Sunday, April 29, 2012

Metropolis...

(Movie poster featuring "Freder" ~played by Gustav Frohlich, the character the story follows)
The future.  A time that can only be left to the imagination.  After all, the future hasn't happened yet.  Theories have been formed on what mankind can expect in years to come.  Most predictions come in the form of science fiction, a story telling form I love.  An imagination can be a powerful tool, and there are many over the years who have used theirs with wonderful effect.

A silent film I discovered on Netflix started a trend for me.  It spawned a desire to watch a growing list of silent film titles, most of them classics.  "Diary of a Lost Girl", starring Louise Brooks, was the catalyst.  The follow up?  An incredible trip into a future that tells a timeless and well worn tale.  A tale that rings true on a number of levels even today.

(Some art shots of the Metropolis city)
The film is "Metropolis" (1927), directed by Fritz Lang, who co-wrote the film with his wife.  After its initial release, the film was edited of any material deemed offensive at the time.  A couple of restored re-releases of the "censored" version have been shown over the years, the last being the most ideal.  Any and all complete copies of the original production (prior to its censoring) were thought to have been lost, never to be found.  Then in 2008, in an Argentinian museum, a complete original print was found.  It took a couple of years to complete this last restoration, and in 2010 the restored print was shown in a couple of theaters in Germany (where the film was made).  This last restoration is the version that I watched on Netflix.

(The heart of the city)
Critically, viewers seem divided.  Some give props to the art direction of the futuristic society, while being disappointed with what was seen as a simple and predictable story line.  I, however, think the film brilliant. Those bits of film from the original print that could be restored are quite noticeable, the damage of the years being evident.  In the few places where footage was beyond hope, a card describing what is taking place is inserted to keep continuity intact.  None of this detracted from my viewing experience.
("Maria" ~ played by Brigitte Helm)

The artistic quality of the sets.  The expression of the story being told through exaggerated yet heart felt pantomime.  A simple story?  Yes.  However, it's one that 'speaks' in so many ways.  The beautiful 'Metropolis' is a front for a dystopian world. Men of wealth rule the city above, while the poor lower classes pour out their blood and sweat to keep the city 'alive'.  One of the chief characters at the center of the story is Freder, son to the "master of the city".  It is Freder who leads us through the film.  He is quite oblivious to the goings on below, never knowing of the existence of the "worker city", nor the plight of the poor workers.  It is during a visit to a pleasure garden where he is frolicking with what I figure to be prostitutes, when he sees the young Maria.  She has brought a group of children from the bowels of the city to show them what their "brothers" are up to.  Freder becomes obssessed with finding her.  Finding his way into the workers' city, he is horrified at what he finds.
The young woman is Maria.  She is a voice of strength to the workers. The epigram at the center of the films story line, and Maria's mantra:  "The mediator between brain and hands must be the heart!"  We never really know where she came from, or what her "purpose" is other than to empower the workers to stand up for themselves.  She speaks of a prophecy that a "mediator" will come to act as liaison between the workers below and the intellectuals above.  Freder follows workers to a room in the catacombs where Maria delivers her "sermons".  The two meet again, and fall in love.  Maria identifies Freder as the mediator they have waited for.

Transformation 2
There is a peripheral part of the story line involving Freder's father, Joh, and the inventor, Rotwang.  Freder's mother (Hel) died giving birth to him.  Joh learns that Rotwang (who also loved Freder's mother, Hel) has created a robot in order to 'resurrect' her.  The two men watch Maria from above, hearing what the plans are.  A plan is hatched to discredit Maria.  Rotwang chases her down in the catacombs, kidnaps her, and through a scientific transformation gives the robot Maria's appearance.  (The scene of Maria being chased is extremely effective.  Her fear is so strong to be almost palpable.)  Robot Maria is unveiled to the men of the city via an extremely racy dance sequence, the room full of men practically drooling over her.


(If you want to pause the page music, the player is at the bottom of my blog.)

(The robot Maria dances...)
Maria's doppelganger creates chaos above and below.  She has made her mark above in the city by getting the men to lust after her.  Below in the cities bowels, she convinces the worker's to revolt and stop all work. The worker's city begins to flood, the worker's children are all in danger, and the real Maria saves the day.  There is a bit of mistaken identity with both Maria's running around.  In the end the enraged workers get their hands on the evil Maria and burn her at the stake.  Freder's father acknowledges the errors of his ways, and son Freder brings Grot, the foreman of the cities' "heart machine", and his father together.

(The lustful onlookers.)
I hate admitting that until now I had not watched "Metropolis".  It is a piece of film history.  It's message is clear, and yes it is a tale that has been told time and time again. Interesting how the simple message of the film still resonates today.  There are the wealthy materialistic men making all of the decisions/controlling things (I will leave out the intellect aspect as I don't think that's a factor in today's world), while the working classes keep things running with no real acknowledgement of their needs or accomplishments by the aforementioned men.

This creative accomplishment is exquisite.  A science fiction world, a love story, and a social statement.  From the first scene I was pulled into that future world.  Two groups of workers.  One coming off shift, and one going on.  Not a word is said.  Just the musical score, and the illustrative movements of the players on the screen.  Just brilliant.  I don't think I have to say that I recommend this film.  Everyone should see it.  The silent film genre is out there, and we need to keep it alive.

Next film up:  Another Louise Brooks film (probably the main one she is known for), "Pandora's Box".
(Brigitte Helm in the robot suit between takes, sans helmet)
(Joh, Freder's father, meets Rotwang's robot)
Transformation 1, Metropolis post
(The real Maria sounds the alarm in the worker's city)

    



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