METROPOLIS - 1927
In the far future, the towering city of Metropolis is divided between the wealthy who live lives of pleasure above ground, and workers who slave day and night in subterranean factories. When Freder (Gustav Frohlich), son of the city’s ruler Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel) ventures below the surface for the first time, he’s shocked by what he discovers. He also meets the beautiful and pure Maria (Brigitte Helm) who preaches that soon a mediator will come to reconcile the two halves of the city. But while Freder falls in love with Maria, his father feels that her influence among the workers may be dangerous, and plots with the embittered scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein Rogge) to replace her with a robot double.
Review by Jake Wilson:
Of all silent movies, this is probably the best-known to contemporary viewers; the archetypal city of the future dreamt up by Fritz Lang and his collaborators in the 1920s now seems deeply familiar and oddly timeless, with its art deco skyscrapers linked by superhighways snaking through the air, while faceless workers toil in the catacombs beneath. Yet in the truncated, faded versions generally shown on TV, Metropolis is probably more respected than enjoyed; stripped of its visual grandeur, the parabolic narrative can seem turgid and simple-minded. Which is all the more reason to celebrate this beautifully restored new print, including around fifteen minutes of rediscovered footage and finally letting us experience the film on its proper, monumental scale. The clarity of the big screen image not only enhances the splendour of the justly famous sets, but also highlights Lang’s meticulous control over detail: camera placement, editing and the stylised gestures of the actors all work in precise harmony, serving the film’s moment-by-moment rhythm along with its large-scale design. Wholly divorced from any type of realism, this approach comes close to ballet, often audaciously choreographed: lines of workers moving simultaneously like hands of an elaborate clock, or the erotic dance of the robotic ‘false’ Maria, thrusting her hips in a way that’s both mechanical and frenzied. Fundamentally Lang’s style dramatises a profound ambivalence towards an ‘artificial’ modern world, seen as both oppressive and thrilling: the plot may condemn a society that treats people as interchangeable machine parts, yet the film’s own artistic logic constitutes an equally dehumanising, ‘totalitarian’ system. A related ambiguity arises from Brigitte Helm’s performance as Maria, seemingly the most ‘human’ character – if the same actress can embody angelic purity and lewd sexuality with equal aplomb, can we really claim to know what’s ‘natural’ and what’s false? Such ambiguities remain disturbing, and help to account for the film’s enduring appeal: it’s less a piece of whiz-bang escapism than an indelible cartoon of the twentieth century, a past future that still reflects some lineaments of the way we live now.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This latest and most complete four-year restoration took twice as long as the making of the original film, and the result is truly worth the effort. Not only are the images surprisingly clear and the full orchestral score marvellous, the restored footage puts the story elements in context. Of course, the story is the film’s weakest point, so it could be argued that it doesn’t much matter. I think it does matter. The clunky story was never well received but at least it has some sort of internal coherence. The overly romanticised aspects - idealism encapsulated in a catchcry - and the phoney ending notwithstanding (even Fritz Lang himself disliked the ending), it was the story that drove the film’s production. And what production! The production design (including the effects) and the music are indispensable to the film’s dramatic power; the former visualises a metropolis that is a concentrated, isolationist, foreboding version of a hyper-New York, while the latter breathes life, emotion and tone into the silence of the film. And beneath the Metropolis is the contrasting world of the workers, where art deco gives way to crudely functional design. The film predicts freeway traffic jams, the Nazis’ triumphant architecture, and even the videophone. The original intertitles are supplemented with explanatory ones where footage is totally lost, making the film easily accessible for all. Through contemporary eyes, much of the acting is too declamatory, but even this can’t mar the overall experience. Crammed with socio-political references and set in an industrial war zone, this is science fiction with ball bearings. Its dynamic pace, the jumps from faux-naturalism to stylised industrial ballet, and its extraordinary scope, combine to make Metropolis a serious pleasure.
Review by Louise Keller:
Metropolis is simply extraordinary. If, like me, you have not seen Metropolis before, you have a real treat in store. A remarkable achievement for its time and indeed for any time, Fritz Lang’s visionary futuristic society with its strikingly memorable production design still has relevance today and its influence on filmmakers and films such as The Fifth Element, Bladerunner and The Matrix is quite apparent. The restoration is remarkable with its immaculate black and white images, but most impressive is the haunting score that was re-recorded in 2001 by a magnificent 65-piece orchestra, and subsequently added to the 35 mm negative. But leaving its technical accomplishments aside, Metropolis is first and foremost a love story, set in a futuristic city divided into two societies – the workers and the powerful rich. It’s a story about the struggle for power in a dictator-driven society of man and machines, and its moral is that the mediator between the brain and the hand must be the heart. Even with the rather stylised (over) acting styles of the day, the emotional impact of the final scenes when all the threads of the story are resolved, is a surprise. In fact, a large tear trickled from my eyes and I was profoundly moved. This is a film well worth seeing – for its relevance, for its inspiration and for its sheer enjoyment.
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METROPOLIS - 1927 (G)
CAST: Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Fritz Rasp, Theodor Loos, Heinrich George
PRODUCER: Giorgio Moroder, Erich Pommer
DIRECTOR: Fritz Lang
SCRIPT: Fritz Lang (novel, Thea von Harbou)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Karl Freund, Günther Rittau
EDITOR: not credited
MUSIC: Gottfried Huppertz
PRODUCTION DESIGN: (art direction) Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, Karl Vollbrecht
RUNNING TIME: 119 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Potential
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne: May 11, 2003; Sydney: May 22, 2003