After WWI, Germany entered the Weimar era, an explosive era of creativity rarely seen in any culture at any time. Amongst the incredible artistic forays was film making, still a relatively new art form. One of the Weimar era takes on this new media was German Expressionism. Films at the time, much like today, were mostly adventure films, romance films, and comedy films (and it should be noted, all silent). German expressionism went hog wild with crazy tales of madness, horror and fantasy, full of elements waaaay outside the safe and comfortable bounds that Hollywood in the US was producing. Since The expressionists couldn’t match Hollywood’s budget they went for inventive, and indeed their use of angles, shadows, moods, absurd sets, non realistic but highly stylized backgrounds were creatively so far past the Americans or any other European nation trying its hand at film making that films like The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, and of course Metropolis are still showing today and poured over by film makers and movie buffs. In 1927, at the height of the Weimar era director Fitz Lang made what is considered the first science fiction movie ever made and one of the gems of the German Expressionist movement: Metropolis.
It was written by Fritz Lang and his wife Thea Von Harbou and takes place in a future city where capitalism has caused a horrific rift between the insanely wealthy few, and the poor, pathetic working masses. (As i’ve noted before in my many posts on weimar era arts, you can pretty much assume going into any work of anything that there will be a critique of capitalism somewhere in there if not dripping all over it. The horrors of the industrial revolution were still fresh on everyone’s minds and not hidden away in 3rd world countries like today.) The plot involves the wealthy son of the city’s founder falling in love with a poor worker woman (Maria) who has accidentally appeared above ground with some children. He follows her and finds the hidden underground of the city where the great mass of workers live out their miserable lives. After this the plot gets really insane, and there’s a mad scientist (whose lover the city founder once stole from him before she abruptly died) who’s creating a robot that ends up looking like the poor worker woman Maria and a myth involving the Tower of Babel and the coming of the Mediator… look, either see the film or trust me it gets kind of nuts. So we’ve got a pretty crazy story (little communist clichéd, but we’ll look past it), first sci fi film, all this is well and good, but what has made it so beloved for 80 years is it looks amazing. For 1927, the look is astonishing. The directing of it is nothing short of brilliant. Every aspect of this film, from the mad scientist to the city angles and futuristic look have been soaked up by directors and used as inspiration ever since. Visually, this is probably the most inventive film ever made. None of these ideas existed before. Every visual idea in Metropolis has been used since by almost every director who has ever made a sci film: Stanley Kubrik, Georoge Lucas (the robot in Metropolis and C3PO are not so similar in appearance by chance), Tim Burton, Ripley Scott, and the list goes on. The film is not without faults: for one thing the story is a little too ‘hit you over the head’ preachy and the ending is moronic. If you enjoy sci fi films today, you must appreciate that these sets may look fake to you now, but this was all made in a day where special effects didn’t exist, they were literally inventing it as they went. Much as Star Wars did but with even LESS (to no) film history to draw on. Over the years several attempts to preserve and rerelease the film in better formats have been tried. Indeed, some of the film is simply lost forever. Issues of how fast to show the film (these days films are made at 24 frames a second but Metropolis was made at 16), edited versions (in America back in the day it was initially edited the hell out of due to all that nasty capitalist critiquing) have made it difficult to actually see the film as it was intended. However, in 2001 a major restoration project to reconstruct and restore the film was made, and then in 2008 a long forgotten copy of the original was found in a Cinema Archive in Buenos Aires. Thus in 2010, a remastered, restored version was finally released. there’s still a few parts missing, but he look has been masterfully restored. The original score was rerecorded. Here is a trailer for it: If you wish to view the entire movie (although the subtitles are in German. However, it being a silent movie and all it’s not really all that based on words), you can on YouTube (of course!) starting here: (there’s a bit at the beginning from the ceremony where they unveiled it)