July 6, 2005
It’s not that often that the words ‘masterpiece’ or ‘work of art’ are used in reference to film, but you’d be hard pressed to find any writings on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis that does not. Eureka are releasing a collection of films on DVD entitled, The Masters of Cinema, and Metropolis is defiantly the shining gem of the lot. However there are factors that might put a lot of people off: it was made in 1927, it is in black & white, it is a silent movie, the intertitles are in German and amongst its fans are Adolf Hitler and Goebbels. If you can get passed that lot, you are left with a cinematic masterpiece.
Set in a luxurious technical future for the rich and an underground dystopian life of servitude for the poor, Metropolis is the perfect giant city with amazing high-rise architecture. Unknown to the population, the ruler of Metropolis Jon Fredersen has the poor folk working giant machines so hard that the entire underground nation has become phlegmatic. That is until a preacher woman, Maria, foretells of a “mediator” that will lead the rebellion against the upper level. Outraged by her words, Frederson employs wacky alchemist and scientist, Rotwang, to build a robot in Maria’s image, in order to replace her and thwart the sense of hope spreading through the underworld.
This film really is a work of art; using many different methods of filming to create the special effects, like models, animation, stop motion and is amongst the first films to move the camera in order to induce an emotion in the viewing audience. It’s not just the film itself that is artistic; the intertitles are just as inventive with their positioning, structure and animation. The editing is amongst the cleverest editing around using poignant montage scenes to create themes and comments on social class, technological development, religious beliefs and challenges the viewers by using irony, contradiction, opposites, parallels and contrasts within plot and story.
Due to its box office failure and consequent edits, the film became unrecognizable to director Fritz Lang and now there are many different releases of Metropolis but this seems to be the definitive version. With the aid of “State Film Archive of the GDR” and “Munich Fimmuseum,” the “UFA” has compiled this 2-disc set which presents to us a version that has been both digitally processed and hand restored, giving us the clearest, near perfect image of the film possible. There are many different copies of the film worldwide, all with different cuts and edits. Here we are given the fullest, most complete and closest to its original version ever seen, compiling parts from many different copies and still, there is roughly a quarter of the film missing, and is now most likely irretrievable.
Many call Metropolis the first ever science fiction film and you can spot similarities to the sci-fi greats of today such as Star Wars and The Matrix. The fact that Rotwang has a missing hand, replaced with a robotic one and the robot, although female, is remarkable similar to C3PO cannot be coincidence. With Rock ‘n’ Roll version, Japanese Versions and Animated Version, the legacy of Metropolis is incomprehensible and its effects on the industry are still being felt almost 80 years after its release. But its age and limitations are still clearly on show.
It’s not with every DVD that you get a beautifully printed and compiled 28-page booklet, complete with images from the film. The Metropolis book holds information such as the credits, synopsis, passages regarding the ‘lost’ scenes, writing from 1927 in English, including Brigitte Helms thoughts on playing Maria and an engaging piece from 2004 called “Unified Theory.” Also included is an interesting documentary on the making of Metropolis, along with a short detailing the restoration process, with comparisons of old and restored footage. Not bad for a film which is still a quarter missing.