Sunday, March 17, 2013

Metropolis (1927) ✭✭✭✭1/2

This amazing film by Fritz Lang set a new standard for visual splendor in 1927, and was one of the first movies to attempt a new, speculative reality through the art of filmmaking. Set 100 years in the future, Metropolis is the story of a socially stratified city-state where thousands of workers toil deep underground, servicing the needs of massive power generators while, in the gleaming city above, the business elite watch their stock tickers and occasionally cavort with scantily clad floozies.

The film is a triumph of art direction and set design. The various technical marvels of this futuristic society are rendered in a geometric Art Deco style that is as beautiful today as it was 85 years ago. It is no stretch to say that this film has, at one time or another, been ripped off by every director and set designer in the profession, and part of the fun for modern audiences is spotting which scenes were swiped by whom.

For instance, the Machine-Man robot here bears a striking resemblance to C3PO from Star Wars. Clearly Tim Burton studied the film exhaustively when conceiving Gotham City for his Batman films. But the most blatant homage is paid by Ridley Scott in Blade Runner.  He pilfered not only the film's architectural stylings, but actual compositions and framings, as well as two of Lang's futuristic gadgets: a picture phone and a massive mechanical window covering.

Past the eye candy however  Metropolis features a narrative full of confused allusions, including some revisionist biblical history, and a point-of-view so muddled I can't tell what it’s for or against. The acting is typical of silent films -- atrocious -- – and the scene where the city's richest men are driven to hysteria by an erotic dancer simply cannot be taken seriously. Probably wasn't in 1927 either. No, Metropolis is not a film of dramatic subtlety, but it is a visual tour-de-force of extraordinary and innovative design, delivered on an enormous scale.

Folks, we need to get on the stick here. As we sit a mere 14 years from Lang's target date, we see no elevated bullet trains or flying cars. No all-powerful mechanical servants or frenzied revolutionaries combatting the tyranny of the elite. Our pole dancers are prettier so that's something I guess.


Retro Hound said...

While I've seen parts of it, I've never seen this start-to-finish. I need to sit down and watch the whole thing soon.

Movies Eat the Soul said...

I've probably watched it twice in 30 years. It's always somewhere in my Netflix cue but I always seem to avoid it. There are a lot of version out there, including one from the 80s with Pat Benatar on the soundtrack. Which actually isn't awful.

The special features on the most recent DVD I saw had a great section on how Lang, and whomever his cameraman was, devised the enormous special effects. It was worth the time investment for someone like me who doesn't understand the first thing about forced perspective, etc.

Per the last paragraph, I suspect mechanical servants are less in our future than human servants with mechanical enhancements. If I live long enough.

Bunched Undies said...

RH: Feel free to fast-forward through the boring stuff. The version NF is carrying has about 20 minutes of extra footage. As if this film needed to be longer.

METS: One of the special effects cameramen was Eugene Shuften who shot The Hustler with Paul Newman. Quite a career.

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