Those who haven’t seen Fritz Lang’s famously ground-breaking Expressionist sci-fi feature film, Metropolis from 1927 have missed a real treat.
Silent and shot in black and white the film is set in a fabulous futuristic city where it’s utopia upstairs for the rich and powerful rulers and dystopia downstairs, deep underground, where a subhuman species shuffle along to punishing ten hour shifts of hard labour. They are led by the beautiful and saintly Maria (Brigitte Helm, 21, in a stunning debut) who promises them that a mediator is coming to bring the working and ruling classes together.
Meanwhile Freder, (Gustav Frohlich) the playboy son of Metropolis master Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel) meets Maria and, smitten, goes underground to see for himself the hardships faced. This shattering experience for him includes an hallucination where a terrifying statue of Moloch, a god demanding human sacrifice appears and workers are hauled up to its gaping mouth and thrown into the raging fires within. This sickens him and he rushes to tell his father, who is indifferent to his worker’s suffering, has heard about a possible rebellion underground and has ordered a mad inventor, Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) to produce a robot in the likeness of Maria, to ruin her reputation. This backfires when the robot, a very watchable, bad-ass Maria, also played by Brigitte Helm, incites the underground have-nots to murder and rebellion while also entertaining the upstairs haves with some wild party animal antics and some sleazy erotic dancing. (They say the devil has the best tunes) And so it all builds towards a dramatic climax, and the epigram that the mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart.
Most will have seen the 118 minute version of the film, which is all that was believed to have survived. However in 2008 a full print of Lang’s original film was discovered in a museum in Argentina and it is the fully restored 150 minute version, in Blu-Ray format, which is offered as part of a 90th anniversary boxed set, limited to 2,000 copies worldwide by Eureka Entertainment as part of their Masters of Cinema series. Also in the set is the 118 minute version, the 1984 re-imagining of the film Georgio Moroder presents Metropolis, (with music from Freddie Mercury, Adam Ant and others) a selection of audio commentaries and documentaries and a 100-page book.
Reportedly Metropolis had a total cast of 37,383. They just don’t make them like that any more…