Nov 20 2009

Article III – In Which I Search Metropolis for Hookers

Okay ladies, last week was just a 14 minute primer.  This is the real deal.  The true roots of AMERICAN science fiction.  None of that pansy French stuff I pawned off on you last week.  This week we examine Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  This week – I start with the hard hitting questions and reviews.  Feature length film is where we get to the heart of sci-fi, the gritty core of human ideas and exploration of human condition.  This, children, is what the rest of my fabulous articles are going to be like.

…oh god has it been a thousand words yet?

Much like this article, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis seems to last forever.  That said, this silent 124 minute expressionist film is one of the most enjoyable early films I’ve ever seen.  And I’ve seen at least two.  Unlike last week’s A Trip to the Moon, this film has a soundtrack.  While there is no awesome 80’s rock played at any time during the film, the classical score is the next best thing for such a science epic.

Please bear with me while I laboriously copy/paste the Wikipedia article describing the plot for you.

We open the film in the paradise of the Eternal Gardens of Metropolis City, a vast futuristic…well, metropolis, I guess…designed by Joh Frederson, who is given complete and utter control over his brainchild.  His son, Freder, is frolicking with the rest of the woefully ignorant socialites until some wench from the vast Worker’s City that greases the ambiguously functional machines powering the city shows up with a ton of dirty children.

From here, Freder is a changed man, seeing that his brethren are being forced to keep the city running in slave like conditions because he has fallen in love with this woman: Maria.  He passes out the second he gets underground and has a vision of an awesome machine god eating people.  He foolishly decides to join the workers in their absurd quest for equal rights with the deserving upper class.

Joh Frederson (the father and founder of the city, for those of you with short term memory loss) decides that this madness must not be allowed to continue.  He goes to the resident mad scientist, Dr. Rotwang, with whom he has a sordid past, and demands his help.  Rotwang tells him of his new invention: a robot that he has made so that he can finally have the love of a facsimile of Frederson’s dead wife.

Rotwang and his Machine Lover

Rotwang and his Machine Lover

Frederson somehow convinces Rotwang to create the woman in the image of Maria with the intention of sowing discord and anarchy among the workers, keeping them from unionizing.  His plan succeeds, but the robot gets out of control (surprise) and almost destroys the city in a terrible flood of water and awesome special effects.  One thing leads to another and the robot is burned at the stake and Rotwang falls to his death from the top of a cathedral.  Readers should know: you cannot burn real robots at the stake, they will probably use the fire to kill you.

Somehow the whole debacle is wrapped up with a bow saying that the moderator between the head and the hands must be the heart.  Yeah I didn’t get it either.

“So,” you ask, “Should I like this film?  Tell us Fil, tell us what to think!”

Now.  I don’t claim to know much about German Expressionism or Art Deco or Modernism, but this movie apparently has all of those things in it.  The sets are designed to give off the impression of what people in the 1920s thought the future would look like.  .  I kind of wish our modern society looked this good, to be honest with you, I’m pretty sure people would be happier.   Miniature sets, tiny cars and airplanes, and elaborate machine-like contraptions make this movie look and feel like we’re living in the late 1950s!

Not Supermans Metropolis

Superman's Metropolis?

The special effects in this movie (yes this is going to be something I have to go over in these “reviews”) are groundbreaking.  You’re probably going to hear me say that a lot for many of the early movies.  Mainly because history doesn’t remember the times I went back in time and invented everything cool. My research shows one special effects process included putting mirrors in miniature sets to make it look like the actors were in the city.  To the people in the 1920s, this was called the Schüfftan Process.  Today this would be considered considered magic and/or heresy.

The acting…well, the acting is exactly what you would expect from silent movie actors in the 20s.  I can’t read lips if people are talking in German.  I also don’t know how to read, so I had a hard time understanding what was going on.

The real meat of this film is in the socialist undertones and examinations of the roles that class and birth play in our society.  If, and mind you, I say IF, there were a city in which poor people did all the crap work no one wanted to do while the privileged rich upper class frolicked and played all day without doing an ounce of work, this film might be somewhat significant.  Naturally, the idea that the upper class might come up with the ideas as the “brain,” and use the lower class to do all the work as the “hands” is just plain…fantasy science fiction.

Of course there is no reconciling this completely fictitious film with our own perfect reality.

What I took away from this film was that everyone can totally work together for a better tomorrow; we just need to make sure there are no robots or mad scientists to confuse us.  Odd for a science fiction film, I know.

I would like to say in closing this “review” that Lang himself didn’t really care for this film.  He thought it was oversimplified and idealistic.  Nazis apparently loved it, though.

6 Responses to “Article III – In Which I Search Metropolis for Hookers”

  • deeds Says:

    the sci fi that PISS OUT DA FINGER

  • Tim Says:

    I have to agree with you that you can’t burn a robot at the stakes. I give you Terminator II as my proof that it doesn’t work. the T-1000 walks right out of that semi truck fire and looks good as new — hmm, well? he was an advanced version and perhaps the robots made an upgrade to fire proof themselves after what had happened in Metropolis.

  • anton Says:

    but do YOU think it was “oversimplified and idealistic”?

  • Rosser Says:

    Do we see a similarity here with a more modern film…”The Matrix?” I’ve seen “Metropolis” out on DVD (fairly cheap) but do not know if they have a “Collector’s edition” or “platinum edition” or “classic edition”, or whatever. Still, I would hope that such a DVD release would be a clean (=restored) one with a lot of extras on the making of the film, etc., sort of what was just done with that other fantastic 1933 film, “King Kong [one of my all-time favorites…].”
    I remember seeing the actual female robot which was used in the film. This was at the late Forrest Ackerman house that had a fantastic (several floors!) collection of science fiction paraphernalia and books, magazines, etc.

  • anton Says:

    didn’t Roger Ebert publish some stuff comparing Metropolis to Dark City a while back? now I know that’s one of your favorite films so I’m wondering why you didn’t include some of your thoughts about that. or are you going to make us wait for your Dark City review? if so, that’s WEAK, Phil! hehe.

  • James Goux Says:

    Russian spam-bots have been mounting a consistent invasion on the comments section of this article, so I’m closing off comments on it. If you have something to say about this article, maybe drop a note on one of Fil’s other posts.