Monday, November 8, 2010

Alfred Abel - Joh Fredersen
Gustav Fröhlich – Freder
Brigitte Helm – Maria
Rudolf Klein-Rogge - C. A. Rotwang
Heinrich George - Grot, Foreman of the Heart Machine.

         How can one start talking about a film that has defined the Sci-Fi genre in so many different ways? A masterpiece of set design and miniatures it defined how a futuristic town would look. The design of the “machine-man” has also set a landmark of design. For example the Gynoids of Hajime Sorayama are clearly influenced by the smooth metal curves of the machine-man in its mechanic form. The sprawling metropolis, the main tower inspired by a painting of the Babel Tower, with its insane traffic and blocky buildings, is now a base for all other futuristic towns designed over the years.

Filmed in 1927, and with the highest budget ever used in any film to date, it was made during the Weimar Republic, in a moment of peace between the two wars. The main plot revolves around Freder, son of Joh Fredersen the leader of the party, who tries to create a link between the ruling class and the workers. He sees Maria, a teacher taking care of the children of the workers, and falls in love with her. He decides to follow her and finds himself in the machine room, filled with steam and workers working to a set rhythm in tune with the music and movement of the engines. There, we witness the incredible work of design and composition as he runs through the most impressive yet seen by the world. The striking difference between the two classes is evident as the soot stained and sweaty humans toil through the infernal heat of the factory, while the autocratic and sombre leader of the town, in his vast office, decides on the lives of thousands.

The social study done in this film is the representation of a time, from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution to today. The world is divided into two parts. Those that rule and those that serve, and this is a concept the film really puts forward. The amazing scene where the workers enter the factory in unison, entering giant lifts that brings them down into the bowels of a man made hell, is a stark contrast to the freedom and monochromatic colours of the garden for the rich youth of the town. The group entering the factory walk in a slower manner than the one coming out, yet still on the same rhythm and following the music. As the movie continues we are shown more and more extravagant and bizarre contraception, until we are shown a panorama view of the whole city from the office of Her Fredersen. The splendid view is a stark contrast between the underground cave where Maria, played by Brigitte Helm, is idolized as a saint and as a portent of hope.

The film stands the test of time, and is more genuine today than any film that has come out in the last decade. Its satire of modern society shows how little our society has evolved in a positive way in a century of evolution. All the negative curves are on a positive slope while the positive are on a negative slope. The traders and capitalist dictators have not changed, except perhaps in denomination, and still pollute the march forward that society should be undertaking. Metropolis perfectly exemplifies how disconnected the different stratums of society are. It also shows the lack of control the ruling class has over what it creates. As shown by the mad scientist, Rotwang, who fails to control his strange yet enthralling Maschinenmensch. Today has not changed much, with the governments of the world’s modern and industrialized countries having completely lost control of the infernal creation that is the world’s modern economical system.  The "Maschinenmensch" robot based on Maria is a brilliant eroticisation and fetishisation of modern technology and the current crisis in Dubai, whose economic boom was founded on a colossal import of globalised labour, makes Metropolis seem very contemporary.” Peter Bradshaw, from the Guardian, resumes well, giving a concrete example of a modern Metropolis through Dubai. I can give first hand accounts of Dubai, having been there, and the resemblance between the two is striking. It is hard to see anyone else but workers on the lower levels and streets of the vast and tall buildings, with the ruling class only known to live, one could put it metaphorically, above the clouds.

As Philip French, from the Observer points out, “Fritz Lang, one of those few directors to create equally significant bodies of work both in the silent era and after the coming of sound, is one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and arguably the single most innovative and influential figure in movie history.” The Expressionist-influenced concept, mixed with strong influences from Modernism and Art-Deco create a patchwork of styles which has defined some of the most famous architectural landmarks of today. New York is a good example, with buildings such as the Chrysler Building would have not looked out of place among the models of Metropolis.


The last point will be related to Josephat played by Theodor Loos. His role as a symbol of fallen grace is made further interesting by the knowledge that whole sections of the movie dedicated to him have been cut. He represents how rapidly one can fall from grace and as Sam Adams from the Philadelphia Citypaper says, “Josaphat the ruler's right-hand man, who is fired after a fatal accident with the city's monstrous Heart-Machine. (In a city defined entirely in terms of work, losing one's job is equivalent to a death sentence.)” In a sordid symmetry to some stories that I have read today of people loosing their life long job, a lot of time simply based on excess numbers and irrational logic, shows how human relations and friendship are lost in front of the all-devouring monster that is the world economy. Be part of the system or die and disappear.

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