My memories of the movie Metropolis (1925) (trailer) have been totally distorted by the many film clips taken from it and shown in modern TV. Usually, the clips are of workers trying to do their ridiculous jobs of turning clock hands to match flashing lights around the periphery of the analog clocks. Or watching their pathetic coming and goings to and from their work stations as batches of stooped slaves. Or, another of the required scenes is of the evil clone of the angelic Maria, performing incredibly contortionist erotic dances in front of drooling men.
Another is of the evil Maria exhorting the workers to rebel by destroying the mechanical means of production of their society, which will unbeknownst to them flood their part of the city and kill all their children.
The original good, beautiful, angelic Maria is captured early and put into a machine that duplicates her and somehow squeezes her into an amazing metal body-hugging suit. That fantastic magic somehow makes her evil twin strange and even more erotic. The techniques shown for teleportation and TV communication precede Star Trek by four decades, and most of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab to this day, and this film magic is much better than much of that on the modern screen. But, as a modern viewer, it is necessary to think about these things as they go by, to see them.
But all of that movie magic of the silent era that we see now is not five percent of the original film. Much of what captured my attention were the many scenes populated by large numbers of actors, perhaps hundreds of them, all obediently running about doing crazy things on the command of behind-the-camera director Fritz Lang. The sets are fantastically beautiful both in the cathedrals and in the underground catacombs, but there is fear in every scene. Even the romantic scenes, early in the movie, and the reconciliation scenes at the end of it are mostly dominated by anxiety and fear.
One of the pleasures, for me, of this film festival is that the technical quality of the photographic film in the movies is much better every year. The quality of the physical film in Metropolis is beginning to be smooth. With Fritz Lang’s earlier movies, the poor quality of the photographic film was ever apparent and required a constant mental effort to ignore it.
A couple of hours in this Metropolis will be remembered for a lifetime.