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The restored Metropolis: my own feelings
Happy woof!
eric_hinkle
This last Sunday night, for the first time in over 80 years, the German Expressionist movie Metropolis was shown, appropriately enough, on TCM. I posted the ink so everyone can go and check out the plot and such for themselves. What I'm writing here relates more to how the restored masterpiece of SF and cinema made me feel.

And be warned, this is going to be LONG.

First of all, there's the fact that this movie is visually awesome, even eight decades after the fact. I defy anyone to look at the scenes of the great city and not be astounded at what is shown. The only thing I can compare it to is the best work of Eiji Tsuburaya on the Toho tokusatsu films, or maybe the scenes of the city-valleys of Corsucant from the Star Wars films, and even then the comparison falls short. The city is a magnificent and terrible Art Deco masterpiece. It is a modern-day Tower of Babel, the glory of the world, which leads right into the next bit about the movie.

There is a stunning amount of Christian allegory in the film. The scene where Fedrer (the hero) in the undercity has a nightmare vision of workers marching hopelessly into the hungry mouth of Moloch; the simple yet beautiful cathedral of the workers set amongst the catacombs in which Maria preaches of the Tower of Babel, as compared to the massive and nearly empty cathedral of the overcity which is studded with gargoyles; and the more nightmarish imagery of the False Maria (a False Mary, leading the faithful into sin and destruction?) as she performs an obscenely erotic dance in the Yoshiwara nightclub, leading to lethal duels and suicide among the managers' children as they battle over her while she sneers contemptuously at them all (and you have got to see the looks on the actors' faces as they watch her; I finally know what destructive lust in the sinful sense looks like), and which culminates in her rising atop a statue of a seven-headed dragon with ten crowns, a literal Whore of Babylon... how did anyone ever miss this? Even Rotwang comes across as being as much a Satanic sorcerer as a scientist, with his home like an old witch's cottage as compared to the so very modern places where everyone else lives.

Ah, and Rotwang! Truly one of the early great villains in film, all the more so when one compares him and his plans to what is going on in Germany when the film was made. He is jealous of the city's builder Fedrerson for winning the heart of a woman they both loved, named Hel. He built his robot to replace her, crowing to Fedrerson that she will be "the first of a new humanity, a perfect race controlled by me". When Fedrerson, desperate to keep both his son and the workers in line, begs Rotwang for help, Rotwang complies by snatching Maria away from the workers and their children and transforming the robot into her likeness.

The way the actress playing Maria showed what I can only call the unhumanness of False Maria is eerie in its sheer perfection. Her movements at first seem very mechanical, as she greets Frederson by closing one eye in an incredibly slow wink, meant to be a sexual come-on but at the same time just looking so completely wrong it disgusts instead. Later, when she dances in the Yoshiwara, her movements are slightly smoother -- her dance is mechanically perfect, but done in such a way that everything intended to titillate sent chills along my spine. It's hard to see how anyone, even a gang of depraved young men, could be aroused by something that seems like a bad attempt at pretending to be human. Her movements and expressions are somehow 'off' by just enough to make her seem more horribly inhuman then when she was obviously a machine. And later still, when she urges the workers to destroy the machines they work on -- the very same machines that are keeping the city from exploding! -- her movements seem smoother still, but oddly birdlike. They're just too quick and jerky for a human being. Even some of the workers she's sending into a fever pitch of self-destructive rage seem unsettled by her presence.

And another point -- the conflict between the workers and the managers is handled with surprising sympathy for both sides. The managers, lead by Frederson, are on one hand callous and indifferent to the suffering of the workers who live in darkness to maintain their city of light; but on the other, all the good things they have are because of those same managers. And the managers may be foolish, but all the same they are shown as having a dream for a perfect or at least better world. They really just don't know how bad things have gotten in the undercity. They are like artists whose perfect creation justifies any sacrifice, but they don't bother to ask the workers if they ever wanted to make this sacrifice.

And the workers, well, while they are shown as decent and downtrodden souls, worthy of far better treatment then they get, at the same time when False Maria offers the quick and easy path of violence, they are all too quick to forget everything that the real Maria taught them and launch a wild riot, destroying the machines that make everything the whole city depends on -- and very nearly drowning their children when the city's water reservoirs burst. In an especially harrowing scene, the real Maria is in the undercity atop the shift change alarm, gathering what looks like hundreds of children together as they struggle through ever-deeper water to huddle around her. Meanwhile, above them, their parents dance what looks like a witch's sabbat (arms linked and kicking their heels high) before the ruined machines. That is, until Grot (the chief engineer) tells them what they've done:

"You fools! The city is below sea level! The water reservoirs were controlled by the Heart Machine, and now they've burst into the undercity! You've killed your own children!"

In short, neither side is without flaws or virtues. They have to recognize their common humanity (something that both Rotwang and False Maria strive to prevent) before Metropolis can become what Frederson wants it to be.

And one last bit is the nasty similarities between Rotwang and real world events just a few years in their future. A cunning and spiteful madman who, out of grief and jealousy, wants to see the whole world around him pluneg into the abyss (a sentiment shared by False Maria: after she tricks the workers into starting their riot, she returns to the Yoshiwara and dances before her crowd of worshippers, finishing with a maniacal look and a comment of, "Now let's all go outside and watch the world go to Hell!"); who uses lies and appeals to hate and fear to manipulate both the leaders and workers against each other and to their mutual destruction; and who wishes to destroy Metropolis simply out of jealousy of its maker Frederson ("His wife should have been mine! His city should have been mine! False Maria, you will kill his son. And we will destroy Metropolis!"); and whose schemes cause the people of the city to sacrifice their own children and homes for his lies...

Is Rotwang Satan or Hitler? And even if he is Satan, then he doesn't want to replace the creator (Frederson) so much as to cast him and everyone else down so he can laugh as he watches them lose everything.

Metropolis is, and will always be, one of the most powerful movies ever made.

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I've only seen it twice, but both times were on a large screen with a live piano accompaniment. It's one of my all time favorite movies, for so many reasons.

Although it is a very good allegory about what was brewing politically and philosophically at the time, it also holds up on the macro level as well.

Rotwang is not Satan or Hitler, Rotwang is all of us, our capacity to be petty, selfish, jealous or cruel. We hate him, but we know him all too well. True Maria is out inclination to do good, to nurture and heal, to do the hard work of being human - and is often buried "in the city below" by the trappings of the materialistic "world above" where we worry about things like business and what the neighbors think of us.

False Maria disgusts us, because we know that when we are "false" to our inner True Maria, there is a huge moral disconnect and our warning sirens are going off. Being Rotwang's creature is not the natural state of humanity, even though Hollywood and the media would love for us to think that is what we should strive for. To be True Maria is "old fashioned, repressed, anti-feminist" while False Maria is "liberated, open minded, freedom". We know it's a lie, our guts know. That's the source of our discomfort.

That's a good interpretation too. Though given the rather obvious tone of the film it's both odd and sad that the Nazis, especially Goebbels, fell in love with it for its "celebration of the workers over the bourgeoisie".

Only caught a few minutes of the showing on AMC because I was busy watching the kids, but it looked utterly fascinating, especially the new bits fleshing out the ambiguity of the managers.

The new version makes the old one look like crap in comparison, just as ther new version of Nosferatu (apparently they also found some missing footage of that film, too!) is 100% superior to the older, mangled version most of us saw.

And not AMC, TCM. You think they'd actually show a movie more than 10 years old on AMC? ;)

Another flick that was inspired by "Metropolis" was "Blade Runner!" Some of the city buildings in that movie with Harrison Ford and Rutger Hauer was Metropolis influenced as well. =)
My former roomy of a few years back had a video copy of "Metropolis" with some extra still scenes to add where the missing footage was. Using the bands of the time and tinting parts of the film for emotional effect was really interesting. I watched that flick over and over again! Eversince I've been trying to find a copy of it to no avail, though!

Jeff Ringtail

Also, an interesting thing about this movie. It shows what happens when you produce CLASS ENVY! Class envy what the movie was against and the union between the rich and the poor/working classes (at the end) has a better out come than when the poor and working class are used against the rich!

Jeff Ringtail

The rich aren't much better in the movie. After all, Joh Frederson (the builder and ruler of Metropolis) is the one who drags Rotwang into the whole thing in the first place. And the rich managers are defnitely shown as wrong in their treatment of the workers.

The thing is that the movie was anti-class envy ... meaning that both the rich managers and poor workers were both against each other. The managers demeaned the poor workers while the workers vent vengeance against the managers. Rotwang and his evil incarnation had tested both by pitting the rich against the poor to see the world burn in their own hatred.
But at the end, the hero brings the hands of the rich and the worker together, symbolically to show that both has to work together to make society a better place for all to live. That's what I got out of the flick, anyhow. =)

I can't argue with this account. This is pretty much how I saw it myself.

One more thing, Metropolis was one of those movies that, no matter how many times you watch it, you always get something new out of it each time. Everyone gets something different from the flick. That's what makes this flick so great. =)

I agree with this 100%

Re: Just to add

(Anonymous)
Also, an interesting thing about this movie. It shows what happens when you produce CLASS ENVY!

Iron Badger picked up on that False Maria agitating the workers was pretty much classic Extreme Marxism such as the Bolsheviki preached.

And that when False Maria was playing Whore of Babylon in the Upper City's red-light district, "Let's Watch the World Go To Hell!" was the cry of Anarchists and Nihilists of the period.

Both very contemporary to post-World War One Europe.

And Metropolis is at heart a fable about Rich and Poor, Bosses and Workers. That with Class Envy (like False Maria) to keep them at each others' throats instead of a mediator (like Real Maria and Freder) to reconcile the two, Bosses and Workers will end up destroying each other -- and everything/everybody else in the process.

Well, Class Envy as manipulated by a envious nihilist like Rotwang.

After watching the full-length version (and the documentary about its rediscovery), I have been unable to get Queen's "Radio Ga Ga" out of my heard for three days and counting. Metropolis remains the original archetype of the Futuristic City, 80 years and counting.

And the full-length version IS being released on DVD and Blue-Ray later this month. Now to see if the remaining missing minutes (the Frederson/Rotwang fight in Rotwang's place) ever surfaces itself.

"Radio Ga Ga"? That any relation to Lady Gaga? I never heard the song myself.

And the whole reason they ran it on TCM (aside from it being, y'know, a major classic of cinema) was to help promote sales of the DVD. If I can I'll get it for Christmas.

And it would be cool beyond all belif if someone actually found the remaining missing footage.

"Radio Ga Ga", Queen, 1984:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Radio_Ga_Ga

Brought the imagery from Metropolis to music videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBUr1pSWTVI

In addition, Madonna's music video for "Express Yourself" (1989) also made extensive use of Metropolis imagery, including the gap between upper and lower classes in the city:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C18tIlNLRCk

Thanks for those links! I remember seeing them all back on MTV and VH-1 when they still showed music video.

Oh hey, we watched part of that!

I saw it once in college and I very much want to see the restored version, and introduce my cubs to it.

You should, they'll love it. Be warned that there is some nudity in it at parts, though the dance given by the (mostly) dressed False Maria at one point shows surprisingly little skin, yet somehow manages to be one of the most obscene things you'll ever see. Because she somehow gives you the idea that you're seeing something that just looks like a human trying and failing to act like one.

Pure nightmare fuel!

Because she somehow gives you the idea that you're seeing something that just looks like a human trying and failing to act like one.

Uncanny Valley.

And isn't there a folk tradition that when the Devil takes pleasing form, there's always going to be one thing defective about that pleasing form? A hidden cloven foot, or something unnatural?

"The Dark Power cannot create, but only copy and imitate."
-- somebody in Lord of the Rings

It's not just one flaw that makes her look inhuman, but a whole lot of little things in her expressions and bodily movements that seem so subtle by themselves but when put together are insanely creepy.

Maybe a better way of phrasing what I said would be to describe False Maria as a female version of the Un-man from Lewis' Space Trilogy who's trying to be seductive and only manages to terrify most people.

I really need to watch this restored version. Many years ago I tried to watch a much poorer version/cut and I found it incoherent and unwatchable.

You really should. It looks like a whole new movie with the extra footage.

And have things eased up for you at all work-wise? I remember your saying that you were crazy busy there for a while.

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