Directed by Fritz Lang
Cornerhouse, 29 October 2010
Lang’s film is quite simply a masterpiece.
It is of its time, certainly, what with the central theme of downtrodden workers fighting against exploitative capitalists. In the ‘20s, communism had garnered many supporters in Germany, France and (crucially, for the decade to come) Spain. The mechanisation of labour and of human beings is also central to the film.
But it is of the past and the future too. In particular, Christianity and Christian symbolism (strangely skewered) plays a big role in the film. There is the capitalist’s son stepping out of a pastoral paradise on seeing Maria, an agitator/evangelist who foretells the coming of a mediator (messiah?) between the workers and their masters. She holds union meetings in a redundant Christian catacomb; masses for the masses, as it were. And there’s a brilliant scene, one among many, when sculptures of the Seven Deadly Sins come to life.
Although apparently set in the future, there are gothic cathedrals with gargoyles and what seem like hyenas as well as modernistic, streamlined architecture. The main villain is a mad scientist and there’s one terrific scene that had probably been influenced by stage adaptations of Frankenstein.
On reflection, Metropolis is a curious film, but it is undoubtedly a classic and an exciting, compelling and richly complex one at that. That it has a symphonic structure shows the kinship of early film to music and, perhaps above all, to ballet.
All in all, Lang’s film is a necessary creation, a gift.