In this remarkable age of high definition video and multi channel audio it may appear strange that so many people are anxiously awaiting the re-release of a silent film that is well over eighty years old. In the case of Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ the anticipation is not only understandable it is well deserved. This film is far more than a movie; it was a major turning point in the cinematic arts and remains one of the treasures of human accomplishment. That may seem like a lot of praise to confer on a film but in this case it is an underestimation of its impact and lasting influence. Shortly after its initial screening the film was extensively cut from the 210 minute length to about two hours which is the version most modern fans are familiar with. In 2001 lost footage was discovered permitting the release of a 145 minute version. This version has not yet been released on DVD but while we wait for that wonderful event Music Video Distribution is re-releasing the familiar 118 minute cut with a commemorative tee-shirt displaying the ironic movie poster art. This release is not intended to replace the pending restored version but it will give you something to wet your lips on till then and a cool shirt to wear to the next Sci-Fi convention. The gimmick of the shirt aside this is one of the most powerfully influential films ever created. Younger members if the audience may think that a silent film that was already old when their parents were born would lack relevance today but I assure you that watching this movie will be an education on the foundations required to make the films you currently love so much. Not only do modern films owe much of their cinematic technique to this work but the themes that are so important to this modern world of ours were explored here on a philosophical level that holds up today and can truly be considered timeless.
Fritz Lang was an Austrian-American auteur who quite literally changed the direction, purpose and artistic basis of cinema, in its day ‘Metropolis’ was the most expensive film ever made. While the estimated 1.3 million Reich marks budgeted for this film would hardly cover the cost of set catering on a modern big budget futuristic movie funding went further back then and even today a film maker with vision and talent can do the remarkable. In the case here Lang was a genius far ahead of his time in every possible way. This film was one of the first epic Science fiction stories to depict a dark, dystopia view of modern society. This had a direct influence on literary works including ‘Brave New World’ and ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ as well as more films than possible to enumerate. Lang would use his keen eye for detail and infatuation in the darker aspects of the human psyche to expand the frontiers of the German expressionist movement and pioneering the genre that would become film noir. Some of the special effects used in this film still baffle the experts who cannot say for sure how they were obtained with the resources and technology available in 1927. Such Sci-Fi staples as ‘fembots’,’ Cyber-men’, ‘Cylons’ and ‘Mr. Data’ owe much of their conceptualization to the work done for this film.
The story of this film is one that would reverberate through the modern era. Industrialization has been viewed as one of the most potent vehicles of change in all of human history. The introduction of technology is a two edged sword that brought comfort and leisure to many but for the everyday work it also initiated a new form of the caste system. In this film the future is a place where the middle class has all but disappeared leaving a ruling aristocratic class of managers leaving extremely well on the arduous labor of the down trodden working class. The managers reside in stately skyscrapers towering into the air while the working class drug through life living and working beneath the ground. Class membership is a factor of heredity with the mega city’s designers becoming the leading families. One such person is Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel) is the autocratic leader of civilization and owner of the New Tower of Babel. One day Fredersen’s son, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) spots a pretty young woman, a worker, and follows her back to the underground. An accident with a large machine kills her and Freder becomes sympathetic to the plight of the workers. His father, upset at hearing of the loss of the machine from his son instead of the foreman, Josaphat (Theodor Loos). The father fires Josphat who becomes despondent and tries to commit suicide with is prevented by Freder who then joins Josaphat in his quest for worker reform.
The film contains some of the most iconic images ever created by the art of cinema. One of the best known is a robotic woman sitting on a chair as she is brought to life. there is also a shot of a worker crucified on the hands of a clock creating a moving visual message of the worker being sacrificed to the god of the clock ticking off his shift at work and life. Many have pointed to this film as one of the most poignant pro-communism messages known. These communist undercurrents put this film in disfavor for many years but due to the many cinematic principles and techniques it pioneered the film survived. It fit in with the growing German expressionism movement tied to the existential school of philosophy and forefather to the film noir, literally dark film genre still popular today.