"METROPOLIS"

Technical Information:

Released: 1927

Production: Ufa; released in the United States by Paramount

Direction: Fritz Lang

Screenplay: Thea von Harbou; based on her novel of the same name

Cinematography: Karl Freund and Gunther Rittau

Principal Characters:

Maria: Brigitte Helm

Joh Freddersen: Alfred Abel

Fredder: Gustav Frohlich

Rotwang: Rudolf Klein-Rogge

"Metropolis", employed the cinematic style known as "German Expressionism", an influential early twentieth century artistic movement. Rejecting the simple reproduction of reality, this movement applied non­naturalistic forms in an abstract symbolic approach to thematic material. Most films created during this period were produced in studios which encouraged a stylized approach and allowed for total control of the films visual elements.

The style that evolved was highly artificial: stylized and distorted sets and decor, unnatural lighting that created deep shadows and sharp contrasts, visual compositions that emphasized the grotesque, and an exaggerated acting style, meant to externalize the characters' psychological torment.

When Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou visited the United States in October of 1924, it was initially only to observe American methods of production, however it was their observations of New York that inspired their conception of "Metropolis".

Production on "Metropolis" began on May 22,1925 and ended approximately one and a half years later on October 30, 1926.

The films plot is deceptively simple, the ruling class, the "Masters of Metropolis," indulge themselves in hedonistic pleasure, the workers, segregated in their own city far beneath the surface, perform the backbreaking and dehumanizing work in the machine rooms that provide power to Metropolis. "Metropolis'" central theme, as articulated by Maria is that, "between the brain that plans and hands that build, there must be a mediator...the heart." is often overwhelmed by its astonishing degree of technical accomplishment and its dynamic visual style. In evaluating the films narrative structure, however, one must take into account that no print of the film in its original German version appeared to have survived, thus the judgments of present-day critics are based on the version prepared for exhibition in the United States. The adaptation involved much more than the changing of character names--the film was reduced in length by about one-third. Seven reels were cut from the original seventeen. Thus much of what is known about Lang's intent is derived from Thea von Harbou's novel "Metropolis". The novel was first published in English translation in 1927 and reissued in paperback in 1963. The profound effects stemming from the removal of one particular establishing character should be noticed. This is the woman named Hel, whose elimination - because of the name's connotations for American audiences - is corroborated by an account of the film's American release. Her prior existence, however, establishes the psychological basis for the unusual relationship between Freddersen and Rotwang, and to a lesser degree between Freddersen and his son.

The motivations for Rotwangs abrupt shifts of sympathy and sanity toward Maria is much easier to understand in light of his relationship to Hel and his connection to Freddersen. Without it there is no basis with which to understand his desire to defy the will of Freddersen. It is this relationship that explains why when he awakens, he believes he has died and so he goes in search of his lost love Hel.

The novel also explains the role of Slim, a character who is reduced to minor significance in the films American version. Slim actually seems to function as a sort of conscience to Freddersen. In one particularly telling scene Freddersen asks, "Where is my son?" Slim, taking on an almost demonic appearance, raises his hand and dramatically states: "Tomorrow thousands will ask in anguish-'Where is my son?'"

Alfred Abel and Rudolf Klien-Rogge. Klien-Rogge had been married to Thea von Harbou before her marriage to Lang.

As a director Lang was obsessed with the duality of human nature. Freddersen-Rotwang, Maria and her robot double, and the divisive social structure of "Metropolis" all variously illustrate the duality of human nature, a common theme in German silent cinema that seems to have always fascinated Lang. "Metropolis" seems to say that emotions are both indispensable and dangerous, a source of both strength and weakness.

Lang's favorite themes (which appear repeatedly throughout his films): the opposition of social and moral forces: the illusionary nature of free will in a world governed by fate: an innocent hero in a hostile, enclosed environment: the redemptive power of true love: an omnipotent mastermind: and a healthy dose of insanity, mob violence and enticement are all readily apparent in "Metropolis".

Most viewers are quick to note the films heavy handed Christian allegory which is repeatedly re-enforced by the Langs repeated use of explicit and abundant religious imagery. The film makes repeated Biblical References in addition to utilizing distinctly medieval iconography such as the pentagram.

At the hands of its' inherently visual director in "Metropolis", architecture becomes drama; the films meanings are inseparable from it's visual design, and the most fascinating character is the city itself. The enduring strength of "Metropolis" lies in just those qualities and in it's orchestration of light, shadow, decor, and movement on a grand scale. Human cogs: the workers, an undifferentiated mass of black-clad figures, trudging mechanistically across the screen in rigid formation, heads down, arms at their sides, shoulders slumped, their bodies and spirits weighed down by the symbolic burden of oppression. The city itself is a bleak soulless place. A work of insanity, "Metropolis" is a strikingly visual monumental production.

The tale of a mechanical world in which men are enslaved by machines, becomes an excuse for Fritz Lang to build enormous sets, employ all sorts of screen magic, to visualize an idle future with all the technical and financial resources of the German cinema at his command. Produced at a cost of more than 1.5 million, an enormous sum in 1926 "Metropolis" was as enormous a production as its name implies. The films production facts are staggering. Nearly 2 million feet of film where exposed during the course of filming; eleven thousand women, seven hundred and fifty children, and 25 Chinese extras. To film this masterwork required a shooting schedule of 310 days and 60 nights during which time rumors abounded ranging from the suggestion that UFA was going bankrupt to allegations that Lang was utilizing some sort of magical process to combine miniature sets with real actors. This last rumor was a reference to Lang's use of the Schuftan Process, a special effects technique invented by the same Eugene Schuftan who, years later won the Academy award for Cinematography in the "Hustler";.

As a director Lang possessed a special ability to create an atmosphere by visual means, and to propel a story by using a moving camera and by staging scenes in strong geometric patterns. The film is dominated by tormenting shots of workers arranged in architectural tableaux, or marching in ornamental unison, like dancers. As a fantasy "Metropolis" has been called prophetic. Lang's choreography and use of geometrically arranged people was later ripped off by Leni Riefenstahl in the Nazi documentary, "Triumph Of The Will". It is a little known fact that at one point Goebbels told Lang that he and a young Hitler had viewed "Metropolis" in a Berlin theater. Following the showing Hitler had exclaimed, "That is the man to document our story." Needless to say Lang subsequently refused.

Ultimately "Metropolis" is a catalogue of Lang's favorite themes from its mood of oppression, to the use of his favorite device of contending forces and an enclosed trap, Lang delights in his depiction of individuals struggling with omnipotent mobs, right up to the films prosaic ending.