I recently enjoyed a great cinematic treat; as part of their centenary celebrations, the Brixton Ritzy Picture-house put on a showing of the 1927 classic Metropolis. Much of the footage was edited out after the German Premier of the film, and was considered lost until an almost complete version turned up in 2008. Now, the film is fully restored back to it's (almost) complete running time. For those not in the know, Metropolis is the glamourous zenith of silent film; one of the last to be made before the invention of "talkies", and with a budget of 5 Million Reichsmarks it remains the single most expensive silent film ever made.
Metropolis impresses audiences even today with effects which remain dazzling even eighty years after the premier. I'm rather fond of it myself, as it goes to prove that if you really want your movie to look spectacular even decades after it comes out, then there really is no substitute for actually building the props by hand- see Jaws, Jurassic Park, Logan's Run, etc. But I want to take a step back from the actual spectacle itself, because it's something that a lot of critiques of the film get caught up in: and Metropolis is something much more than just the Avatar of it's day.
The plot of Metropolis is pretty simplistic, and seemingly based in cliche. At the time of the its release, the film was roundly panned. H.G. Wells was one of the most vitriolic critics (for the record, there's little that's more hilarious and pathetic than listening to Sci-fi authors snipe at each other over whose made-up bullshit is the least plausible.) calling it "foolishness, cliché, platitude, and muddlement about mechanical progress and progress in general.". However, some of the best critiques of the film I've read point out that Metropolis isn't supposed to be a realistic vision of the future: rather, it's a Modern Fairy-tale.
Fairy-tales are interesting. There's something very weird that happens to the willing suspension of disbelief when met with an outrageously simplistic Fairy-tale scenario, and it's one of the best places to study that most elusive of subjects, they "Story-teller's craft". Metropolis is simplistic in that it revolves around a cast of Jungian archetypes: The Richest Man in the World (the King), his Romantic Son (the Prince), the Virtuous Poor Girl, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, and the deformed Evil Wizard (Mad Scientist). setting Metropolis aside from a traditional Fairy-tale canon is a plot concerned with class-warfare and mechanical society. Metropolis IS a stupid story, but it's a great example of how a stupid story, if told well enough, becomes something quite different. This should come as no surprise to University students, who know the inverse law, that a fascinating subject can be slaughtered by a dull lecturer.
Metropolis appeals with it's beguilingly simple plot, and takes us on a journey through a world which is both vivid, and somewhat familiar; because, yes, you have seen it before. It's hard to overstate just how influential the architectural scenes of Metropolis have been. Beloved character C3-PO is a pale imitation of the Machine-man of Metropolis, and the buildings themselves have influenced Movies such as Blade Runner and The Fifth Element. Even real buildings have drawn influence from the film; the school of Googie Architecture, and the stream-lined swooshes of classic 50's Americana all draw their inspiration from Lang's Masterpiece.
Rumors of a remake continually abound on the internet, to the distress and cautious elation of fans. For the time being, there doesn't seem to be any progress on this front, but if there were to be a revival, I think an interesting angle would be to focus on the Machine-man as a character. Created by Rotwang, the mad scientist, the Machine-man is unique in cinematic heritage in that it is a robot, a creature or order and logic, given the order to spread chaos.
The Machine-man accomplishes this not through unstoppable mechanical brutality, as in Terminator, but by manipulating the humans around her. By taking the form of a beautiful woman, the Machine-man apparently surpasses humanity, not in the usual terms of strength or logic. She is "better" at being a woman than women. She is so alluring, men will kill each other to be with her. Her speeches incite legions of workers to rise up and take to the streets. In the climax, she is undone by the chaos that she has created, laughing maniacally as she is burnt at the stake. Did she succeed? As far as she knows, she has accomplished her mission. Did she "win"?
I can't think of another character quite like her, and I'd be desperate to see more of her transition if a future version were ever made.
Don't think you've heard the last of this from me, oh no. I have big plans for a new comic which will be unveiled shortly. Until then,