Metropolis (1927) – By Duane L. Martin

 Most people have either never known, never appreciated or never understood the brilliance that was captured on film during the silent era. Legendary stars such as Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton made us laugh, while films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Nosferatu made us tremble in fear. Yet others, like George Melies’ A Trip to the Moon and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis show us a sometimes humorous, sometimes intense, and often frightning glimpse of the future through the eyes of early 20th century man.

While Melies took us on what, to modern eyes, appears to be a comical trip to the moon way back in 1902, Fritz Lang would twenty-five years later show us a vision of the future that even to this day is unbelievably frightning, and still just as much a potential reality as Melies trip to the moon was back in 1902.

The story of Metropolis is based around a completely mechanized and technological society, which has broken apart into two separate classes. The workers, and the elite. It’s not difficult to see how our own modern society has moved in that direction already. The workers live underground and operate the underground machines that keep society going and make life good for the elites who live and enjoy life above ground. They work endlessly in shifts, to the point of pure exhaustion, and then are replaced by the next shift, and so on in a never ending cycle of almost robotic symmetry, while the elites live it up without a care in the world.

Things stay the same for many years, until one day Freder, the son of the lord of Metropolis, heads underground, strictly out of curiosity, to see what the workers do and how they live. He’s shocked and appalled at what he finds, while at the same time finding love in the form of a worker girl named Maria. When Freder’s father decides that the workers are no longer a necessary commodity, he instructs a scientist to create a robot in the image of Maria, which is then sent into the underground to convince the workers that the time is at hand for a revolution of the working class. The real plan however is eliminate the working class once the revolution has begun, using the robot Maria to lead them to their own destruction.

Metropolis was not only a brilliant look at the potential future of society, but it was an unbelievably startling visual achievement by Fritz Lang. The futuristic society he created for the film was so far ahead of it’s time that one wonders how he could have possibly envisioned much of what today is reality, or near reality.

The film itself was actually re-released in a more modern form in the early eighties, sporting a sountrack, which included many of the most popular artists of the time such as Bonnie Tyler, Adam Ant and Freddie Mercury. Freddie, inspired by his work on the Metropolis soundrack, took that inspiration back to Queen and in 1984 Queen released an album called The Works, of which the general feel and theme was based on the movie Metropolis. Their music video for the song Radio Ga Ga was a direct derivitive of the film, and included both footage of the film as well as sets that allowed the band to become a part of the whole Metropolis experience.

How many people this film has touched and how many filmmakers it has inspired can only be guessed at, but what there is no question of is the fact that Fritz Lang left a definite mark on the cinematic world with this silent masterpiece. People have forgotten the brilliance of the silent film era. It’s a shame, because missing out on films such as this one will leave a wide open gap in your ability to understand the true brilliance of those who had to convey story and emotion without the help of sound or dialogue. They were the true pioneers, and Fritz Lang ranked among the best of the best.

The film is currently available from a few distributors, bu if you want a pristine, restored, authorized edition with the original 1927 score, then you have to get the release from Kino Video. They have released tons of awesome silent films, and every single one of their releases is of the higest quality and fully restored to the best of their ability. This release is a full 1/3 longer than any other release because they have been able to restore the film using footage that Fritz Lang had been forced to remove from the film before it’s original release. So at last, Lang’s complete vision is available for all to see. So do yourself a favor. Introduce yourself, your children, your friends and anyone else you can think of to the brilliance of silent film. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a perfect place to start.

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Rogue Reviewers Roundtable Topic: The Robotic Menace

Duane’s Review Site: B-Movie Central