“Metropolis” lives! The return of a cinematic masterpiece


EVERYBODY HAS SEEN THE images, but how many have sat through the whole thing? In 1927, Fritz Lang first unleashed his 204 minute-long studio-busting sci-fi flick Metropolis on the public, the answer is “precious few.” It bombed at its opening in Berlin on January 10 of that year and it did little better in a somewhat shortened version that premiered in Stuttgart and Munich on August 25. It was not until Paramount Pictures took mercy on this beached whale of a would-be epic, hired scriptwriter Channing Pollock to cut it way down to a form that at least Americans could swallow, that the film finally started to attract an audience. “Metropolis knew no boundaries and had no logic,” Pollock later explained. “I gave it my own meaning.” This version, running to around an hour and a half, became the one the world would proceed to call Metropolis, a movie that everyone knew about but hardly anyone actually liked.

Sure, the visuals were always stunning – visionary even (director Luis Bunuel called it “the most wonderful picture book you could imagine”) – but good visuals do not a good movie make. The generally poor film quality we usually got to see on late-night public TV was one stroke against it, and the even worse (and widely divergent) soundtracks were another. But most of all, the egregiously dysfunctional story of Freder Fredersen, the naïve but courageous son of the great city’s lord and master, and the Christ-like figure of Maria, the prophet of Metropolis’s vast proletarian underground population, whose implausible love for each other brings the two seemingly irreconcilable classes together, seemed both cloying and downright insulting. As one critic wrote in the Berliner Börsen-Courier the morning after the 1927 premiere, “[Screenwriter] Thea von Harbou has invented a preposterous plot whose motifs are stuffed to the gills. (…) She continually works with hollow feelings. Horrible. A serious topic is transformed into gruesome kitsch. [It is filled with] special effects, not because ideologies themselves cause explosions, but because the film wants to show off its tricks. The conclusion – the tearful reconciliation of employer and employee – [is] appalling.” …



One Comment to ““Metropolis” lives! The return of a cinematic masterpiece”

  1. I really want to check out this movie, but I can’t find a copy. I thought for sure the local library would have it, but it doesn’t seem so.

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