Monday, May 31, 2010

Expressionism at its finest - Fritz Lang's Metropolis

I went into NYC the other day to view the newly found copy of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece Metropolis. The one released to the American Public in 1922 had been cut and, most feel, simply massacred. It seems that the distributor felt the need to deleted about one-fifth of the film because he felt the original movie would confuse the American public, so out they went. Unfortunately not only were they cut from the distributed piece but they were thrown away.

I think there are two kinds of people, those that save everything and those that see no point in the clutter. I am of the second variety, it seems so was the American distributor. As a result we lost a great deal more than just part of the film.

In the summer of 2008 a curator of the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine discovered a 16mm dupe negative of the movie. It included about 25 minutes of lost footage not seen since its Berlin debut. You can read more about the discovery and restoration at this website

As I watched the film on the big screen my art historical sensibilities took over. Not only was the story line fascinating (a commentary on the rise of capitalism and technology, its inherent dangers and the class struggle going on in Germany’s Weimar Republic) but I also found the imagery to be expressionistically brilliant. I just loved the way Lang differentiated the upper city and the lower city, the way he dehumanized the workers as they marched into the elevators that brought them to the heart of the city and how they became a part of the machine. Take a look and see for yourself how brilliantly he captures the melding of human and technology in this scene. ">

Today we have computers and huge programs to develop special effects. Lang had none of these tools yet he was able to give us this transformation.
Side note: These two scenes come from YouTube and do not have the original soundtrack. If you want to see the real thing these are both on the website noted above.

I often feel that we’ve lost our imagination. Yes, there are standout movies like Avatar but they reside in a morass of dreck. So little is worth watching these days, what with all the reality shows on TV and the regurgitation of TV shows made into movies. Even the titles show a lack of imagination. In the 1950s we had Father of the Bride and Father’s Little Dividend. Today we have Father of the Bride and Father of the Bride II. What happened?

Well thank goodness we have many of the older movies to remind us of what can be done if we just take the time to let our imagination take over. How exciting that we can still see true innovation and brilliant social commentary in older films such as this one.

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