After my romp with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, I decided to partake in another black and white beauty of a bygone era, this time giving in to my science fiction inclinations. So I watched the 1927 German film, Metropolis.
This movie was similar to other silent films of the time, with very limited special effects, typical instrumental accompaniment while the audience watched the action, melodramatic acting in the style of the theatre, and subtitles. I especially liked how the way the subtitles were presented corresponded to the subject matter; for example, when characters go down the elevator the text scrolls with them. I found that to be a very artistic touch.
One thing that I think made this film very unique for its age is its social themes. The entire film is a fantasy of a futuristic dystopia where the workers have a violent revolution. The movement is inspired by a robot who disguises herself as the beautiful and kind Maria, but you can always tell who the impostor is because she has manic, spastic movements and a psychotic facial expression. Her fiery speeches about blood and machines motivate the workers to destroy the machines, and in the process, flood their own homes. The real Maria and her romantic interest save the children from the flooding city, talk sense into the people, and try to inspire negotiation between the workers and the city's elite.
I thought the portrayal of women and children in this movie was very interesting. Typically in science fiction we only hear about the warriors on the front lines, not about the people who suffer from the ravages of the war, and very rarely do we see women as peaceful community leaders, and yet arguably Maria could be considered the main hero of this story. Furthermore, in the ranks of the warriors of the front lines, the workers, women are always addressed as part of the movement. Still, because Maria and the Impostorbot 3000 are played by the same actress, you really only have one actress playing any of the roles, and as always those roles fall into two sadly oversimplified categories: the bad-girl temptress with no respect for order who (literally) ends up burning at the stake, and the good little girl who is pretty, well-behaved, and feeds into her own oppression. Whichever way you look at this film, it certainly has a lot of interesting things to say about women.
As with many old science fiction movies, I still find it really amusing to see what technologies we would still use in the future. For example, in one scene Maria is running with a candle, and we also see bi-planes in the city. For the most advanced city of the future they keep things pretty simple! The lack of social change also really shows through. As I mentioned earlier, the villainess robot is burned at the stake as the workers literally call her a witch. There is also a scene where Maria is ringing a giant bell, supposedly in the spire of a church.
As an aside, I also think the editing could have been a bit better. Occasionally the transitions were a bit rough, with the music cutting off, and it may be because of this that the plot is a bit difficult to follow. Overall, I enjoyed watching this movie, but I don't think this is one that will be near and dear to my heart.