Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Complete-ish Metropolis

They do this. They find long destroyed scenes or a missing print and say, "Hey! This is the COMPLETE version of this movie." But it's not.

Case in point, The Complete Metropolis. It's complete-er. To say it's complete-ish, even, suggests that the missing hour doesn't add anything to the movie. Yeah, that's right. The original Metropolis ran 3 hours and 30 minutes, and I think it was a complete flop at the time.

This version is 2 1/2 hours long, and at one point, a critical scene is filled in with title cards. It's got about a half-hour of deleted stuff, big chunks of which assist the movie in its struggle to make sense, but lots of little snippets here-and-there were probably pretty wisely edited out.

Keep in mind: I love this movie.

It's a towering work of cinema with a cast of tens of thousands, a seminal work of science-fiction that blends heart-stopping imagery with clunky social messages, the very essence of retro-sci-fi with an art deco style that's never matched—never will be matched.

You ever notice how sci-fi always is steeped in the time it's created? And the more far out it tries to get, the more inexorably linked to its time it becomes (because it's really just exaggerating the modes of the day where, in reality, those modes get changed.) Think Star Wars' braless princess Leia, alien chicks with bouffants in '50s sci-fi or, heh, the way the latest incarnation of Star Trek looked like the iEnterprise.

This movie is so dated, it laps around to looking futuristic again.

Like all great movie dystopias, Metropolis creates a completely nonsensical future and its travails as a metaphor for current issues, and then resolves those issues in a happy ending that's actually pretty horrifying if you look at it too closely. Thing is, Metropolis did it first. Or at least I think it did.

The story of Metropolis is that of the city itself, with the elite living above ground in this worldly paradise of barely clothed flappers ('20s-era German nipples!) and the workers living below ground in hellish (but very stagey) servitude to machines, like a cross-between assembly line workers and Solid Gold Dancers.

Our hero, Freder Frederson has his cavorting interrupted one day. And when I say "cavorting", I mean that literally: He's running around with a bunch of his mates and scantily clad girls. The interruption is by a schoolteacher from the underground, who's brought her charges up to see the good life.

Security is lax in utopia.

And while this creates a sort-of micro-scandal, Freder has enough time to see, and fall in love with, the young schoolteacher, Maria.

So, like any other red-blooded, if slightly effete, male he chases her back down to the underground where he sees The Machine! And the men are working on the machine, doing—well, nothing that makes any sense, really. But if the levers aren't pulled in time, and the wheels spun, and the clock-hands moved (I didn't get that one either, but some of the workers had to move the hands of a clock-like thing to hit certain lights as they lit) the whole machine goes kablooey.

Freder swoons (literally) on seeing the machine, instead seeing the face of Moloch, the ancient Babylonian god that demanded human sacrifices.

You know this is going to come to no good, right then.

Setting aside the silliness of this hyper-powered Metropolis (with flying cars!) being driven by manual labor, where the workers do 16-hour shifts, and when they collapse with exhaustion, the whole machine goes kaboom, it's a visually stunning scene.

The first half of the movie is powered by similarly amazing visuals.

Freder's dad is the architect of the city, and he finds the under-dwellers sort of troublesome, so he's not all that interested in Freder's newfound understanding of How Things Are. He's too busy spying on the leader of the underworld's religious labor movement—who just happens to be Maria.

Y'see, Pa Frederson feels that the workers are getting all riled up, and he wants to encourage that. This will justify the excessive use of force it will take to crush any rebelliousness they have. Lacking any great ideas, he turns to his old pal, his partner in the development of Metropolis, "C.A. Rotwang, the inventor" as he is credited.

But if you steal a guy's girl, you probably shouldn't go to him for help. If you think, well, it's been 20 years, he's over it, there are some clues that should tip you otherwise:

1. He talks about it immediately and incessantly upon seeing you.
2. He has a giant—like 20 ft. diameter—likesness of her head in his otherwise empty living room.
3. He's built a robot he plans to make look and act just like her.

Frederson, Sr., is not so bright about this, however, and commands Rotwang to make the robot look like Maria so that he can get the results he wants. Rotwang, seeing this as an opportunity to destroy young Freder eagerly agrees.

4. He agrees to scuttle his lovebot plans to advance your agenda even after swearing revenge to your face.

Anyway, the robot is brought to life as Maria's doppleganger, and Freder is naturally devastated. Rotwang has programmed her to be a rabble-rouser by day, and a slut by night. Or at least a serious tease. It's a little hard to tell whether or not the 'bot is putting out.

She does have some serious charisma, however. The entirety of the aboveground male population of Metropolis is just as under her spell as the increasingly agitated workers.

Disaster ensues.

Lang didn't care much for mobs, regardless of their station in society, and the rest of the movie is basically an exercise in mob madness, with a great literally clashing of workers and society folk.

The movie's happy message? Communists and Fascists need to work together to form a better world.

Well, come on, it was 1927. Germany. What other options were there?

Religion's in there, too. Sort of a heart, brain, body combo.

Apart from some highly affected acting which lost its potency with the advent of sound, the movie itself holds up really well. Yeah, the message is stupid, but no stupider than "Demolition Man" or the "Star Wars" hexology or "Soylent Green" or any other utopian/dystopian flick.

I love it more than ever now, as just a ballsy act of creation if nothing else. But the visuals are still stunning. Even at 2:30, the movie doesn't really drag. There's some great action at the end that was restored. Despite the message about fascism and communism, and a low opinion of group mentality, it's an optimistic film that celebrates heroism and decency.

The Boy pronounced it "different" in a not displeased manner.

The Old Man likes the silents, and liked it almost as much as I did.

Me? I could watch it again right now.

1 comment:

  1. I can't get into a movie about Metropolis where you don't get to see Perry, Clark or Lois.

    It just doesn't do it for me. Sorry.


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