Thursday, 19 March 2015

Metropolis (1927)

That this film is in Mill Creek's "Horror Classics" collection but not their "Nightmare Worlds" collection is exhibit 47 that they don't actually give a damn, but since it means that I now have a copy of this highly regarded film, I'm not really going to complain too much about it.

Shot in Weimar Germany, Metropolis tells of a society where the wealthy live in a lush and sumptuous world above, while the mass of workers toil like cogs in the great subterranean machines that support the society above.

Freder, the son of Metropolis's ruler, lives an idyllic lifestyle that is interrupted one day by a group of dirty children, who are brought into his beautiful gardens by a young woman.  Distressed by the children's condition - and more than a little intrigued by the beauty of the woman who led them - Freder descends into the machines and discovers the oppressive, all-consuming and dangerous conditions under which the workers toil.  He is horrified, especially when one of the machines blows up, killing many workers.  He imagines it as a great metal demon, into whose hungry maw human beings are fed.

Eventually Freder discovers the young woman, Maria.  She preaches to the workers in secret meetings, telling them that they are the hands of society, while those above are the head.  "The mediator of the head and the hands must be the heart" she says, and promises the tried and angry workers that this mediator will come.

Unfortunately, there are forces at work who want Maria's message of restraint overturned, because a bloody uprising of the workers would play into their own plans.  They set out to arrange this, bringing the lives of thousands - including Freder and Maria, of course - into danger.

Metropolis is a stylish and influential film from the German expressionist era, and its message of the need for cooperation between labour and capital is as relevant today as when it was made.  It's got some great visuals, with astonishing set design and some impressive effects (especially in light of its age).  It's certainly not flawless: for one thing, many modern viewers may find the acting style of the silent era quite jarring, as it is quite different to today's more naturalistic portrayal.  Also, there are some sequences I think could have been cut or shortened to save time.  At almost two hours exactly, this version felt about 20 minutes too long to me.  The original cut was 150 minutes: perhaps the extra half hour gave better context to some of the scenes or added extra story elements.  Perhaps it just made the movie really, really long.

If you are interested in social theory, expressionism, history, science fiction, or are just a film buff in general, then Metropolis is a film you should see at least once.

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