Director: Fritz Lang
Production: Universum-Film-Aktiengesellschaft (Ufa) studios; black and white, 35mm, silent; running time: about 2 hours originally, no complete master copy now exists but the Staatliches Archiv in East Berlin has compiled a new copy from all remaining footage: length 4189 meters originally, current copies are now 3170 meters. Released 10 January 1927, Berlin. Filmed 1925–26, in 310 days and 60 nights, in UFA Studios, Berlin. Cost: $2,000,000. Released in a new tinted print, with musical score by Giorgis Moroder, 1985.
Screenplay: Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou, from the novel by von Harbou (Eisner disputes this in The Haunted Screen, 1969, claiming the film preceded the novel); photography: Karl Freund and Günther Rittau; art directors: Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, and Karl Vollbrecht; music: Gottfried Huppertz; special effects: Eugene Schüfftan; costume designer: Anne Willkomm; sculptures: Walter Schultze-Mittendorff.
Cast: Brigitte Helm (Maria/the Mechanical Maria); Alfred Abel (John Fredersen); Gustav Fröhlich (Freder); Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Rotwang); Fritz Rasp (Slim); Theodor Loos (Josaphat/Joseph); Heinrich George (Grot, the foreman); Olaf Storm (Jan); Hanns Leo Reich (Marinus); Heinrich Gotho (Master of Ceremonies); Margarete Lanner (Woman in the car); Max Dietze, Georg John, Walter Kühle, Arthur Reinhard, and Erwin Vater (Workers); Grete Berger, Olly Böheim, Ellen Frey, Lisa Gray, Rose Lichtenstein, and Helene Weigel (Female workers); Beatrice Garga, Anny Hintze, Margarete Lanner, Helen von Münchhofen, and Hilde Woitscheff (Women in the Eternal Garden); Fritz Alberti (Robot); 750 secondary actors; and over 30,000 extras.
Lang, Fritz, and Thea von Harbou, Metropolis, in Avant-Scène duCinéma (Paris), 1 December 1977.
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Jenkins, Stephen, editor, Fritz Lang: The Image and the Look, London, 1981.
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Dürrenmatt, Dieter, Fritz Lang: Leben und Werk, Basel, 1982.
Keiner, Weinhold, Thea von Harbou und der deutsche Film bis 1933, Hildesheim, 1984.
von Harbour, Horst, and Claude-Jean Philippe, Metropolis: Un Filmde Fritz Lang: Images d'un tournage, Paris, 1985.
Gehler, Fred, Fritz Lang, die Stimme von Metropolis, Berlin, 1990.
Bogdanovich, Peter, Who the Devil Made It : Conversations withRobert Aldrich, George Cukor, Allan Dwan, Howard Hawks,Alfred Hitchcock, Chuck Jones, Fritz Lang, Joseph H. Lewis,Sidney Lumet, Leo McCarey, Otto Preminger, Don Siegel, Josefvon Sternberg, Frank Tashlin, Edgar G. Ulmer, Raoul Walsh, New York, 1997.
Levin, David J., Richard Wagner, Fritz Lang, and the Nibelungen:The Dramaturgy of Disavowal, Princeton, 1998.
McGilligan, Patrick, Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast, New York, 1998.
Gunning, Tom, The Films of Fritz Lang: Modernity, Crime, andDesire, London, 2000.
Minden, Michael, and Holger Bachmann, editors, Fritz Lang's "Metropolis": Cinematic Views of Technology and Fear, Rochester, 2000.
Lang, Fritz, "Was ich noch zu sagen habe," in Mein Film, edited by Frederick Proges, Vienna, 1927.
"Metropolis Film Seen: Berlin Witnesses a Grim Portrayal of Industrial Future," in New York Times, 10 January 1927.
Hildebrandt, Fred, in Berliner Tageblatt, 11 January 1927.
Eggebrecht, Axel, in Weltbühne (Berlin), 18 January 1927.
Arnheim, Rudolf, in Stachelschwein, 1 February 1927.
Gerstein, Evelyn, in Nation (New York), 23 March 1927.
Barry, Iris, in Spectator (London), 26 March 1927.
Wells, H. G., in New York Times, 17 April 1927.
Herring, Robert, in London Mercury, May 1927.
"Metropolis Issue" of Petite Illustration (Paris), no. 372, 1928.
"Metropolis Issue" of Cinéma (Paris), March 1928.
Eisner, Lotte, "Notes sur le style de Fritz Lang," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), 1 February 1947.
Gesek, Ludwig, "Fritz Lang: Suggestion und Stimmung," in Gestalterder Filmkunst, Von Asta Nielsen bis Walt Disney, Vienna, 1948.
Douchet, Jean, "L'Oeuvre de Fritz Lang à la cinémathèque: Le Piège consideré comme l'un des beaux-arts," in Arts (Paris), 1 July 1959.
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Schütte, Wolfram, "Kolportage, Stilisierung, Realismus: Anmerkungen zum Werk Fritz Langs," in Filmstudio (Frankfurt), September 1964.
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Pieyre de Mandiargues, André, "L'Ecran démoniaque," in Cinéma (Paris), no. 100, 1966.
Jensen, Paul, in Film Heritage (Dayton, Ohio), Winter 1968.
Bunuel, Luis, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), August-September 1971.
Williams, Alan, "Structures of Narrativity in Fritz Lang's Metropolis," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Summer 1974.
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Tulloch, John, "Genetic Structuralism and the Cinema: A Look at Fritz Lang's Metropolis," in Australian Journal of Screen Theory (Kensington, New South Wales), no. 1, 1976.
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Roth, Lane, "Metropolis: The Lights Fantastic: Semiotic Analysis of Lighting Codes in Relation to Character and Theme," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), Fall 1978.
Willis, Don, "Fritz Lang: Only Melodrama," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Winter 1979–80.
Mellenkamp, P., "Oedipus and the Robot in Metropolis," in Enclitic (Minneapolis), Spring 1981.
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Sauvaget, D., "Metropolis: Rencontre Kitsch," in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), September 1984.
Rotondi, C. J., and E. Gerstein, in Films in Review (New York), October 1984.
Cieutat, B., "Fritz Lang "Morodernise"; ou, L'Art du detournement: Metropolis," in Positif (Paris), November 1984.
Elsaesser, Thomas, "Innocence Restoried," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), December 1984.
Patalas, E., in Filmkultura (Budapest), March 1986.
Esser, M., "Rooms of Felicity," in Filmbulletin (Winterthur, Switzerland), no. 5, 1990.
Hogue, Peter, "Fritz Lang: Our Contemporary: 100th Anniversary of the Birth of the Noted Film Director," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 26, no. 6, November-December 1990.
Cieutat, B., "Le symbolisme des figures geometriques dans Metropolis," in Positif (Paris), July-August 1991.
Zagula, J.T., "Saints, Sinners and Society: Images of Women in Film and Drama from Weimar to Hitler," in Women's Studies, vol. 19, no. 1, 1991.
Owens, N., "Image and Object: Hegel, Madonna, Metropolis," in Spectator (Los Angeles), vol. 12, no. 2, 1992.
Rolfe, Hilda, "The Perfectionist: Film Director Fritz Lang," in FilmComment (New York), vol. 28, no. 6, November-December 1992.
Rutsky, R.L., "The Mediation of Technology and Gender: Metropolis, Nazism, Modernism," in New German Critique, no. 60, Fall 1993.
Génin, Bernard, "Metropolis," in Télérama (Paris), no. 2354, 22 February 1995.
Bertellini, Giorgio, "Restoration, Genealogy and Palimpsests: On Some Historiographical Questions," in Film History (London), vol. 7, no. 3, Autumn 1995.
Dolgenos, Peter, "The Star on C.A. Rotwang's Door: Turning Kracauer on its Head: An Analysis of Fritz Lang's Film, the Metropolis," in Journal of Popular Film and Television (Washington, D.C.), vol. 25, no. 2, Summer 1997.
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The year 1927 witnessed the appearance in Germany of the most significant utopian film of the silent era—Metropolis. In the film, director Fritz Lang achieves the realization of his ideas about the possible future organization of society. The introductory sequences present this social organization in a very attractive light. In a magnificent, gigantic city with gleaming skyscrapers, suspension bridges, and bustling street, people live in comfort and plenty, with every possibility for intellectual and physical development. However, Metropolis is not a city of freedom and equality. Below ground, working for the chosen elite, are masses of nameless workers who have no more value within the social order than a cog in a machine or a tool or production. It is for this reason that the workers revolt and almost destroy the city; only then is there a reconciliation and an equalization of rights for the two strata, the elite and the workers. Lang honestly believed in this idea of reconciliation, and his attitude to a certain extent reflected the German reality, in which there were growing indications of stabilization and attempts to resolve social problems. But Lang's views on these questions, conveyed finally in the reconciliation of the two classes under the slogan "the heart must serve as intermediary between the brain and the hands," did not sound convincingly progressive, either when the film was made or in the years that followed. Lang himself acknowledged this when, after the Nazi Putsch, Propaganda Minister Goebbels had him summoned: "(Goebbels) told me that years before, he and Hitler had seen my film Metropolis in some small town and that at that time Hitler declared that he would like me to make Nazi films." (Siegfried Kracauer: From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film.)
In the 1920s Lang was strongly influenced by Expressionist film, particularly its artistic forms. Originally an architect, Lang was a man of unusually sensitive visual perceptions. His films of those years show an expressionistic sense for the plastic and the lighting, which emphasized architectonic lines and conveyed a sense of geometric construction that not only extends to the sets and the depicted milieu but even influenced the positioning of the actors in individual shots. In Metropolis the artistic techniques of expressionism were more in evidence than in Lang's previous films, which were temporally closer to the greatest blossoming of that movement in the cinema. In keeping with the conventions of expressionism, the inhabitants of the subterranean city have no individuality, and the crowd represents a compact mass from which personality projects only as a stark exception and only in a definite rhythm. Extreme stylization is used in scenes depicting the alternation of work shifts. Lang also shapes space with the help of human bodies and uses light in accordance with the principles of expressionism. Sometimes he uses light so intensively that it takes the place of sound; for example, reflectors replace a siren with light functioning as an outcry. The pictorial formulation also reflects the antagonism between the ideas in the film. A salient example is the contrast between the supermodern metropolis of the future and the house of the scientist Rotwang, the spiritual creator of Metropolis. His dwelling in the shadows of the skyscrapers belongs more to the age when alchemists attempted to discover the philosophers' stone and the elixir of life, and the clay figure of the Golem roamed the streets. Also in his appearance and behavior, Rotwang does not fit the stereotype of a modern scientist, and there are indications that he may be in league with the devil.
Metropolis inaugurated a series of utopias on film that attempted to resolve the difficulties of the contemporary state of society by projecting them into a story with a futuristic setting. The film was preceded by a large public relations campaign which stressed the grandiose nature of what was at the time a super-production by detailing and enumerating all the costs of production and the individual components (how many costumes were used in the film, how many wigs, how many extras, etc.). The premiere took place in an atmosphere of great expectation. However, the reactions of contemporary critics and reviews show that the film was, to some extent, a disappointment. There were great reservations about the plot and content, and the script by Lang's wife, Thea von Harbou, came under sharp attack. H. G. Wells, the well-known English writer of science fiction novels, criticized the film in unusually harsh terms.
Despite the reservations about the film voiced by its contemporaries and by other generations, it cannot be denied that the story of Metropolis is told in refined cinematic language. On this point even some critics of the 1920s agree. With the passage of time it has become possible to ascertain the film's contribution and its influence on the development of filmmaking. The film contained a number of technical innovations and influenced, for example, the narrative Hollywood films of the 1930s and 1940s. From the standpoint of film as visual art, one could cite sequences which remain to the present day examples of the potential of the film image to generate meaning. Metropolis particularly influenced the development of the science fiction genre. German expressionism brought new codes of artistic expression to the whole current of fantasy—uneven lines, contrasts of light and dark, half-shadows and silhouettes—which serve to suggest mysterious and menacing actions, events, and emotions. Lang applied these techniques effectively and successfully to one of the varieties of the fantasy genre—the utopian work (in modern terminology, science fiction). Some of these elements were still used in the science fiction genre when the rest of the cinema was no longer influenced by expressionism. The amorphous mass or the nameless crowd, as depicted by Lang, found its continuation in anti-utopian films of the postwar years. The wondrous atmosphere of the scene in which Rotwang brings a robot to life is encountered in a number of subsequent science fiction films, especially those that border on horror, as in The Bride of Frankenstein. Of course, Lang's robot, with its glittering female body, stylized breasts and inhuman mask instead of a face, is unsurpassed in its artistic beauty. The personality of the scientist Rotwang belongs to one of the most interesting antagonists of the screen. The possibility of an ambivalent interpretation of is character—he is a scientist, but also something of a sorcerer allied with satanic forces—gives him greater complexity. This character type recurs in films of the 1930s and 1940s (Son of Frankenstein) and continues without major changes into the most recent science fiction films, as well as into numerous horror and fantasy films.
Diverse audience response to the film's premiere influenced its fate in later years. For its time, Metropolis was a lengthy work. Its partial failure resulted in its release often with modifications, cuts, and abridgements. In the 1970s the film archive of the German Democratic Republic in Berlin undertook a reconstruction of the film; the work was completed in 1981 with the collaboration of several member archives of the International Federation of Film Archives (F.I.A.F.) and other film collectors. The result was an approximation of Lang's original version.
The term metropolis refers to a giant city, an urban center that supersedes its more provincial counterparts in population, economic strength, and political influence. One remarkable ancient model was Megalopolis, built in Arcadia between 371 and 368 bce. The giant city, both as an urban form and an idea, runs through much of recorded history. The Babylon metaphor—known from the Old Testament and frequently applied to the “New Babylons” of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries— describes a place of total chaos and disorder. The persistence of the image indicates the relevance of the negative connotation attached to the notion of a metropolis; it is a “parasitic city,” a dangerous entity that rules society without contributing to its wealth and stability. At the same time, throughout its historical existence the giant city has had an enormous—and beneficial—impact on the national or imperial area surrounding it. Often three, four, or even ten times larger than the second largest city in the state or empire, the geographers’ “primate city” invariably becomes the driving force behind economic and cultural innovation. The European metropolises of the early modern and modern era in particular may end up exercising the same positive influence as did London in the sixteenth and seventeenth, Paris in the nineteenth, and Los Angeles in the twentieth centuries—by effectively shaping aesthetic taste and mass consumption patterns worldwide. This is precisely what happened when an urban center such as New York City after the Civil War became, in the words of Lewis Mumford, “an imperial metropolis, sucking into its own whirlpool the wealth and the wreckage of the rest of the country, and of the lands beyond the sea” (Mumford 1945, p. 28). The global influence, however, often goes hand in hand with negative consequences. A case in point is again New York, a financial force capable, in 1929, for example, of threatening the economic stability of the entire world.
The metropolis as a “primate city” gains its disproportionate size and enhanced importance by sharply separating itself from, and standing above, all other cities in the area. However, it maintains close ties with giant cities whose territories are even more extensive. The metropolises, seeing themselves as “world cities”—the term originated in nineteenth-century Germany—tend to form interregional and supranational communication networks. The idea of the metropolis as the physical representation of an entire universe (Jerusalem, Rome) has always been an important part of the way these centers are perceived and thought about. In the age of the Industrial Revolution, for example, the term Industrial City was generally applied to them. In spite of the unambiguous industrialization of many of these cities, they did their best to define their physical appearance more in opposition to the industrialization than in terms of its inevitable consequences. That is why the modern metropolis may also be perceived as a work of art, consciously conveying images of national or imperial glory. An additional frequent image is that of the chaotic place represented by American novelist John Dos Passos in Manhattan Transfer (1925) and Friedrich Anton Christian Lang’s silent film, Metropolis (1927). Lang’s science fiction vision, also inspired by New York City under the influence of German expressionism, depicts alike the magnificent and the dreadful sides of modernity. The world of the rulers is characterized by a cityscape with suspended streets, zigzagged buildings, and a bustling city; in contrast is the life of the repressed, poor people, who live underground and monotonously run the machines that keep the Metropolis in working order.
SEE ALSO Architecture; Cities; Modernism; Modernity; Popular Culture; Urban Renewal; Urban Sprawl; Urban Studies; Urbanization
Mumford, Lewis. 1945. City Development: Studies in Disintegration and Renewal. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Although made at the UFA Studios in Germany, Fritz Lang's visionary silent film Metropolis (1926) was inspired by a visit the director had made to New York, on whose skyline its massive and impressive sets were based. The innovative pioneering special effects were created by Eugen Schufftan (who, like Lang, later fled the Nazis, settling in Hollywood as cinematographer Eugene Shuftan). The Schufftan Process combined life-size models with live action. Despite criticism about the weakness of its plot, and the naivety of its resolution, Metropolis remains one of the most expressive testimonies of its age. A potent allegory against totalitarianism, the film reveals not only political conflicts, hopes, and fears, but also enthusiasm for technology and the American way. With its combination of powerful architectural metaphors, its gallery of contemporary visions, technological experimentation, and political philosophy, Metropolis marked an influential and important turning point in the development of film art. The film was admired around the world, although its huge production costs brought UFA to the edge of bankruptcy. In 1984, Giorgio Moroder edited the film's original 153 minutes down to 83, and added tinted sequences and a rock score.
Harbou, Thea von. Metropolis. Berlin, Scherl, 1926.
Kracauer, Sigfried. From Caligari to Hitler. Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1947.
Metropolis ★★★★ 1926
Now a classic meditation on futurist technology and mass mentality, this fantasy concerns mechanized society. Original set design and special effects made this an innovative and influential film in its day. Is now considered one of the hippest films of the scifi genre. Silent, with musical score. The 1984 rerelease features some color tinting, reconstruction, and a digital score with songs by Pat Benatar, Bonnie Tyler, Giorgio Moroder, and Queen. 115m/B VHS, DVD . GE Brigitte Helm, Alfred Abel, Gustav Froehlich, Rudolf KleinRogge, Fritz Rasp, Heinrich George, Theodore Loos, Erwin Biswanger, Olaf Storm, Hans Leo Reich, Heinrich Gotho, Fritz Alberti, Max Dietze; D: Fritz Lang; W: Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou; C: Karl Freund, Gunther Rittau, Eugen Shufftan; M: Gottfried Huppertz.
me·trop·o·lis / məˈträp(ə)ləs/ • n. the capital or chief city of a country or region. ∎ a very large and densely populated industrial and commercial city.
1. Seat or see of a metropolitan bishop.
2. Main town or city of a province or district, especially one which is the seat of Government, so a capital city.
3. Very large city with suburbs, usually one that has absorbed several villages and even towns, like greater London.
Miles (ed.) (1970)