Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Cinematic Spaces: Metropolis


figure 1: The Film Poster

Metropolis is a silent film directed by german expressionist film maker, fritz lang. Made after the first World War, Lang’s science fiction film of shows a pessimistic view of the  industrial city of the future. It tells the story of the hero , Freder, son of the master of metropolis, and his beloved Maria, a worker in the underground, and a mad scientist who creates a robot disguised as maria, to control the disgruntle workers who are miniature beginning to rebel against their class. 

Using a combination of  painted art deco influenced backdrops, miniature sets, mirrors, and innovative costume construction , the film shows to the two spheres of life created by technological progress, : the world above which is healthy, spacious, light, and rich, and the world below, which is dangerous, dark, confined and poor.

figure 2: The workers city

The film’s scenery of the world below the Metropolis shows an ‘underground world of deep shadows” which illuminate the ’expressionist theme of alienation and anxiety’(p227 Eskilson) at the time.

The workers are filmed moving like clockwork parts, with synchronized  actions as if they were parts of the machine. There uniformity and downcasts heads reveals to the audience their lack of identity and human soul. 

The laboratory space, which is home to the female robot, is a fusion of advanced  technological machinery and grandiose gothic architecture which helps to create the image of 
A ‘nightmarish place” . (p227 Eskilson)

figure 3: The robot, who will soon appear to be Maria

According to Eskilson, the visual motif  of the female robot represents two fears of the german expressionists at that time: fear of machines, and fear of women. In the scene where the robot becomes animated,  she gazes directly into the eye of the viewer. Electrical visual effects  suggest  she is being filled with power and will soon come to life, transformed from a machine into a real human woman, and threaten the lives of the submissive male workers below.

In the tense and anxious scene, when the heroine Maria is being chased through the cavern by the scientist, rotwang, Lang uses darkness and the single light source of the flashlight to take the audience through the terror which she faces. 

The Metropolis above ground is created using miniatures of New York style skyscrapers and cathedral like towers. The actors were filmed appearing as if they were amongst the buildings, using an elaborate trick with mirrors called the Sch├╝fftan process.


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Stephen J. Eskilson, 2007. Graphic Design: A New History. Edition. Yale University Press.

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