Film review: Metropolis (1927)

A crucial film to enable an understanding for cinematic history is in opinion found with Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece, ‘Metropolis’. When the film was realised it was a burst of energy for the film industry, shaping the outlook of directors and cinematographers alike. It’s almost two year production date was crushed at the time of realise, after the film caused much confusion to the people and critics of Weimar Germany.

It is evidently shown that Lang aimed to create a futuristic image of Germany, through the films imagery. This is perhaps what has caused the film to be called ‘the grandfather of sci fi’. Due to the time of production in 1927, many have suggested that there are substantial elements of shell shock, after World War One and Revolution, no doubt inspired by Russia’s 1917 communist Uprising. For one this is a key point in understanding the film and its aims in my view. The screens main protagonists upper class ‘Freder’ and working class ‘Maria’ are shown as the good against the bad, and as a good film always has a conflict, ‘Maria’ is cloned by the city’s resident mad scientist ‘Rotwang’ and ordered to rebel with the workers ‘underground city’.

The film is confusing there’s no doubt about that, it’s a cinematic twist of filters and over exposing images of an industrial city which is plagued with the rich verses the poor. Something that would have seemed very prominent at the period of realise, and of which has also been noted in other Weimar films such as ‘The Golem (1920)’ and ‘Nosfuratu (1922)’. Fritz Lang certainly knew how to create a film to master such antics, and for a film that was almost lost and forgotten about, it is unthinkable for how Lang would have seen the film as it is viewed today. Interestingly it was made as a subtle mockery towards the rising Nazi regime, but even so it became Hitler’s favourite film before being pulled from the cinema and an order given for copies to be destroyed was emitted due to the realisation of its initial view. For almost 80 years the full film was lost, until it was found in a basement in 2008, causing one of the biggest and greatest film renovations ever.

Lang wanted to film to impress, it was after all one of the most expensive movies ever to have been made at that time with a budget of five million Reich marks, which in 1927 just before the great depression had hit the world was an incredibly vast amount of money. Especially taken into account, the reparation payments on Germany from the Treaty of Versailles. People were heavily taxed, movies simply weren’t made to the scale that Lang made Metropolis.

The sets always imply of a movies standard of production, they showcase what the budget was, how it has been made and the attention to detail that has been poured into it. Metropolis sets would appear to a modern day audience that they have been taken from a ‘green screen’. As such a thing did not exist until Larry Butler invented it so in 1940, it is astonishing to revel in the beautiful sets created by the set designer ‘Erich Kettelhut’. In particular the industrial underground ‘city’ sets are somewhat revolutionary, they indicate how Lang viewed Germany. They are also incorporated into the ‘Biblical’ elements of the film. In a scene with over 10, 000 extras, ‘good Maria’ tells the workers of ‘the tower of Babel’, as it becomes projected above her, causing her to be bathed in rich light, there is a sense of real cinematic triumph. The score by ‘Gottfried Huppertz’ adds to this, with its romantic and modernist twist exenterating the dramatic scenes, which at the time was a cinematic first in many aspects.

The film lead the way for a major growth in film production, the ‘schufftan process’ was named after the cinematographer on the film. It was a technique that used reflection and glass to appear as if the sets were massive, as seen in one of the opening stadium scenes with Freder. It was also a key technique for ‘Alfred Hitchcock’ throughout his career, but notably on ‘Blackmail’, 1929. It is incredible details like this which in my view allow the film to have such a high recognition in the film industry. It has also lead the way for inspiration for many other films and directors to take key scenes or even names from. ‘Batman’ creators, ‘Bill Finger’ and ‘Bob Kane’ named the city featured in their comics after the film itself, which lead to Director ‘Tim Burton’, when directing the Batman films in 1989 and 1992, to have a heavy influence on the set design and even matching shots as Lang’s creation. But perhaps one of the biggest film series that will ever grace our screens, clearly took creativity from ‘Metropolis’. Set designer for ‘Star Wars, Ralph McQuarrie’s’ designs hold substantial links to those of ‘Erich Kettelhut’. As for ‘George Lucas’, there is a significant element of the Machines in ‘Metropolis’ lending a strong link to that of the Robots and the Ships in ‘Star Wars’. If that doesn’t contemplate how much of a cinematic influence ‘Metropolis’ has had over such key and huge Phenom films, then I don’t know what does!

With a rating of 99% on ‘Rotten Tomatoes’, and 8.3 on IMDb, it is hardly a surprise that this film is so highly recognised within the film industry and beyond. In my view, it is the starting point of modern day cinema as we know it today, so highly advanced for its time that it makes some films made twenty or even forty years after it look dated.                        My recommendation for this film couldn’t be enough, it has shaped the way I view cinema, I love Silent cinema, and it is so much harder for a director of a silent film to grasp the attention of the audience. ‘Fritz Lang’ certainly succeeded in grasping my attention.

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