A prophetic look at the 21st century as imagined in 1926, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a visionary masterpiece that fires on all its Art Deco pistons.
Artists and architects still thrill to its picture of the streamlined skyline of the city of the future. Social critics respond to its picture of a two-tier society, where the rich enjoy fresh air and leisure and the poor operate machines in a subterranean hell to support the fancies of the privileged. Futurists remark on its stark vision of a society divided between human and machine, between natural movement and the escalators and mechanized people-movers that have replaced it. Fans claim it as the mother of all sci-fi movies.
Though this makes the film sound confusing than it is, at its heart Metropolis is a classic story about a tyrannical father and his democratic son fighting for the future of their city.
Now, for the first time since its Berlin premiere in 1927, the landmark has been restored of passages excised by its American distributor in 1927. (It opens today in Philadelphia @ Ritz at the Bourse.)
Upon its release, Lang’s allegory polarized German audiences and left American distributors scratching their heads. As historian Emanuel Levy wrote of its Berlin reception:
"The left-wing, appalled at the portrayal of an anger-blinded working class abandoning their children and destroying their own homes, found the film fascistic.
The right-wing… was equally disturbed by the destructive revolt of Metropolis’ Lower City denizens, and found the film borderline Communist.
Technocrats saw the film’s industrial nightmare world as being anti-science, and clergy found its vision of a sex crazed upper-class killing themselves over a libertine robot both prurient and reprehensible."
Accustomed to star-driven movies with easy-to-follow plots, Paramount Pictures, Lang’s American investors, didn’t know what to make of the film’s symbolism and politics. So the studio cut 60 of its 145 minutes, making the visually dazzling movie hard to follow.
This comprehensive 2010 restoration is the work of archivists who found a 2 ½-hour print buried in an obscure Argentine vault. The raiders of the lost archive deserve the gratitude of cinephiles and movie geeks everywhere for restoring the pillars of cinema’s Parthenon.
Metropolis has inspired filmmakers from Stanley Kubrick, who referenced it in Dr. Strangelove and 2001, to George Lucas, whose C-3PO is a cousin of the robot called "the False Maria." In which other films is the influence of Metropolis visible? Other thoughts on Metropolis?