vision, it’s one of the most iconic images in all of cinema.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: An allegory of steely skyscrapers and miserable sewers, Metropolis is a movie that reveals, and revels in, the unique power of silent film to create an experience that feels more like living through a myth than listening to a story. Divorced from dialogue, drained of color, it is the pure images that stick in our memory, like fragments of a dream. Metropolis is not the weirdest film on our List, but its influence is seen throughout fantastic cinema (the cityscapes of Brazil would not have the same shape without it, to name just one example). Metropolis is simply too big to ignore.


Trailer for the 2010 restoration of Metropolis

COMMENTS: There is hardly an ounce of reality in Metropolis, which Continue reading 200. METROPOLIS (1927)

CAPSULE: GIORGIO MORODER PRESENTS METROPOLIS (1927/1984)

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Fritz Lang/(version prepared by Giorgio Moroder)

FEATURING: Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge

PLOT: Freder, son of the man who rules Metropolis, discovers the plight of the subterranean

Still from Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis

workers who make the city run when he falls in love with a proletarian female preacher; his new lover is replaced by a robotic imposter who intends to lead the workers to ruin.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a powerful candidate for the List, but Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis isn’t.  Kino’s 2010 “Complete Metropolis” restoration is now the definitive version of the film; Moroder’s re-imagining, with its synth-pop soundtrack and vocal intrusions by 1980s rock acts like Loverboy, Bonnie Tyler and Pat Benetar, is a curiosity.

COMMENTS:  Set in a massive, mostly underground city that’s equal parts Futurist dreamscape and Babylonian pleasure garden, Metropolis is an unqualified, iconic Expressionist masterpiece, and if you want to turn down the sound and watch it while listening to Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga mp3s, that’s not going to destroy its visual splendor.  Whatever questionable choices “Flashdance… What a Feeling!” composer Giorgio Moroder may have made with the proto-techno soundtrack that he added to this restoration (more on that score later), this Metropolis looks like it’s been struck from a pristine print, and it’s as feverishly hallucinatory as any other version.  The decision to tint most of the scenes works wonderfully (and may even have reflected Lang’s original wishes; tinting was not at all uncommon in 1927).  The colorization is tasteful and intelligent, with scenes on the surface bathed in radiant sepia, while the underground sequences utilize shadowy shades of steel blue and grey.  This process retains the film’s monochromatic scale, simply shifting the palette towards the blue or the amber spectrum.  Moroder added additional color effects for a few scenes; some of the equipment in mad scientist Rotwang’s laboratory glows with electricity, and when he transforms his robot into the image of Maria, the automaton’s eyes shine with an inhuman, metallic blue glint.  Because some segments of Metropolis were lost, Moroder also Continue reading CAPSULE: GIORGIO MORODER PRESENTS METROPOLIS (1927/1984)

REPORT: THE COMPLETE METROPOLIS [1927] (2010 RESTORATION)

DIRECTED BY: Fritz Lang

FEATURING: Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Alfred Abel

PLOT: The futuristic city of Metropolis is divided into a wealthy, hedonistic, and patriarchal

Restored still from The Complete Metropolis

above-ground, and the beaten-down workers who serve them below.  When the son of the city’s leader falls in love with a revolutionary worker, a chain of events is set in motion that ultimately sways the balance of power.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: While its story is standard allegorical fare and the performances are often melodramatic, the sheer inventiveness and visual splendor of Metropolis warrants its status as quintessential science fiction.  It set the standard for a host of weird films that came after it and has several iconically bizarre scenes and characters.  Taking into account its importance in film history, it is certainly worthy of the Weird Movie List.

COMMENTS: In a futuristic society functioning solely on a complex network of machines, the workers are beaten down to the point of exhausted submission, while the leaders squander their riches on pleasures of the flesh.  Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), the son of the “Master of Metropolis” Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), leaves the pleasure garden cultivated for the spoiled sons of the elite and discovers the horrific conditions threatening his subterranean “brothers and sisters” who operate the machines.  His instant fairytale ardor for the saintly revolutionary Maria (Brigitte Helm) encourages him to become the prophesied Mediator, a man who will act as the “heart” between the brain above and the hands below.  When Joh Fredersen fears a workers’ rebellion, he enlists mad scientist and former romantic rival Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) to disguise his newly-fashioned robot into a replica of Maria, so that the automaton can destroy their faith in a mediator.

Settling into my usual stage-right balcony seat at Cambridge’s historic Brattle Theatre, I felt privileged to see such a landmark early film on a big screen, and in its complete form, no less!  An introductory title card explained that the 30 minutes or so of missing footage found in a Buenos Aires museum were shot on 16 mm and would appear in different format than the rest of the remastered film.  The few scenes still unaccounted for would be described in similar title cards.  As the music swelled over a series of pumping pistons and grinding machinery, I was once again whisked away into the simultaneously dark and resplendent world of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

The new footage details much of the subplot involving the “Thin Man”, a devious fellow hired by Joh Fredersen to spy on his son.  In the prior version of the film he was a forgettable, barely relevant character, relegated primarily to expository title cards for his missing scenes.  Now he is integral to the stories of the stalwart Josophat (Freder’s assistant) and Georgy/11811, a worker who trades places with Freder.  One of the most impressive new scenes is a montage of Yoshiwara, the city’s pleasure district, in which Georgy traipses about the brightly-lit saloons with pearl-draped multi-ethnic women.  It’s a visually memorable scene with several shots merged together in a mosaic to capture the Las Vegas-like over-saturation of the place.

Unfortunately the new footage was not remastered before theater release, and while I appreciate the speed with which it was put together, I did bemoan the grainy, darkened quality of the restored scenes.  The main advantage is that it makes them noticeable so any viewer can ascertain what was missing from the more familiar version.  It’s also lamentable that the film was shown in a digital presentation, but I’m not sure if that applies to all theater screenings or just the Brattle’s.  All told these are minor complaints, and the overall effect of seeing a visionary classic in its near-complete form (about 5 minutes are still lost) is breathtaking on a big screen and required viewing for any fan of science-fiction, silent film, or just great movies in general.

Riddled with shifting loyalties and a large number of characters, Metropolis spreads its complex narrative across two and a half hours of ornate sets and meticulously-planned shots.  The lively orchestral and onomatopoetic score captures the mood of each moment perfectly, magnifying the enthusiastic performances.  Helm is mesmerizing in her dual role as Maria and her robotic doppelganger: alternately a glass-eyed saint and twitchy, devilish rabble-rouser.  Klein-Rogge is the other standout as the manic inventor Rotwang, twisting his metal hand into a claw and arching his eyebrows with mad fervor as he slithers around catacombs and dingy laboratories.

It could benefit from better pacing and a more organized plot structure, and the added scenes don’t help the already dragging and plot-holed story, but the sheer wonder and imagination with which Metropolis is filmed combine with intense performances and a heartfelt message to establish it as a true masterpiece of filmmaking.  Now that it is available in its most complete form, its weird visuals and ambitious story can be fully appreciated for all their muddled religious iconography, forward-thinking mechanics, impressive effects, and allegorical implications.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“…adds even more depth to a delirious, dreamlike class parable whose dystopia still feels exhilaratingly modern.”–David Fear, Time Out New York (restored version)