By Jason A. Hill
Metropolis, Germany, 1927
Directed by Fritz Lang
Many attended the much anticipated premiere of Metropolis in Berlin on January 10, 1927, including many high-ranking officials in the German government, such as former Reichsprasident Paul Von Hindenburg. The film was the most expensive ever made in Europe at the time, and much was expected from it. It was carrying the financial burden for not only The Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft (UFA), the largest film production company in Germany, but also the German film industry itself. After all, UFA owed the majority of the film’s cost, a sum of over four million dollars, to two American film companies: Famous Players and Metro-Goldwyn. A few years later, it so impressed Adolf Hitler that he requested its director, Fritz Lang, to become his principal filmmaker for the German film industry. Lang fled Germany soon after the offer was made.
Like all great epic films, just as much creativity went into the making of the film as the story itself. Lang used state of the art special effects to create integrated animated images with the actors. Much of these scenes were achieved by a technique called the “Schufftan Method,” a photography technique that combines mirror shots and model shots to create a composite image. It was invented by cinematographer Eugen Schufftan and was first used on a large scale in Metropolis. Many of the other sets were built at real-to-life scale, not sparing much else to sacrifice detail. Lighting was used extensively throughout the film and accounted for a quarter of the film’s budget. Filmmakers in the early 1900s were able to move lights around and further away from objects while maintaining beam concentration, which enabled Lang to create surreal, hard light with long, sharp shadows. The scenes of the roberter (robots) are stunning, and the concepts and design of the roberter are mimicked in many other sci-fi films that came later, such as George Lucas’ Star Wars (1977), especially in the character of C3PO.
Metropolis tells the story of a city in the future and the people who build and inhabit it. The inhabitants are divided into two classes: the industrialists and city dwellers, who plan, design and occupy the uppers levels of the city, and the workers who build and maintain the city’s functions and live below the machine level. The standards of living between the two classes are distinct and unjust. Life among the “top dwellers” is shown to be gay and carefree. They participate in games and sports, attend the theater and frolic in parks, while life among the “workers” is barely livable, as they drudge from one day to the next performing physically taxing tasks and duties in order to maintain the city’s power and resources. Towers ascend to dizzying heights. Cars and public transport travel between mammoth structures on trams and byways that connect the buildings in a labyrinth of man-made objects. The city represents the ultimate in man’s achievement, but in it we see the price of building and sustaining such an accomplishment. Read More