Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Metropolis (Fritz Lang) ****

Fritz Lang

Cast: Alfred Abel, Gustav Frohlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Brigitte Helm, Heinrich George

Background: Director Fritz Lang had already made a name for himself with early silent films Spiders, Destiny, and especially Dr. Mabuse the Gambler. Armed with a budget bigger than any film of that time, Lang co-wrote the screenplay of his next film, an ambitious science fiction story.

The Story: Lang’s story is about a futuristic city where there is big dividing line between the classes. The privileged planners and thinkers sit high in the beautiful skyscrapers living a life of luxury. Down below, the miserably treated workers toil to keep the city running. Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel) is the unsympathetic ruler of the city. One day his na├»ve son Freder (Gustav Frohlich) follows a beautiful woman down to the worker’s city and gets his first glimpse of their life. He is horrified and quickly joins their rebellious cause.

Thoughts: It doesn't get much better than this. I'd already seen Fritz Lang's 1921 film Destiny, and was impressed with how the plot moved with so much purpose. But that was a pretty simple 1-2-3 narrative structure. With his ambitious science fiction story, Lang had a much more complex narrative to deal with, and even the impressive sets constructed for Destiny were simplistic compared to what would be needed to fully visualize his screenplay. It's amazing then that not at one single moment does this movie drag or get lost in the intricate plot. Lang moves us through several different story points and fascinating twists, and he does it with a mesmerizing visual flair that stands up as an impressive achievement even today. Metropolis remains one of the most impressive achievements of art direction in cinematic history. The actors should get some credit, too. They all turn in splendid work, especially Klein-Rogge as the classic mad scientist Rotwang. Amazing that the Nazi party was fascinated with the film, considering that they clearly weren't interested in the kind of mediation that was at the heart of Lang's message.

Postscript: Not many people have seen the full version of Metropolis, because it was heavily edited after the German premiere, and the uncut version was thought lost for many years. The version I saw had title cards inserted to explain missing scenes. However, the good news is that a complete edition of the film was recently found and is being set for a 2009 DVD release. Metropolis

Fritz Lang would continue to make movies through the 50's, leaving for Hollywood after divorcing his wife (she joined the Nazi party.) HIs later films had mixed results, but 1931's M is considered by some to be a masterpeice on the same level as Metropolis. The cast mostly continued to work in German films, but none was able to branch out to Hollywood with any kind of major success.

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