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Yes, the notion about the body and mind being met by the heart is pretty questionable. Looking back, Lang came to think so as well and regretted it. But just because a film is imperfect does not mean it is less than a masterpiece; METROPOLIS has some significant flaws, but in many other respects, it's a breathtaking triumph.

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Darren H wrote:

: . . . the final scene, in which the "mind" and "body" are brought together by the "heart" is the kind of sentimental, simplistic, symbol-laden rhetoric that fuels fascist discourse.

Hmmm, interesting.

It's been years since I saw this film, so I can't remember exactly HOW the "heart" is depicted as bringing these two things together, but I'm reminded of John Granger's first book on Harry Potter, where he explores how characters like Harry (and Captain Kirk, etc.) harness fellow triumvirate members like Ron and Hermione (and Spock and McCoy, etc.), and how this parallels what ancient philosophers have said about the role the heart plays in harnessing the mind and body, like a charioteer uniting and giving direction to two horses. I think Granger referenced a C.S. Lewis essay called 'Men without Chests' somewhere in there, too -- where the title refers to men who are all mind or body but have no "heart", in this classic sense.

Might be interesting to see how the proto-fascist stuff does and doesn't compare to all that other stuff.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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The main reason the mind/body/heart iconography bothered me is that it is used in an explicitly political context. I'm fine with those ideas being used metaphorically (I can see it working as a lens for Harry Potter) but when it's used in a film about class struggle, and when that struggle is papered over by a sentimental shaking of the hands in the final shot, then it's just cheap.

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  • 1 month later...
The main reason the mind/body/heart iconography bothered me is that it is used in an explicitly political context. I'm fine with those ideas being used metaphorically (I can see it working as a lens for Harry Potter) but when it's used in a film about class struggle, and when that struggle is papered over by a sentimental shaking of the hands in the final shot, then it's just cheap.

I've been thinking about this for awhile in connection with a paper I'm writing, and I find myself wondering: What would be a better ending for a sci-fi political fable about class struggle than a sentimental shaking of hands? Marxist class warfare, a la The Time Machine? Orwellian Animal Farm fatalism/despair? Does it have to be proto-Marxist or proto-Fascist? Surely capital and labor coming together is a worthy ideal, even if it could be called "cheap" in the sense that Lang only gives us an icon, not a road map? Please say more.

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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Steven, I'm not sure how to answer those questions because I honestly don't have much faith in spectacular, sci-fi political fables being able to say much of anything meaningful about class struggle. That opinion probably reflects my politics and my genre biases, but I do genuinely believe that much of what is essential to political analysis (particularly a grounding in specific historical conditions) is negated by the economic and formal demands of cinematic spectacle. That's a pedantic way of saying that Metropolis is not really about class struggle at all**; it's about special effects, cliffhangers, edge-of-your-seat thrills, pretty girls, and ticket sales. I might consider showing Metropolis to my daughter in a couple years, when a fable is the appropriate genre for introducing ideas like wealth, poverty, and discrimination, but I'm not sure how changes to the story could make it a more useful text for adults.

**Actually, that isn't quite right. It is about class struggle in that it reinforces the comforting idea (especially comforting to those who live above ground) that class struggle would disappear if both sides would just shake hands and get along.

Edited by Darren H
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One thing to clarify: I'm sure I could walk across the street to my university's research library and dig up several interesting essays that ground Metropolis in the specific historical conditions of Weimar Germany, and I'm sure those essays would make insightful observations about how the "real" class struggle is reflected in the film. But, as with all cultural criticism of that sort, including my own, I think the strength of those arguments depends more on the cleverness and knowledge of the writer/researcher than it does on the film itself. So, I don't mean to imply that Metropolis is a useless text. I'd be curious, for example, to learn more about the movie-going habits of Germans in 1927, and to research how audiences responded to the spectacle at the time. I just don't know how the film itself, given its form, could be made into a more revealing political text at the narrative level.

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FWIW, the Bright Lights Film Journal has an article on the new, restored METROPOLIS, and it covers a lot of ground explored here, and seems a fair exploration of the film's strengths and its failures. An excerpt:

Turns out, the reconstruction does allow
Metropolis
a coherent story-line — or, rather, it almost does. With all but around five minutes of footage accounted for (and those five minutes filled in with existing intertitles and stills), one plot thread still dangles. Furthermore, the restorers are not faith healers, and the allegorical silliness, with its strange right-leaning polemic, remains. Especially as Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou have nailed the message — the greeting-card, hand/heart/mind solution to labor unrest — across the film's fore and aft intertitles as if they intended the entire work as a cinematic parable to enlighten a childlike audience. It's the film's point d'assassin, a soft-headed didactic stance that threatens to kill off the picture. Due to the power of Lang's filmmaking, it doesn't –– especially now.

Upon its 1927 release, though, the film was condemned as a hodgepodge of naive agitprop, unfulfillable science-fiction prophecy, and indecipherable performances; in fact, it was because of these perceptions that the butchery of
Metropolis
began. Once it was exported to America, an editor created a new story-line for the film, which he accomplished by chopping more footage. The
Metropolis
we're seeing now hasn't been experienced since its premiere.

But lovers of this film are used to an incomprehensible
Metropolis
, or even a silly
Metropolis
. Latter-day fans who came of age in the 1960s and beyond have approached the film with minds leavened with forces unknown to audiences in 1927. Immersed in the gigantic image soup cooked up by movies and TV, these viewers also saw the shift in how media is made and viewed –– a new paradigm brought on courtesy of the drug culture of the '60s. I have no desire to relegate
Metropolis
to a head trip, but viewers of a certain age can have the ability to take nourishment from its allusive imagery without the carbohydrate of a straight-ahead narrative. Morodor knew this when he created, with a pop soundtrack, his own edit of
Metropolis
in 1984, as did Madonna when she used images from the film for a music video in 1989.

Although it's a task somewhat like nailing jello to a tree, Thomas Elsaesser, in his concise overview of
Metropolis
for the BFI Film Classics series, does a fine job, without resorting to postmodernist brouhaha, describing how the film can function at an intuitive level: "von Harbou's plotting and Lang's visualization must have structured these banal and sentimental commonplaces in ways that successfully imparted the illusion if not exactly of 'depth' then of archetypal resonance, reaching down into shared sensibilities and widely-felt anxieties as only myths and fairy-tales tend to do."

It goes on to analyze the restored METROPOLIS' handle on its characters, specifically Fredersen, and the film's lapses, in some detail, weighing it against Thea von Harbou's novel and, briefly, BLADE RUNNER.

Edited by Ryan H.
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It is about class struggle in that it reinforces the comforting idea (especially comforting to those who live above ground) that class struggle would disappear if both sides would just shake hands and get along.

Thanks, Darren. I agree that the resolution may reflect naive thinking, even utopian thinking, but I can't say I see how it might be Fascist thinking, or how the movie is thereby implicated in the evils of Fascism. A film that depicts solidarity among the poor and labor class, or that depicts communities sharing their assets from each according to their abilities to each according to their needs is not, in my view, thereby implicated in the evils of Socialism; for that, I want to see some show of support for class warfare and violent revolutionary change. Likewise, to implicate a movie in the evils of Fascism, I would look for something like a celebration of violence, militarism and war as the basis for a strong state.

Like I suggested above, it seems to me that the idea of capital and labor coming together and shaking hands is at least a worthy ideal, even if it's naively presented in the film. But I guess I really need to watch the film again ... it's been too many years.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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But I guess I really need to watch the film again ... it's been too many years.

And now you have a new version of the film to see!

Don't I know it! Kino and Criterion are usually really helpful to me with screeners, and they promised me this one, and I was really looking forward to it ... but supplies were short, and I never got mine, so I have to go out and get it the expensive way.

Edited by SDG

“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” — Flannery O'Connor

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  • 1 month later...

I just bought the new Kino DVD of this other day, and although I've seen clips from the film over the years this

is the first time that I've watched it in it's entirety. I agree that this film has it's flaws although it really

is a landmark achievement especially for it's time. Some of the shots throughout the film were breathtaking,

and a few times I was wondering how they pulled off certain shots with the equipment they had back then (those

were some pretty big clunky film cameras that they would have been using.)

On the Kino DVD there is a pretty good documentary where they show some of the architecture and art throughout

Europe which inspired the design of the film. Some of this is very cool.

The documentary also touches on Metropolis' influence on later cinema, with an emphasis towards it's influence

on Blade Runner.

Edited by Attica
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Rock Version of Silent Film Classic 'Metropolis' to Hit Theatres This Fall

While Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is an undisputed silent film classic, a generation of moviegoers that came of age in the 1980s fondly remember the 1984 version of the movie that under the shepherding of Oscar-winning composer Giorgio Moroder included a rock soundtrack with performances from Pat Benatar, Freddie Mercury, Bonnie Tyler and others.

Kino Lorber has closed a deal to not only bring that version, which its titling Giorgio Moroder Presents Metropolis, to Blu-ray and DVD, but is also giving it a roughly 20-city theatrical run ahead of the November 15 store date.

The rock version had been out of print due to complex music rights issues but Kino believes there’s a demand for the edition; VHS and laser disc copies sell for hundreds of dollars on Ebay and the recent theatrical release of the recently restored Metropolis grossed over $1.2 million.

In addition to Benatar, Mercury, and Tyler, Moroder’s version includes songs performed by Billy Squier, Adam Ant, Jon Anderson and others. The version infuriated film purists at the time, who cried foul not only over the music but the incarnations’ shortened running time (82-minute versus the original’s almost 2-hours).

Among the cities which Moroder’s Metropolis will hit are Anchorage, San Francisco, San Diego, Miami Beach, Chicago, Albany, Charleston, Dallas, Houston, Olympia, Seattle, and Washington DC., The only Canadian stop so far is Vancouver. . . .

Hollywood Reporter, August 24

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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VHS and laser disc copies sell for hundreds of dollars on Ebay

I had the opportunity to buy this LaserDisc for $5 at a "pre-going out of business sale" open to a few select customers at the only shop in Sacramento that rented LaserDiscs. But I wasn't a big enough fan of the soundtrack to plunk down the money. ::bang:: I think Jon Anderson's Cage of Freedom was the only song that worked for me at the time. Perhaps I'd be more open to this version today.

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The Moroder-produced 1984 version of the film, via Open Culture:

 

In 2010, a painstakingly researched “complete” version of Metropolis came out, clocking in at almost three hours. It might be an achievement of film preservation but, compared to Moroder’s version, it shows how bloated and meandering Von Harbou’s script was. Moroder’s more svelte version might be cheesy, but at least it’s fun. The great film critic Pauline Kael described Lang’s movie as “a wonderful, stupefying folly.” Moroder’s version is a folly on top of a folly.

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Us29EZ30nTc

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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So I acquired and watched the 2010 Kino DVD version with the 1927 score by Gottfried Huppertz.  While it is true, as was mentioned earlier in this thread, that the new footage is noticeably different and of poorer quality than the rest of the film, it adds enough significant substance to the story that I don't know how one could argue the film would be better without it.  There are really only a few different moments where you can tell that the restored footage had been badly damaged, but other than that it's still worthwhile.

 

What a film.  I'm trying to imagine what it must have been like to see this in 1927 and it's almost impossible.  Without even being a big consumer of science fiction, I've still just seen and read too much.  It's not particularly deep or subtle in its messages, but I like where it goes with what it's got.  There's obviously a class struggle that takes center stage, but Lang doesn't particularly vilify either side.  Fredersen is tyrannical and heartless in a smug, corporate way.  The workers turn out to be very destructive and unreasoning in a French Revolution sort of way (not to mention that their revolutionary mob seems to be identical with the type of religious fanatical mob that tended to burn witches at the stake).

 

I enjoyed the creative genius that it must have taken to make this film.  What a fascinating mix of H.G. Wells, Frankenstein and possibly Yevgeny Zamyatin.  I can't even think what to call certain scenes in the film -

 

 

What do you call that?  Gothic surrealism?

 

One thing to clarify: I'm sure I could walk across the street to my university's research library and dig up several interesting essays that ground Metropolis in the specific historical conditions of Weimar Germany, and I'm sure those essays would make insightful observations about how the "real" class struggle is reflected in the film. But, as with all cultural criticism of that sort, including my own, I think the strength of those arguments depends more on the cleverness and knowledge of the writer/researcher than it does on the film itself. So, I don't mean to imply that Metropolis is a useless text. I'd be curious, for example, to learn more about the movie-going habits of Germans in 1927, and to research how audiences responded to the spectacle at the time. I just don't know how the film itself, given its form, could be made into a more revealing political text at the narrative level.

Now that would be fascinating.  I do know that both Communism and fascism are growing movements in the Germany of the mid-to-late '20s.  But I'd find it difficult to believe that either a Communist or a fascist would find the film tolerable.  The film lambasts any kind of worker's revolution just as much as it criticizes the rich corporate class that is exploiting its workers.  In contrast to either, I was impressed at how powerful an influence the Christian church and other Christian imagery seem to be.  In contrast to the rich snobs, there is a woman preacher who is telling everyone that they are each other's brothers.  In contrast to the revolutionary mob, she is advocating for peace and thought instead of violence.

 

And then I should probably say something about Brigitte Helm.  What a good actress.  While acting for silent films was always more theatrical, here Helm's second version of herself has so many ticks (an eye that doesn't seem to work in coordination with the other one, robotic jerky movements even in just trying to look at or to see something, a boldness of unrestrained constant nonstop motion) that it took me a few moments to make sure she was the same actress after all.

 

The slogan at the end sounds like a cliché, but it doesn't seem to be trying to get at much more than the brotherhood of man.

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On 2/14/2011 at 9:38 AM, Darren H said:

One thing to clarify: I'm sure I could walk across the street to my university's research library and dig up several interesting essays that ground Metropolis in the specific historical conditions of Weimar Germany, and I'm sure those essays would make insightful observations about how the "real" class struggle is reflected in the film. But, as with all cultural criticism of that sort, including my own, I think the strength of those arguments depends more on the cleverness and knowledge of the writer/researcher than it does on the film itself. So, I don't mean to imply that Metropolis is a useless text. I'd be curious, for example, to learn more about the movie-going habits of Germans in 1927, and to research how audiences responded to the spectacle at the time. I just don't know how the film itself, given its form, could be made into a more revealing political text at the narrative level.

 

On 10/14/2014 at 1:09 AM, J.A.A. Purves said:

Now that would be fascinating.  I do know that both Communism and fascism are growing movements in the Germany of the mid-to-late '20s.  But I'd find it difficult to believe that either a Communist or a fascist would find the film tolerable.

I didn't know this before, but Fritz Lang's wife at the time, Thea von Harbou, who wrote both the book on which it was based and the film's screenplay, wound up supporting the Nazi regime and actually made a few propaganda films for them, although she "claimed she only joined the Nazi Party to help Indian immigrants in Germany."

Anyway, I got to see this last night with a full symphony orchestral accompaniment. A few thoughts:

1. Metropolis isn't just a science fiction film, it's steeped in fantasy and a proto magical realism. Not to mention a nod to Biblical epics. There's also brief nods to romantic comedy and horror.

2. I had forgotten how good the special effects and set design was. Some of this stuff is as good or better than what was made into the 50s and 60s.

3. The influences of this thing reach well into the present day. My friend and I ran through a list of close to two dozen just off the top of our heads.

4. Despite being a genre piece close to the turn of the last century, it feels completely relevant to the world today. In some ways maybe more immediately relevant today than it was then (such as downloading oneself into a robot).

5. Question: is the "mad scientist" character Rotwang supposed to be Jewish? If yes, is his robot a sci-fi version of a Golem?

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  • 7 months later...

 

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 3 years later...

I nominated Metropolis for our latest top 100. Looking through past discussion on the film, I see many comments about political motivations that some regard as enabling fascism. I believe that the religious imagery allows the film to transcend any political statements of the time. The Biblical elements that many others have brought up in this thread give a sense that the unity of the heart and the mind is first and foremost a reconciliation, whether between God and humanity or between humans at enmity with each other. It does not use the imagery in a way that I could conceive of as manipulative, which would be necessary if political motives outweigh the artistic motives. Because the spiritual themes of the film are so strong and because the movie's technical, narrative and overall quality make it a nearly-undisputed masterpiece, I don't see the need to contextualize arguments for its inclusion in ways that we would for films that have racist, anti-Semitic or misogynistic undertones (or overt examples of any of those evils). I argue that its themes of reconciliation, divine intervention through Maria and sacrifice through Joh all speak for themselves.

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