Review: Metropolis

Posted: November 10, 2010 in Film Reviews
Tags: , , , , ,

Scene from MetropolisMy first viewing of Metropolis was of the 75th anniversary restored version that clocked in at 123 minutes. Nonetheless, I was captivated by the entire two hours of black and white silence accompanied by a perfectly fitting musical score. Director Fritz Lang’s vision is mesmerizing as the visuals are simply stunning. His science-fiction super-production nearly drove the great German studio UFA (Universum Film) into bankruptcy, but was embraced worldwide as a visionary masterwork.

Metropolis depicts a futuristic city where the breathtakingly Babylonian skyscrapers of the rich and powerful are erected atop the hellish subterranean slums and factories of the proletarian poor. In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, Freder, the son of the city’s mastermind, falls in love with Maria, a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a saviour to mediate their differences.

The film’s view of tomorrow is amazing; it features suspended roads travelled by non-futuristic cars and trucks, and bi-planes that weave between the unbelievably tall buildings and hanging motorways. In addition, the skyscrapers are intricately designed. The set design is largely influenced by German Expressionism with geometrically absurd lines and encroaching shadows. Moreover, the topics of intellect, madness and betrayal explored here are also typical of the cinematic movement.

The added 25 minutes of lost footage is wonderful. Many of the supplements only extend scenes by seconds, but then there are additions that amount to entire scenes that have never been seen before now. The inserts are streaked with age, but it doesn’t mar the experience. It’s nearly breathtaking to be able to finally see the film as Lang originally intended.

The feral ferocity of Maria’s imposter is a severe contrast from the warm-hearted optimist that believes the world can be better. Brigitte Helm is magnificent in both roles, which really showcase her range as an actress. Gustav Fröhlich’s (Freder) compassion is consistently discernible from his expressions and actions.

Metropolis will have an exclusive engagement at TIFF Bell Lightbox for at least one week starting November 11th. In addition, on November 9th and 10th at 8:00 p.m., Gabriel Thibaudeau, celebrated pianist and composer for the Cinémathèque québécoise, will accompany the new restoration with his new score for the film, which debuted this past summer at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival. This new score brings two chamber orchestras to the stage to express the class struggle at the heart of the film: a soaring string quintet and keyboard represent the elitist spirit of the city, while a booming brass quintet with organ embodies the surging power of the subterranean workers, with the two worlds linked through percussion.

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