on 9 January 2011
One of the most important events of film history has been realised with the editing together of Lang's masterpiece.
It was the first time that I had seen Metropolis in 30 odd years, and seeing it today illustrates, to me, how much it reflects the confusion of modernity; making it a work that also taps into our own times.
One of the works that it brought to mind was Mahler's 3rd symphony, with its quote from Nietzsche's `Also sprach Zarathustra' (`O man! Take notice'). Like Mahler, Lang introduces us to the ethereal as well as the mundane. Even Huppert's score echoes Mahler (as much as the music of new romanticism did at the time, composers such as Zemlinsky, for example).
Enough words have been said about the style of the film, and the impact that it has had on later filmmakers ( It is suggested that Stanley Kubrick based Dr Stranlove - the character played by Peter Sellers - on Rotwang, but I wonder if he may have also had Lang in mind; when one sees the interview with Lang on this disc, the comparison is quite stunning).
Though I don't want to dwell on Lang's biography too much there has always been this image of Lang as some sort of progressive, whilst his wife (of the time), Thea von Harbou, who wrote the novel and screenplay for Metropolis, is portrayed as some Nazi-loving bitch who stayed behind when Lang `escaped' to the USA. Jonathan Rosenbaum, writing in the accompanying booklet, compounds the image by referring to Metropolis' `[naïve]' socialist notions' [p.11] and though the compromising of capitalist and workers interest fits in with the reforming socialist ideals of Social Democracy, much of the film seems to be a product of the ideology of the rising Nazi party.
In hindsight we can see the clips where the workers go to and come off their shifts as the later images of Jews being herded into concentration camps (even the dream-like image of workers being thrown into the furnace/mouth of Moloch, reinforces that). But there are other aspects of the film that makes it understandable as to why Hitler loved Metropolis and could say of Lang: "Here is a man who can give us great Nazi films!" Rotwang can be seen as the cause of all the problems of the city and although he does not appear as a caricature Jew, we do see a star (though not the Star of David, exactly) on his door, suggesting the Jewish conspiracy theory, so loved by anti-Semitics. Added to that Rotwang can easily be seen as a Rabbi Lowe figure who, using one of the Nazi's theories of the Jewish Bolsheviks, creates an evil Maria, who later stirs up trouble amongst the workers (and it is wondered if Lang and von Harbou had the murdered revolutionary, Rosa Luxemburg, as the model for the `evil' Maria).
But if anything, it is the elitist fear of `the mob' that dominates the second half of the film. The workers are portrayed as mindless `idiots' for allowing themselves to be swayed by the `evil' Maria, and, as if to reinforce the contempt for `the mob' taking revolutionary action the music during the scenes of the workers destroying the machines is a twisted `La Marseillaise'.
The story itself is, to put it mildly, garbage, but the ending (seen as being one of the worst conclusions to a film) seems to me to be the only one available. It works as a compromise between the totalitarian ideals of Nietzsche inspired Nazism and a liberal democracy where `we are all in this together'.
To reject Lang's German films on the basis that they were applauded by Hitler and Goebbels and, to some extent, acted as Nazi propaganda, would be wrong. Art calls on whatever is available at the time and this was the climate of Germany during the period when Lang was making this film.
I think that this film (though I prefer `M') is one of the greatest films ever. It matters little about the politics (except for analytical purposes)for an appreciation of the work as a whole. Like Wagner's Ring Cycle, Metropolis did not bring about the rise of the Nazis, the Nazis exploited those things that, ideologically, the could relate to in those works.
Metropolis not only reflects the confusion of Modernity (a confusion much abound these days as well) it portrayed that confusion in the most far-seeing manner that the time allowed.
It became the benchmark for other films (mainly, but not solely, science fiction _ there is a scene where the water pours through a crack in the ground, which made me think of the bleeding walls in Kubrick's `The Shining') and even the recently found scenes, that are scratched and of poor quality, still seem amazing.
But for me, I find that the film is the height of modern aesthetics. Whilst life for the workers is brutal, the architecture of the city, that dominates the film, is simply beautiful.
This film has suffered the worst butchering of any work of art I can think of. Not only having so much cut out from it but also having to be put through the indignity at the hands of Mororder in 1984. It is indeed a great pleasure that we have been given this version today. The film world and audience should be forever grateful to those that found and worked on this restoration and then released it.