In the summer of 1927 in Berlin, a film premiered in a downtown cinema clad in silver with a giant gong overhanging the front entrance. A live orchestra provided the score for the silent, black and white film. With seating for six hundred, fifteen thousand would eventually view the film in this theater. They would be the only ones to see the work in its original form.
The film was painstakingly reconstructed, with the original plot inferred from censor documents and other sources, and the most complete version to date found recently in Buenos Aires. Produced during a period of mass inflation in Germany starting in 1925, filming ran for over three-hundred days and sixty nights and costs eventually capped six million marks (four times the original budget). Paramount, having paid handsomely for the distribution rights at the time for Ufa films (the largest German production company at the time) butchered the piece, cutting roughly one quarter of the footage and hiring a playwright to rework the plot. The eye popping and enticing piece of cinema had been the project of years of work by director Fritz Lang and his wife, writer Thea von Harbou.
What could easily be called the heyday of cinema (most certainly of the silent film) this masterwork united architects and artists of the expressionist tradition in an eye popping epic. Stark lines and surrealism dominate this modern city-scape where economic and political power are one and class divisions are growing to an extreme where the proletariat are literally at risk of bubbling up from below.
Set in the now near future of 2026, Metropolis is dominated by the New Tower of Babel built by the captain of industry Joh Frederman, who’s remarkable machines keep the city alight.
The stunning special effects are literally smoke and mirrors. The entire year long filming project was done with three cameras and two operators. Painstaking animation, stop-motion photography and multiple exposures create the total effect of a supra-real future where capitalism has gone to the extreme. The multi-layered city with its upper-city, machine level, undercity and catacombs is an exciting world for the imagination to explore and the influence on future sci-fi is obvious (hell there’s even an inventor character who looks like a cross between Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd).
The beautiful restoration available from Keno Video is a fine addition to any film-dorks collection (though I just opted for borrowing a copy from the library).
Try a Google image search for ‘Metroplois film’ some time, you’ll get a ton of prime and beautiful examples of expressionism and the dominant art deco.