The prospect of silent films seems a little daunting to me. It’s such a different experience to what I’m used to. As for German expressionism? I’m way over my head, there! But in the case of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, I’m really glad I overcame my doubts and finally got round to watching this one. Even the poster artwork is beautiful.
If you’re unfamiliar with Metropolis, it’s set in a grand, modern city of gleaming skyscrapers. It’s a playground for the affluent. Below ground, the workers live in basic accommodations and toil their lives away relentlessly. They must keep the machinery that sustains the city going. In isolation the tasks seem pointless, but it seems that each role must be fulfilled in order to maintain the status quo. Just look at this guy. What is he doing?
So, the workers have found a leader in Maria. A young woman who preaches peace and tolerance, and who tells the people of a “mediator” who will come to them. He will be the one to build a bridge between the workers and the affluent folk who live above ground, thus improving their lot in life. Little does she know, but the wheels are already in motion.
What follows is a tale of deception, intrigue and class war, with a bit of a love story thrown in for good measure. Metropolis is visually stunning. From the representations of the city and underground machinery…
…to the astounding special effects (remember, this was made in 1927)…
…to the raunchy dancing that made the Metropolis-dwelling toffs go wild with desire…
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis isn’t the easiest watch, just because it’s so different stylistically. Actors in silent films had to use their facial movements and physical gestures to help tell their stories, in a way that’s alien to us now, and this sometimes seems slightly comical. Like they’re over acting. They aren’t. It’s just different. You’ll get used to it.
This particular silent film is also pretty long, depending on which version you watch. I watched the restored 2010 version which includes some previously missing footage as well as text cards to explain sections of the film that were never recovered. I’ve read that this makes for a much more enjoyable viewing experience, as it fills some of the plot holes found in earlier cuts.
There’s a lot more I could say about the plot, but I’m sure there’s plenty of information out there if you want to know more, and honestly, I wouldn’t want to spoil it. If you’ve even half a notion to watch this film, stop putting it off and give it a try. I hope you’ll like it as much as I did.