wogma rating: Add to 'must watch' list (?)
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is Adolf Hitler’s favourite film. If that doesn’t tickle your interest, perhaps the mind-boggling special effects in the film will. For a film made in 1926, Lang’s technique, story and morals portrayed were not only apt for a world embracing industrialisation, but are also fit to today’s context where the divide between capitalists and the working class is only getting wider.Read more
Non-Hindi, black and white films - especially silent ones - often receive mixed reactions if you watch them on TV. I’ve lived with roommates - film enthusiasts all of them - and believe me, unless you’re the true blue movie buff, a silent film is last on the ‘must watch’ list.
Metropolis, made in 1927, is however no ordinary silent film. It shares two reputations - one, of being the most expensive silent film ever made. And two, of being Adolf Hitler’s favourite film.
But to really appreciate Fritz Lang’s dystopian drama, you have to acknowledge the incredible amount of effort and global collaboration that has gone into making its most recent version on DVD. Edited parts of the film are patched together from South America, some parts in Europe and some are still lost in transit. Signs of it are visible in the film - for example, the text that flows between images sometimes appears in a different font. There are several abrupt cuts and it is easy to make out that certain sequences are compensated for with text.
Fortunately, none of that doesn’t take away the awe of watching Metropolis. Fritz Lang’s technique to shoot the bustling metropolis amazed me and it is sheer genius to create a believable city using miniatures like that. There are floods, explosions, transformations, robots and more - and despite the absence of sophisticated technology for special effects, Lang makes a futuristic city look far more believable than Love Story 2050. Crowd movements for example, are so painstakingly shot that you realise how easy filmmakers have it today.
The plot is almost Orwellian, but the message is not. The film unfolds like a science experiment. The point the film wants to make is stated at the beginning: “The mediator between the mind and hands must be the heart.” It must have been a timely one then - almost a prophecy for an era when the Industrial Revolution had begun and the divide between the capitalists and working class was beginning to show.
Which is why, the film is hailed as a classic - today, the gap between the rich and poor is the widest it has ever been. In the film, this gap is demonstrated using the upper city, which represents all the luxuries that a man could want - gyms, libraries, playgrounds; while the lower city (the depths), has the working class living in pure apathy.
It’s only when the city chief’s (Joh Frederson) son Freder falls in love with a working class woman (Maria), that he realises that he must mediate the differences between his capitalist father (who runs the city) and its workers. The film has just the right amount of layers in its drama - there’s tension between the father (Joh) and son, Freder; there’s the scientist Rotwang who appears obedient to Joh, but has other tricks up his sleeve; and there’s the Machine Man (a replica of Maria, only more menacing and evil) who does all things possible - including an erotic dance number - to destroy the unity of working classes.
It’s a silent film, but the actors on screen do enough with their expressions to break the language and sound barrier. Brigitte Helm, who plays Maria and the Machine Man, is the best of the lot. She seems divine as Maria, but her raised eyebrow look as Machine Man is, well, pure evil. Gustav Frohlich, as the saviour, Freder is impressive. Alfred Abel as Joh Fredersen, the capitalist tycoon is very unlike a silent film actor - he’s not loud, yet a twitch of his facial muscles does more than a dose of invectives would. Rudolf Ken Rogge plays the mad scientist Rotwang to perfection.
Some may interpret Metropolis as preachy, but I think it does so through an engaging story. It advocates themes of non-violence and responsible industrialization. If not for the message, watch this film to get some insights into what touches the mind of Adolf Hitler.
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