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Sunday, June 6, 2010



All of the usual adjectives thrown at Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece Metropolis do honestly apply. It's "visionary", "groundbreaking", "influential", "seminal", "prescient", etc. Metropolis' production and costume design have influenced countless films. Here are just a few obvious ones that came to mind: Star Wars, Blade Runner, Titanic, Dr. No, Charlie's Angels (Crispin Glover is virtually a clone of the villainous Thin Man in Metropolis), and especially Tim Burton's Batman and Batman Returns. In fact, I was floored by how much Burton "borrowed" from Metropolis in his two Batman movies. Everything from Max Shreck's hair and costume in Returns to the final showdown between Batman and the Joker taking place in a cathedral (with a giant bell) came from Metropolis. Metropolis even anticipated video phones and Skype all the way back in 1927. All of the haughty adjectives used to describe Metropolis are apt. But I can also toss in a few others: "ridiculous", "tedious", "absurd", "cringe-inducing".  Now, I knew what I was getting into. This is an over 80 year old silent film so one takes that into account when sitting down to experience Metropolis, but now that I have - thank God talkies were invented!  Dude, I find silent film acting to be incredibly creepy, with the white faces, black lips, and over-the-top, flailing limb-style of acting. Why, I've never seen so many flailing limbs in a movie before, especially in the worker riot sequences in the last hour.  Steeped in Biblical allegory and bluntly beating you over the head repeatedly with its central theme - "The head and the hands need a mediator - the heart!" - Metropolis tells the tale of Freder, the prim, wussy son of Joh Frederson, the cold-hearted founder of Metropolis. Freder falls in love with a woman named Maria, who is a spiritual leader of the working class that dwells in the underground city beneath Metropolis. Freder experiences life underground first hand while Maria is kidnapped by Rotwang (seriously, "Rotwang"), the evil mad scientist who designed Metropolis. Rotwang and Joh Frederson plot to have a Machine Man, a robot Rotwang built, take Maria's image and place to crush an impending revolt by the workers.  Then a lot of other ridiculous shit happens, including a flood and several riot scenes - Metropolis is clearly an influence of every hilarious town riot in The Simpsons and South Park. The robot Maria, a disturbing seductress who dances topless to drive men wild and comically raised her eyebrow 35 years before Mr. Spock did it, is actually one of cinema's greatest villains. She is oddly terrifying in a wholly unexpected way. Freder however is a doofus; an ineffectual hero-type whose greatest arch enemy is a locked door. Locked doors constantly defeat him throughout the movie and his big triumphant moment during the flood is when he finally manages to get a locked door open to save all the children beneath the city from drowning. Again, Metropolis was released originally in 1927 and it worked then, I presume. Today, Metropolis can be enjoyed as art, for its place in film history, and as a curiosity, but as a moviegoing narrative, it's a laughable, 2 hour and 43 minute(!) slog to sit through. I don't think I ever want to see it again, but once you've seen Metropolis, you'll never, ever forget it.