Metropolis - Fritz Lang

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Metropolis is a 1927 German expressionist epic science-fiction film directed by Fritz Lang.
The film was written by Lang and his wife Thea Von Harbou, and starred Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel and Rudolf Klein-Rogge.
A silent film, it was produced in the Babelsberg Studios by UFA.
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013
Universum Film AG

Universum Film AG, better known as UFA or Ufa, is a film company that was the principal film studio in Germany, home of the German film industry during the Weimar Republic and through World War II, and a major force in world cinema from 1917 to 1945

'Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari'
UFA was created during November 1917, in Berlin, as a government-owned producer of World War I propaganda and public service films.
It was created through the consolidation of most of Germany's commercial film companies, including Nordisk and Decla. Decla's former owner, Erich Pommer, served as producer for the 1920 film 'Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari', which was not only the best example of German Expressionism and an enormously influential film, but also a commercial success.

 UFA-Palast am Zoo Theatre 
During the same year, UFA opened the UFA-Palast am Zoo theatre in Berlin.
Pressured by the US film industry, in late 1921 UFA was merged with Decla-Bioscop, "with government, industrial and banking support" and a near-monopoly in an industry that produced around 600 films each year and attracted a million customers every day.
In the silent movie years, when films were easier to adapt for foreign markets, UFA began developing an international reputation and posed serious competition to Hollywood.

F.W. Murnau
'Der Blaue Engel'
During the Weimar years the studio produced and exported an enormous, accomplished, and inventive body of work.
Only an estimated 10% of the studio's output still exists.
Famous directors based at UFA included Fritz Lang (see below) and F.W. Murnau; under chief producer Erich Pommer the company created landmark films such as 'Dr. Mabus' (1922), 'Metropolis' (1927 - see below), and Marlene Dietrich's first talkie, 'Der Blaue Engel' (The Blue Angel - 1930).

'Der Triumph des Willens'
'Der Heilige Berg'
In addition to 'avant-garde' experiments, and lurid films of Weimar street life, UFA was also the studio of the 'bergfilm' (mountain movie), a uniquely German genre that glorified and romanticized mountain climbing, downhill skiing, and avalanche-dodging.
The 'bergfilm' genre was primarily the creation of director Arnold Fanck, and examples like 'Der Heilige Berg' (The Holy Mountain - 1926) and 'Weiß Ekstase' (White Ecstasy -1931) are notable for the appearance of Austrian skiing legend Hannes Schneider and a young Leni Riefenstahl - later the director of 'Der Triumph des Willens'

Fritz Lang und Thea von Harbou - 1924
The studio over-extended itself financially during the late 1920s, partly as a result of the expensive production of Metropolis, and was taken over by the press baron, former Krupp manager, and DNVP leader Alfred Hugenberg in March 1927.
During the 1930s UFA produced both lighthearted musicals and comedies.
During the war the studio made several part entertainment, part propaganda feature films using the Agfacolor process, such as 'Münchhausen' (1943) and 'Kolberg' (1945).

Besuch von Hitler bei der UFA 

Babelsberg Film Studio - Postdam
The Babelsberg Film Studio (German: Filmstudio Babelsberg, FWB: BG1), located in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany, is the oldest large-scale film studio in the world. Founded in 1912, it covers an area of about 25,000 square metres (270,000 sq ft). Hundreds of films, including Fritz Lang's 'Metropolis' and Josef von Sternberg's 'The Blue Angel' were filmed there.
From 1933 to 1945, around 1,000 feature films were made in the studios and on the studio lot. Under the direction of Hitler's propaganda chief Dr Joseph Goebbels, the studio produced hundreds of films including Leni Riefenstahl's magnificent 'Triumph of the Will'.

UFA Logo
Metropolis is regarded as a pioneer work of science fiction movies, being the first feature length movie of the genre.

Original Metropolis Poster
Made in Germany during the Weimar Period, 'Metropolis' is set in a futuristic urban dystopia, and follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city's ruler, and Maria, whose background is not fully explained in the film, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classist nature of their city.
Metropolis was filmed in 1925, at a cost of approximately five million Reichsmarks.
Thus, it was the most expensive film ever released up to that point.
The film was met with a mixed response upon its initial release, with many critics praising its technical achievements and allegorical social metaphors with some deriding its "simplistic and naïve" presentation.
Due both to its long running-time and footage censors found questionable, Metropolis was cut substantially after its German premiere; large portions of the film were lost over the subsequent decades.
Numerous attempts have been made to restore the film since the 1970s-80s.
Giorgio Moroder, a music producer, released a version with a soundtrack by rock artists such as Freddie Mercury and Adam Ant in 1984.
A new reconstruction of Metropolis was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 2001, and the film was inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register in the same year, the first film thus distinguished.
In 2008, a print of Lang’s original cut of the film was found in a museum in Argentina.
After a long restoration process, the restored film was shown on large screens in Berlin and Frankfurt simultaneously on 12 February 2010.

Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang
Friedrich Christian Anton "Fritz" Lang (December 5, 1890 – August 2, 1976) was a Austrian filmmaker, screenwriter, and occasional film producer and actor.
One of the best known directors of the German school of Expressionism, he was dubbed the "Master of Darkness" by the British Film Institute.
His most famous films include the groundbreaking 'Metropolis' and 'Die Nibelungen'.
Lang was born in Vienna as the second son of Anton Lang(1860–1940),[9] an architect and construction company manager, and his wife Pauline "Paula" Lang née Schlesinger (1864–1920). Fritz Lang himself was baptized on 28 December 1890 at the Schottenkirche in Vienna.

Thea von Harbou
After finishing school, Lang briefly attended the Technical University of Vienna, where he studied civil engineering and eventually switched to art.
In 1910 he left Vienna, traveling throughout Europe and Africa and later Asia and the Pacific area.
In 1913, he studied painting in Paris, France.
At the outbreak of World War I, Lang returned to Vienna and volunteered for military service in the Austrian army and fought in Russia and Romania, where he was wounded three times.
While recovering from his injuries and shell shock in 1916, he wrote some scenarios and ideas for films.
He was discharged from the army with the rank of lieutenant in 1918 and did some acting in the Viennese theater circuit for a short time before being hired as a writer at Decla, Erich Pommer's Berlin-based production company.
Expressionist films: the Weimar years (1918-1933)

'Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler'
His writing stint was brief, as Lang soon started to work as a director at the German film studio UFA as the Expressionist movement was building.
In this first phase of his career, Lang alternated between art films such as 'Der Müde Tod' ("The Weary Death") and popular thrillers such as 'Die Spinnen' ("The Spiders"), combining popular genres with Expressionist techniques to create an unprecedented synthesis of popular entertainment with art cinema.
In 1920, he met his future wife, the writer and actress Thea von Harbou. She and Lang co-wrote all of his movies from 1921 through 1933, including 1922's 'Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler' (Dr. Mabuse the Gambler), which ran for over four hours in two parts in the original version, and was the first in the Dr. Mabuse trilogy, and 1924's five-hour 'Die Nibelungen'.

click below for more information about

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2013

Joh Fredersen - Master of Metropolis

In late 2026 (!), wealthy industrialists rule the vast city of Metropolis from high-rise tower complexes, while a lower class of underground-dwelling workers toils constantly to operate the machines that provide its power. 
The Master of Metropolis is the ruthless Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel).

There are certain similarities between the overall scenario in 'Metropolis', and the scenario of H G Well's 'The Sleeper Awakes', a dystopian novel written in 1910, where the workers are equally oppressed by a wealthy oligarchyand, in a similar manner revolt against their uncaring masters. 

Metropolis Stadium
His son Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) idles away his time with the other children of the rich. in a pleasure garden and a grand Stadium - reminiscent of the buildings later designed by Albert Speer during the Third Reich

Maria and the Children
Freder is interrupted by the arrival of a young woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm), who has brought a group of workers' children to see the privileged lifestyle led by the rich.
Maria and the children are quickly ushered away, but Freder is fascinated by Maria and descends to the workers' city in an attempt to find her.

Machine Room
Machine Room
Freder finds himself in the machine rooms and watches in horror as a huge machine explodes, causing several injuries and deaths, after one of its operators collapses from exhaustion.
Appalled by what he has witnessed, Freder runs to tell his father. Fredersen is angered that he learned of the explosion from Freder rather than his assistant Josaphat (Theodor Loos), and fires Josaphat as a result, showing no sympathy toward him or the workers.
Knowing that he can only go into the depths and become a worker, Josaphat attempts suicide but is stopped by Freder, who sends him home to wait for him.

Thin Man
Concerned by Freder's unusual behavior, Fredersen dispatches the Thin Man (Fritz Rasp) to keep track of his movements.
Returning to the machine rooms, Freder encounters the worker Georgy (Erwin Binswanger) and takes his place when he collapses at his post.

The two men trade clothes, with Freder instructing Georgy to go to Josaphat's apartment and wait for him.
However, while being driven away by Freder's chauffeur, Georgy becomes distracted by the sights and sounds in the licentious Yoshiwara nightclub and spends the evening there instead.

Fredersen and Rotwang
Meanwhile, Freder finds a map in his pocket and learns of a secret meeting from another worker as he suffers hallucinations brought on by the exhausting shift.
Fredersen has received copies of the map as well, taken from the bodies of the men killed in the explosion, and takes them to the inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) in order to learn their meaning.

Rotwang at the Tomb of Hel
Rotwang had been in love with a woman named Hel, who left him to marry Fredersen

Fredersen, Rotwang and the Robot
She died giving birth to Freder, but he has since built a robot (a Maschinenmensch, or Machine-Human) to "resurrect" her, to Fredersen's horror.
The maps show the layout of a network of ancient catacombs beneath Metropolis, and the two men leave to investigate.
They eavesdrop on a gathering of workers, including Freder, and Maria waiting to address them.

Maria and the Workers
Freder and Maria
Maria prophesies the arrival of a mediator who can bring the working and ruling classes together, and urges the workers to have patience.
Freder comes to believe that he could fill the role, and after the meeting breaks up, he declares his love for her.
They agree to meet in the city cathedral the next day, then part.

Maria and the Robot
Fredersen orders Rotwang to give Maria's likeness to the robot so that it can ruin her reputation among the workers, but does not know of Rotwang's secret plan to destroy Freder as revenge for losing Hel.
Rotwang chases Maria up through the catacombs and kidnaps her.
The next morning, the Thin Man catches Georgy leaving Yoshiwara, orders him to return to his post, and takes Josaphat's address from him.
Freder goes to Josaphat's apartment in search of Georgy, but finds that Georgy never arrived.

The Cathedral
After telling Josaphat of his time in the workers' city, Freder leaves for the cathedral, just missing the arrival of the Thin Man.
Josaphat rebuffs the Thin Man's attempts to bribe and intimidate him into leaving Metropolis; the two fight, and Josaphat escapes to hide in the workers' city.
Freder does not find Maria at the cathedral, but he does overhear a monk preaching about the Whore of Babylon and an approaching apocalypse.
Coming across statues of Death and The Seven Deadly Sins, he begs them not to harm Maria, then leaves to search for her.
He hears her cries while passing Rotwang's house and ends up trapped inside until the robot has been fully transformed into Maria's double.

Maria at Yoshiwara
Rotwang sends her to greet Fredersen; Freder finds the two embracing in his office and faints, falling into a prolonged delirium.
The false Maria begins to unleash chaos throughout Metropolis, driving men to murder out of lust for her in Yoshiwara and stirring dissent amongst the workers.
Freder recovers ten days later and seeks out Josaphat, who tells him of the spreading trouble.
At the same time, the real Maria escapes from Rotwang's house after Fredersen breaks in to fight with him, having learned of Rotwang's treachery.

Robot Maria
Descending to the catacombs, Freder and Josaphat find the false Maria urging the workers to rise up and destroy the machines.
When Freder accuses her of not being the real Maria, the workers recognize him as Fredersen's son and rush him, but Georgy protects him and is stabbed to death.
Fredersen orders that the workers be allowed to rampage, so that he can justifiably use force against them at a later time.
The workers follow the false Maria from their city to the machine rooms, unknowingly leaving their children behind.
They abandon their posts and destroy the Heart Machine, the central power station for Metropolis, after its foreman Grot (Heinrich George) reluctantly grants them access to it on Fredersen's orders.

Flooding in the Worker's City
As all systems above and below ground fail, Maria descends to the workers' city, which begins to flood due to the stopped water pumps.
She gathers the children in the main square, and with help from Freder and Josaphat, they escape from the workers' city as it crumbles in the flood.
In the machine rooms, Grot gets the attention of the wildly celebrating workers and berates them for their out-of-control actions.
Realizing that they left their children behind in the now-flooded city, the workers go mad with grief and storm out to avenge themselves upon the "witch" (the false Maria), who spurred them on and has since slipped away to join the revelry at Yoshiwara.
Meanwhile, Rotwang has fallen under the delusion that Maria is Hel and sets out to find her.
The mob captures the false Maria and burns her at the stake; a horrified Freder watches, not understanding the deception until the outer covering disintegrates to reveal the robot underneath.

The Mediator
Rotwang and Freder
Rotwang chases Maria to the roof of the cathedral, pursued by Freder, and the two men fight as Fredersen and the workers watch from the street.
Josaphat tells the workers of their children's safety to stop them from harming Fredersen.
Rotwang eventually loses his balance and falls to his death.
In the final scene, on the cathedral steps, Freder fulfils his role as mediator ("heart"), linking the hands of Fredersen (the city's "head") and Grot (its "hands") to bring them together.

click below for more information about the influence of 'Metropolis'
on the politics and aesthetics of the Third Reich


Art Deco Architecture
Metropolis features a range of elaborate special effects and set designs, ranging from a huge gothic cathedral to a futuristic cityscape.
In an interview, Fritz Lang reported that "the film was born from my first sight of the skyscrapers in New York in October 1924".
Describing his first impressions of the city, Lang said that "the buildings seemed to be a vertical sail, scintillating and very light, a luxurious backdrop, suspended in the dark sky to dazzle, distract and hypnotize".
The appearance of the city in Metropolis is strongly informed by the 'Art Deco' movement; however it also incorporates elements from other traditions.

Rotwang's House
The architecture featured in Metropolis is eclectic, with its locales representing both functionalist modernism and art deco, whilst also featuring Rotwang's archaic little house with its high-powered laboratory, the catacombs and the Gothic cathedral”.

Gothic Cathedral
The film’s use of art deco architecture was highly influential, and has been reported to have contributed to the style’s subsequent popularity in Europe and America.
The film drew heavily on Biblical sources for several of its key set-pieces.

The Tower of Babel
During her first talk to the workers, Maria uses the story of the 'Tower of Babel' to highlight the discord between the intellectuals and the workers.

Whore of Babylon
Additionally, a delusional Freder imagines the false-Maria as the 'Whore of Babylon', riding on the back of a many-headed dragon.
The name of the 'Yoshiwara' club alludes to the famous red-light district of Tokyo.


Thea Von Harbou
The screenplay of 'Metropolis' was written by Fritz Lang and his wife, Thea Von Harbou, a popular writer in Weimar Germany.
The film's plot originated from a novel written by Harbou for the sole purpose of being made into a film.
The novel featured strongly in the film's marketing campaign, and was serialized in the journal 'Illustriertes Blatt' in the run-up to its release.
Harbou and Lang collaborated on the screenplay derived from the novel, and several plot points and thematic elements - including most of the references to magic and occultism present in the novel - were dropped - and one wonders why .
The screenplay itself went through many re-writes, and at one point featured an ending where Freder would have flown to the stars; this plot element later became the basis for Lang's 'Woman in the Moon'.

Special Effects

The effects expert, Eugen Schüfftan, created pioneering visual effects for Metropolis.
Among the effects used are miniatures of the city, a camera on a swing, and most notably, the Schüfftan process, in which mirrors are used to create the illusion that actors are occupying miniature sets.
The 'Maschinenmensch' - the robot built by Rotwang to resurrect his lost love Hel - was created by sculptor Walter Schulze-Mittendorff.
A whole-body plaster cast was taken of actress Brigitte Helm, and the costume was then constructed around it.
A chance discovery of a sample of "plastic wood" (a pliable substance designed as wood-filler) allowed Schulze-Mittendorff to build a costume that would both appear metallic and allow a small amount of free movement.
Helm sustained cuts and bruises while in character as the robot, as the costume was rigid and uncomfortable.


Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels
It is a common misconception that Fritz Lang was opposed to National Socialism, and that is the explanation for his move to the USA.
In fact he established himself in the United Stated for purely financial reasons (note the swastikas in the room decoration in the section on 'Universum Film AG' above).
The main themes of metropolis  support the social and economic philosophy of the NSDAP, and Freder can be seen as a symbol for the mediating role played by Hitler in bringing all social classes together in a united purpose as part of the Völksgemeinschaft.
Not surprisingly, Dr Joseph Goebbels was impressed - and took the film's message to heart.
In a 1928 speech he declared that:
"the political bourgeoisie is about to leave the stage of history. In its place advance the oppressed producers of the head and hand, the forces of Labor, to begin their historical mission".
Roger Ebert noted that:
"Metropolis is one of the great achievements of the silent era, a work so audacious in its vision and so angry in its message that it is, if anything, more powerful today than when it was made."

Metropolis 2010
Numerous attempts have been made to restore the film since the 1970s-80s. Giorgio Moroder, a music producer, released a version with a soundtrack by rock artists such as Freddie Mercury and Adam Ant in 1984.
A new reconstruction of 'Metropolis' was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 2001, and the film was inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register in the same year, the first film thus distinguished.
In 2008, a print of Lang’s original cut of the film was found in a museum in Argentina.
After a long restoration process, the restored film was shown on large screens in Berlin and Frankfurt simultaneously on 12 February 2010.

No comments:

Post a Comment