Monday, May 10, 2010

Metropolis (1927)

"A biting critique of economic systems"

The movie Metropolis today would not seem at all remarkable. With science fiction and apocalyptic films selling at a dime a dozen nowadays, you would expect most people to shrug off the idea of a science fiction silent film from the late twenties. 5 years ago, I would have been one of those people. I used to absolutely despise silent film, but no longer. Metropolis is the first silent film I’ve seen to completion, and I loved it. The film is an incredible piece of criticism, with amazing scope and depth, and the special effects, for their time, are astounding.
The story of the film is amazing. It takes place in the distant future in a massive city called Metropolis. The city is socially divided. The workers, the vast majority of the city’s population work beneath the surface of the city, and live in houses below the machines. This is the entirety of the lives of the workers, they seldom even see the light of day. The small upper crust, meanwhile, lives above the city, enjoying the pure essence of luxury and recreation. The story revolves around one man, Freder Frederson, who is the son of the head and designer of Metropolis. He is schmoozing with his fellow upper class citizens, when he lays eyes on Maria, a simple worker’s daughter. Naturally he falls instantly in love with her, and chases her into the machine rooms. In these rooms, he comes face to face with the part of society he was largely kept sheltered from, when there is an accident at the factory and many workers are killed before his eyes. Confused, he confronts his father, who brushes the accidents off as “unavoidable”. Depressed and confused, he sneaks into the undercity where he experiences a day in the life of a worker. At the end of the day, he travels with the rest of the workers to listen to a woman who is a sort of prophet for the workers. This woman turns out to be none other than Maria. She urges the workers to be peaceful, and patient until a messiah-type figure – which she calls the mediator – can solve relations between the workers and the planners. After the workers clear out, Freder asks Maria for her hand in marriage, and she agrees.
Meanwhile, the inventor Rotwang tells Freder’s father, John of his latest invention – a robot that never grows tired, and can take the place of any human. The two then go to the undercity and listen in on Maria’s speech to the masses. He tells Rotwang to kidnap Maria, and make the robot take her as its form, and then send the robot down to encourage the masses to violence. The plan works, and the workers descend on the factories, and break all of the machines, in the process flooding their own houses. Mara meanwhile manages to escape Rotwang, and she and Freder go to the undercity and save the wives and children of the workers. The rest of the movie is about Freder and Maria trying to assuage the masses, and there is more to the film, but giving it away would defeat the purpose of watching the film.
This was the first silent film I’d ever seen, so I’ll give my thoughts on silent film. One thing I really like about silent film is the acting. In today’s film, actors are usually rated based on their ability to deliver lines, and their accent. Silent film doesn’t have this luxury, so acting is more about emoting. I really like this aspect. Silent film is all about saying everything without saying anything at all, and I find this really cool. In addition to this, Silent Film carries another aspect of theatre over to film, that of makeup. This film has stage costume and makeup, which I find to be really cool. It feels like I’m at a play, but I’m watching from the comfort of my own home. The thing I didn’t like about the film was the music. The music itself was incredible, but the problem was that it often doesn’t fit into the mood of the scene. Often you’d get some totally tragic scene, with highly upbeat music. For all I know, this could have been intentional, as part of the larger critique, but I found it a little unnerving.
The depth of the film was incredible. I found the most fascinating scenes of the movie to be the large shots showing the whole city. They are absolutely spectacular, and truly convey the true scope of the city. Additionally, the special effects were incredible. The scenes with the robot, and with the electricity were incredible. The coolest scene of all was when Rotwang was giving the Robot Maria’s form. It really makes you forget this film was shot in 1927. Another great thing about this movie was the cinematography. There are so many incredible shots in this film. From the very beginning, with the masses of workers, dressed in black, marching in lock-step, heads bowed into the elevator to go to work, while another similar group leaves another elevator, to the very end with large scenes of the worker mobs rushing into the bourgeois planners, the whole film just exudes modern day blockbuster.
This film is on the list for a number of reasons. This film is really one of the earliest science fiction films ever. The scope of this film, as I have said, is incredible. It’s as well thought out as any of today’s intricate sci-fi flicks (two of which will be covered this week). This film is on the list for its biting critique of capitalist ideology. John Frederson is the epitome of Robber Barons. He’s Rockefeller, Stanford, Vanderbilt, and Carnegie all put into one. His whole character in the first part of the movie is evoked through the scene early in the movie when Freder confronts John about the accident. But the film also condemns Marxist revolutionary tendencies. The ultimate theme of the film is peaceful cooperation, and agreement. In a world where “Marxist”, “Communist”, and “Socialist”, are still big buzzer words in today’s political world, this movie is still relevant, and its total timelessness is what makes this a must see for any lover of film.

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