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”.