I have been aware of Metropolis since the late Eighties—I can’t remember whether Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video or a now defunct industrial dance club by the same name in the equally defunct Cleveland Flats is responsible for bringing it to my attention; if that makes me a rube, so be it. For whatever reason, though, I never bothered to seek it out. I’m glad I finally saw it—Metropolis is a cool film, even as it approaches a century.
It’s a lot more than I thought it would be. The plot is simple enough, as silent era films are: capitalism and technology have run amuck in the future, and the workers live in a drab underground city while the elite live in a bigger and nicer city above ground. The workers, who run the machines that keep the city going, are planning a revolt. Plot aside, Metropolis as a whole is pretty grand. The sets are amazing: big, industrial, and busy, many shots reminded me of the Chicago Loop. The score is textured and soothing—it actually lulled me into a trance at points. The 2010 restoration we saw—it includes 25 minutes of footage assumed lost until uncovered in Argentina in 2008—is gorgeous, giving Metropolis a crisp look that belies its age. Fritz Lang had a lot to say about capitalism, class, technology, science, progress, and even religion—it’s not hard to find scholarly materials online.
What strikes me most about Metropolis is that for as old as it is—everyone in it has been dead for awhile—its vision of the future, while extreme, is really not that far off from reality.
(Gene Siskel Film Center) A