Saturday, December 31, 2011

Metropolis (1922)

Metropolis is a 1927 German expressionist film in the science-fiction genre directed by Fritz Lang. Produced in Germany during a stable period of the Weimar Republic, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia and makes use of this context to explore the social crisis between workers and owners inherent in capitalism, as expressed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The film was produced in the Babelsberg Studios by Universum Film A.G. (UFA). The most expensive silent film ever made, it cost approximately 5 million ℛℳ, or approximately $15 million when adjusted for inflation.

Metropolis was cut substantially after its German premiere, and much footage was lost over the passage of successive decades. There have been several efforts to restore it, as well as discoveries of previously lost footage. A 2001 reconstruction of Metropolis, shown at the Berlin Film Festival, was inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register in that same year. In 2008, a copy of the film 30 minutes longer than any other known surviving copy was located in Argentina. After a long period of restoration in Germany, the restored film was shown publicly for the first time simultaneously at Berlin and Frankfurt on February 12, 2010.The event of the Friedrichstadtpalast was shown live on a screen at the Brandenburg Gate as well as on TV on ARTE. This version was also shown in New York at the Ziegfeld Theater in the last two weeks of October 2010. In the futuristic mega-city Metropolis, society is divided into two classes. The "managers" live in luxurious skyscrapers and the workers live and toil underground. The city was founded and built by the autocratic Joh Fredersen. Fredersen's son, Freder, lives a life of luxury as do all the sons of the manager class. One day, as Freder is cavorting in the Eternal Gardens, he sees a beautiful girl who has with her a group of workers' children. She is quickly shooed away, but Freder becomes infatuated with her and follows her down to the workers' underworld. There, he sees the horrors of the workers' lives. He is appalled when an enormous machine, the M-Machine, violently explodes, killing dozens of workers. In the smoke, Freder envisages the M-Machine as Moloch, a monstrous deity to which the hapless workers are sacrificed. Freder returns to the New Tower of Babel, a massive skyscraper owned by his father. There, he confronts his father about the workers' plight and the accident at the M-Machine. Grot, foreman of the Heart Machine, arrives to inform Fredersen of several mysterious maps which have been found in workers' pockets. Because he has not heard both of these bits of news from Josaphat, his clerk, Fredersen fires him, and also orders a spy (credited as the "Thin Man") to tail his son. Outside Fredersen's office, Freder thwarts Josaphat's suicide and persuades him to help with his quest to help the workers. After instructing Josaphat to wait for him at his apartment, Freder descends to the workers' underworld again and meets a worker named Georgy, #11811. Freder persuades Georgy to exchange clothes with him, go to Freder's apartment, and let Freder work at the machine. However, Georgy finds wads of money in the pockets of Freder's clothing and goes instead to Yoshiwara, the city's red-light district, to pursue a girl in an adjacent automobile. While Georgy enjoys a night of wild parties, Freder becomes delirious working at the machine, having never worked a day in his life, and begins having visions of being crucified on the factory clock. Later Georgy is captured by the Thin Man as he leaves Yoshiwara. Fredersen, wondering about the papers found, decides to consult the scientist Rotwang, his old collaborator, who lives in an old house contained in the lower levels of the city. The two were once friends but became rivals over the love of a woman, Hel, who eventually chose Fredersen. Hel died giving birth to Freder, leaving both Rotwang and Fredersen heartbroken and loathing each other. Rotwang's love for Hel and his hatred of Fredersen remain as strong as ever. After Frederson notices Rotwang now has a mechanical hand, Rotwang introduces Fredersen to a Machine-Man he has constructed, to which he intends to give the image of Hel. When Fredersen seeks Rotwang's counsel about the papers, Rotwang explains that they are maps to the 2,000-year old catacombs that are deep under the lowest levels of the workers' city. The two enter the catacombs from Rotwang's house and reach the workers' meeting-place. From a gap in the rocks, they observe the beautiful Maria preaching to the workers (with the disguised Freder among them) about the Tower of Babel and about how they must wait for the coming Mediator. Her theme is that the heart must be mediator between the head (the planners) and the hands (the workers).

At the end of the sermon, the disguised Freder reveals his true identity to Maria and tells her that he must be the Mediator she has been waiting for. Fredersen, who has turned away in thought, sees none of this; Rotwang, however, sees everything. Fredersen instructs Rotwang to give the machine-man the image of Maria in order to sow discord between her and the workers. Rotwang acquiesces but has ulterior motives, intending to use the machine-man to ruin Fredersen's life. While Fredersen returns to his office, Rotwang chases Maria through a tunnel up into his house, capturing her. Freder returns to Josaphat in the apartment, but Georgy is nowhere to be found. He intended to seek out the foreman of the workers with Georgy's help, but leaves to search on his own. Immediately afterwards, Thin Man tracks down Josephat in the apartment and forces him to cooperate. As Freder wanders the worker's city, he overhears Maria's cries for help. Nearby, Rotwang attempts to force Maria to give the Machine-Man her face. Freder attempts to rescue her, but he is imprisoned in the house. Rotwang transforms the machine-man into a double of Maria. He then commands it to destroy Fredersen, his city, and his son. Downstairs, a door opens, allowing Freder to ascend a staircase. He encounters Rotwang, who tells him that Maria is not here; rather, she is with Fredersen. When Freder arrives at his father's office, he sees the machine (which now resembles Maria) embracing his father. Freder suffers a mental breakdown and collapses. During his convalescence that night, he hallucinates vividly about passages from the Book of Revelation and death's descent upon the city. Rotwang demonstrates the machine-man's abilities to Fredersen by dressing it up as an erotic dancer at the Yoshiwara (which is compared to the Whore of Babylon), where it drives the sons of the owners into homicidal fits of sexual jealousy. Josephat escapes from Thin Man by wearing a worker disguise. He finds Freder and tells him what has happened during Freder's recovery the ward: the fake Maria is creating chaos up top, and also inciting the workers to rebel. Freder arrives and tells the workers that this Maria is a fraud. The workers instead recognize him as Fredersen's son and attempt to kill him. In the fight, Georgy tries to defend Freder but is accidentally stabbed. Rotwang explains to the real, imprisoned Maria that all her work is being undone, that Fredersen intends a worker revolt to justify quashing the rebellion with force, and that the Machine-Man follows his will, not Fredersen's. Joh Fredersen happens to be eavesdropping and subdues Rotwang, allowing Maria to escape. She makes her way to the worker's city.

All the workers storm the M-Machine, but Grot keeps them at bay with impenetrable gates. Fredersen orders Grot to open the gates, allowing the workers to destroy the Heart Machine, the city's power generator. This results in a complete hydraulic breakdown. The city's reservoirs overflow and inundate the workers' city to the brim, threatening to drown the children of the workers. However, the children are saved by Maria, Freder, and Josaphat in a heroic rescue. The workers, realizing what they have done from Grot, and believing that they have killed their children, blame Maria. Under Grot's leadership, they dash to the upper city to pursue the real Maria. They run into the reveling crowds from the Yoshiwara and meet the owners' sons, led by the machine Maria. In the ensuing confusion, Maria escapes and the machine-man is tied to a stake and burned. The flames burn off the likeness of Maria and reveal the machine-man's true form to the crowd. Meanwhile, Rotwang, who has broken down completely and believes her to be Hel, corners Maria in a cathedral. Freder climbs up to the roof and battles Rotwang as Fredersen watches in horror. Rotwang falls to his death, and Freder and Maria return to the street. Freder takes his first step as mediator, overcoming the mutual reluctance of Grot and Fredersen to join hands, thus beginning a period of unity and reform.

FRITZ LANG  (1922)
118 MIN

1 comment:

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