The restored version of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis”
Last night MrsDoF and I saw Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent film, Metropolis, recently reassembled to its original length and story line after 80 years of existing only in a badly cut-up version and lost bits in various archives.
That’s right; I said “1927”. It’s the longest silent film I’ve ever seen, but in its restored story line it made a lot more sense than in the cut-up version that I saw many years ago. They did a great job putting it all back together, even restoring the script from the original German censor’s files.
Some of the special effects, like when the inventor copied the heroine’s flesh onto the body of the robot, must have been seriously mind-blowing stuff back then. I was amused by the way he referred to the un-formed robot as “my mechanical man”, when it looked like a very female C3PO. In some ways you’ve seen at least conceptual fragments of Metropolis - in Blade Runner, Star Wars, Star Trek, and even Futurama.
Produced during the Weimar Republic in Germany, the story takes place in a future dystopia where the powerful live in a glorious city while the poor live underground, working 10-hour shifts at exhausting, dangerous jobs, and dying young. The son of the Central Bank’s president takes a romantic interest in a (for want of a better term) socialist leader and the bank president engages his inventor to produce a robot replicant of her, to break up the worker’s plans.
There are many sub-plots, and a few scenes in which the original audience wouldn’t understand why modern audiences were laughing (like when it really looked as if the banker’s son and his father’s assistant were about to start making out). And silent film acting is just so… over-the-top. Has to be, I suppose.
The story blends themes of capitalism vs. workers, the futility of anarchy, of identity in a technological society, and of the biblical apocalypse, and the 7 deadly sins, and Death, yet somehow it holds together very well. The robot-woman basically becomes the Whore of Babylon, and threatens utter destruction on society by her wiles. Scenes where she entices the monied elite with her sensual dancing are… surrealistic.
Lang had a flair for visual composition. To see many examples, visit Google Images and search “Fritz Lang Metropolis”. (It’s my cute way of saying I couldn’t figure out how to make a proper search link that would land you there in a single click)
Movie editing has tightened up a lot since the late ‘20’s, and it was a bit long. At the same time, it was enlightening to see how so many complex ideas and relationships could be exposited using so few words. Maybe all web designers should see it.