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11 October 2014

Metropolis (1927)

Today's film special is on the German expressionist film Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927). A few years ago, my son and I saw a screening in the Castro theatre in San Francisco of a newly restored version of this science-fiction epic, based on Lang’s original cut of the film. We were both mesmerized by the sheer force and beauty of this silent classic. Everyone should see this film! At the time of the premiere in 1927, Ross Verlag made a series of sepia postcards for Metropolis. These are quite rare now, but thanks to the collections of Didier Hanson and EYE Film Institute in Amsterdam, we can present you this post.

Update 12 October: thanks to Uilke@Flickr, we could add four more B/W postcards of Metropolis to this post today.


Brigitte Helm in Metropolis
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 71/1. Photo: Ufa / Parufamet. Publicity still for Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) with Brigitte Helm as the good Maria. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Metropolis
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 71-4. Photo: Ufa / Parufamet. Publicity still for Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927). Collection: Amsterdam EYE Filmmuseum.

The First Science Fiction Feature


The screenplay for Metropolis was written by Fritz Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou. It would become the first feature length film of the science fiction genre.

Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia. Wealthy industrialists rule the vast city of Metropolis from high-rise tower complexes, while a lower class of underground-dwelling workers toil constantly to operate the machines that provide its power.

The Master of Metropolis is the ruthless Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), whose son Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) idles away his time in a pleasure garden with the other children of the rich.

Freder is interrupted by the arrival of a young woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm), who has brought a group of workers' children to see the privileged lifestyle led by the rich. Maria and the children are quickly ushered away, but Freder is fascinated by Maria and descends to the workers' city in an attempt to find her.

Metropolis follows the attempts of Freder and Maria to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes of their city. One of the highlights of the film is the spectacular explosion of a huge machine in the machine rooms, which causes several injuries and deaths.

Another highlight is the creation scene of the Maschinenmensch (Machine-Human), a false Maria, which must ruin Maria's reputation among the workers. The false Maria (also Brigitte Helm) unleashes chaos throughout Metropolis, driving men to murder out of lust for her and stirring dissent amongst the workers.

Gustav Fröhlich and Margarete Lanner in Metropolis
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 71/10. Photo: Ufa / Parufamet. Publicity still for Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) with Gustav Fröhlich and Margarete Lanner. Collection: Didier Hanson.

Brigitte Helm in Metropolis
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 71/12. Photo: Ufa / Parufamet. Publicity still for Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) with Brigitte Helm as the false Maria. Collection: Didier Hanson.

The most expensive film


Metropolis was filmed in 1925, at a cost of approximately five million Reichsmarks. Thus, it was the most expensive film ever released up to that point.

The two leading actors of the film were unknowns: nineteen-year-old Brigitte Helm had no previous film experience.

Gustav Fröhlich had only played secondary roles before landing his breakthrough role as Freder Fredersen. The part came about by chance.

Fröhlich was only scheduled to play one of the workmen but four weeks after the beginning he was discovered on the set by Thea von Harbou. Fritz Lang immediately cast him in the lead because of his striking good looks.

Two new stars were born, but the film itself was met with a mixed response upon its initial release. Many critics praised its technical achievements and social metaphors while others derided its 'simplistic and naïve' presentation.

Because of its long running-time and the inclusion of footage which censors found questionable, Metropolis was cut substantially after its German premiere: large portions of the film were lost over the subsequent decades.

Numerous attempts have been made to restore the film since the 1970s-80s. In 2001, the film was inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register, the first film thus distinguished.

In 2008, a damaged print of Lang’s original cut of the film was found in a museum in Argentina. After a long restoration process, the film was 95% restored and shown in a limited theatrical re-release in 2010.

Metropolis 5
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 71/5. Photo: Ufa / Parufamet. Publicity still for Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) with Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm as the false Maria and Rudolf Klein-Rogge. Collection: Uilke (Flickr).

Metropolis 8
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 71/8. Photo: Ufa / Parufamet. Publicity still for Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) with Brigitte Helm as the false Maria and Heinrich George. Collection: Uilke (Flickr).

Metropolis 9
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 71/9. Photo: Ufa / Parufamet. Publicity still for Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) with Brigitte Helm as the false Maria. Collection: Uilke (Flickr).

Metropolis 11
German postcard by Ross Verlag, Berlin, no. 71/11. Photo: Ufa / Parufamet. Publicity still for Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) with Brigitte Helm as the false Maria. Collection: Uilke (Flickr).

Sources: Wikipedia and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

Indeed this is a film everyone should see. Some of the acting is over the top, but the set design is mind blowing,