Sunday, May 23, 2010

Metropolis 1927

Fritz Lang (1890-76), 118minutes

The movie is made in 1927 Germany, in a lull between WW1 and the emergence of the scourge. The film itself has survived in various degrees of mutilation and the one I got to see is not it's most complete incarnation.  It is noted as the first SF, the most expensive silent movie, and for employing platoons of extras (25,000). 

The plot has little coherence and is a mish-mash of science, labor vs capital issues (which must have been burning hot in those tumultuous times with Lenin active up the street) and biblical overtones all culminating in the momentous conclusion that the heart (a savior) must be a mediator between head (intelligentsia) and hands (working classes). In proposing a messianic figure as the absurdly naive solution to the class struggle, Lang tries to assuage all shades of opinion and belief. Social issues must have been pre-eminent in those heady times of dramatic change, and Metropolis is a grand parable articulating with energy and passion, if not commitment, the concerns of the augenblick.

The theatrics are piled without inhibition and are a mixture of the grotesque, comical absurdity, at the same time riveting as pantomime, silent opera or dance. Most impressive are the sets, dark and hellish, vast spaces through which the anguished hordes pour.

Metropolis is a city created by an unscrupulous business visionary and an evil scientist. Humanity is divided into the managers who lead lives of luxury in an Eden like environment and the laborers who toil in the sub-terrains to create wealth for the master classes. Opposition to the schema emerges from none else than the top guys only son. Throw in a Madonna like prophetess who talks of the coming Mediator to remedy the state of affairs, her mechanical replica who follows the will of the mad scientist to mess up our plans, and take a zig-zag path to reach the winning post.

The film is a compulsory viewing for it's historical importance and the grand scale and cost of it's production, reminding us of the brighter Avatar. The impression that remains is one of megalomaniacal grandeur, of spaces vast yet suffocating, of leers, grimaces and bodies unnaturally contorted. But after all it is a silent movie and it's the body and face that has to do the speaking, and Lang doesn't do it by halves. It has more of the medieval than SF. Even the over sized wheels and dials (small was not beautiful yet), the boiling retorts and the lightening flashing in the laboratory are more of a witch's paraphernalia. If it is science fiction, it's science is closer to the Industrial Revolution than the information age. After all, this is the period of H.G.Wells, Conan Doyle and Jules Verne, with Dickens not far behind.

As Ebert brilliantly summarizes,"``Metropolis'' does what many great films do, creating a time, place and characters so striking that they become part of our arsenal of images for imagining the world."

4 comments:

Literary Dreamer said...

You do know that Ebert is showing the most complete version at Ebertfest next year, right? :-)

SM Rana said...

@LD
So it seems! Do we have a date?

Literary Dreamer said...

You're coming?! If that is the case, then indeed, we do. :-)

SM Rana said...

@LD
A year is an age and anything is possible! I love to believe in impossibles!