Thursday, January 17, 2013

'Metropolis' - A future of the Past

In 1925, while F. Scott Fitzgerald was getting the now famous “The Great Gatsby” published in the States, in Europe, the wife of a German director was having visions of the future and the husband began shooting a very bizarre film. Two years later, in 1927, Charles Lindbergh was making his famous non-stop flight from the United States to Europe and Shorty Snowden was naming this crazy dance he had been doing, the “Lindy Hop”, after Lindbergh’s “Hop” over the Atlantic; in Europe, Fritz Lang was having his premiere. 

The futuristic Metropolis, set in 2026, a future which is future even for us, opened in Berlin impressing the audience but leaving most critics of the time rather unimpressed. In Wikipedia, I read something quite interesting regarding the film’s reception. Apparently, Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels was impressed by the film saying that "the political bourgeoisie is about to leave the stage of history. In its place advance the oppressed producers of the head and hand, the forces of Labor, to begin their historical mission." 
Later in an interview, Lang, maybe because of the Nazi Party's fascination with the film, said that he was in fact dissatisfied with the result. In Lang’s own words: "The main thesis was Mrs. Von Harbou's [his wife's], but I am at least 50 percent responsible because I did it. I was not so politically minded in those days as I am now. You cannot make a social-conscious picture in which you say that the intermediary between the hand and the brain is the heart. I mean, that's a fairy tale – definitely. But I was very interested in machines. Anyway, I didn't like the picture – thought it was silly and stupid…” (from an interview with Peter Bogdanovich in Who The Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors, published in 1998). His wife who had written the script “became a passionate member of the Nazi Party in 1933" and Lang divorced her the following year.
Regardless of the film's socio-political naiveté and questionable political messages, Metropolis is, still, one of the greatest examples of German Expressionism and one of the first futuristic, science-fiction films in film history which would influence many artists and film-makers to come. A small note: Metropolis is not a movie celebrating machines and technology since one of its major themes is the worker's enslavement by the machines and the film's villain is a female robot. Still, the film remains one of the most awe inspiring visualizations of the Machine Age!

The appearance of the city in Metropolis is strongly influenced by the Art Deco movement, and it was born " evening in October 1924...whilst [Lang was] gazing out at the flickering, neon-lit New York skyline from a vantage point on board the ship which had brought him and fellow UFA officials to America. That skyscraper-dominated skyline would come to define progress and the city of the future. Its adoption by Lang as a central motif for his film was indeed prophetic" ( Describing his first impressions of the city, Lang said that "the buildings seemed to be a vertical sail, scintillating and very light, a luxurious backdrop, suspended in the dark sky to dazzle, distract and hypnotize" (Wikipedia).

Lower Manhattan Skyline in the 1920s at Night © E.O. Hoppé/CORBIS
You can find everything you need to know about the film in this exceptional electronic archive: Metropolis Film Archive 2011. The posters & the still come from the same site. 

DJ Fellow Hopper will be hosting a Metropolis inspired swing event 
@ Floral on Saturday, January 26, 2013 
taking us back to a time when the future could still inspire awe...
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