Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis Midnight Movie Review
By Bret Dorman
As I have “matured” in my movie watching habits over the years, there is still one ‘genre’ of movie that I dread. No, not Rom-Coms or Super Hero Movies or the latest Adam Sandler flick.
The Silent Film.
Not only is there no talking which leads to over-acting, but I have to read dialogue. And not in the same way you read a foreign film that has subtitles. You watch the person say something, then you cut to a title card with dialogue that stays on the screen way too long. Then you go back to the action before someone else says something and you are pulled back out again. At some point I just want everyone to shut up so I don’t have to waste a 2 minute scene reading 1 minute and 15 seconds of dialogue.
Plus the movies are usually hokey. It’s inevitable that with outdated technology and silly ideas that we would find some of the more dramatic elements of a Silent Film funny. Heck, I even laugh at movies coming out now at moments that aren’t supposed to be funny.
And yet, there is something about seeing a silent film, one of the good ones, in a theater. I’ve seen two at Music Box Theatre before this one and they both had a live organ accompaniment (performed by Dennis Scott) and were played before a rowdy crowd of horror fanatics. Those movies were The Phantom of the Opera (with Lon Chaney) and Waxworks. They were shown (in separate years) at the annual Music Box Massacre, 24 hours of horror movies.
Giorgio Moroder’s Remix of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is sort of like having your cake and eating it too. You get to see the Silent Film Masterpiece and you get an ‘updated’ score, some coloring, and subtitles, not title cards (or “intertitles”).
The Story: Freder (Gustav Frohlich), the son of the rich business-y tycoon-ish Joh (Alfred Abel), meets the charming and prophetic Maria (Brigitte Helm), who is all about peace and junk. Joh doesn’t like that so he gets the mad scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) to build a Robo-Maria to trick people and junk. Things heat up as the rich and the poor don’t get along and junk. Also, the sexy Robo-Lady does sexy dances!
Metropolis may lack sound, speech, a modern pace and story telling narrative, but one thing it does not lack is ambition. Towering miniatures, state of the art special effects, explosions, creative visuals, innovative camera work, and most impressively, over 25,000 extras. This ain’t your Grandpa’s silent film… it’s probably your Great Grandpa’s. The point is, when you think of silent films you probably just think of a bunch of silly people in makeup doing things awkwardly fast. Well that’s here too, but so are things so cinematic that you’ll think “Woah, I didn’t know they could even do that back then.”
It’s easy to dismiss silent films as boring, but in reality these film makers were the true innovators. These people were doing all the work that others would rely on for years to come. They were interested in art, comedy, and/or storytelling; all these things which seem like a means to an end in a world full of movies that serve more as commercials or live action gossip magazines.
It should be noted that The Nazi’s loved this movie. The year it was made, 1927, pre-dates WWII and The Nazis actually offered Fritz Lang a job to make movies for them. He politely declined before fleeing, probably for his life, to America (USA to the rescue!). Lang’s wife, Thea von Harbou, who also (co)wrote the script later did join the Nazi Party. Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will was heavily influenced by Metropolis. But in case you feel guilty about enjoying a German Film where people are walked into flames, a emphatic speaker stirs up violence, and the bad guy has a star on his door, just remember it was made in 1927. So it’s okay to enjoy all these things! WWII didn’t happen yet!
The story may be disjointed and it certainly doesn’t help that chunks of it are missing due to bad editing and poor keeping over the years, but the story works. It works on this fairy tale archetype level and it is interesting how many of the things I go nuts for in movies are all present. One thing that I love is the idea of having two Marias. Real Maria and False Maria, and how they both can influence/manipulate a crowd and how tensions later arise in a which is which (is a witch) sort of way.
There are so many things to gush on about like the vast and futuristic cityscapes, the haunting and hulking machinery, and nice cinematic touches like a flashlight chase through a dark, twisting cavern, odd camera movements, and the sheer number of people on screen at once. But really, there are no words or title cards to properly describe a movie so reliant on its visual storytelling.
Lastly, Purists will probably scoff at Giorgio Moroder’s touches. Giorgio is an Acaedmy Award winning musician/composer who tried to restore and update the film. He added in subtitles which help the pace. He added in splashes or moments of color, mostly just tinting the entire screen which help convey the nightmarish quality, and added in a synth-pop score along with songs by Pat Benatar, Billy Squire, Adam Ant, and an original song by Queen’s Freddie Mercury. I don’t think his intention was to make the definitive version of the film, just a more easily digestible one that people could use a gateway to the real deal.
Why You Must See It At Midnight: The Midnight Movie Crowd loves its silly and goofy and ultra-violent movies. While Giorgio Moroder’s Metropolis may have some of that stuff, its clearly a different beast all together. But we don’t mind. If inbetween movies like John Carpenter’s The Thing and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure we
have to, get to take a week to appreciate one of the great classics of all time, we are more than happy to pay tribute. Of course… we’ll do it in the best way we know how… rockin’ out to the sounds of the 80’s.