Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Revisiting Metropolis

Film Forum is currently showing a restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. This version contains 25 additional minutes of footage that had been lost for decades. It is sometimes effortless to visually locate the new footage due to the change in the quality of the images. They are somewhat grainer and the colors seem more muted. However, it is easy to overlook this due to the way this additional footage adds to the overall narrative of the film.

I haven’t seen a projected version of Metropolis since I was approximately eighteen years old. It is definitely a film in which the smaller formats do not give justice to the scale of the film, and its visual impact is lost can be lost to an extent. It was nice to see the intricacies of this masterpiece of German Expressionism enhanced as it was projected once again. I think that I had forgotten about how every shot is perfectly framed and every set is visually stimulating. Lang’s ability to play with light and shadow truly helps to accentuate the impressive set pieces.

One of the aspects of this film that I find most interesting is how the narrative remains relevant decades after the film’s production. The class struggle between the subterranean workers and the city planners is timeless. We still see different versions of this class struggle in today’s society. Issues of capitalism can span decades of time as well as bridge cultural divides. Also, the film brings into question the state of our possible “future existence.” It forces the audience to imagine what the future will hold and how we will each be effected by it. Deleuze mentions Metropolis and other Fritz Lang films throughout both Cinema 1 and Cinema 2. He concludes some of his thoughts on German Expressionism in Cinema 2, in which he focuses on how this film movement confronts issues of the future.

The man-machine assemblage varies from case to case, but always with the intention of posing the question of the future. And machines can take hold so fully on man that it awakens the most ancient powers, and the moving machine becomes one with the psychological automaton pure and simple, at the service of a frightening new order: this is the procession of somnambulists, the hallucinators, hypnotizers-hypnotized in expressionism, from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari to Testament of Dr. Mabuse via Metropolis and its robot. German cinema summoned up primitive powers, but is was perhaps best placed to announce something new which was to change cinema, horribly to ‘realize’ it and thus to modify its basic themes. (263)

The fact that this film is able to still create a cerebral response in its viewers allows us to see magnitude of this film’s impact overall, and how it will continue to be considered an infinitely important film.

Revisiting Metropolis allowed me to see how my relationship with the cinema has changed since I was younger. I remember the first time I saw a projected version of the film in a small screening room in Chicago (as opposed to the home viewing versions I had previously seen), and being humbled by the production design and visual impact of the film. I was extremely impressed by the style of German Expressionism once I was able to view the film on a larger format. However, my recent viewing of the film left me being affected by the film’s narrative. I found the story to be equally as interesting as the visual style of the film, was completely caught up in the characters’ lives. Overall, viewing the restored version of Metropolis was not only an enjoyable experience, but it also was able to remind me how my relationship with the cinema has shifted over the years.

- Stephanie Class

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