Cinematic Spaces Film Review: Metropolis
“Hollywood lives for money and sex. It borrows or buys its art. It is the Germans who are the perpetual adventurers in the cinema. They gave the camera its stripling mobility, its restless imagination.” (Evelyn Gerstein, 2009)
Metropolis (1927) is a German expressionist science fiction film written by Fritz Lang and his wife Thea Von Harbou, the film was directed by Lang himself. Metropolis is perhaps one of the most influential films in science fiction and special effects and the boundaries it pushed in film & set production. The film features a range of set designs, from a huge gothic cathedral to a futuristic cityscape. Lang quoted saying, “the film was born from my first sight of the skyscrapers of New York in October 1924". Describing his first impression and the influence the city had on him, Lang said "the buildings seemed to be a vertical sail, scintillating and very light, a luxurious backdrop, suspended in the dark sky to dazzle, distract and hypnotize”
Fig 1 - The dark Cityscape
“Lang's impossibly vast skyscraper-ziggurats (inspired, it's said, by his first view of the Manhattan skyline) are the blueprint for nearly every science-fiction movie city of the past 30 years.” (Ed Halter, 2007)
The Cityscape in Metropolis used the design and scale of the buildings, to portray the power of industrialism. The buildings used throughout the movie are very large, sometimes greatly exaggerated, often so much so that they make the characters seem tiny and insignificant in and around the busy city life. This helps to tie into the broken spirit portrayed throughout the earlier scenes of the film, since the storyline has a dominant focus around the social classes of society, with the workers forced to work long underpaid hours in the lower parts of the city while the upper classes live high up in the skyscrapers.
Fig 2 - The Portral of Emotion
The actors give the usual silent-film performance, full of over exaggerated expressions and broad movements, but they express their characters humanity in a way that is very relevant to the story. Cinematographer Karl Freund’s use of a wide arrangement of stylized shadows, dramatic camera angles, and geometric images all added to the movies style, and helped to really portray the epic cityscape and characters throughout the movie.
Fig3 - The Awakening
“The meticulous miniature photography and full-scale floods, explosions and riots, necessitated a new level of collaborative ingenuity from every department” (Emanuel Levy, 2011)
Lang finished the film at a cost of 5.3 million, four times as much as the film’s original budget of 1.5 million, this was due to his very large sets and production style. The miniature sets were built on a grand scale with key focus on perspective, wtith things like stop-frame animated vehicles moved around the set from building to building. Over 36,000 extras were hired for the live action flood, the worker rebellion, and the Tower scenes. This all added to the huge cost of the film, but it obviously paid off big time as ‘Metropolis’ has gone on to influence many science fiction film director, and set designers.
Fig 1: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Admin/BkFill/Default_image_group/2010/7/23/1279884478849/still-from-Metropolis-006.jpg
Fig 2: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_SEgRJg7KOVk/TTTwDnz0V8I/AAAAAAAAEGM/PCnLluuBcEw/s1600/Fritz+Lang+METROPOLIS+movie+image+%25282%2529500.jpg
Fig 3: http://picturesup.typepad.com/pictures-up/2012/03/index.html
Quote 1: Evelyn Gerstein January 1, 2009 - http://www.thenation.com/article/metropolis
Quote 2: Ed Halter July 10, 2007 - http://www.villagevoice.com/2007-07-10/film/back-to-the-future/
Quote 3: Emanuel Levy, June 17, 2011 - http://www.emanuellevy.com/review/metropolis-making-of-fritz-langs-masterpiece-8/