Metropolis Film Review
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) is a German science fiction classic, which remains to be one of the most influential films of all time. Sophisticated and awe-inspiring set designs visualise the colossal and complex city and give an insight to the imagination of Lang and immerse viewers in his vision of a dystopian city that is sharply divided into two classes. Metropolis was and continues to be a leading piece of cinematography which shaped many films and ideas, and also still continues to inspire and contains shadow of cinema still ultimately to come.
|Figure 1. Metropolis film poster|
Metropolis is not a film to be contained only by the science fiction genre, but also a romantic theme is prominent throughout the film. Metropolis also occasionally plunges into the genre of horror, which leaves the viewer with an unsettling and disconcerting feeling throughout the film. The film also feels very political and reflects on German society at the time, although it is set in an apocalyptic year far into the future. A repeated line in this silent film is also the underlying theme and moral, which Maria states at the end, "Head and hands need a mediator. The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!” Which ultimately unites the two classes, the wealthy and the poor, unable to connect with each other without a mediator, which in the film was portrayed by Freder, the main character.
"The film was born from my first sight of the skyscrapers in New York in October 1924. I looked into the streets- the glaring lights and the tall buildings- and there I concieved Metropolis."- (Fritz Lang) Lang was inspired by the tall concrete buildings that he saw around him, and he created an extreme society in his imagination, and we can see in the design of the film that inspiration, from the tall structure of the Tower of Babel and the verticality of the surrounding towering stone buildings.
|Figure 2. Film still|
There are also lots of biblical references in the film, mainly surrounding Maria, as she portrays a woman who is saint like, who the workers of the city look up to and respects, who provides hope and talks of peace. Then there is the robot, Maschinenmensch, also played by the same actress which refers to ‘Babylon the Great’, also known as ‘The Whore of Babylon’ who is the evil opposite of the original Maria and we can see this stark contrast between the two characters easily, especially when this robot talks of destruction and death.
|Figure 3. Maschinenmensch|
Some scenes are so impactful on the audience, such as the poignant scene where the helpless heroine Maria is taunted by a single spotlight searching in the darkness to capture her. We see her running and stumbling, trying to flee from the unseen perpetrator, and even though the film is silent we can feel the emotion of fear through the way Maria is flailing her arms and trying to shield herself away from the spotlight. The feeling of exhilaration and foreboding is intensified by the cinematography and the oblique, askew camera angles, and the way we are seeing through the light that the villain is casting trains the viewer’s eyes only on Maria and her struggle to escape. The music score which was added to the film also made the film very engaging and captures the audience with its progressive crescendos and diminuendos, which also fills the viewer with adrenaline at the sense of foreshadowing that the music builds up.
|Figure 4. Film still|
“The actors give typical silent-film performances, full of exaggerated expressions and broad gestures, but they express their characters' fragile humanity despite these mannerisms. Rudolf Klein-Rogge's unforgettable work as the evil genius Rotwang became the template for all subsequent mad-scientist performances.” (Dan Jardine, 2010) The acting was a key role in conveying Lang's idea of his Metropolis. From the way the workers moved, to the way they wore pained expressions were all very dramatic and gave a huge sense of emotion and personality to the film.
The set design of Metropolis is phenomenal and is so significant and recognised in the world of film that it marks Metropolis as one of the most influential set designs in cinema. The set was made of both two dimensional and three dimensional elements, paintings, small scaled sets. There is major emphasis on the tall vertical buildings and structures and we often see these enormous, looming stone buildings towering over everything else, civilisation just a small, microscopic buzz of futuristic cars and trains in the forest of concrete which towers over and oversees everything. This gargantuan city makes the viewer feel insignificant, small, and in awe of this futuristic landscape, drawing the audience to relate and sympathize with the lower class which are often portrayed as slaves, the ‘hands’ to these buildings, and also the upper class.
It is not only exterior city shots that we see, but also intimate interior shots of these buildings, where we see that the sets are distorted and set askew from what we expect in real life. Doors and furniture are enlarged on these sets, with the doors looming all way up to the high ceilings, door handles way above people’s heads which also adds to the awareness of insignificance in this big, enormous city.
|Figure 5. Machines|
Workers are portrayed as the extreme lower class, living in what seems to be an entirely different city underneath the one that they had created. Living in dirt, sleeping in holes in walls that resemble rooms, they are characterized as slaves to Lang’s city. It is clear that this sharp divide is a major theme from the beginning shots, where the workers are all dressed in the same grey, shabby, dirty clothes and caps, walking very robotically and slowly towards the impending industrial machines. This is very unnerving for the audience, as these people lack identity and personality, the only recognised worker being categorised as a number, not a person. It left a very distressing impression on the viewer. The cast of the workers is vast, a stark difference to the small cast which we see living in the impressive buildings. These people that live underneath the city are often seen working at machines, and it seems like the fate of the Metropolis city rests on them and it seems the audience shares the pressure that the workers are feeling. This is because of the monstrous set design, quickly shifting camera angles, visions of the haunting, horrified expressions on people’s faces and the emphatic music which all somewhat shares the weight that the workers are bearing with the audience. There is so much resemblance to the workers to robots, from the mechanical way they work to the way they bear no personality or names or any apparent life that is not working, they seem to only live to serve to work the machines. Their movements are so dramatic and sharp, casting exaggerated and and twisting shadows which are frightful and alarming. The radicalisation of this underground civiliation was brought about by a robot, a main character in Metropolis, the ‘Maschinenmensch’.
|Figure 6: Opening scene|
Metropolis is a stunning example of German expressionism, and is considered the first true science-fiction film. It is a remarkable insight into Lang's imagination, and explores magnificently the subterranean world that he has envisioned. Metropolis is a landmark of cinema and has inspired, and will continue to inspire generations of film for years to come.
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http://metropolisvixfx.blogspot.co.uk/2007/10/set-design-and-models.html (Accessed on 29/09/15)
Minden, Michael; Bachmann, Holger (2002). Fritz Lang's Metropolis: Cinematic Visions of Technology and Fear. New York: Camden House. ISBN 978-1-57113-146-1.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metropolis_(1927_film)#CITEREFMindenBachmann2002 (Accessed on 29/09/15)
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Figure 1:http://scifimoviefilms.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/Metropolis-movie-poster.jpg (Accessed on 29/09/15)
Figure 2:https://jenniferhodge0812.files.wordpress.com/2014/03/metropolis-1926.jpg (Accessed on 29/09/15)
Figure 3:http://film110.pbworks.com/f/1255484211/metropolisanti-christ.jpg (Accessed on 29/09/15)
Figure 4:http://application.denofgeek.com/pics/film/metropolis/5.jpg (Accessed on 29/09/15)
Figure 5:http://www.chrismrogers.net/communities/9/004/008/340/059/images/4615484905.jpg (Accessed on 29/09/15)
Figure 6:https://scifist.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/1927_metropolis_009.png (Accessed on 29/09/15)