Metropolis: Film Highlight

Fritz Lang's 1927 masterpiece is being shown with 25 minutes of original footage that was cut after the film's premiere. This landmark science-fiction classic has had a profound influence on everything from Blade Runner to Star Wars, Madonna's "Express Yourself" video, and...well, pretty much any work that has tried to imagine the future as both dazzling and horrible. The opening credits claim that the movie "serves no tendency, party, or class," but it isn't hard to see why some '20s viewers took Metropolis to be a thinly veiled Marxist tract. The titular city is one in which class oppression and hierarchy are rendered literally: Faceless, robotic workers toil in the bowels of the Earth, while the wealthy few luxuriate in elegant, glittering skyscrapers. Like Marx, Lang finds himself entranced by the wonders of industrial capitalism even as he strives to register their dehumanizing cost. Trained as an architect, Lang creates a city whose hellish factories and ornate pleasure domes are equally breathtaking: a perfect example of art direction used to articulate a complex theme in purely visual terms. Sure, the story about a son of privilege who meets an attractive female agitator and decides to be down with the workers descends into melodrama, its material contradictions failing to be resolved through an appeal to "heart." But it feels churlish to complain in the face of the film's stunning visuals.

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