Metropolis by Fritz Lang
As an owner of the original 1927 Metropolis DVD by Fritz Lang, it never dawned on me that what I was viewing was only a portion of the man’s creation. Although it flowed well, it was hard to get my Spike TV buddies to sit down and look at the mother of Science Cinema. Recently while perusing my Netflix queue I saw a movie with the title Metropolis Restored and curiosity made me check it out… to my surprise it was the movie, almost in its entirety restored sans missing scenes which were replaced by words on a black screen describing what was missing (very seamless).
Metropolis Restored features about 30 minutes extra footage that was discovered in Argentina of all places, it is clean not blurry like previous versions and features music that keeps you intrigued versus putting you to sleep. This is a must-own for Sci-Fi fans and Cinephiles all over.
“The intermediary between the brain and the hands is the heart”
Metropolis’s key theme is the above phrase, created from the writing of Fritz Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou and was a novel made in 1926 and released as a film in 1927. While the acting is of the stuff that silent films were made off (overdramatic gestures, wide mouthed speeches and exaggerated movements) a movie lover of today can still appreciate it’s beautiful story.
The Full Story of Metropolis
The idea behind Metropolis is that a powerful mogul by the name of Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel) created a city by the name of Metropolis on the power of a working class. This working class lives within the “Worker’s City” which was subterranean (think Zalem from Gunnm: Battle Angel or the world of Astro Boy). The workers are like zombies as they go about their day to day slaving 10 hour shifts at the factory before returning home to rest before repeating the process. Up above the sophisticated peers of Joh wore suits, partied with flappers and had a space-aged city of flying vehicles, busy highways, illuminated buildings and get this advertising on the side of buildings (1927 folks, isn’t that amazing?)
While the two worlds were separate, Joh had a son by the name of Freder (Gustav Frohlich) who had a good heart and empathized with the workers. His empathy was so much that he ventures down to the factory and changes clothes with a worker in order to experience a workday for himself. Another bleeding heart of the upper city was Maria (Brigitte Helm), a beautiful saint of a blonde who took care of the worker’s children while they worked, taking them on field trips etc. Maria is also the key figure of the movie as she resembles Freder’s mother who died in childbirth, the beautiful Hel.
Joh Frederson consults a mad scientist by the name of Rotwang (Rudolph Klein-Rogge) for some advice about dealing with the unhappy workers and the scientist shows him a robot hat he has been working on. The robot gets up and walks to demonstrate her abilities to Joh and the men then retire to Rotwang’s catacombs to spy on a secret meeting the workers were having with none other than Maria. The beauty was telling the workers that they need to wait for a mediator to talk to the bosses in order to hear their demands and they listened to her. At the same meeting Joh’s son Freder attended in disguise as a worker and falls in love with Maria. Approaching her after the meeting he tells her that he will be the intermediary.
Upon seeing this meeting, Joh unsure on how to deal with this, asks Rotwang to make the robot take on the likeness of Maria and sway the workers into chaos so that when he punishes them the people would see it as justified. Rotwang then kidnaps Maria and uses her body and face to create a robotic clone. The robot then goes to the workers and sews hate and malice for the upper world, telling them that they should destroy their homes and machines to bring it all down. The workers agree and start destroying the equipment before the real Maria awakens to hear of the evil her clone was doing.
What the workers didn’t account for however is that the upper and lower world needed each other and that destroying the equipment would flood their homes, killing their families while simultaneously powering down the upper city. This realization comes late to them as they destroyed their factories but Freder and Maria rallied their children and led them to safety while their parents destroyed the city. When the parents realized what they had done they blamed Maria and went after her to burn her for her trickery. Chasing the real Maria through the streets of the upper city, they find the robotic Maria instead who was whoring herself out to the elites in the club scene (which is something she delighted in doing) and burn her instead.
The film ends with Rotwang facing off against Freder on the roof of the highest tower in Metropolis as his madness makes him believe her to be Hel, the fallen lover of Joh who he himself had loved. Once Rotwang dies from a fatal fall, Maria leads Freder to do his job as mediator and form peace between his father and the leader of the workers. Joh starts to do so reluctantly at first but with the coaxing of Freder he shakes hand with the grizzled worker and Metropolis has a happy ending.
Personal Feelings on Metropolis
This is a beautiful film in its own right and the crude attempts at special effects for the time was extremely impressive from the cloning of Maria to the scenery visited on by Joh as he sat atop his tower of Babel and stared out at the city that he had designed.
As a huge fan of everything Sci-Fi, I found this to be a huge start for what we see today. If Fritz Lang was able to see what his movie had started and the tremendous influences it had on stories of today, he would be proud of himself. The Phantom Menace, Blade Runner, The Matrix, the list keeps going in terms of influence, but the biggest homage has to be the epic trilogy of Star Wars as the droid C3P0 is a close cousin of robot Maria. Much props is due to this silent film, get it on Netflix if you haven’t already.