Available (22nd Nov. 2010):
amazon.co.uk | microsite
Crew & Cast
M E T R O P O L I S
Universum-Film AG (Ufa), Berlin
Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou, from her own novel
Karl Freund, Gunther Rittau
SP EFF PHOTO
Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, Karl Vollbrecht
150 minutes (2010 version)
Hanns Leo Reich
M E T R O P O L I S
Update: (October 2010) Probaly the most exciting thing to happen since the film was made in 1927 has been the discovery of footage from the film in 2008 believed lost forever. Since then, an expert team of highly respected film archivists has been working at the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung in Germany to painstakingly reconstruct and restore Lang’s film.
The results, as premiered at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival in February 2010, are spectacular. With its integration into the movie it is more the way Lang intended it to be. In other words it will change our perception of the movie. In November 2010 Eureka will release the restoration in DVD & Blu-Ray format. Details of the screenings and releases can be found here.
- Fritz Lang quickly established himself at the forefront of German cinema. He had been an enthusiastic art student, but during World War I he became interested in the theatre and cinema, and began to write film scenarios in order to gain an entree into the cinematic world. He began by writing scripts for the great serial specialist of the time, Joe May, and by 1919 had progressed to direction with Der Halbblut (The Half-Caste), a film made in only five days. From there he moved on to bigger things such as the two-part Die Spinnen (1919-20, The Spiders), but after preparing the script of a big two-part spectacle Das Indische Grabmal (1921, The Hindu Tomb), which he also intended to direct, he found himself baulked by Joe May and determined to work for himself from then on. The first major film he made after this decision was Der Mude Tod (1921, Destiny), recounted three historical horror stories. It turned into a big international success,
and Lang's future career seemed assured.
However, Lang was not one to sit back and take the easy option. Instead, he launched into three of the largest and most expensive productions to be made in Germany, or indeed anywhere else in the world at that time. First came the two-part story of an insane master-criminal Dr Mabuse der Spieler (1922, Dr Mabuse, the Gambler), then the even bigger
Die Nibelungen (1924). The latter, also in two parts, required enormous sets and vast crowd scenes in order to evoke the stories of Siegfried and Kriemhild, characters from the set of German legends previously quarried by the composer Richard Wagner in his Ring-cycle music.
Scarcely had Lang finished with this vast project than he embarked on Metropolis, a vision of the future written, as had been the three previous films, by himself and his wife Thea von Harbou.
From the outset Metropolis was conceived as both a colossal spectacle and as a film-with-a-message. The message, if any, has always been a subject for controversy - not surprisingly, for Lang's political attitudes during the Twenties were sufficiently far to the left for him to be rootedly anti-Nazi and later to get him into trouble with the Hollywood witch-hunters. In contrast, Thea von Harbou's politics were sufficiently to the right for her to stay on happily in Germany after Hitler's rise to power, and become one of the most successful screenwriters of the Third Reich. Thus, as a product of both minds Metropolis takes on no less than the whole problem of Capital versus Labour, postulates a gigantic slave community dominated by a small elite in the year 2000, imagines a slave revolt, and invents a solution to reconcile the warring elements.
Of course the 'solution' is, as Lang ruefully admitted, monumentally naive and banal: simply that love conquers all, and that 'the intermediary between the hand and the brain is the heart' ('That's a fairytale - definately' added Lang). But even if, on a political level, the idea is simplistic and sentimental, it has to be admitted that it effectively identifies the keystone in Metropolis' gigantic construction, for the structure is more emotional and visual than reasoning. The story as a whole is seen as a battle between light and dark, good and evil, rather than something so prosaic as management and labour. Indeed, in the view of the film's creators it was about magic and the dark ages as against the illumination of modern science. Taking this approach, it is possible to argue that all the good in the story comes from science, and all the bad from magic, especially in the person of the old magician Rotwang. But as the magical element was minimized in the shooting, Rotwang comes over instead as just another mad scientist and the distinction becomes hopelessly blurred.
What does remain as impressive as ever is the mastery with which Lang stages his dramas. Evidently he had learnt, like most other directors in Germany at the time, an enormous amount from Max Reinhardt's stage spectacles: his management of the huge crowds of robot-like slaves - and of the rebellion when, spurred on by the false Maria, they go on a rampage of destruction - is as stunning as anything in that line before or since. True, the characters are dwarfed by their environment and reduced to stereotypes, but with so much else going on to interest and amaze, who is going to stop and argue? Certainly not the film's first audiences: even in America Metropolis was taken as a model of how to do things, and Lang
was deluged with offers to come and make films of equal quality in Hollywood. But he refused. Why should he go when he had resources just as vast at his disposal in Germany, and far more freedom than he could ever hope for in America? Or so he thought in 1927.
M E T R O P O L I S
In Metropolis, a giant city of the twenty-first century, everything is done by enormous machines run by an army of ant-like slave workers. They live in labyrinthine underground slums, while the minority ruling class lives above ground in the 'eternal gardens'. They are not conscious of being tyrants, but one day Freder, son of the city's Master John Fredersen, notices a beautiful young woman - Maria - with a clutch of hungry children at the gates of the garden. Moved by her beauty, he sets out in pursuit of her, and discovers the squalor of Metropolis' hidden power centre.
In the subterranean tenements he finds Maria; she has been urging the restless workers to have patience and wait for salvation from 'the forgotten Christ'. Their meeting is discovered by Freder's father, who then instructs his principal scientist
Rotwang to make a robot in the image of
Maria in order for her to gain the worker's confidence in the rulers, and so put a stop to all revolutionary tendencies.
Rotwang kidnaps Maria and creates an android with the idea of furthering his own designs - which are ultimately to
as Master and take power himself. The ensuing revolt, urged on by the false Maria who has gone berserk, is all too effective: the pumps stop turning and all the underground areas occupied by the workers are flooded. Freder and the real Maria - who has managed to escape - lead the worker children out of danger. The workers, realizing how they have been misled, burn the robot.
Seeing the collapse of all his plans, Rotwang goes mad. John Fredersen sees the error of his ways, and with the
joining of Maria and Freder's hands in front of the cathedral, Capital and Labour are united - by love.
I C O N O G R A P H Y
- METROPOLIS 2010 DVD RELEASE: MICROSITE
M E T R O P O L I S
MORE METROPOLIS IMAGES: 2010 DVD RELEASE | 2005 DVD RELEASE
NEW METROPOLIS DVD AVAILABLE (22ND NOV. 2010):
GERMAN EXPRESSIONISM: DVDS & BOOKS @ AMAZON.COM (US)
THE BIG HEAT
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CLASH BY NIGHT - NIBELUNGEN -
RANCHO NOTORIOUS - THEA VON HARBOU
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