There’s no topia like dystopia
Metropolis, not rated, sci-fi dystopia, silent movie with English intertitles, The Screen, 4 chiles
IWho hasn’t ripped off Metropolis? From George Lucas’ Star Wars franchise to Madonna’s “Express Yourself” video, pop culture reflects more than 80 years’ worth of filmmakers, musicians, and visual artists who have drawn from the deep wells of futuristic dystopia on display in director Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterwork. The film presents a chilling vision of the future in which mankind has created flying cars and soaring buildings yet society has fractured into two castes, consisting of the weary worker drones who live underneath the city and operate its power plants and the leisure class that presides over it and manages the workers with icy indifference to their suffering. In Metropolis, Lang created a movie with a largely wordless story that is told through a series of striking visuals.
The Metropolis that generations of film lovers grew up with was incomplete, its intricate plot truncated by Hollywood producers who rereleased it domestically (the more things change ...) and its racier scenes trimmed by German censors. In 2008, the German newspaper Die Zeit revealed that a copy of Lang’s original cut had languished, for most of the past century, in South America. After its 1927 initial release, an Argentine distributor obtained the reels from Europe. Over the next eight decades, the reels continued to change hands — from the collection of a Buenos Aires film critic to a national arts organization and then to the Museo del Cine in 1992. In 2008, curators of the museum discovered that scenes thought to be permanently lost from Lang’s film were intact in the print, a discovery that was confirmed after consulting with German film experts. From there, the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation, which holds the rights to the film, set to work restoring the reels, which had been scratched and exposed to dust.
The roughly 25 minutes of recovered footage patches up what were thought to be holes in the film’s plot, revealing a work far more complex than it is often thought to be. After the film was panned upon its European debut, Paramount Pictures stepped in to helm a drastic cutting that made Metropolis into a science-fiction film centered around the Maschinenmensch, a curvaceous female robot. In the newly restored reels, it becomes clear that Lang intended to create a fuller drama about class conflict, the battle between fathers and sons, and the theme of the doppelgänger.
The plot, as it was known for decades, follows Freder, the young, privileged scion of Metropolis’ ruler. Freder gets pulled from his life in the city’s lush rooftop gardens into the underworld of the workers, where grave young men are frequently maimed and killed by explosions from steam-powered machinery in which they are essentially cogs. Freder’s dive into the unknown is spurred by Maria, a stunning ingénue and crusader for the wretched, orphaned children of the underworld. When she’s not saving the children, Maria is ascending the pulpit in hidden catacombs, delivering sermons to the workers with lines like “the mediator between heads and hands must be the heart” and prophesying a happy-ending time when ruler and worker will see eye to eye. Meanwhile, Freder’s father becomes alarmed about worker unrest and his son’s increasing fascination with Maria and the underworld.
In this uncut version, we see more of the machinations of Freder’s father and his associates than in previous cuts of the film. Freder’s father engages a spy who tracks Freder while his father collaborates with a mad scientist named Rotwang to build an android in the image of Maria — a feat that requires kidnapping her. The resulting Maschinenmensch is a nearly nude exotic dancer that arouses the upper classes while moonlighting as an unhinged underclass demagogue who eggs on the workers to destroy the machines. The ruined machines usher in a flood that kills several of the workers’ children — shown in restored scenes that were deleted because the German film board considered them too violent.