There’s no topia like dystopia

Pasatiempo - - There’s no topia like dystopia - Casey Sanchez The New Mex­i­can

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.

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