Monday, 1 November 2010


 Metropolis is a silent film made in 1927, and although conventional it is an epic. Metropolis is about a city created by Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel) and the workers that keep it running. The sets are large with a correct observation to scale. Metropolis had a cast of thousands, and utilised sophisticated special effects for its day. ‘Metropolis’ employed vast sets, 25,000 extras and astonishing special effects to create two worlds: the great city of Metropolis, with its stadiums, skyscrapers and expressways in the sky, and the subterranean workers' city, where the clock face shows 10 hours to cram another day into the workweek”. This is a run of the mill requirement today for any film in this genre, but in 1927 it was almost unheard of. The story follows the workers and their dissatisfaction with their employer, but their anger is quailed by a beautiful young woman named Maria who preaches the word of god and the union of both the workers and Joh Fredersen through a Mediator.

The workers environment is a dismal looking place with an industrial coal miners theme attached. The machines are big within this dark and gloomy world of shadow and steam, giving the effect of never ending repetitive hard labour. This was not the only subterranean world; the world of Maria in the catacombs which lay beneath the workers did not depict gloom or doom. Although more confined than all the other sets, the light bathed the pulpit where Maria preached and was littered with crosses of many shapes and sizes giving her an angelic presence. Here the workers came and were enlightened with the promise of one day being liberated by a mediator. This futuristic sci-fi begins with a bang, literally, as an explosion disrupts production in the netherworld of the workers. This begins the conflict between the two worlds, one of intellect the other of brawn. Fredersen’s son Freder (Gustav Frohlich) who lives in the idealised world of the intellect above ground brings about the realisation of the disheartened workers, who he sees as his brothers, to his father. “So back we go to these bustling future cityscapes and Brigitte Helm’s sexy robot, knowing that without them, there is no Blade Runner”

The cityscapes belong to Freder’s world, which is a bountiful one of light and space with magnificently large skyscrapers giving the impression of great accomplishments through futuristic design. Freder travels from his world of light to the subterranean dark world of the machines and sees how the workers live, he feels pity for his brothers and decides to swap roles with one of the workers. In becoming one of them Freder is privileged to be allowed to witness Maria’s powerful preaching and falls in love with her. Maria starts to relay the Biblical tale of Babel, bringing up images of men’s desire to construct a tower in which to praise and be closer to god, and of thousands of slaves constructing this great tower of massive blocks of stone. These scenes alone show the magnitude of the production to the audience. The scale of the construction the slaves undertake is defined by their large numbers, the intensity of the work is described through the large equipment and materials used to carry-out the task, and the bright lights shows the intense heat they were made to work under. These short but relevant scenes help to propel the storyline, giving the film a source of reference and instilling a narrative that makes dialogue unnecessary. Freder is not the only newcomer to Maria’s words.

His father accompanied by his scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) are observing from within a hidden passage, planning and plotting to crush any rebellion. Rotwang has created a robot in his laboratory that sets the precedence for future mad scientists’ laboratories even down to his miniature henchman or assistant. Fredersen orders Rotwang to use his machine man to infiltrate the rebellion by impersonating Maria, and in doing so brings discord and enmity between the two factions. Rotwang complies, having an ulterior motive to rule in Fredersen’s place, kidnaps Maria forcing her under his machines to reproduce her image on the robot.

The special effects are at their most prominent here, as we see bolts of electricity shoot out of rods and circular streams of light surround the machine man transferring the image of Maria onto it. With the machine transformed completely into Maria it is sent to the catacombs to preach to the workers of hate and violence against Fredersen and the machines that bind them to their duties. Freder is also present at this speech and speaks out against the fake Maria recognising it to be an imposter. The mob has been whipped into a frenzy, with ears only for Maria they turn on Freder, while rushing to destroy all the machines. The cameras follow the rampaging mob through their subterranean world to the heart machine, where Grot (Heinrich George) is ordered by Fredersen to open the gates, and the mob enters and satisfies their rage for destruction. They are ignorant to the fact that when they destroy the machines they also destroy their world. This knowledge is imparted by Grot to the mob, which now vents their anger towards the fake Maria.

The cinematography becomes very vivid in relating the Biblical references in the film to the audience, the fake Maria is sent out to tempt man as she has done with the workers’ using rage and violence to fuel them. Now above ground and in the Metropolis, she uses her sexuality to tempt and entrance men to do her bidding. She embodies the Whore Of Babylon dancing erotically on a mount depicted as the beast with seven heads and seven horns. This she does while still under the control of Rotwang. The real Maria with the aid of Freder has escaped from Rotwang’s lair and returns to the machine world. With the machine world now flooding and grounded to a halt, the fake Maria is captured and burnt at the stake. Refusing to admit defeat, Rotwang recaptures the real Maria in a large gothic church, at the same time the fake Maria burns outside. An epic chase sequence unfolds as Maria does her best to elude the mad scientist, darting up and down stairs, weaving in and out of corridors. The frenzied pursuit allows the viewer to emerge in the shadowy architecture of the disused building, Freder sees Maria in Rotwang’s clutches and rushes to her aid. The two battle it out on the church roof, first with Freder getting the upper hand, then with Rotwang retaliating to no avail. Maria comes to Freder’s assistance and together they force Rotwang over the edge of the building to his death. “Fritz Lang’s stunning 1927 epic is one of the most influential and vivid films of the silent era”. Without a doubt, Metropolis is truly an epic, a classic film with big intentions that delivers in every aspect, with cinematography that enhances the narrative, and great sets that portray the scale of the production; this film does not disappoint.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Kolade - I LIKE your sincere and lengthy reviews - instead of seeing this task as something 'in the way' of the others, regard instead as an enriching one - an exercise for keeping your critical faculties nice and limber! No such thing as too much looking and thinking on a degree programme. Embrace it - grow in confidence and discernment - be amazing!

    Oh - and how about reducing your font size? It's a bit like being SHOUTED at! :-)