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Brigitte Helm





Universum Film, 1927.  Directed by Fritz Lang.  Camera:  Karl Freund.  With Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Fritz Rasp, Theodor Loos, Erwin Biswanger, Heinrich George, Brigitte Helm, Fritz Alberti.

Metropolis is one of the most exciting and exceptional works of art ever produced.  This epic science fiction film is one of Germany's famous silent movies created by Fritz Lang and liberated in 1927, the period between the two World Wars.

This movie represents the expressionist cinema and shows us the repression of human needs by the machine age.  Lang's creation of a self-destructive society is a protest against the machine age.  Metropolis is one of the most magnificent cities of 2026, is kept 'alive' by the unceasing work of the underground people who live in slavery and is enjoyed by wealthy and educated people.

The Austrian director of the movie, Fritz Lang, presents the story of a master, John Federsen, who sees people as machines working constantly to maintain the luxury and technology of his metropolis.  On the other side, his son Freder falls in love with one of the underground workers who is a spiritual leader for the slaves.  The son recognizes the unsentimental heart of his father and starts a revolution.  The city gets flooded and Maria (Freder's love) regains the workers' trust after a robot had stolen her identity, she finds her loved one after saving the city's children, and the workers shake hands with the master.

Expressionism tries to simplify the world and to understand it emotionally, in a subjective way.  It is very important to understand this definition of this dynamic, violent and distorted movement in order to understand that Lang tried to externalize his own internal vision of the world through simple expressions.

The name 'metropolis' comes from the Greeks and means mother-city.  It has this significance because a metropolis is the biggest form of a technologically and economically developed city.  Nevertheless, referring to the movie name, this film can be considered as the mother city of all cinematic clichés.

In this story, there are two main characters, Maria and Freder.  They are also the heroes of the saga because they are the ones who rescue the population from being drowned in the flood.  John Federson is a person full of empowering feelings who only thinks of himself and of his city, forgetting about the ones who work for him.  All the fantasies that he has come true through the power of his workers but he never thinks about the danger they are in while working for him.  This man wants so much power that he is almost hypnotized by it; he is obsessed and possessed by the power of inventions and creations. On the other hand, Maria is just a symbol of munificence, her soul is pure and she is seen like an angel who brings peace to the world.

Maria convoys the people in a church settling area.  She is shown as sanctity, a holy person that is surrounded by the light of the candles.  She is positioned higher than the workers who carefully listen to her as she speaks about peace, unity and their salvation by a mediator that will soon come.  Her eyes inspire confidence and kindness as she kisses Freder in the church scene.  In general, all she does is for the good of humanity.  One thing that she repeats in the movie is, "Between the head and hands there must be a heart."  This means that she realizes the bad things that the head (John Frederson) does and the good things that the hands (workers) do.  But she knows that these workers should not be treated poorly or like robots and that, she can be the heart, which can persuade the head and the hands to cooperate to come to common interests.  Maria, as her name suggests is also a biblical motif.  She explains to the workers the story of the Tower of Babel.  The workers in the story destroy this tower, which parallels how the movie will end, with the destruction of the machines by the workforce.  Maria is still the representation of Jesus mother because she is trying to save the lives of the underground children.  She would sacrifice herself and, alike Mother Mary, she has a strong faith in the creator of the world.

All the scenes of this film are perfectly created at the eye level so that anyone is able to view the action.  However, there is also a bird's eye view at the beginning of the movie as the panorama of the city is shown from high above the ground.  This view was created to give us an impression of how widely extended and huge Metropolis is.  In addition, the focus of the dramatic camera angles with bold shadows is on the disproportioned landscape as well as on the right-angled buildings.  There are moments in which the camera focuses on fast movement scenes like the dancing of the robot in the nightclub and scenes where it focuses on slow movement like in the beginning of the film where the 'slaves' are shown going into the working area at a certain pace and aligned as robots.

When more people are involved in a scene, like the one in which all the children are surrounding Maria as she rings the danger bell, the angles are vertical, triangular, but when only one person is focused, there is a close-up to allow us to read that character's expressions and feelings.  A good example would be the close-ups on the master Fredersons' eyes as he asks his secretary why his son was allowed to go underground and as well after that scene when he is thinking in order to suggest this dictator's meditation and frustration.  Another important aspect of the camera and of Expressionism that I have remarked was the scene in which the mad scientist tries to run away from Freder and kidnaps Maria.  He is walking up on the roof of a sharp-angled building holding Maria under his arm as if nothing would happen.  The same scene was notable in Robert Wiene's film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as Cesare walks up on the roof with the kidnapped fiancé and the city crowd follows him.

Time also is significant in the film because the clock keeps showing up in the most important scenes.  Time is evident in Fredersons' office as his son challenges him to have mercy for the people as well as he is talking to his secretary.  Still only, a small portion of the clock is shown in these shots and it means the time in which the master can think what decisions to take.  On the other hand, a gigantic clock is shown as Freder finds an exhausted worker trying to turn a wall-clock.  Freder understands the struggle of this man and replaces him.  There is where he finds out that at 2 pm Maria will have a meeting.

But all that we have seen in this movie is not only made to show us the great importance of this silent SF film that can keep the watcher alive by its impressive music and can inspire contemporary movies like Matrix , but for its great historical importance.  Fritz Lang expressed a social life in this movie as well as a political one.  After WWI, when Germany had lost a war, people's lives were a disaster.  Everyone was disoriented and could not keep up with the tragedy that was going on, and maybe there were some influences of the great anti-Semitism that was supposed to follow.  But Germany was a great disaster as well and there was nothing it could have done to prevent it because many troubles kept adding up over the years and this country had to be defeated morally and politically as well as economically.  Even if Germany's wish of reconstruction was as utopian as Fredersen's wish of a technological city, the postwar inflation had a big contribution on cinemas development.

Also see AvaxNews for many fascinating photos and background information on the film.

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Poster artwork courtesy of Alberto, Dieter, and Gary