Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis', 1927

I loved this film so much it's ridiculous.  I have no idea where to start with this so I'll try my best to just dive in with some quotes to guide me and hopefully not babble too much.
The first scene is just fantastic. It's been set up to establish the situation and world the film is set in, and it's done beautifully.  The audience is introduced to the two classes of people in Metropolis and their huge contrasts in the way they live.  The workers, the manual labourers, are blood of the city, they control the huge machines for 10 hour shifts each, making sure that everything works perfectly for the upper class people that literally live above them.  The workers, much like the blood in your veins, are rhythmically pumped through the gates to begin their shift, the workers who have just finished walking at a slightly slower rhythm than those about to start. Nonetheless, both sides walk as one to and from the 'heart machine' with the score over the top beating along with them. The upper classes however have a much more fluid existence and live high above the workers,  much like the gods of mount olympus, deciding the fate of those below, while indulging their every whim.  It's their world that is dedicated to excess and one example of this is the 'Eternal Gardens' that the 'sons of the city' can go to to be 'entertained' by scantily dressed women.
The use of two very different classes is particularly interesting contextually because in Germany at the time there were many political and cultural confrontations between the classes as it was during the Weimar Republic period.  Carol Poore believes that "the film's schematized, abstract depiction of social class, of worlds of light and darkness, continues to be central to its impact on audiences." She also believed that the portrayal of the main character, Freder, known as the "mediator" in the film is the resonator for the present cultural climate.  The mediator is known as the 'Heart' while the working class and upper class are called the 'hand' and 'head'.

The use of the mediator is very significant to the plot as the need for 'heart' in this city of metal and ideas is paramount to everyone's survival.  Throughout the film the audience is provided with many different examples of the significance of the 'heart', the city is run by a machine known as 'the heart machine', when this is destroyed by the workers everything crumbles down, including the workers homes.  When the iconic robot woman, Hel, is made, the first thing that she gains is a heart before she even starts to resemble a human.  It's this symbolism that Barry Keith Grant picks up on when he interviewed Fritz Lang: "just as the heart mediates between the brain and the hand, so the tenderer emotions will mediate between a proletariat and a managerial oligarchy of the future."  The need for the 'heart' and all it's connotations is relevant both now and in the future, to help avoid the previous ugliness of the German government of the time.  Goebbels even said that this is the kind of propaganda that was aimed "to win the heart of the people and keep it".

The other example of a physical manifestation of the 'heart' would be the character of Maria, the symbol of hope to all the workers.  She is the only one keeping them in order, preventing them from revolting against those above them.  She's dressed in a long pale dress that's completely laced up, showing only the tiniest area of flesh below her neck.  Not only is she meek and virginal in appearance but when we're first introduced to her she's surrounded by children from the workers, looking after them.  This is symbolising her as their mother and protector.  To have female in a role that's perhaps as important as the leading male's is very forward thinking for the time, and though she is seen as innocent and virginal, her act of selflessness in protecting the children when their parents hadn't was really inspiring.  Her strength of character is supported by Michael S. Kimmel and Amy Aronson's view that "Maria is so untouchable that her gaze is strong enough to resist expulsion from the garden of the sons of the masters"

The film is so beautifully crafted that i don't think I even needed the subtitles and text, you could clearly see the narrative without sound.  However, the muscial score was imperative to the portrayal of the tones the film wanted.  Without realising the audience was being emotionally positioned exactly where the production designers wanted both because of the audio and visuals.  The opening scene alone is so stunning that I cant believe how old it is.  The effects would still look good now for a film with a low budget, which I'm not sure but may be an insult considering it cost so much at the time it was made.  I can't wait to see what footage was found recently and look forward to spending however many hours it takes seeing it in as near to its full glory as possible. Thank you Phil for allowing us to see it on a big screen, it was just awe-inspiring!


  1. Really, Molly - your enthusiasm is a total tonic. Every time I watch Metropolis - with that wonderful, epic score booming out of the speakers - I just think 'bloody hell!' I'm pleased you enjoyed it - and it came only 7 years after the stilted narrative of Caligari - revolutionary!

  2. I know! It's ridiculous! Thank you, I'm glad you like my reviews though! Writing about something as great as Metropolis is always such a kick start to get me going again when I'm feeling a bit off. Ideas time me thinks! :D