Sunday, November 14, 2010

Metropolis...


Like many others, I had the very enjoyable experience of viewing the world television premiere of the newly restored Metropolis on TCM last Sunday night…

This is a film I first saw when I was very young...so young that I don’t recall ever NOT knowing of Rotwang, Maria and the “Machine Man”, and I’ve seen it many times over the years but I never enjoyed it as much as I did the other night! Partly because for the first time I am seeing the closest thing to Fritz Lang’s full length cut but also simply because, like most great films, Metropolis gets better and better with age.

The new footage was taken from a 16mm print and was in pretty bad shape, but it didn’t bother me at all and of course made it very easy to see - Yes, there is a shot I never saw, and here is a whole scene that’s “new” and holy shit this is a whole subplot that I’ve never seen before so man, talk about a kid in the candy store type thing, it was just GREAT! I would say without a doubt the actor who almost ended up getting cut from the film entirely was Fritz Rasp who played the “Thin man” character. He is probably best known as the lowlife pharmacist who molested Louise Brooks in that other German masterpiece “Diary of a Lost Girl”. He seemed to appear in at least half of the restored footage in Metropolis, most of it involving a “new” sub plot with the worker that switched places with Freder, Jon Fredersen’s son.

Certainly another reason I enjoyed this more than ever is over the last few years I have developed an intense interest (that’s a polite way of saying obsession!) with Art Deco and if there was ever ONE film that is a literal Deco feast for the eyes it is Metropolis! So I noticed so much more as far as set design, b/g’s, props etc etc, everywhere your eyes go there is something to see, a meticulous production in every respect!

As a kid I remember being fascinated by the scenes of the workers toiling at their jobs and of course the incredible transformation scene. Robot Maria is still a mesmerizing cinematic achievement!

I don’t think one can talk about this film without saying something about Brigitte Helm, I mean talk about the role of a lifetime! The contrast between her “good” and “bad” Maria’s is quite remarkable and few actresses ever took to a “Bad Girl” role with such gusto and enthusiasm! She really is unforgettable, as is the entire picture, it just staggers the mind to think this was released in 1927!

What I see i this film is a really intense visual interpretation of “The Mind/Body Dichotomy”, a concept quite prevalent in 20th century philosophy. Whereas that concept usually refers to an individual, Metropolis expands on the idea to show an entire society existing in this fashion. It’s certainly something I never keyed into before and so, meditate on this further, I will.

Another thing I noticed for the first time is the similarities between this and Lang’s First Hollywood film “Fury” with Spencer Tracy (an absolute MUST see!) in so far as the portrayal of the “masses” and mob mentality, neither film paints a pretty picture of it at all. In fact, there’s one shot of a woman tossing a torch onto the stake where “bad” Maria is being burned and in Fury there is an almost identical shot of a woman tossing a torch at the prison Tracy is locked away in. “Man’s Inhumanity to Man” is certainly a strong theme in Lang’s body of work, to the extent of which I’ve seen anyway (I am still sadly lacking in viewing his German work but have seen many of his American films)

I also see certain similarities between this and Ayn Rand’s short story “Anthem”. The life and living conditions of the workers in Metropolis are very much like how she described life for the characters in her story. Though her story takes place in a future primitive collectivized society, and her main character toiled as a lowly street sweeper, I have no doubt she was influenced by the film because she had stated Fritz Lang was her favorite director. One can also clearly see the influence on George Lucas with THX-1138 and of course, C-3PO from Star Wars is a direct descendant of Maria. I also see “Bladerunner” in those shots of the city and the new Tower of Babel, so lets just take into account how much influence Star Wars and Bladerunner have had on all the sci-fi that’s followed them!

An another note, I really enjoyed hearing the original score with this new version. The last time I saw this film it had a horrendous almost jazz type score that totally did NOT fit the imagery at all!
If you've never seen this film before, please do yourself a huge favor and rent it or catch it next time it plays on TCM!

6 comments:

Amanda said...

I was blown away by watching Metropolis last week, as well as the special about it. The images, message, acting, everything was fantastic! Defintely a must for any film addict

Mr. Door Tree said...

Artman,

I'm trying to remember when we first viewed Metropolis together...it must have been at Yale...you couldn't have been more than 5 years old! The newly restored version is magnificent, it was a true joy to see! Thanks for the great post!

Raquelle said...

I'm so glad you posted about this. I didn't know that you had watching this film so young! That's amazing. I'm a little jealous that Metropolis has been with you for your youth and adulthood. This films is only part of my adult years.

I was happy to see the most complete version of Metropolis at an Art Deco theater. Like you, I love Art Deco and this movie is an Art Deco bonanza.

I feel like this version filled in a lot of plot holes that were missing. I didn't mind the bad condition of the extra footage either. At least we have it!!!

Great review and images. :-)

Artman2112 said...

Amanda - I agree it is truly essential viewing!!

Mr. Tree - Glad you enjoyed the post! Yeah it probably was around that age that we went and saw it there! saw lots of great shit at yale, my most vivid of all was Sahara with Bogie oh man i am still thirsty!!!! and that is still one of my fave Bogie films!

Quelle - i feel very lucky that i was brought up around people who were into movies and took me to see so many of the classics when i was young. yale university used to show all kinds of great films back then, but regardless i am very jealous you got to see this version at a great old Art Deco theater!! i agree better to see the "new' footage in poor shape than not at all, it def makes the film make a bit more sense to me.

glad you enjoyd the post, i felt kinda like i owed ya for all those great Bogie reviews you're doing!

Francy Flicks said...

Oh my god, I have wanted to see this for quite some time, and I can't believe I missed it when it was on TCM! Everything I have seen in terms of screencaps though looks absolutely stunning. I would love to see all those Art Deco sets.

Artman2112 said...

Francy you really need to see it no matter what, its essental viewing and i think you'll be amazed that it came out in 1927!