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05 July 2011

[Silent Film Marathon] 24# Metropolis (1927)

Directed by: Fritz Lang
Written by: Thea Von Harbou
Genre: Fantasy, Drama, Sci-Fi
Runtime: 120 Minutes (147 Minutes restored version)

How can I start this review? I guess I can start by saying that Metropolis is clearly one of the earliest Sci-Fi films and shows that even during the 1920’s people grew suspicious of machines taking over. With colossal and outstanding sets, terrific acting and amazing visual effects (for the time), Metropolis is not only one of the first Sci-Fi films, but one of the greatest. Some of the acting may be overdone, but being a silent film it has to push itself and it still grasps your attention to what’s happening. For the first time since its début in 1927, a two-hour-and-27-minute version of Fritz Lang's masterwork — a version that includes 25 minutes of previously lost footage — will be generally available. To see the film as the director intended, on Blu-ray with an original score recorded by a 60-piece orchestra, greatly enhances the reputation of a film already considered one of the icons of the silent era. Metropolis may not be the best film that exists in cinema, but I say firmly it is a film to see before you die. Once more I have discovered a foreign silent film that shows that world cinema has a lot to offer.

Taking place in the futuristic city Metropolis society is divided into two classes. The "managers" live in luxurious skyscrapers and the workers live and toil underground. The city was founded and built by the autocratic Joh Fredersen. Fredersen's son, Freder, lives a life of luxury as do all the sons of the manager class. One day, as Freder is cavorting in the Eternal Gardens, he sees a beautiful girl who has with her a group of workers' children. She is quickly shooed away, but Freder becomes infatuated with her and follows her down to the workers' underworld. There, he sees the horrors of the workers' lives. He is appalled when an enormous machine, the M-Machine, violently explodes, killing dozens of workers. In the smoke, Freder envisages the M-Machine as Moloch, a monstrous deity to which the hapless workers are sacrificed.
Freder then returns to his father at the new tower of Babel and confronts him about the workers plight and the explosion of the M-Machine. Grot, foreman of the Heart Machine, arrives to inform Fredersen of several mysterious maps which have been found in workers' pockets. Because he has not heard both of these bits of news from Josaphat, his clerk, Fredersen fires him, and also orders a spy (credited as the "Thin Man") to tail his son. The story is massive – and sometimes hard to follow – and after this point in the film, we meet a robot, see a city flooding and several other great happenings.
One of the film's first moments showing the workers.
Colossal and Amazing Sets: 
Now this is one of my favourite aspects about the film. Metropolis'' employed vast sets, 25,000 extras and astonishing special effects to create two worlds: the great city of Metropolis, with its stadiums, skyscrapers and express ways in the sky, and the subterranean workers' city, where the clock face shows 10 hours to cram another day into the work week. Lang's film is the summit of German Expressionism, the combination of stylized sets, dramatic camera angles, bold shadows and frankly artificial theatrics.
One of the most memorable shots from the film.
The sets where absolutely astounding and with the films budget being estimated at 5, 100 000 Richsmark (about 1 Million pounds), making it the highest budget film from Germany at this time the film’s sets can still blow people away today. From start to finish the set where so fantastically designed and the architecture was fascinating. Today there are many films that lend it’s style to this film. This includes Bride of Frankenstein in 1935, Batman’s Gotham City and even Rotwang's artificial hand was given homage in Dr. Strangelove. So Metropolis still stands as one of the best stylised films around.

Early Day Future Ideas
Now everyone thinks about what it might be like in the future. In fact, several scientists and such believed that by the point in time we are in right now that there would be flying cars. There are some flying/hovering cars that exist today, but are simply not economical or affordable. The clear message form the film is basically about how Machine can talk over man and it shows just how back the ides of the future was even thought of during the 20’s. The message of the film is brilliant and with the film’s final moments a saying of great truth is said and finishes in a memorable and genius way.

There is only one initial robot in the film, and it is the creation from Rotwang that he wants to basically take over Metropolis. The interesting thing here is this routine of world conquest with the use of robots has been used several times in the future in films and television. We first meet the robot not long into the film, and the mad scientist Rotwang calls it Hel. Although since the film’s début, the robot has gone by the name of many things, Maria, Mashinenmensch and even robotrix.  This may very well be one of the earliest film robots to exist and the first moments we see that robot, it’s quite astounding. Just watching it come to life, walking towards the camera on the platform was a great moment in the film.
The Robot when Maria is being cloned into the robot.
The Acting
The acting was simply marvellous and most of the cast gave refreshing and warm performances. Alfred Abel played Joh Fredersen very well and so did his son’s actor Gustav Froehlich. The actress who played Maria, Bridgette Helm was one of my favourites. Playing two sides, Maria and her clone the robot gave a very wonderful performance. Rudolph Klein Rogge as Rotwang was another one of my favourites and he gave a psychotic kind of performance to his character. Overall for acting in this film is pretty darn good!
The robot clone version of maria.
Remarkable Music
Since the film’s debut several different scores have been made for the film. In 1975 BBC did an electronic version and in 2004 Jeff Mills created a techno score for Metropolis. The version that I got to listen to thankfully and gratefully was the original score that consisted of a phenomenal 60 instruments. The music was absolutely fantastic and is one of my favourite silent film music tracks. Along with the colossal sets and remarkable visuals, the film’s music gives it that extra impact and truly creates tension and excitement.

For anyone who fears a two and a half hour run time, especially in a silent film, let me assure you that Lang's epic is riveting from start to finish. Fritz Lang’s long Sci-Fi masterpiece stands as an amazing film even today with it’s surprising visual effects and futuristic set designs and is another silent film not to be forgotten. The film is important in cinema history because of it’s overall message an overall the film is wonderfully entertaining, suspenseful and very thrilling. When watching Metropolis it’s a very different film experience and anyone that watches the film will agree.
My Rating: 10/10

1 comment:

  1. Excellent review... a true work of art. Fritz Lang was a cinematic genius.



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