Metropolis – February 3, 2010

Dir. Fritz Lang, 1927

This week we turn back to one of the definitive city films of the silent era, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Produced in Weimar Germany but set in an urban dystopia of the future (the titular Metropolis), the film was the Avatar of its day, costing more to produce
than any film previously released.

Lang’s critiques of technology, capital, labor and modernity remain just as striking more than eighty years after the film’s initial release, and his representation of the metropolis, influenced in large part by Art Deco and the German Expressionists, would in turn serve as one of the defining aesthetic cues for future treatments of the city, ranging from the Superman comic books to more recent urban dystopic films like Bladerunner. Lang himself remained conflicted about the film for most of his life, as the screenplay (co-written with his then-wife, Thea von Harbou) arguably betrays some of the Fascist sympathies that his wife would later openly embrace after Hitler came to power. (The couple would divorce and Lang would flee to Hollywood, where he worked for the rest of his career).

Multiple versions of the film are in circulation today. (In fact, the F.W. Murnau Foundation has been working on a new restoration of the film, including newly-discovered footage found in an archive in Argentina, that will premiere in Germany later this month.) We will be screening the most complete version of the film available in wide circulation today, the 124-minute version restored and released by the Murnau Foundation and Kino Video in 2002. We invite all screening attendees to remain afterwards for an informal post-film discussion.

Recommended readings:

  • Nezar AlSayyad – Orwellian Modernity: Utopia/Dystopia and the City of the Future Past (Chapter 3 in: Cinematic Urbanism:  a history of the modern from reel to real)  AlSayyad_ch3

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