Metropolis (1927)

“Today I will tell you the legend of THE TOWER OF BABEL… “Come, let us build us a tower whose top may reach unto the stars! And the top of the tower we will write the words: Great is the world and its Creator! And great is Man!” But the minds that had conceived the Tower of Babel could not build it. The task was too great. So they hired hands for wages. But the hands that built the Tower of Babel knew nothing of the dream of the brain that had conceived it. BABEL. BABEL. BABEL. BABEL. One man’s hymns of praise became other men’s curses. People spoke the same language, but could not understand each other…”

‘Metropolis’, directed in 1927 by Fritz Lang, is a silent German science fiction epic. Gustav Fröhlich plays Freder, the playboy son of an industrialist who controls a giant city. Freder encounters Maria, played by Brigitte Helm, with whom he discovers the truth behind the scenes of the city, that it is run brutally. Before he can make a difference, Maria is kidnapped by a scientist and a robot duplicate of her is produced. Robo-Maria proceeds to wreak havoc on the working classes of the city. Finally Freder comes to his senses, rescues the real Maria and finally reconciles the workers with the ruling power of Metropolis. It’s a film of spectacle. The special effects are undeniably the stand out aspect of the movie, with every cutting edge technique used, not just to create the fantasy city, but also to embed the characters within it. There are three layers here: the city, the mass of workers, and the individuals involved in the power struggle. Each is clearly delineated and each operate within a complex religious subtext that, ultimately, appealed so much to Hitler. The heart of the film is the uncanny and eerie performance as Robo-Maria, similar to Nikolai Cherkasov’s Ivan the Terrible from  Sergei Eisenstein’s two films, bird like, predatory, rapacious. The hyperactive Robo-Maria, leading the workers in revolt and creating anarchic chaos gives the film a core of,  ironically, humanity amidst the spectacle.

Would I recommend it? Yes – it’s an epic with images that have influenced movies ever since: the birth of science fiction as spectacle, but with a powerful and unsettling political message. Watch in a double bill with ‘Arsenal’ for the other side,or ‘Triumph of the Will‘ for the real world attempt to recreate the spectacle.

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