2 July 2008

Metropolis by Lang, 1927

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 6:58 am



  1. Time for me to watch ‘Metropolis’ again. I’ll report next week. This has been my year for watching Fritz Lang, and I saw all these, had no idea it was quite this many.
    * M (1931)* Liliom (1934)* Fury (1936)
    * You Only Live Once (1937)
    * You and Me (1938 )
    * The Return of Frank James (1940)
    * Hangmen Also Die (1943)
    * Scarlet Street (1945)
    * House by the River (1950)
    * Clash by Night (1952)
    * The Blue Gardenia (1953)
    * The Big Heat (1953)
    * Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1957)

    I’m sure I loved ‘Liliom’ the most, Charles Boyer in French and even pre-Garbo, a superb young man. This is the basis for ‘Carousel’, and it is much more poetic than the musical, although Molnar like the R & H show.

    Also, very good noir movies like ‘The Big Heat’, ‘Beyond a Reasonable Doubt’, ‘Fury’ (with Spencer Tracy), and ‘Clash by Night’ is really good, it’s Barbara Stanwyck’s show, but there’s really good work by Paul Douglas, Robert Ryan, Keith Andes, and Marilyn Monroe is wonderful, just before she started getting starry. I think he’s an amazing director.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 2 July 2008 @ 10:13 pm

  2. I have M in the queue for maybe a week or two from now; I’ll have to see Liliom as well.

    In Metropolis, I thought the inventor created the robot as prototype for a new era of mechanical workers, but he gave it a female body shape. It seems what he really had in mind was to resurrect his dead love for his own personal enjoyment. I guess if you can simulate humans you can do with them what you will: put them to work, take them to bed, etc.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 July 2008 @ 3:52 am

  3. Clearly the inventor has every intention of remaining “in the sky” as part of the ruling class. By feminizing the robot he’s also feminizing the workers: they exist in order to provide pleasure to the ruling class. We see at the beginning of the film that in the above-ground ruling-class utopia, in the garden of delights or whatever it’s called, that the purpose of the women is to pleasure the men.

    But Woman proves to be the ultimate power in Metropolis. The son of the big boss, surrounded by all the temptresses in the garden, finds his attention captivated by Maria, the figure of maternal benevolence surrounded by the children of the workers. Through love for her he becomes a champion of the workers. The workers too are led by Maria, though mostly as a restraining force to keep them from overthrowing the rulers. When the inventor fuses the face of Maria onto his feminine robot, she sets aside her maternal love for sexual seduction, unleashing the chaos of nihilistic revolution. In the process the children are abandoned and left behind. The son of the boss saves them, taking on Maria’s former maternal role as protector of children.

    So in Metropolis the successful destruction of the classist system is to combine the revolutionary energy of sexual passion with the protective benevolence of parental love. And this overthrow has to come from beneath, from the workers themselves. The only way the son of the boss is able to contribute isn’t by implementing paternalistic policies from the top, but by becoming one with the workers. In his alliance with Maria both men and women achieve androgyny: she by being robotically infused with male sexuation, he by taking on maternalistic love.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 July 2008 @ 4:42 am

  4. That’s a good re-introduction. I think I usually just noticed the images. Sometime in the 80s there was one of those re-tinted things that I think were first becoming popular then. I think David Bowie may have even had something to do with it, but that may be confusing it with something else. i saw tinted versions of D.W. Griffith’s beautiful ‘Broken Blossoms’, and sometimes it works, but I don’t think it is thought so fashionable anymore. They definitely did have color film long before using it commercially, though, and I think even back in the teens when Griffith was making his greatest works. Jack said something about seeing one of the silents in color the other night with original colour, I’ll try to think to ask him.

    A surprising number of the Lang films are not only concerned with justice and the falsely accused, but the last third will often be spent in a courtroom, as in ‘Fury’ and ‘Beyond a Reasonable Doubt’ goes back and forth between a man condemned to the gas chamber, and it’s not ever obvious whether he really committed the murder till the end; by then you’ve almost forgotten the actual murder, which is always one of the most curious plot devices, when the original crime fades from view but still drives everything to climax. This is in everything from Chandler novels to ‘Prime Suspect’, the Helen Mirren mini-series. ‘M’, ‘The House by the River’, and ‘The Blue Gardenia’ are all full of cases in courtrooms. ‘Hangmen Also Die’ has usual homo-to-the-hero stock character Walter Brennan as a German professor! Now that’s a twist.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 3 July 2008 @ 9:09 am

  5. I’m pretty sure this is what I saw at a theater about 1985. Probably had nothing to do with David Bowie, I may be confusing it with always remembering that he said of the John Hurt/Richart Burton film of ‘1984’ that it was a ‘super, super film’ and then I saw it, and didn’t think it was all that great.

    “n 1984, a new restoration and edit of the film was compiled by Giorgio Moroder, a music producer who specialized in pop-rock soundtracks for motion pictures. Moroder’s version of the film introduced a new modern rock-and-roll soundtrack for the film. Although it restored a number of previously missing scenes and plot details from the original release, his version of the film runs to only 80 minutes in length, although this is mainly due to the original intertitles being replaced with subtitles, and being run at 24fps. The “Moroder version” of Metropolis sparked heated debate among film buffs and fans, with outspoken critics and supporters of the film falling into equal camps. There have even been petitions to get the Moroder cut alongside the uncut version for future releases on DVD.

    Enno Patalas made an exhaustive attempt to restore the movie in 1986. This restoration was the most accurate for its time, thanks to the script and the musical score that had been discovered. The basis of Patalas’ work was a copy in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection.”


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 3 July 2008 @ 9:32 am

  6. The version I saw is the new 2002 restoration, all in black and white. There are still missing pieces of film, but they’ve got the original score for the music that’s annotated with subtitles as cues, so the restorers know the sequence and what parts are still missing. So where there are missing bits the film just shows the text of the subtitles so we know what’s happening ‘off screen” as it were. It sounds like a meticulous process to piece together a film for which there is no complete extant version. But what a panoply of images and scences, even if they were randomly scrambled together it would be something to see.


    Comment by ktismatics — 3 July 2008 @ 9:38 am

  7. I used to think it very surprising when pieces of major films were lost. One of my neighbours is an Extreme Judy Garland Queen and has seen the original ‘A Star Is Born’ completely intact. Large pieces of this were lost, maybe a half hour, and they then ‘restored’ it about 1988 or so in the way you’re talking about with ‘Metropolis’, except I think they projected some stills, maybe, since no need for subtitles. I never cared about anything in that except the numbers, which are classic, so I don’t care what parts of the soap opera stuff being Garland and alcoholic husband James Mason I’ve missed.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 3 July 2008 @ 10:09 am

  8. http://www.news24.com/News24/Entertainment/Abroad/0,,2-1225-1243_2351595,00.html


    Comment by dionysusstoned — 4 July 2008 @ 1:00 pm

  9. That’s astonishing, DS — a museum in Argentina of all places. Maybe one day a copy of the legendary Le Fin Absolue Du Monde will surface.


    Comment by ktismatics — 4 July 2008 @ 1:20 pm

  10. Here’s the continuation of DS’s linked story from April, from AP today:

    Eduardo Di Baia/AP Photo
    Lost scenes shown from sci-fi classic ‘Metropolis’
    Associated Press Writer

    BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Lost scenes from the sci-fi classic “Metropolis,” recently discovered in the archives of a Buenos Aires museum, were shown to journalists for the first time in decades on Thursday.
    A long-lost original cut of the 1927 silent film sat for 80 years in a private collection and then in the Museum of Cinema in Buenos Aires, where it was discovered in April with scratched images that hadn’t been seen before.

    Museum director Paula Felix-Didier said theirs is the only copy of German director Fritz Lang’s complete film.

    “This is the version Fritz Lang intended,” said Martin Koerber, a curator at the Deutsche Kinemathek film museum in Berlin, Germany.

    “Metropolis,” written by Lang and his actress wife Thea von Harbou, depicts a 21st century world divided between a class of underworld workers and the “thinkers” above who control them.

    Soon after its initial release at the height of Germany’s Weimar Republic, distributors cut Lang’s three-and-a-half-hour masterpiece into the shorter version since viewed by millions worldwide.

    But a private collector carried an original version to Argentina in 1928, where it has stayed, Felix-Didier said.

    In the 1980s, Argentine film fanatic Fernando Pena heard about a man who had propped up a broken projector for “hours” to screen “Metropolis” in the 1960s. But the version of the film he knew was only one-and-a-half hours long. For years, he begged Buenos Aires’ museum to check their archives for the man’s longer version.

    This year, museum researchers finally agreed and in April uncovered the reels in the museum’s archive.

    In June, Felix-Didier flew with a DVD to the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation in Wiesbaden, Germany, which owns the rights to “Metropolis.” Researchers there confirmed that the scenes were original.

    News of the find excited film enthusiasts worldwide.

    “This is a movie that millions and millions of people have seen since its release and yet, in many ways, we’ve never seen the true film,” said Mike Mashon, head of the Moving Image section of the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington.

    “Metropolis” was reissued in the U.S. in 2002 by Kino International Corp., which owns the rights to distribute the film domestically, Kino’s general manager Gary Palmucci said.

    Kino may rerelease the new, complete version of the film.

    Meanwhile, Buenos Aires’ Museum of Cinema is holding its treasure tight.

    “The film hasn’t left the museum and it won’t leave until the city government and the Murnau Foundation decide what to do,” Felix-Didier said.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 5 July 2008 @ 10:06 am

  11. So you can go ahead with discussion of ‘M’, which I recently saw, but even so need mental refreshment in terms of details and sections, I’ll put more about Lang here. I just saw ‘Metropolis’ for the 4th or 5th time. Mainly, what I want to know about this, because the whole film if visually beautiful but sometimes is a bit boring despite all (you feel you need to be seeing it by now only in the Museum of Modern Art or some other arty venue full of students), I still want to know what the clock-like machine is, how it works, that has to be attended to with its hands and pulling them back and forth. And the son decides to volunteer for a long shift, deciding it’s torture–much like all of us when we’re students and declare we’ll never be like the older people when we get older (only a few of us can keep to this at all). Anyway, there never seems to be any rime nor reason to where the ‘clock’ hands are or aren’t, but it’s always urgent to be pulling them back. It’s by far the most memorable image of the film and the only one I never have to be reminded of.

    I think Fritz Lang was just a genius. Last night I finally was able to see ‘Cloak and Dagger’ with glorious Coop and Lilli Palmer. Gary Cooper is definitely my favourite of all Hollywood actors, and has a look that can be seen to have evolved from back to Bobby Harron, in D.W. Griffith’s ‘Intolerance’ and ‘The Legend of Happy Valley’, both also with Lillian Gish. I have to figure out where this tall, long American look (even though Coop’s parents were Brits who moved to Montana–that’s so exotic he was bound to be unusual, not to mention sent back to Britain for schooling till WWI broke out) has evolved. I had to wait a LONG time to get ‘Cloak and Dagger’, unlike the others. But, like all the others, there is son-of-a-bitch plotting that has even sold me on the beauty of narrative crafting. His films always have twists and turns that are never predictable. There is not one of those films that doesn’t surprise several times throughout, esp. ‘Beyond a Reasonable Doubt’. I’m going to watch some more of the silent ones now, ‘Dr. Mabuse’, as I getting interested in this extremely exotic art form which was created due to a limitation–no sound. For example, the silent version of The Ten Commandments, which I’ve now seen twice, is light-years more imaginative that the talkie, although they’re both Cecil B. DeMille, and made over 30 years apart. This one has a first half of the Exodus things, and a second half of a modern Man of Sin and his righteous mother who is too stern not to piss him off. PLUS–it has NITA NALDI, an early piece of wonderful Jello-woman, aka Anita Donna Dooley, or New York City, where I am sure she had already been around the block…she plays Sally Lung, half-French and half-Chinese, and won’t give her pearls to ‘John’, played by John Dix, to save him after he’s caught building weak concrete structures to divert funds to his own vices. Ms. Naldi appears in other Roaring Twenties classics with Valentino. I’ve got a precious 1928 movie magazine, bought in 1986 for one dollar, from a disagreeable queen, and it’s even got pictures of Tom Mix’s fantastically overdone Beverly Hills mansion–and it was a Tom Mix Western in which Coop first appears. I absolutely LUST to see old Tom Mix Westerns, but until I can find one, I intend to watch every one of Gary Cooper’s films. He’s so quiet and confident, but has something that none of the other big male stars quite had–and he can even say platitudes and make you believe them, as in ‘The Fountainhead’, but next I want to see ‘Sergeant York’ and re-watch ‘High Noon’, without reference to Zizek’s opinions.


    Comment by Patrick J. Mullins — 2 August 2008 @ 10:18 am

  12. I took a screen shot of the machine but it didn’t fit with my “photo essay” so I mothballed it — now it’s there at the bottom of the post. At first it seems that the man’s job is to move the arms of the machine to the places where the light bulbs on the circumference light up — the machine dictates human actions rather than vice versa. But then the machine definitely turns into a clock, and it looks like the shift will be over when the machine arm hits the number 10. But for some reason our upper-class hero, though exhausted from manning the machine, seems to want to prevent the arm from reaching 10 — like he’s become addicted to the job or something.

    I’ve not watched a lot of silent movies, and it seems that the whole picture industry changed — directors, stars, etc. — once the talkies came out. Lang’s M shows some awkwardness in making the transition: a lot of long static monologues and dialogues, but the action scenes are almost entirely silent. Maybe it was the Italians who brought silent-era visual aesthetic back to the cinema. I recently posted on The Saddest Music in the World, a recent movie filmed with silent-era technique and an antiqued washed-out look like prewashed jeans. I think that movie might have been well-served if it had been mostly silent, since the dialogue didn’t really add much. Leave in the music of the performers, but minimize dialogue.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 August 2008 @ 1:47 pm

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