Fritz Lang's landmark film Metropolis (1927) became an art house classic, either because or in spite of its cryptic futurism and melodramatic treatment of class struggle. The most expensive silent film ever made at the time of its release, it was a two-and-a-half hour extravaganza. After its debut in Berlin, it was cut by as much as an hour and screened in a couple of shorter versions.
A close-to-original restoration recently was made possible by footage recovered in Argentina. The full story in Metropolis is easy to follow and more operatic than science fictional, combining social consciousness, religious redemption, love, lust and mistaken identity.
Metropolis is a grand city in which a class of owners and managers lives above ground amid architectural grandeur, and laboring classes live and toil below. Joh Fredersen is its industrialist mastermind. His son Freder enjoys great privilege, but he spies Maria, a woman from below, and follows her, witnessing the crushing working conditions there. It turns out Maria counsels the workers at secret meetings, telling them a mediator figure ("heart") will appear and reconcile the "head" (owners of the city) and the "hands" (workers). Freder falls for her, but his father believes she is instigating rebellion. Fredersen turns to a crazed inventor, Rotwang, who is building a "machine-man." He wants the bizarre genius to make the robot look like Maria and then use the machine to destroy the uprising.
Personal rivalries and ulterior motives emerge when Rotwang tests his evil mechanical Maria in the decadent red-light district Yoshiwara, where she seduces the sons of the wealthy before he sends her below to ignite the workers' rage. The story becomes a straightforward thriller (with the occasional comic earnestness of silent film acting) as robotic Maria incites the workers to destructive fury. Soon, both Marias are running through the city streets, and neither the angry mobs nor the bourgeois revelers know which one they are chasing. Metropolis' future depends on whose passions will prevail.
The story does everything from echoing Frankenstein to presaging Blade Runner. Not surprisingly, Lang eventually moved to Hollywood and contributed to the development of film noir. Tickets $8 general admission, $7 students/seniors, $6 Zeitgeist members. — Will Coviello
7 :30 p.m. Mon.-Wed., July 5-7
Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, 1618 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 827-5858; www.zeitgeistinc.net