Metropolis: The past, the future and the present
Yangon’s aging socialist throwback national theatre, draped in age and mold, drew a crowd recently for a special event - the screening of German director Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis.”
Fritz Lang died in obscurity in Hollywood as his masterpiece nearly did in Argentina, but thankfully the craftsmanship of others allowed “Metropolis” to be restored close to its original length and the score bought to the audience of Yangon by two amazing live pianist performers who tickled the ivory for two and half hours.
The film depicts a post-revolutionary world where industrialist Joh Fredersen is the architect of a glorious and realistic future “Metropolis”, which many from the Yangon’s expat community might compare to Bangkok after their 70-day to 6-month jaunt in Myanmar. Underneath the surface of the city the labour workers co-exist in the daily grind of ten hours a day maintaining the balance of the Metropolis and helping pave the way of the future.
Joh’s son, Freder, is torn from his idealistic Eden by a young working class girl called Maria who brings forth other workers’ children to show this representative of the higher class the conditions of their ‘brothers.’ This awakening leads Freder into the hidden working areas to discover the horrors of those not born into wealth. After witnessing death, he rushes to find
his father to report on what he has discovered.
This is the setting of the 1926 classic that pits the working class against the higher society as there is ‘no heart’ to draw the head and the hands together. This movie classic is considered the beginning of science fiction films, with special effects brand new for its time and going on to inspire Alfred Hitchcock, as well as many later science fiction films such as Star Wars’ C3PO, which has a similar build to Rotwang’s ‘Hel’ and the metropolis depicted in Blade Runner.
This piece of art was sponsored by the Goethe Institute’s 2015 Memory film festival that saw a col- lection of Burmese and international classics gracing Yangon’s cinemas. The event marked the end of the second to last day of the festival that bought actress Michelle Yeoh who is known for her role as Aung San Suu Kyi in the movie, “The Lady.”
It is comforting to see such classics which display class struggle, abuse of power and ignorance of working society in a venue in Yangon. Myanmar would appear to have changed dramatically given that George Orwell’s classic “1984” – similar in nature to “Metropolis” - is banned in Thailand.
Metropolis provides a gold mine for those keen on film trivia. For starters, the film is depicts the year 2026, 100 years after filming. The cast of children seen scrambling from the flood waters towards the end of the film were all recruited from a Berlin slum. If you would like to dig deeper there are even religious connotations linked to the tower of Babel that was crafted from a 15th century painting depicting the tower of Babel from the Book of Genesis.
Regardless of how you would choose to interpret the film or its arguably feminist subtext, it was lapped up by the audience, prompting a standing ovation for the living artists who provided the musical score.
It is comforting to see such classics which display
class struggle, abuse of power and ignorance of working society in a venue in Yangon.
Fritz Lang on the Metropolis film set.