2009-10-14 / Movie Review

‘Metropolis’ Screening Pays Homage To Classic Films


Maria (Brigette Helm), the heroine in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927), is placed in a chamber so she can be physically replicated as a robot. Maria (Brigette Helm), the heroine in Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927), is placed in a chamber so she can be physically replicated as a robot. On Thursday, October 8, Queens Theatre in the Park in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, in collaboration with the Museum of the Moving Image, screened the iconic silent film “Metropolis”, directed by German filmmaker Fritz Lang. The motion picture is part of a fall film series commemorating six international cinema classics, called Moving Image Masterpieces, which premiered on October 1.

While the original version of the film was over two and a half hours long, it was substantially shortened for release in U.S. theatres. Over time, numerous versions of the film were produced, with many of the original scenes lost; some of which will never be recovered. In 2002, Kino International released a 124-minute, digitally restored version, which included missing scenes, title cards and the original score.

The two-hour film was accompanied by live music, played by pianist Ben Model, who has recorded numerous scores for silent film DVD’s and produces The Silent Clown Film Series. Music has the ability to connect the film with the audience on an emotional level, acting as medium of sorts, since a good score can connect people with the characters and the story, according to Model. He claims the silent film genre is experiencing a renaissance with an increasingly larger, younger following, citing the uniqueness of silent films since “the audience must use their imagination to fill in the details”. In 2008 alone, he did more than 140 live performances

Released in 1927, “Metropolis” was co-written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou, and is considered one of the most costly non- English language films of its time, costing 10 times more than the average Hollywood production of its time and bankrupting the film studio that produced it, Universum Film AG (UFA), which was subsequently bailed out by Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM).

Set in a futuristic urban dystopia, the film explores the conflict between unseen, desolate workers, condemned to the depths of the city to tend to the machines that maintain the Metropolis, and the privileged classes who live in utter opulence. When Freder Frederson (Gustav Fröhlich), the privileged son of a wealthy industrial planner, first sees Maria (Brigette Helm), who champions the plight of the workers, he falls in love with her, in addition to becoming aware to the suffering of the workers below the city. When Freder’s father, Joh Frederson (Alfred Abel), becomes aware of Maria’s intentions, he enlists the help of a mad scientist, Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), to build a robot in Maria’s likeness to strengthen his grip on the workers. Unfortunately, Rotwang has a personal ax to grind against the Joh, and intends to use the robot Maria not to mislead the workers, but to destroy Joh’s relationship with his son, as well as the city he has built.

Despite the constant changes in technology and higher expectations of current filmgoers, many feel “Metropolis” set new precedents in moviemaking. “These films change the way movies were made,” Queens Theatre in the Park Executive Director Jeffrey Rosenstock said, citing films like “Metropolis” as “advancing the art of filmmaking”. The film has also been a source of influence in pop culture, as seen in films like “Blade Runner”, “Star Wars” and Tim Burton’s “Batman”.

David Schwartz, Chief Curator of the Museum of the Moving Image, maintains the universal themes of the film have contributed to its longevity for nearly 80 years. “ It was ahead of its time in capturing the challenges of the twentieth century, mainly that society entered a new age in which it had to interact with machines,” he said. He also cites the ability of the film to still bring in an audience as a testament that the movies “are part of a social interaction, an immersive experience that despite the popularity of Netflix or DVDs, cannot be replicated at home”.

Moving Image Masterpieces will continue to run on Thursday evenings until November 19. For a schedule of the films and directions, visit www.queenstheatre.org. For more information about other events at Museum of the Moving Image, visit www.movingimage.us. For more information about Bob Model, visit www.silentfilmmusic.com.

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