METROPOLIS, 1927: the future was then!
When I was 13 I loved spending the whole Saturday night watching some movies. My two older brothers, they were 18 and 20 at the time, used to go out clubbing all night long and since the day after was Sunday I was allowed to watch movies for all the time that I wished. After one week, where I had to share the TV with my brothers, the sofa and the living room where finally all mine! I also loved to escape from everyday life throwing myself into adventurous stories, letting my imagination to depict characters and places, that’s why most of the time I preferred books over films.
However, one of those nights, I found myself on the sofa at 1.30am. I was awake more than ever and for sure, I had no intention to go to sleep. I have always been a kind of night person rather that a morning one. I feel more creative and even talkative in the night! If I could chose my working hours I would definitely go for evening-night slot, though I partially do this already as it’s 11.25pm right now while I am writing…
That night I just made myself a tuna sandwich and I was ready to start my Saturday night shift watching telly on the sofa. With the remote control in my hand, I remember to have switched like 3 or 4 channels before stopping doing it. A very old black and white movie was about to start. And when I say old I am talking about a 1920s silent film. That kind of screenplay was not new to me at all, as my parents’ films collection included a significant number of Rudy Valentino silent movies. This has always been rather curious to me until the day I discovered why they were so fond of this pioneer 1920s motion pictures star.
That Saturday, at midnight, I was watching the science-fiction epic movie Metropolis by German director Fritz Lang.
I soon was fell under its eerie spell. Hallucinatory, probably because of its steadying story line, I had never seen something like that before. The screenplay depicted a futuristic city in which the majority of the population where poor labourers who had to work, in a total slavery condition, as a hell of scientific progress and human despair in a total slavery condition to support a small, pampered and rich aristocracy living in luxury and palatial skyscrapers. No doubt, that Mr Lang had been a visionary director during its time!
Metropolis is a shiny city whose population is dived in two groups: the Workers and the Thinkers. The first live and work in a hellish subterranean dystopia, whilst the latter (the minority of the population) live in a total utopic sparkling city developing their mental faculty and achieving the highest level of awareness, a great testimony of human fulfilment. However, these two opposite classes coexist in mutual dependence, as Metropolis itself cannot exists without the work of the underground labourers and the workers could not live without the need to support the city.
The spectacular sets, the dazzling special effects (totally new for the 1927) and its allegoric story of a future where thousands of underclass people work to enrich a dozen of high-born, eccentric and spoiled people, made the movie become one of the most iconic and influential films of all time, a cinema classic with a huge cult following.
I felt like glued on my sofa and mesmerized by its futuristic set. It was a transposition of a Tullio Crali Futurism painting. Even today, "Metropolis" holds up as one of the most original, creative, and resourceful films ever made.
Metropolis was released in Germany for the first time in 1927 and shortly in the USA, though a quarter of the film original version was cut both by Paramount and by Ufa in Germany against the director wishes. Those cut scenes were believed lost or hidden somewhere until 2008 when, one of the most remarkable finds in all of cinema history, took place in a small museum of Buenos Aires Argentina. Metres of reels were found and the original movie was ready to be brought back to its former glory.
Since then, Metropolis had been reconstruct and restored, with the found footage. As a result, the “Holy Grail” among film finds Fritz Lang 1927 Metropolis was presented at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival in February 2010, for the first time after 83 years.
Metropolis is considered the mother of all sci-fi films and a major influence on movies like “Blade Runner”, “Star Wars” (and not just for the C-3PO resemblance with The Machine Man) , “Dark City”, ” “The Fifth Element,” “Alphaville,” “Escape From L.A.,” “Gattaca,” and Batman's Gotham City. Not just the silver screen but also the pop culture in general has been much influenced by this motion picture.
Furthermore, Metropolis was the first film to be ever included on the UNESCO Memory of the World “register” of essential cultural artefacts.
I can honestly say that this movie awoke my passion for sci-fantasy.
The scenes by which the story develops are of astonishing originality for the time. For the making of the film “Metropolis” amazing special effects were used for the first time on silver screen to create the two sets in which the story takes place: the big city of Metropolis, with its futuristic luxury skyscrapers rising to the sky and the underground labourers. Every display is supported by dramatic camera angles, bold shadows and artificial theatricality.
Most of the tricks used for the making of this motion picture “allowed people and miniature sets to be combined in a single shot, through the use of mirrors, rather than laboratory work.” according to Magill's Survey of Cinema concerning the photographic system used. If we compare all these elements put together (special effects, editing, camera angles etc..) with digital tricks of today the result is the film being a pioneer of science fiction and some absolutely new stuff for its time.
The June 1927 issue of “Science and Invention” described, with the mean of the illustrations, some of the special effects used for Metropolis:
Even though the movie has been strongly criticized by public for the occult symbolism in it (like the pentagram, the all seeing eye, the pyramid shape, the Babel Tower which are all Freemasonry symbols) Metropolis is, and will always be, a great movie that will survive the test of the time, exactly like it did for more than 80 years. And if we look at our human condition today, perhaps it will be even more relevant in the years to come as it seems to be able to predict the future ...
Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927, reconstructed and restored 2010, 145 minutes
Production Company Universum-Film AG (Ufa), Berlin
Script Thea von Harbou
Art Directors Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, Karl Vollbrecht
Sculptures Walter Schultze-Mittendorf
Cinematographers Karl Freund, Günther Rittau
Music Gottfried Huppertz
Producer Erich Pommer
Director Fritz Lang
Maria Brigitte Helm
Joh Fredersen Alfred Abel
Freder, Joh Fredersen’s son Gustav Fröhlich
Rotwang, the inventor Rudolf Klein-Rogge
The slim one Fritz Rasp
Josaphat Theodor Loos
11811 Erwin Biswanger
Grot, the watcher of the Heart Machine Heinrich George