Metropolis by Fritz Lang


Tower of Babel

Metropolis – a silent, B&W movie created by Fritz Lang – the Austrian-German director. It was produced in Germany and released in 1927. It cost a fortune at the time (about $250 million equivalent for 2007).
The screenplay was written in 1924 by Lang and his wife, Thea von Harbou, and novelized by von Harbou in 1926.

It’s recognised as a science-fiction image about a grand, utopian city – Metropolis – created and ruled by a powerful Johann ‘Joh’ Fredersen.

Fredersen (played with charisma by Alfred Able) and his creation has the fairytale quality of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – the ruler is “terrible” because nobody has seen him and has no access to him, so he grows in everybody’s imagination to a super-human creature with amazing powers. But he’s just a self-creation, just like his city – formidable looking but very fragile if exposed to an unplanned challenge.

Although the plot is schematic and didactic in a pushy way, in Metropolis it’s silence and image that make from the movie a compelling and unforgettable visual and more generally, sensual experience.

The film features set design and special features that are able to impress even XXI c. viewer. The effects expert, Eugen Schüfftan, created innovative visual displays widely acclaimed in following years. Among the effects used are miniatures of the city, a camera on a swing, and most notably, the so-called Schüfftan process, later also used by A. Hitchcock (this part – look up in Wikipedia).

Visionary, overpowering, stunning – the skyscrapers, machines and people of Metropolis double their impact by the silent and yet (or maybe – therefore) quite intense, ambiguous and beautiful in a way presence (one may say over-, or super-presence as they tower over the viewer leaving him mesmerised – it’s especially valid when watched in a proper cinematic setting).

After the ceremony of watching Metropolis (it’s difficult to put it another way) I found almost all other movies I had watched too talkative, glib, babbling or – whatever (I had even stronger response of this kind after Chaplin’s).

How scarcely contemporary directors and actors rely on and use at all an evocative, thoughtful gesture, mimic, smart scenes without words that could describe whole stories and more… Genuine art doesn’t need words, great paintings/great images talk to us by colour, tone, line, design and vision…


I forgot about music… Music of Metropolis is yet another powerful character, it’s dramatic, monumental – it contributes significantly to the reception intended by creators… However, I found it also theatrical in an annoying manner; it’s just more papist than the pope himself… Putting together silent but highly emotional actors’ performance (additionally – distorted by speeding up the original version from 16 frames/sec. to 24frames/sec.) with the pompous message and intense, orchestral music – what you got is a theatre on the screen; I love theatre on its own, rarely when it’s put to a movie for the purpose of the “effect”.



About kasia

Born in Poland. Lives in Ireland, Cork. Visual artist. View all posts by kasia

6 responses to “Metropolis by Fritz Lang

  • Vvoi

    I’ve just seen this film yesterday for the first time! Incredible coincidence, and clearly an incredible film. I agree with everything you’ve written – maybe except for the supposed superiority of unspoken over spoken drama/cinema. Don’t tell me you don’t enjoy a good Woody Allen. For that matter. Notwithstanding, say, a Wim Wenders film…

  • skonieczna

    Vvoi, Vojtek,

    Thanks. I do enjoy a good Allen but at the moment I’ve just got a strong preference towards silent cinema. Maybe because – being passionate about movies – I got also tired with verbal messages, no matter how witty and enjoyable they are.
    Obviously I wouldn’t generalize that silent images are more artistic or just better…But I think you will share my opinion that there’s a shortage of an intelligent use of gesture, mimic or simply – silence in the contemporary movies (let’s say from the last decade). I mean – just watch Charlie Chaplin’s and then any modern, acclaimed film….They just talk too much…

  • cwxwwwxwwxwx

    well, hi admin adn people nice forum indeed. how’s life? hope it’s introduce branch 😉

  • Stan

    An interesting report, Katarzyna. I especially like your description of watching Metropolis as a “ceremony”. The first time I saw it, I wondered whether it would be a disappointment, after hearing so much about it; but no, it was a beautiful, intense, disconcerting event – as is the experience of all great art.

    Chaplin is okay, but my silent-film allegiance lies with the great Buster Keaton, whose work exerts a mesmerising force over my film-jaded eyes. Almost a century later, it still feels fresh, and so ingenious and expressive that the lack of dialogue is not a drawback but a relief.

  • skonieczna

    Hello Stan,
    I’m so pleased you still find this blog enjoyable… Buster Keaton had the most amazing eyes, his gags are really spontaneous looking, so cute and natural – shame that dozens of followers over-copy them over and over again…

  • Stan

    It was inevitable that Keaton’s gags would be endlessly recycled, but that is a form of flattery. Even poor homage serves a useful purpose if it leads people to his original work.

    Certainly I still enjoy this blog! It is full of interesting ideas well expressed.

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