Tuesday, July 3, 2007
Metropolis; silent science-fiction drama, Germany, 1927; D: Fritz Lang, S: Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Theodor Loos
The future. Metropolis is a giant city where workers works up to 10 hours a day in factories under the surface while their bosses are partying all day, amusing themselves with women and games. Freder, the son of one of those rich industrialists, Joh Frederson, falls in love with Maria, the leader of the revolutionaries. Freder decides to work one day in the factory and eventually exhausts himself. Joh comes to the house of the scientist Rotwang, who was madly in love with his deceased wife Hel, and spots his newest invention: a female robot. They kidnap Maria and give the robot her appearance. The robot Maria encourages a rebellion of the workers who destroy the "Heart Machine" and cause the flooding of the city. Freder kills Rotwang, the workers set the robot on fire. Freder unites Joh and the workers as a mediator.
For all of it's brilliantly directed scenes and revolutionary style, the first Science-Fiction film of the cinema, "Metropolis", a silent black and white film from the past predicting the future, ironically seems rather dated by today's standards. The prophetic story seems to be talking about the clash between communism and capitalism (proletariat preparing for a revolution, bourgeoisie exploiting them in inhumane working conditions), in the end dismissing both, filled with groundbreaking design, but it's 145 minutes really seem exhausting and dry. The rhythm is sightly lethargic and stiff, while the character's intentions are not particularly clear. Those viewers expecting a non-stop action packed Sci-Fi like let's say "RoboCop" will be disappointed: "Metropolis" is actually a static, highly demanding drama about class struggle filled with very little Sci-Fi elements, consisting only of some 2-3 minutes of the entire running time (for instance, in one scene futuristic trains can be seen from the distance, and old airplanes - invented by the Wright brothers - flying around, while even the famous robot from the poster seems to have a very sustained screen time). Lang's best ideas are the dynamic titles that fall down the screen or even "melt", Maria's story about the Tower of Babel and the slaves (that stands out in the otherwise futuristic composition of the film) and his trademark genius visual style, mostly present in the scene where statues of death come to life or the scene with a dozen split screens showing a dozen eyes. Of all the characters, the one that stands out is the most is the evil scientist Rotwang with his black glove on his right hand, that later on inspired a number of movie characters, like Dr. Strangelove. "Metropolis" is a classic, but still, unlike most great films, this one drains your energy instead of giving you one.