Sunday, July 15, 2012

Silent Sundays: Metropolis (1927)

“There can be no understanding between the hand and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.”

            Metropolis is one of the greatest silent films and classic films ever to be made. Fritz Lang created a film that even today is still an inspiration to filmmakers. I bought the film on Blu ray having ever seen it before but being a classic film lover knew I had to see eventually. I could not find it where the subtitles were in English so I found it on sale and bought it. After viewing Metropolis I am very proud to have seen and to own this incredible cinematic masterpiece.
            Metropolis is a futuristic city built by a man named Joh Fredersen. His city was built on the back of workers and runs on their blood and sweat. The workers live underground in their own small city below Metropolis where the rich have cars and party to their hearts content. One day while enjoying himself in a pleasure garden, Joh’s son Freder, sees a young woman with several children around her tell the children that these people running around are their brother and sisters. Freder thinks the girl is beautiful and quickly finds out her name is Maria and that she comes from below with the workers.
            Maria has become a prophet to the people. She wants them all to have better lives but to gain them peacefully without force. Maria tells her followers that a great mediator will come to help them soon. Meanwhile, in his search for Maria, Freder goes down to the factory and sees a man work until he literally dies. He feels terrible and afraid all at the same time. He runs and tells his father what happened but all Joh cares about is that he did not hear the news from his secretary and has the poor man fired.
            Freder finds a way underground and trades places with a worker. He sends the worker to find the secretary. The worker unfortunately finds a sinful nightclub and takes advantage of his freedom above ground for the night. Freder struggles at a machine making him see how hard the men have to work. When his work is over he is told about the secret meetings Maria holds and he attends one. Freder is so happy to have found the girl of his affections again.
            Joh goes to the inventor Rotwang who has created all the machines the city uses to run. Rotwang hates Joh because Joh took his girl Hel away from him. Hel died while giving birth to Freder and Rotwang for all that time sees it as punishment for Joh for taking her away from him. Rotwang has a shrine dedicated to his lost love and Joh seemingly does not care that the mad man does. The inventor shows Joh his latest invention- a robot that can take on a human form. Joh has heard of Maria and her meetings with the workers. He wants the inventor to make a robot of her, one that is the complete opposite of her he wants the people to lose their faith in her and resort to violence.
            Rotwang finds Maria and takes her back to his lab. The robot is the spitting image of Maria except for dark eyes with one that twitches and a wild personality. Soon the workers are revolting and shutting down all the machines. They do not realize that once they shut down the heart machine their town will flood from the reservoir over flowing and their children who they left behind will die. The real Maria along with Feder and the secretary save the children in time. The workers run after the robot Maria and burn her on the stake. In time they find out the woman was a robot when the flesh of the mad woman disappears to reveal metal.
            In the end Maria’s prophecy comes true and the head of Joh Fredersen is united with the hands of a worker by the heart of his son Freder.  
            I loved the philosophy of Metropolis. It is an age old story of the poor vs. the wealthy but it is so beautifully and differently told that it is not boring. What makes this film a cinematic masterpiece is the backgrounds/sets, the cinematography, and the direction. I stared in amazement and wonder at the Art Deco/Expressionists sets of the city. I do not even know how to put into words properly the amazing sets. The buildings seem cold and uninviting but at the same time they are so awesome. In newer films such as Star Wars, Blade Runner, and the upcoming “reboot” of Total Recall the cities of the future are crowded places with things just thrown on top of each other. I love the smooth clean cut geometrical buildings of Metropolis. I know a little about German Expressionism from my one modern art class I took last year and I really liked the movement. When the art work was added to films like this and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari it just added so much more to the film the art created atmosphere. The cinematography is brilliant. Mixed with the Expressionists sets the light and shadows are beautiful. Fritz Lang is a genius. He had some camera angles that I would love to see used in a film today if a director could pull it off. Lang really captured every emotion and feeling of his characters and even his sets.
            The version of Metropolis I bought was the restored Kino version with newly found twenty-five minutes worth of footage that was cut out of most prints. The discovered scenes were found in a cinema museum in Argentina. I found it so interesting to see what scenes had been cut from the negative everyone had been used to seeing for so many decades. I tried to envision how the film would have looked with the cuts and it baffles me how confusing it must have become at times. The character of The Thin Man had so many scenes that were cut; he just shows up for a bit when Joh sends him to find his son and then comes back at the end. The character had an interesting plot and it was all cut out. There scenes such as well robot Maria is performing in a club and she takes her garter off and throws it. The shot of her taking her garter off was taken out. Some scenes I can see why they were taken out due to time but those cuts disrupted or ruined the flow of the scenes.
            Metropolis is a film that not only classic film lovers should see but film lovers of any kind need to see. It is truly an inspiration from its story to its telling and direction and sets and lighting (the acting is terrible and laughable but get past that and you will be alright). I dare someone to watch Metropolis and not find it amazing in some way. I am very proud to own this masterpiece I feel like I am in an exclusive club now. I look forward to watching Metropolis again very soon.