Fritz Lang's classic silent film METROPOLIS from 1927 has rightly
been called one of the greatest pictures ever made. For its seventy-fifth
anniversary, it is being re-released in a restored version that adds
a half hour of footage never seen before in the United States. There
is still a quarter of the film that is lost forever, but the restorers
have added intertitles that explain what happens in the missing scenes.
Operatic in scale, story and music, the movie is an incredible treat,
and this new print is sharp in images and sound. Even if you've seen
it before, you haven't seen it like this. This is close to how it
was meant to be enjoyed when it was first released.
As the story opens, downtrodden workers are shuffling along like an
army of zombie soldiers on parade with each head held down. They
are the minions who toil at the machines, consisting of big levers,
large dials and lots of steam. Although the poor people work like
moles, deep underground, the upper class plays on the surface, enjoying
the fruits of the workers' labor. The skyscrapers and massive buildings
look like they might have been the inspiration a decade later for
Albert Speer, Hitler's architect.
Like an opera, most silent films feature exaggerated, almost comical
actions and make-up. METROPOLIS is no exception.
Hands down, my favorite part of the production is the symphonic music
which fills every frame with great power and emotion. The story is
a blend of religious allegory and class struggles. Its ultimate message
is, "The mediator between head and hands is the heart." The "head"
represents society's intellectuals or brains, and the "hands" are
the workers or brawn. The "heart" is the human compassion and mutual
understanding that unites us all.
The story includes a messiah or Virgin Mary figure called Maria (Brigitte
Helm), a young rebel named Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) and Freder's megalomaniac
father, Joh (Alfred Abel). Along the way, the science fiction story
includes cities of the future, a Frankenstein-like robot and even the Tower of Babel.
Silent movies may not say anything, but some of the lines on the intertitles
in METROPOLIS are priceless, including: "Death to the machines!!!"
and "One man's hymns of praise become another man's curses."
In the extremely unlikely event that you aren't mesmerized by the
story, just shut your eyes and soak up the music. It is symphonic
scoring at its very best. If I had to choose between watching METROPOLIS
or listening to it, I'm not quite sure which one I'd go for. Okay,
you twisted my arm. I'll pick the music.
METROPOLIS runs 2:04. It is not rated but would be PG for mature
themes and would be acceptable for any kid old enough to be interested in seeing it.
Copyright © 2002 Steve Rhodes