Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is one of those films that everyone has seen the influence of, even if they’ve never seen the movie itself. It’s tropes and visual styles have had influence on everything from Star Wars to Tim Burton’s Batman and still many more. It was a film, that, growing up a movie buff already, I was made aware of from every film history book I pored over, but never had the chance to really see until recently, when it was screened for Film Appreciation class.
I should note that the version of the movie that was screened was the most recent remaster of the classic silent film. The movie itself has an interesting history in and of itself, starting out as a novel written by Lang’s wife Thea Von Harbeau with the intent of making a movie out of it. Shortly after release the movie was censored by the governing board of Germany at the time for parts of the film that made them very uneasy, with themes such as Revolution and Uprising as well as some of the more scintillating (for 1920s standards) scenes of the False Maria dancing and writing nearly topless. Parts of the film were lost to time for years, though there were still prints of the movie hitting release from time to time, including a much maligned colorized version supervised by musician Georgio Moroder in the early 1980s that featured a soundtrack containing contemporary artists like Pat Benatar and Freddy Mercury.
The additional footage, most of it at least was found in Rio De Janerio, Brazil in 2008, cleaned up and remastered giving us now a more full picture of the movie that Fritz Lang had made back in 1927.
It’s the first ever full length silent movie, set in a dystopian and unnamed year in our future, in the pristine, teeming, city called Metropolis. In the upper levels of the city, it’s a paradise where the rich enjoy leisure at all times, but in the lower city it’s an unending shift cycle of dehumanized workers who work day and night to keep the Heart Machine of the city going. The city is led by Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel) whose son Freder (Gustav Froelich) sneaks into the undercity to switch places with one of the workers there so he can see how conditions are like for everyone else. It’s also in this undercity that he meets the enchanting Maria (Brigitte Helm) a social worker of sorts who educates the workers and prophesizes of a mediator who will one day unite both the head (the leaders of the city) and the hands (the workers)
Also there is a mad scientist named Rotwang who has made a robot duplicate of his late love, Hel, who was also the wife of the leader, Joh Fredersen, who died giving birth to Freder. Joh finds out about this, and Rotwang lets him in on his plan, he will use this Maria woman who is causing problems for the upper class by taking her mind and putting it into the robot, thus quelling anymore thoughts of rebellion.
As I mentioned before, the movie is quite influential. For starters, this movie all but defined the ‘Mad Scientist’ trope that has been used in countless stories since. There are also little visual cues and shot structure which can be seen in everything from Army Of Darkness to Beauty and The Beast.
The movie itself, along with the restored footage is quite stunning at times, especially for the time period that the movie was made in. With stunning sets and set pieces. The score does get a bit repetitive at times, but I take that more into account the time period the movie was made in than anything else. Overall, if you’re a student of film history or just a lover of movies as well, you owe it to yourself to check this movie out and learn a thing or two.
Final Grade- B
Metropolis Restored is now streaming on Netflix.