Metropolis is a German silent film from 1927 and was created between 1924 and 1927 (‘Wege des grossen Spielfilms in Deutschland’, Die Literarische Welt, 2, 1). It was perhaps the first one to create controversy among audiences around the world due to the nature of the content since it was the first science fiction film of its kind. This film is so unique because it opened doors and minds for other science fiction films and directors that were yet to come. Directed and written by Fritz Lang in company of his wife Thea von Harbou, the film takes place in the year 2026 and it involves two different characters that are in two complete social classes. The beauty of this masterpiece shows how the wealthy society of industrialists rules the city of Metropolis and the underground class of workers are just beneath and work for them (‘Mr. Wells Reviews a Current Film, Metropolis’, New York Times Magazine). My goal in this essay is to show step by step how the film was received and perceived and how it dealt with the controversial dilemma among viewers and film critiques, who praised, loved and hated the plot.
Upon the release of the film at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo in Berlin on January 10th, 1927 the audience reacted to several of the film’s incredible scenes with joy and applause. Critics automatically had a love and hate relationship towards the film and there was a lot of anticipation regarding the film in other countries like Australia before it was released (‘Metropolis – Modern Progress Considered’, The Argus, Melbourne). When I say “Love and hate,” I am implying to the fact that amused and confused audiences at the same time since it was a science fiction film based on the reality the world was facing back in the 1920’s. The reality of the higher class taking control of the lower class, the reality of the use and abuse of power and the reality of the economic depression the world was suffering at the time. Fritz Lang, the film director, portrays the civilization of the industrial future as they are gripping in the extreme. “So too are the black hordes of brutish toilers chained to their machines far underground, while up in the vast, airy city above, their masters dissipate the fruits of their labour” (‘Metropolis’, The Red Flag, The Official Paper of the Communist Party in Germany, Berlin, Vol.10, No.9).
Lotte H. Eisner, was one of the first critiques to recognize Metropolis and stated that he was impressed by the beauty of the light and shapes in the film. Eisner actually praised the director for his use of geometric formations and contrast in lighting, movement and juxtaposition. The film acquired outstanding achievements in visual and artistic effects almost never seen before for the year of its released which caused a great admiration in the general audience but was ambushed by most film critics (‘Metropolis’, New York Telegraph, 7 March 1927). Knowing and keeping in mind that it is a film from 1927 and the world was facing economic depression, a high unemployment rate; the film exceeded and was able to gather and create great work in cinematography, costume design and visual effects (Fred Hildenbrandt, ‘Metropolis, Berliner Tageblatt, pp.2-3.)
Critics loved the special effects featured on the film and also raved on the fact that is was the highest most expensive film made at the time of released. Filming took place during the Weimar period in 1925 and it costed approximately five million reichsmarks. Despite the magnificent story the film holds with the great visual effects, some critics were not satisfied with the overall content of it. The reception of the film in some cases was not the best, even though after a few years the film became an icon and a pioneer of cinema. This is normally the case with legendary creators and artists, once they make an impact within society and it makes the masses think in a different level, they are criticized, but at the same time it makes people wonder, realize, open up and understand the reason behind all of it. This was the case of Metropolis (‘The Story of Fritz Lang, Maker of Siegfried’, Motion Picture Classic).
The New York Times actually accused the film of being a foolish film, cliche and even accused the director of plagiarism; comparing the film’s plot similar to the one found on Shelley’s Frankenstein. Oliver Claxton from the New Yorker called the film “unconvincing and overlong,” stating the plot and the philosophy of the film were not connected at all and it confuses the viewer. On the other hand, other contemporary critics welcomed the film with positive reviews and great comments by saying they were impressed with the film’s message in social justice and rated the film as one of the greatest achievements of the silent film era (Claims Metropolis play, New York Times, Section I, 5.).
After watching the film, I can come to the conclusion that everyone will have their own opinion regarding the content of the feature, but honestly I can say this is one of my favourite classic films of all time and that is the reason why I have chosen to write about it. I find that for the time been when the film was made and premiered; the ideas and views of the director were one step ahead of the time. Lang knew exactly what was going to take place after the release of the film and the impact on pop culture including all the negative and positive comments from the newspapers that were given to the motion picture, the cast, the plot and the stunning visuals effects. Metropolis is without doubt an intellectual and visual story that drew comment and further viewing and now days is studied and given as an example in many film schools programs across the world.
Lang, Fritz, ‘Wege des grossen Spielfilms in Deutschland’, Die Literarische Welt, 2, 1 October 1926.
Wells, H.G., ‘Mr. Wells Reviews a Current Film, Metropolis’, New York Times Magazine, 17 April 1927, 4, 22.
‘Metropolis – Modern Progress Considered’, The Argus, Melbourne, 9 April 1928.
R. A., ‘Metropolis’, The Red Flag, The Official Paper of the Communist Party in Germany, Berlin, Vol.10, No.9, 12 January 1927. English translation.
Vreeland, Frank, ‘Metropolis’, New York Telegraph, 7 March 1927.
Fred Hildenbrandt, ‘Metropolis, Berliner Tageblatt, 11 January 1927 (late edition), pp.2-3. Eng lish translation.
Fraenkel, Heinrich, ‘The Story of Fritz Lang, Maker of Siegfried’, Motion Picture Classic, 23 March 1926, 38.
“Claims Metropolis play”, New York Times, 23 December 1928, Section I, 5.