Wednesday, October 26, 2005

METROPOLIS (1927) - Fritz Lang

Like most people my age, what I first knew of Metropolis came not from the original 1927 Fritz Lang silent film but courtesy of David Fincher. You know, that Madonna music video, “Express Yourself.” The one with heavily stylized set design, a lot of rain, and Madonna slinking around semi-clad like Marlene Dietrich in heat. I’m not sure if this was the one with the infamous three-foot long cone bra or not -- that may have been “Vogue” -- but let’s not quibble over cone bras, shall we?

Surprise…the original Metropolis is much less oversexed. The story hinges on a rather chaste love-at-first-sight encounter between the spoiled son of an evil future-world tycoon who runs Metropolis and a lowly worker woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm) who toils away in the city’s underclass. And by underclass, I mean UNDERGROUND. In Metropolis, the “workers” and the “thinkers” simply don’t mix, the “thinkers” living in nice palatial penthouses in breathtaking high-rises while the “workers” perform hardcore manual labor underneath the city, tasks that basically turn them into pumping human pistons. Not so different from what we have now, right?
Well, in Metropolis the architecture is much, much better and an inter-class love affair means risking your life and going underground. Like every good futuristic tale, there’s also the robot subplot. The city’s mad inventor creates a Machine Man which, by decree of the evil tycoon, becomes a Machine Woman bearing Maria’s likeness. Basically, it’s the evil doppelganger scenario, the tycoon using the robot to lead astray both the rebelling underclass and his own son who’s taken up the “worker” cause. For my money, the movie could have used even more robot.
This is not to say I didn’t enjoy Metropolis. I mentioned that architecture, right? But other than stunning set design, there’s such a disconnect between the way movies were made then and now that it’s hard to watch this two hour silent (the original restored TCM version, not the 90 minute one with a Queen soundtrack) without constantly seeing in it the other movies it inspired. For one, that Machine Man bears a striking resemblance to the original C-3PO. And the head dress one burlesque dancer wears looks a lot like that contraption Natalie Portman wears on her head in the new Star Wars trilogy. Not to mention the entire musical score. Was John Williams alive back in 1927?
Don’t get me wrong, I know Metropolis came first. It inspired Star Wars, Sky Captain, Madonna, cone bras, whathaveyou. But unfortunately, I saw the pale reproductions first and am stuck with those images. The only solution I can come up with for future viewers of Metropolis is to show them the silent film at birth, cut the others off at the pass. Maybe even throw in a Machine Man action figure into their bassinet…maybe a cone bra to suckle on.

1 comment:

Jordan Hoffman said...

The HEAD must Mediate the HAND and the HEART. . .or whatever.

I saw this on VHS (during film school, ahem) and liked it about as much as you did. But about 2 years ago and saw it projected with a kickass new print and was blown away. Should a screening come your way, don't pass it up.