Metropolis is a German expressionist film made in 1927, directed by Fritz Lang. It was the pioneer of new age sci-fi and many of its conventions can be seen in films today. The film has a strong feel of art deco, alongside many awkward angles and industrialism one would associate with German expressionism. The working together of these two art styles represents the metaphors in the movie quite well- a modern clean (“[Art Deco] is supposed to bring together the nations of the world and to show a unified front”1) world created through the industrial suffering of civilians (“German expressionist present the theme of terror of self, individuals, and the masses”2)
The film has an unsettling industrial symmetry, men all marching or running the same through wide shots of the art deco city at German expressionist angles (such as when the workers are marching to and from work). Such symmetry in static shots (other examples include when Maria is preaching to workers, or when the workers are walking in unison during the Tower of Babel story) is mesmerising to watch, and surely must serve as an example for modern directors such as Wes Anderson. The buildings are on a vast scale, this is emphasised further by the amount of city shown in one shot, and the amount of windows, which seems warped and unreal. These vast shots really emphasise how small and insignificant the civilians look, and by extension, feel. Lang said himself he was inspired by New York the first time he visited, a time when he to must have felt overwhelmed by the vastness of a big city- “…the film was born from my first sight of the skyscrapers in New York in October 1924… the buildings seemed to be a vertical sail, scintillating and very light, a luxurious backdrop”3. This quote explains many of the angles in the film, as if they are from a single persons point of view, trying to take everything in.
The movie is filmed using purely static shots (except one moving point of view shot showing panic in Freder’s head) meaning that each scene is beautifully composed an could be used as a piece of art in it’s own right. Intense composition such as this surely must have inspired modern directors such as Stanley Kubrick who’s shots are composed in a similar manner.
The special effects in the film are ahead of their time, and were all created by Eugen Schuffan- Metropolis was the first film to use what is now known as the “Shuffan effect”, using mirrors to reflect actors into the large skyscrapers and building.
Metropolis is the first sci-fi film of it’s kind and it’s easy to see it’s influence on modern films. The most obvious examples would be the similarity between Doctor Who cyber men and the ‘machinenmensch”, and the look of the city itself in films such as Blade Runner and Gotham City in Batman.
1 The Art Deco Exposition, Arthur Chandler
2 The Terror of German Expressionism, Stephen Rossi (2010)
3 Fritz Lang: Interviews (2003)