Metropolis (1927)

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Once again, let’s take a trip back in time to a film that helped establish cinema. I previously reviewed the first mainstream portrayal of horror (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), as well as one of the first instances of documentary filmmaking (Man with a Movie Camera). Now I want to move onto Metropolis, a film so iconic and beloved, it is impossible to ignore. It could be considered the first official instance of science fiction in cinema, and after watching this extraordinary film, I have to say that there are very few films as deserving as their iconic status as Metropolis. If there is a contender for greatest science fiction film ever made, it is most certainly this one, one of the most brilliant pieces of cinema I’ve ever had the opportunity to watch.

Metropolis is set in the year 2026 – that’s a mere nine years from now, so it doesn’t seem that futuristic to watch it in our current day. However, for a film made in 1927, this was the future. It is set in the titular city, where the rich frolic in their luxurious gardens while the poor labour underground to keep the city working. One of the rich people, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) discovers the conditions of the workers, and brings it up with his father, Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), who is the leader of the city. Freder’s pleas fall on deaf ears, but he is determined to help the plight of the workers, based on an encounter with a young and beautiful woman, Maria (Brigitte Helm). To make matters worse, the mad scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogg) has created a method of giving a robot human features, and uses one of his creations to bring a downfall to Fredersen, and to the city in general. It is now up to Freder and Maria to help save the city from the furious wrath of the mad scientist and his creation.

I was astounded by so much in Metropolis, but one thing that really took me by surprise were the performances. Metropolis features some truly unforgettable performances. Many silent films were notable for their artificial acting and excessive performances by the actors – and while Metropolis does have its fair share of slightly hammy acting, as a whole the acting was superb. A silent film depends on its actors more than anything else, and I’ll be damned if the actors in Metropolis didn’t do their absolute best with their roles. Notably, Klein-Rogg instantly made himself an iconic cinematic figure with his crazed performance as Rotwang, and Abel is subtle but excellent as the leader of the city.

However, one person truly surprised me with her performance – Brigitte Helm. There was just something about her performance that astonished me. Her absolute dedication to the role, paired with her extraordinary acting abilities, really left me utterly shaken. I haven’t been this amazed by a performance in years. I will go ahead and call this one of the greatest performances in cinema history. Everything from her gestures, to her expressions, to her iconic dance sequence, to the most subtle nuances of her performance, make this utterly remarkable. I was just left shocked by how good Helm was here, and this performance is everything I love about silent cinema. Watching Helm, I felt like I was rediscovering cinema all over again. It really is that amazing, and I can’t heap enough praise on her for this extraordinary performance.

Metropolis can be considered one of the precursors to modern science fiction. It certainly helped develop the genre in a way that wasn’t seen before. The themes of robotics and mechanisms of the future are shown so brilliantly here, and Fritz Lang did so well in creating the sense of the unknown that so many science fiction films today rely on. In a way, Metropolis can be compared to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari in the way that they helped pioneer entire genres. While The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari deals specifically with the idea of not knowing what is around the corner, but being insatiably tempted to find out, Metropolis is about the idea of doing the impossible, and ignoring the consequences. The unknown is an important factor in both horror and science fiction, and there are few films that developed the fear and allure of the unknown quite like Metropolis.

Another way that Metropolis pioneered modern science fiction is in the representation of the city. I am a self-professed dystopian junkie, and there is nothing better than mechanised cities that hide dark secrets. Metropolis is centered around an entire city, and the images of this titular metropolis are so beautifully composed. I even think that Metropolis helped predict the view of Oceania present in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was over twenty years away from being published. I can see the influence of Metropolis in films such as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, as well as in films that aren’t technically dystopian, but do feature the idea of the city having a personality of its own, such as David Lynch’s Eraserhead, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver and Mike Leigh’s Naked. A great piece of art is one that inspires and influences other pieces of art, and in my eyes, Metropolis is one of the all-time most influential pieces of cinema.

Metropolis is such an innovative film. Everything about it is just utterly mystifying, and I was shocked at what was able to be done in 1927. The cinematography was utterly incredible, and the filmmaking techniques as a whole are without question utterly and undeniably brilliant. For a film made in the silent era, it is strange how modern it feels. It doesn’t feel like a film made almost a century ago, and rather appears to be a piece of modern filmmaking. The way Lang made this film is just so great, it even astounded me. Metropolis is just a spectacular film, and the 147-minute long running time flies by. It is an epic by every definition of the word, and just unbelievably great.

I thought Metropolis was just brilliant. There is a reason why this is considered one of the greatest films ever made. I have truly enjoyed looking into the silent era to see some influences they had on modern pieces of filmmaking. Metropolis is just a beautiful film, filled with great performances and wonderful filmmaking. It is way ahead of its time, and it still remains relevant today. It has a timeless quality to it, and I adored it. It is such an incredible film, and I can’t wait to revisit it. Truly marvelous in every way.

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