Monday, May 07, 2012

What I'm Watching: Metropolis

I'll never be a film critic, Gentle Readers, partly because my preferences are for movies like The Princess Bride and not movies like Apocalypse Now.  I've experienced enough fear and violence to last me a lifetime; violence on the silver screen holds no glamour for me even if it is art.

But the major reason I can never be a film critic (or an art or theater critic) is because visual experiences enter my brain on a non-verbal level and then it's very difficult for me to talk or write about them.  The more moved I am by a piece of art or theater or cinema, the harder it is to discuss.

Which is exactly how I felt about the restored version of 1927 German film Metropolis.  It's an incredible, fully realized piece of art made all the more incredible because it is a silent film and the special effects are made out of sculpted models and incandescent lightbulbs.  And yet, the whole thing works beautifully.

Metropolis is a dystopian nightmare in which a few privileged people live and frolic in a futuristic industrial complex envisioned and overseen by one man while the rest of the population lives underground and works to keep the machinery of progress going in 10-hour shifts around the clock.

The filmmakers depict a deep suspicion of the idea of progress regardless of the human cost.  Replacing people with machines that have no heart or feelings only makes matters worse.  One human-like robot is introduced to the city and chaos ensues.

I'm not going to lie to you -- there's some disturbing imagery in this movie.  Audiences in 1927 would have recognized the Moloch Machine (2nd picture, above) as a metaphor for something requiring incessant and costly sacrifice; as a modern viewer, I thought of something entirely different (and all too real) as people marched to their fiery deaths.  I almost couldn't look at the children dressed essentially in prison garb reaching for salvation as the possibility of death loomed.  The writer and director could not have foreseen what would happen in their own country less than a generation later.  To modern eyes it's as horrifying as it is riveting.

And yet, in the middle of the nightmare there are some breathtakingly beautiful scenes -- like this one, in which Hel, the woman made from a machine, is an erotic dancer presented like a jewel in a Lalique crystal box.

Part of the beauty of this amazing film is that in the end, we are left with hope: belief in the strength of the human heart to overcome adversity.  The message is as true and important today as it was 85 years ago.

To read full reviews of this landmark film, click on the image links above and also here.  To go to the official site for the film, click here.


rkbsnana said...

Goodness, you do have varied interests. I have never even heard of this one.

Thrifted Shift said...

Yikes! I don't think that movie's for me... I love the Princess Bride! Have you read the book? It's even better than the movie, if you can believe that!!!

Jacquelineand.... said...

What a lovely, thoughtful post; thank you for sharing...I think I'll have to look this movie out.

Maria said...

Rbksnana~ I've watched quite a few silent movies, but this is by far the best I've seen. It's incredibly rich in Biblical, historical, and mythological references.

TS~ I'm a big baby and I loved it. It was like watching someone else's nightmare -- meaning that I could look at the amazing imagery without the fear I feel when I have a nightmare. However, as I said, a modern viewer looking back sees things the contemporary viewer did not because of what came later.

Jaqueline~ Do. It's an amazing piece of art.

Juneli said...

Great post, I could actually visualize the movie! Never seen a silent movie, other than Charlie Chaplin of course! Would love to watch it one day!