Metropolis – Fritz Lang – 1927 – Review

After its premiere, Metropolis’ original reel was damaged and changes were made under the third Reich. It is estimated that a quarter of the movie had disappeared. In 2008, an alternative version was found in Buenos Aires, enabling the almost complete restoration of the original version, although the quality was affected by the impaired reel.

Today Metropolis is regarded as a classic and features on lists of movies that cannot be overlooked when going through cinema’s history, notably IMDB’s famous top 250. Co-written with his wife, it is an ambitious project that Fritz Lang set out with Metropolis in 1927. Firstly bashed by the critics, it gained considerable attention later on and is regarded by filmmakers and critics alike as a classic.

I set out to explore Martin Scorsese’s list of 39 non-english films, and share with you what I thought about those that were relevant being mentioned in my eyes. First on the list to be reviewed, Metropolis:

The futuristic city of Metropolis and its skyscrapers is divided into two parts. First there is the city below, where dehumanised, lifeless humans gesticulate restlessly around machines more than 10 hours a day. Above, people live a leisurely life and all pleasures are at hand. Whereas life is gloomy and tasteless down there, it is enjoyable and colourful up here. The split is social and metaphysical : Workers doing hard labour in a darkened setting assimilated to hell and bourgeois living the easy life in a lightened place reminding of heaven. Everything is made to convey the impression: dark/light image, eerie/uplifting music, lively/lifeless humans.

One day, Maria, a girl from below, sneaks through the doors of the city above with children of the workers. They are dressed in ragged clothes, covered in soot : the contrast with Metropolis upper city inhabitants’ white silky trousers and groomed faces is striking. She declares before being ushered out:

Look at these faces, they are your brothers and sisters.”

Freder, Metropolis’ Master Joh Fredersen’s son, is shocked by something he was completely ignorant of as well as awed by the beauty of Maria. He decides to follow her in the depths of Metropolis. There he assists to an horrifying scene : an exhausted worker fails to keep up with his machine, causing an accident that ends up with dozens of deaths.

Baffled if not horrified by what just happened, Freder sets out to talk to his dad, pleading him to release workers from their overwhelming labour. There we meet Josaphat (hebraic name for a King of Judah), Freder’s father’s scapegoat that he eventually releases of his duties and sends below – in hell.

Putting things back in their context, Metropolis was made in 1927 under the Weimar Republic whilst anti-Semitism was starting to spread across Germany. The character of Josaphat, appears as a probable attempt from Fritz Lang, who fled his native country as soon as Hitler was named Chancellor in 1933 to denounce the growing anti-Semitism indirectly.

Whereas Jospahat is being thrown away by Fredersen, the latter’s son compassionately decides to offer him shelter. Freder then trades his position with a worker called Georgy who is identified by an ID number – that I cannot help but assimilate as the dramatic foreseeing of death camps . After work, he follows all workers to a gathering, where they listen to someone – who happens to be Maria – sermonising them about the beginnings of Metropolis from a stage displaying big crosses evoking christianity. Maria’s message is one of peace. She predicts the arrival of a mediator – the heart – who will link workers below – the hands – with creators above – the heads.

Meanwhile, Joh Frederson pays a visit to cruel Rotwung the inventor, who has ‘sacrificed a hand for a life’ in order to build the man of the future : the machine-man – firstly introduced below some sort of five-branched Star of David. Joh, who has been made aware of the workers’ gatherings asks Rotwung to give his ‘robot’ the likeness of Maria to sow discord amongst them. However, the inventor has got other ideas and plans to use the machine to personal aims.

The idea, present from the beginning, that humans are being replaced by machines in some sort of twisted evolutionary perspective is one of the main point the movie makes: is future replacing humans with artificial intelligence? In that regard, Metropolis is one of the first Sci-fi movies ever. It also denounces the conditions of works of the proles, who are often incapable of competing with the restless clockwork of the machines. They are made numb by physical labour, and in the scene they gather around Maria, they all look as though they are asleep, exhausted from slave-like work conditions.

Metropolis is a social fable, a metaphysical story and a call to tolerance. First of all, it is a social fable that denounces the conditions of work of oppressed class, that acts as hands to build the world in which oppressors will live a leisurely life. In a scene, the machine on which Freder works is assimilated to a clock that he cannot slow down. He screams “Father ! Father ! Will ten hours (of work) never come to an end ?” The fight he is intending is one that cannot be won : a fight against time itself.

In another scene, the machine is assimilated to the biblical figure of Moloch, a divinity that feeds with children.

Secondly, it is also a metaphysical story in that religious allegories are recurring. First the allegory of hell and heaven, respectively represented in the lifeless depths and soaring clouds of Metropolis. Alternatively, the city’s creators are assimilated to gods, that worker respect and honour as authority figures. Freder, who is eventually revealed to be the mediator, is also a Christian allegory of Jesus Christ: the one who preaches respect, trades his place with a worker (taking upon him to suffer) and denounces the oppressing of the people.

Metropolis is also a tale of tolerance. Speckled with a christian moral, jewish symbols are ever present directly or indirectly (Josaphat and the banner above the machine-man). Although Josaphat is a character that brings sympathy on him, the robot isn’t and that may be what led critics to see in the movie a tale of anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, the genuine idea that can be extracted from the movie is one of tolerance in that kind benevolence Freder displays for the character of Josaphat.

Although the idea of the heart being a mediator lacks relevance and led Fritz Lang to reckon it was a weak one, Metropolis is a film that has acquired a status of masterpiece. It is secondarily one of the first blockbusters ever made: the shooting lasted almost a year, more than 35 000 people participated in it and it cost five millions Reichsmark (£2,5m). Bashed by critics after its release, Metropolis is now one of the reference of Silent Cinema and considered as a must-see for any cinema lover.

An interesting social, metaphysical and tolerance fable foreseeing what Germany was set to face in the years following the great depression. The 150 minutes of the restored version are a bit too long but they are definitely worth it.

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Culture: My Best of 2014

That’s it; as 2015 approaches fast and all sorts of lists of things we have enjoyed are bustling on your social feeds: movies, albums, news and much more. I decided to compile an exhaustive list of films, albums, books and TV shows proposing to look in the least objective manner at what marked – my – 2014. Although in my opinion lists are stupid, because they vulgarise information as well as narrow down endless possibilities, I succumbed to the trend. Also, it takes a lot of brashness and self-importance feelings to declare ‘this was better than that’. I do not pretend in any way to hold the absolute truth. Amongst the following, I have not had the chances to see, read and watch all that could be seen, read and watched because my dear reader, as unexpected and shocking as it sounds I am not an encyclopaedia. Anyways, here is what grabbed my interest in 2014.

  • Films

Nightcrawler
Jake Gyllenhaal reporting on a crime scene in Nightcrawler.
  1. Nightcrawler by Dan Gilroy
    This is the story of a lunatic, immoral jobless thief who decides to start a career in freelance journalism. It is a life-time performance and by far the best Jake Gyllenhaal has ever pulled off. Cynical, hilarious and dark, Nightcrawler is a satire of a world in which human life is worth no more than images.
  2. Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch
    Following the commercial success of Twilight, True Blood and The Vampire Diaries I reckon I was quite scared when Down By Law‘s director announced he was writing a story about vampires. What a pleasant surprise! I feel ashamed and I know better than not to have had faith in Jim Jarmusch. The Akron-born filmmaker’s latest work is a success in terms of photography, acting (hats off to Tilda Swindon and Tom Hiddleston) and sound. Although the action in Only Lovers Left Alive unfolds slowly and its scenario is quite simplistic, it manages to tell a humanistic story where vampires are only here to make us realise the perfection of our mortal condition.
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson
    I always thought Wes Anderson‘s cinema was lacking something. Although The Royal Tenenbaums and Moonrise Kingdom had the potential to soar up to the status of masterpiece, they probably won’t be considered as such in a decade. Let’s be honest though, Anderson – as was Dario Argento with his Giallo – enjoys creating colourful, lively universes where aesthetic prevails upon scenario. With the Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson takes us to the fictional Republic of Zubrowska. Verdict: what was lacking has been found. The film is well balanced between humour and terror – thanks to the pragmatic and witty Mr. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and the terrifying Jopling (Willem Dafoe) – whilst maintaining the dandy of cinema’s childish narrative. His best work so far.
  • Albums

Caribou Our Love
Caribou – Our Love
  1. Caribou – Our Love
    Dan Snaith, A.K.A Manitoba, Daphni or more recently Caribou is the same man. A simple, nostalgic and versatile Canadian musician born by the banks of Lake Ontario. Snaith opened the doors to electronica in 2010 with ‘Swim‘ and took a dramatic turn towards house with the release, under the name Daphni, of ‘Jiao‘ back in 2012. ‘Our Love‘ is Caribou‘s masterpiece: An introspective album exploring the future, the probable and the desirable.
  2. Tom Vek – Luck
    Maybe ‘Luck‘ is not as consistent as ‘Leisure Seizure‘. Whilst the latter was more some sort of self-proclaimed manifesto of what indie music ought to be, the latter explores the possibilities of experimentation, resulting in an heterogenous batch of songs – The oriental ‘Broke‘, the robotic ‘How Am I Meant To Know‘ or the energetic ‘You’ll Stay‘ – that luckily work out for the best. Tom Vek is definitely a genius.
  3. Kasabian – 48:13
    A lot was expected from The Leicester-based band since it now features alongside big stars of English rock music such as Oasis, Blur or The Stone Roses. Some said when experimental track ‘Eez-eh‘ was unveiled, it is an utter pile of crap. Others glorified Kasabian‘s ability to re-invente themselves with every album… there does not seem to be a middle ground. And indeed, how to resist the string arrangements in ‘Stevie, the house-music-styled solo in ‘Treat‘ or the brashness of ‘Eez-eh‘? You know Sergio worked it like a treat!
  • Books

Although you will quickly notice that these books weren’t written in 2014, I have chosen to share the ones I have discovered this year and have spent sleepless nights literally devouring. I wish I could have fit more than three in this list, unfortunately I had to omit a lot.

A Song Of Ice And Fire
A Song Of Ice And Fire’s first instalment: A Game Of Thrones, published in 1996
  1. A Song of Ice and Fire (1996 – 2011) by George Martin
    When George Martin started writing ‘A Game of Thrones‘ in 1991, I doubt he had any idea how many people he would shock and please; firstly by killing off everyone’s favourite characters; secondly by depicting sexual scenes of extreme violence with such ease (incest, rape…) and thirdly by his creativity and the way he achieved to put together pieces of a world in which readers are sucked into from the first pages. Westeros is a ruthless universe and its crudeness is – and some of you might beg to differ here –  expressed way better with words than by David Benioff and Dan Weiss‘ cameras. Every fan of the TV show should read it, provided they can cope with Martin’s extremely slow writing pace before the release of the next instalment ‘The Winds of Winter‘. Surely, it will be worth the wait in the end.
  2. Shogun (1975) by James Clavell
    James Clavell joined the Royal Artillery at nineteen years old in 1940. He was sent to Malaysia during the Second World War and was captured by the Japanese, who made him a war prisoner. When freed, Clavell set out to write the Asian Saga, a collection of stories counting the adventures of British citizens in Asia over a wide period of time (1600 – 1979). Shogun tells the story of captain Blackthorne (Anjin-san) and his encounter with a world he knows absolutely nothing about: feudal Japan. He is made prisoner and quickly gains importance as a prize that can influence the outcome of the raging war between two feudal lords: Toranaga and Ishido. Shogun not only has an historical value (although names have been changed and plots twisted), but it teaches more about Japanese culture than any other book could. Wakarimasu ka!
  3. La Peste (1947) by Albert Camus
    Alright, it was a close one. If it had not been for the events that occurred when I was reading ‘La Peste‘, I probably would have put ‘1984′ that was much more likely to feature on this list. Unfortunately for Orwell, as I was reading Camus‘ underestimated piece – that he himself regarded as a disastrous piece of work – ISIS was being thrown on media outlets’ front pages, setting out to contaminate countries with bubonic plague. Meanwhile in West Africa, Ebola was killing people by thousands, price of an unstoppable outbreak as is the plague in Camus‘ novel. Clear, concise and highlighting the issues our society is dealing with when facing alarming outbreaks, this book is a timeless must-read.
  • TV Shows

Mad Men 2014
Mad Men’s cast for series 7 (Pt. I)
  1. Mad Men
    The power of Mad Men lies it its ability to tell nothing and at the same time everything, in particular in the way characters adapt and fit their behaviour to the changing environment that surrounds them: the deaths of JFK, his brother and Martin Luther King, Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon, a post war atmosphere of repression followed by the freedom of the sixties. All along Mad Men, we follow Don Draper, go to the office with him, get drunk with him, cheat and lie with him and eventually go down with him. We also grow up with Draper’s kids Sally and Bobby. Mad Men is a success in that it has the ability to make us empathise with ruthless, ungrateful people we would despise if it weren’t for the show, because after all, they were only victims of their time.
  2. Fargo
    Based on the universe the Coen Brothers had created in the namesake 1996 movie, Fargo follows the fearful Lester Nygaard. His world is going to be shaken up by the arrival in town of an enigmatic killer Lorne Malvo. Hilarious, dark, eerie, uncanny and mysterious, Fargo will please TV series lovers and Joel & Ethan‘s fans.
  3. The Missing
    Last year, it was David Tennant and Olivia Colman‘s investigation following the death of a young boy that shook Britain in Broadchurch, this year it was The Missing. In 2006, in the fictional town of Chalons-du-Bois in the North of France, the Hugh family: Tony, Emily and Oliver (James Nesbitt, Frances O’Connor and Oliver Hunt) is going on holiday when their car breaks down. They decide to take a room in a hotel nearby and stay overnight, planing to leave when everything is fixed. Unfortunately, Tony and Emily’s son, Olly, goes missing. Eight years later, a divorced Tony has still not accepted his son disappearance and is desperate to reopen the case whereas Emily seems to have chosen to forget. With the help of former detective Julien Baptiste (The fatherly Tchéky Karyo), they will try to unveil the horrible truth. The Missing offers an interesting reflection around pedophilia, forgiveness, vengeance, love and the fragility of relationships.

Also worth mentioning The Walking Dead‘s lack of consistency, seemingly lacking inspiration, making us all grow tired of watching. It is kind of a weird feeling I have for this TV show – bipolar I would say – hating it one minute and loving it the next one. Also worth taking notice, the announcement of Twin Peaks and Agent Dale Cooper return for 2016.