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Metropolis (1927) Review

Metropolis

Metropolis(1927) Review
Dir. Fritz Lang

Metropolis is a movie I’ve known about for years, the iconic image of the Machine Man has been burned into my subsconscious likely longer than I think. Fritz Lang’s masterpiece truly pioneers the science fiction genre, indeed being reportedly the first feature length sci-fi movie ever. In my limited knowledge of silent cinema, I would assume that the limitations keep the films from that era fairly short à la Voyage Dans La Lune or The Great Train Robbery. Metropolis is anything but a short film, bombastically exploring themes of class, democratic socialism and love over two and half hours. There’s a hint of romanticism, not only in the film itself as I watched it unfold, but in the fact that Lang’s complete cut of the film was only shown once, at its premiere in Berlin. After that night, the film was sold off to various distrubutors and hacked into oblivion, the only surviving version of the film for decades afterwards running no longer than 90 minutes.

In the age of Blu-ray and high definition restorations, a chance finding in Beunos Aires in the late 2000s brought about a significantly damaged yet huge chunk of the missing footage. Unfortunately duped down to a 16mm print to avoid the dangers of nitrate 35mm, and in poor condition, the missing footage was in bad shape. However it was still intact enough to preserve and include in a 2010 restoration of Metropolis that brings the movie heartbreakingly close to its original running time at 148 minutes.

I feel very lucky to be able to see this classic film for the first time, nearly 100 years after its release, in such a great presentation. The amazing, and I, along with most people who review things throw that word around a lot, but I mean AMAZING, production design. The sets, models, and mirrored miniature effects are nothing short of incredible, not only for its time, but even by the standards of today. What astounds me is how Lang created in camera effects with multiple exposure tricks, literally leaving me with my jaw dropped. All very simply done in a computer now, but he had the vision to create visual effects far ahead of their time, that add to the mysticism and fantastical nature of the story.

Alfred Abel is sternly magnetic as Joh Frederson, the master of Metropolis, who anchors the emotional core of the film in his heartless demeanor, whilst still conveying a sliver of hope for redemption(an essential trait in a good villain.) Though it is Gustav Fröhlich and Brigette Helm who carry the movie, and who both have separate journeys that combine as the story goes on. Fröhlich, who plays the son of Joh Frederson, Freder, definitely hams up his performance in a manner that befits the era of silent movies. As does Brigette Helm who both acts as a bright, beacon of hope and an emotionally wrought damsel in distress with spunk, in Maria, and as a seductive, wicked and wildly manipulative robotic double of Maria. The dual roles highlight Helm’s versatility, and are easily both the most interesting, hypnotic performances in the film.

Rudolf Klein-Rogge is deliciously crazy as the lovelorn scientist Rotwang, who could perhaps be seen as the prototype for many “mad scientist” characters to come in the history of cinema. Even the smaller roles are mesmerising at times, with Fritz Rasp being brilliantly creepy as The Thin Man, a character much more expanded in the 2010 restoration, thankfully. As well as Heinrich George who portrays Grot, the foreman of the Heart Machine. He provides a very visually appropriate character who is integral to the finale of the movie and I think he did a fine job of getting that across. The extras in the movie are another sight to behold altogether, with literally thousands of bodies occupying the screen throughout many different astonishing set pieces.

What Fritz Lang managed to create conceptually in the story, written with his wife at the time Thea von Harbou, is something that resonates with me nearly a century later. The underlying, or perhaps overlying theme of the movie, is probably a bit more obvious and in your face than movie watchers of the 21st century are used to. Lang famously found in retrospect that the theme in question was silly, and that he didn’t have a grasp on politics enough back then to properly bring it to fruition. He later rebuked this in his later years, finding that young people at the time -did- relate to that message, and perhaps he hadn’t been wrong to focus on it.

Finally, the score just ties the whole thing together, like the Dude’s rug, a richly woven tapestry that enhances the feel and character of not only the story, but the metropolis itself. Undoubtedly two of the finest moments in the film occur in simple sequences of the great, futuristic city, dripping in art deco majesty, in both day and night. Those sequences are brought to life so profoundly with the epic Gottfried Huppertz score. At times it felt like John Williams meets Gustav Holst’s The Planets, judging it through 25 year old ears in 2014, obviously. Metropolis is an almost perfect marriage of storytelling,(in its most epic form,) musical brilliance, and incredible artistic design. I don’t say this lightly, but Metropolis is most surely one of the greatest films ever made.

★★★★★

Categories: Movie Review Tags: ,
  1. February 14, 2014 at 1:47 AM

    I had a question regarding the versions. I queued this up on Netflix but it says Metropolis Restored (1927). Do you know if this version is same?

    • February 14, 2014 at 3:39 PM

      Check the running time. If it’s 148/150 minutes then it’s the “Complete” version.

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