Metropolis is one of the greatest cinematic epics ever made, directed by Fritz Lang and released as a silent movie in 1926. Everything about it is on the hugest scale, whether in terms of concept, scenery or cost, and its influence has extended into countless subsequent movies right up to the present day. An awesome German sci-fi allegory, it stars Gustav Frohlich, Brigitte Helm and Rudolf Klein-Rogge, and was novelised by Lang's partner Thea von Harbou.
The time: 2026 AD. The place: the colossal Middle European city-state of Metropolis, where mile-high Art Deco mega-buildings thrust into skies alive with aircraft, and motor vehicles jostle along multi-level flyovers between huge neon signs. Society is deeply divided between the wealthy elite, who spend idle lives in persuit of pleasure, and the desperately poor working majority, who live and work underground tending and operating the massive machines that keep the city running and which they have been taught to worship as Gods. All is ruled over by Metropolis's austere President, Joh Fredersen ('John Masterman' in German).
Joh's son Freder lives a playboy life of decadence, until one day he meets Maria, a worker's beautiful daughter who is leading a party of children above ground to see how the wealthy live. Freder at once falls deeply in love with her, and she in turn takes him into the bowels of the city to see the appalling conditions the masses have to live in. Disgusted and appalled, Freder agrees to work with Maria to bring about social change. Joh is horrified at his son's behaviour, but help is at hand in the shape of Rotwang, a brilliant but half-mad scientist who has just created his masterpiece - a stunning female robot in gleaming metal. Joh and Rotwang hatch a plan in which Maria is kidnapped and her DNA used to turn the android into her exact double, which then sets about inciting the workers into violent revolt, destroying the machines and justifying the Government in using force against them. The real Maria soon escapes and is re-united with Freder; but how can they stop the terrible events which are unfolding?
Originally over 3 hours long, the film endured heavy editing and censorship by both the Third Reich and the American authorities, and remained a fragmented relic until resurrected by Italian musician and record producer Giorgio Moroder in the mid-1980s. Using recently rediscovered out-takes from the film, he succeeded in putting it back together to half its original length, also introducing colour tinting, sound effects, and a rock soundtrack including tracks by Freddie Mercury, Pat Benatar, Loverboy, Adam Ant and Billy Squiers. This new-look version was launched in 1985 to wide acclaim, and topped the bill at arts cinemas across the country.
An immensely controversial epic in it's time (both Fascists and Communists claimed it to endorse their own ideologies), Metropolis is in reality a simple fable of anti-exploitation, and utterly unforgettable. Brigitte Helm, who played Maria in the film, lived up until 1996!