Today we bring you the recently restored version of one of the most influential films of all time: Fritz Lang’s 1927 fable of good and evil fighting it out in a futuristic urban dystopia, Metropolis.
The story takes place in 2026. Metropolis is a beautiful high-tech city, but underneath the surface, masses of workers toil in slavery. To keep the machinery running efficiently, the workers have become virtual machines themselves. The city is ruled by a heartless mastermind named Johann Fredersen, whose idealistic son, Freder, rebels against him when he discovers the cruel conditions imposed on the workers. Freder falls in love with Maria, a messianic figure preaching love and reconciliation, but his father hatches an evil plot to turn the workers against Maria. He hires the mad scientist Rotwang to make a robotic version of Maria to wreak havoc among the workers, discrediting her and discouraging rebellion. An epic struggle ensues.
Lang said he got the idea for Metropolis while visiting New York in 1924. Standing on the deck of his ship in New York Harbor at night, the filmmaker was amazed at the spectacle:
I saw a street lit as if in full daylight by neon lights and, topping them, over-sized luminous advertisements moving, turning, flashing on and off, spiraling…something that was completely new and nearly fairy tale-like for a European in those days….The buildings seemed to be a vertical veil, shimmering, almost weightless, a luxurious cloth hung from the sky to dazzle, distract, and hypnotize. At night the city did not give the impression of being alive; it lived as illusions lived. I knew then that I had to make a film about all of these sensations.
The story was written mostly by Lang’s wife, Thea Von Harbou. Despite the popularity of the film, Lang detested the story. He told Peter Bogdanovich that he thought Metropolis was “silly and stupid.” From a purely visual standpoint, though, the film has had an enormous influence on science fiction and popular culture.
The iconic image above is from an extremely rare program from the March 21, 1927 London premiere of Metropolis. You can look through the entire 32-page program at the Web site of bookseller Peter Harrington (the page will open in a new window) and then watch the restored 2010 version of the film below. The restoration, supervised by the F.W. Murnau Foundation, incorporates footage from an early print discovered in Buenos Aires, bringing the film much closer to Lang’s original vision. You can purchase your very own copy online here, or watch it in parts on YouTube.
Metropolis, part one:
Metropolis, part two: