Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Metropolis (GER 1927)

First time seeing this epic and I will be honest as I usually am, I found most of this very boring!. I knew it was a silent black and white film of course (even better! I enjoy black and white films), but the plot is totally not what I expected. I always thought this was a kind of [i]Frankenstein[/i] story, the creation of a robot, life, its actually partly that but mainly based around a religious theme of a woman (almost akin to Moses and being worshipped as a saviour) leading the lowly workers to revolt against the high and mighty city planners. In turn it then proceeds to turn into a disaster movie and then finally ends with a Gothic horror type finale in the same visual realms as 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'.

Its hard to take the whole film in as its very complicated with all its messages, themes and metaphors which are both obvious and hidden. The characters are all very well portrayed and much deeper than you'd expect as the film progresses, although the lack of wording/text (any missing or taken out?) makes it hard to follow and pick up all the information you need. Its a basic premise used over and over these days, the rich elite living high above the earth in towering buildings of power whilst the poor grunts toil in the bowels below powering the fantastic city above them which they cannot hope to live in.

Of course the film being made by a German in 1927 with the Nazi regime starting to linger in the background the film does have that oppressive vibe and heavy set biblical undercurrent. Lang was anti-fascist and he tries to show that with the squalid peasants that live beneath the mighty city. Its funny because this film feels very much like a fascist film with its certain clear cut visuals, especially in this era, you do get mixed signals I think.

The real reason to watch this film is of course the visuals, stunts and musical score (it is really), its a masterclass in movie making. The score is an opera, its first rate, top class, its as good as any known Hollywood musical and practically tells the story on its own...which its suppose to do I might add (no speech remember). Every person and every event is recorded with the perfect tune/note/theme which guides you along the way as if you were holding hands with the composer.

The visuals, imagination and design of the film are the real stand out spectacles with absolutely incredible special effects ranging from simple model work to matte paintings that create a blend of craftsmanship that truly puts some modern films to shame. This was in 1927 remember!. The now familiar harsh stark black and white contrast adds to the stylish German expressionism to give it that Gothic, gloomy yet quite realistic feel which I really believe would be lost in colour. The camera angles and forced perspective used to create the towering Art Deco skyscrapers, flashing neon signs and sprawling urban jungle of buildings is simply perfect, you just can't fault it, and its so very easy to see where many top directors of the biggest sci-fi and Gothic films in history have gotten their inspiration, but I don't blame them for one minute. The skylines on view in this film are awe-inspiring with immense depth and tiny movement everywhere, its a model train set on an epic scale and it still looks awe-inspiring today.

The costumes worn by the city planners and their leader 'Fredersen' don't appear dated too much...just smart basic and believable whilst the set designs and futuristic creations on show are pretty accurate of our age and do look really nice (video phone). The offices and building layouts just look quite practical, livable, clean and well thought out, much like first impressions of 'Blade Runner', everything does seem to be functional. Lang and co do appear to be very stable futurists.

All this without even mentioning the near perfect body suit used to create the robot 'Maria'. The sculpture work is iconic and begs to be worshipped!. Not only does it look like a real working robot (for the time) and the influence behind god knows how many sci-fi characters, but the actress inside gives a beautifully silent (obviously) slow performance with hardly any effort used. Merely standing and walking but using the suit to her advantage to make it work on every level. The scientists dark  50's looking lab where Maria is resurrected is gorgeous looking too and those now memorable ascending/descending glowing halo's that surround Maria where she sits are the icing on the sci-fi cake (now of course the stuff of B-movie legend).

Not only are the effects amazing but the stunt work during the second half of the film is quite risky and daring to say the least, as the machines crumble after the workers revolt the sets come crashing down in eye widening sequences. The huge props fall apart and puff out smoke whilst the flooding scenes mix neat model shots with quite large sets and huge amounts of extras used (there are some quite stunning scenes with masses of extras used during the film all without the use of CGI making them very special indeed). Some of the sets must have been vast or at least give that impression, the cathedral steps and ginormous doors are a sight to behold trust me. Many sequences do look like stage sets in a theatre with props taking up almost all the space with their realistic scale, most are obvious of course. But there is vast contrast in detail between some of the huge greasy mechanical sets, religious Gothic sets, decaying earthy catacomb, Nazi-esque power sets and cold blank sterile black and white dystopian technological sets. Religion and fascism/anti-fascism set in a thick expressionist future. The film touches on various genres in a way.

A historic film that defies belief, everything is so well done, such precision yet so old you just wonder how film makers can make such trash these days. The story is boring and a little hard to follow I have to admit, lots of odd almost surreal images, ideas and character arch's going on, which isn't surprising seeing as its getting close to a hundred years old. But you watch for the craftsmanship on display, the effects, lighting, camera angles, set designs, models, costumes...all these must be seen to be believed. You can easily look past the religious/fascist connotations and enjoy the fantasy, this is the true art of proper film making.