I am in my third week of Film History class, an elective that I chose based on a love of film. The first three weeks we have ben stuffing silent films. I find that I am gaining a new appreciation for Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, and their works. Modern Times shocked me a bit. I was surprised to see the use of cocaine in a Chaplin film. In my naivete I considered drugs to be more of a “modern” issue. It was shocking, but refreshing at the same time.
This week one of the film choices was Metropolis. It is an early science fiction film directed by Fritz Lang, a German director. There was no sound of course, just an obligatory classical music soundtrack, but the music helped to bring emotions to the scenes at just the right time. The image of the machine man is one of the iconic images of science fiction and that was my main factor in deciding to watch this film.
In the movie there are the working class and the people who live above in the city. The workers toil underground at the machines that make the city function. Joh Fredersen created the city and controls all functions above and below. His son Freder falls in love with a woman named Maria, who is seen as a saint among the workers. Her message is one of hope. The brain (the people above) and the hand (the workers) must be mediated by the heart (Freder). A mad scientist creates a machine man which is given the form of Maria in order to insight a riot among the workers. His reason behind this? Revenge. Revenge against Joh Fredersen for taking the woman he loved. The inventor, Rotwang, is the archetype of the mad scientist from character to costume. After convincing the adult workers to rise up and destroy the Heart Machine the machine man is confronted by the dame workers when they realize that they left their children to die in the city as it is flooded with the destruction of the Heart Machine. Freder and Maria save the children and Maria, who is mistaken for the machine man is chased through the city. The workers find the machine man and burn her at the stake for killing their children. In the end, after a climactic battle between Freder and Rotwang, Freder becomes the mediator he is destined to be and heals to heal the rift between his father and the workers.
There is a LOT going on in this film. It is 2:34 minutes long, and while it is not the longest movie I have ever watched, it is up there on the list. You can feel it in this movie. It feels like it is about 45 minutes too long. The original movie was trimmed down by 25% to show in theatres in 1927, and I can see why. I am glad that I saw the original cut though, even if it was a bit long.
I also appreciated that the film was in its original black and white. I do not enjoy colorized versions of films. They use too many pastel colors and it all just looks fake. This was especially so when I watched the colorized version of Refer Madness, although having cannabis smoke being different colors was amusing.
To truly appreciate this film it must looked as a piece of art, not just a sci-fi film. The montage editing was well don, if a bit jarring at times. One scene in particular stands out when Maria is sounding the alarm to save the children in the undercity. Even with know sound you can clearly hear the gong as the shot zooms in on the face or the reverberating gong. The lighting of the film was a character itself. The city and the workers were always dark and depressed while those that lived above were filled with light and joy. It was ahead of its time in showing the problems between the working class and those in power.
I enjoyed this movie and highly recommend it. It is long, but worth it.
What are your favorite silent films?