Metropolis is the 1927 science fiction masterpiece of German director, Fritz Lang. Being a silent film, Lang used imagery to tell his tale of a society divided rather than dialogue. The imagery is stunning, and remains entertaining even today, after over seven decades since its release.
Being a science fiction film, most think that it takes place in the future. Though the setting is futuristic, it in fact takes place according to Theo van Harbou1 '...not of today or of the future. It tells of no place'.
Metropolis, a huge city, is divided between two classes of people. There are the privileged sons of Metropolis who designed the city, and spend their days and nights pursuing pleasure. Then there are the workers, who live far beneath the ground in an underground city among all the machinery that makes Metropolis possible. It is the workers lot to toil in ten hour shifts at the machinery, never seeing the pleasures that their work produces.
Young Freder, the son of the ruler of Metropolis John Fredersen, while carousing in the Garden of Eternal Delight, comes across an intruder from the Worker's city, Maria. Falling in love with her, he goes in search of her in the underground city. There Freder sees the injustice first-hand of the dichotomy between the workers and the rulers. This eventually leads Freder into trading places with a worker.
Meanwhile, the workers are meeting secretly, looking for an end to their dissatisfaction. The worker's Foreman discovers maps to their meeting place, and brings them to John Fredersen. Discovering the worker's union, he instructs a wizard, Rotwang, to build a robot in the image of the movement's leader to replace her.
There are quite a few versions of this film floating around. They range in running times from 87 minutes in the 'Moroder cut' to 210 minutes in the original director's cut seen at its première, now lost. There are a couple of reasons for this. When Metropolis first came to the US, it was reduced from its original 17 reels to a mere nine. These nine reels are what is known as the 'American Cut' and is now in the public domain. Because it is in the public domain, very cheaply produced videos of poor quality abound. Video versions of this cut run from about 90-115 minutes.
In 1984 Giorgio Moroder 'restored' a print of the film, and added a contemporary score and soundtrack. He also colour-tinted some scenes, and reconstructed some scenes using still photographs and the original script. It's amazing that with the added material, he created the shortest cut yet. This is because he also trimmed many of the scenes to make the pacing quicker, matching the rock-oriented sound he created for the film. Songs are performed by Pat Benatar, Billy Squire, Jon Anderson, Adam Ant, Bonnie Tyler, Freddie Mercury, and Loverboy. This is actually one of the most enjoyable cuts of the film to watch.
Other versions include:
- Restored Version by the Filmmuseum Munich - 150 minutes
- A UK video version - 139 minutes
- Another restored version from Germany - 115 minutes
- Video by the Killiam Collection containing only sound effects - 94 minutes
There are also a score of scores out there for this wonderful film. Most you will have to hear by purchasing or renting a video on which it is featured. However, one of the best scores is available on CD. It is by Club Foot Orchestra, and is published by Heyday Records2 . If you are very lucky, you may even have a chance to see a screening of Metropolis with Club Foot Orchestra performing their score live.
Evil Robot Doubles and other Influences
Metropolis is such a revolutionary film, that cinema owes much to it. Once you view Metropolis, you may begin to notice elements and images that originated with this film find their way into others. Most notably Blade Runner, but many films contain an element that was in Metropolis first. The most successful element would have to be the 'Evil Robot Double'. Not just an Evil Robot, but an Evil Robot that masquerades as another character. Amazingly done in Terminator 2, and comically done in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, it was done first in Metropolis.
There are some other familiar elements masterfully done in Metropolis such as a dream sequence, and a fight on top of a tall building, where the bad guy falls to his death. But to spot all the influences would take many viewings of both Metropolis and other films.