fritz lang metropolis gold

I had such a treat this weekend. If you’re any kind of film geek, you’ve probably seen at least part of Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent masterpiece, METROPOLIS. If you’re not that big a film geek, you’ve definitely seen its legacy in films like Blade Runner, Star Wars, any dystopia where A.I. is threatening and androids look just like us, etc. The Pacific Symphony, in Orange County, CA, screened it Sunday in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall with live accompaniment from organ virtuoso Peter Richard Conte on the Hall’s “one-of-kind William J. Gillespie Concert Organ.” It was extraordinary.

I love silent films, and I have always assumed I’d seen Metropolis, but I know now that I’d previously only seen some of its famous scenes. The most complete version of the film, which is what the Pacific Symphony screened, is about 2.5 hours long. It tells the story of an industrialized city run by a rich and powerful man. The wealthy live in skyscrapers and spend their time in pleasure palaces and lush gardens, while the laborers who operate the machines that keep the city going all live underground in a “workers city” that never sees the sun.

This potential powder keg situation is set off when the rich man asks his former love rival to create an android doppelgänger of the woman the laborers look to as sort of a religious leader, and to use that robot woman to sow seeds of unrest that will ultimately help him maintain control of the workers. Of course, nothing goes to evil plan, and everyone learns to get along in the end. (Except the love rival. He is the first mad scientist in the cinema, he created the archetype, and, 90-year-old-spoiler: he gets dead.)

metropolis

Seeing this film on the big screen was wonderful. Seeing it with an audience I’d guess wasn’t 100% composed of silent film lovers was just OK. (There was more laughing at the climactic fight than I would have preferred.) Seeing it with Conte playing the organ was so, so special. I really felt like I’d been given a gift. Conte’s “day job” is playing the Wanamaker Grand Court Organ, the “largest fully functioning musical instrument in the world,” in Philadelphia twice a day, six days a week. (He’s only the fourth Wanamaker Grand Court Organist since the organ first played in 1911.) He took Gottfried Huppertz’s original score for Metropolis (a rarity for its era) and made it his own.

What was so striking to me as I watched this film is that it is 90 years old. That means that everything in it that we’d now see as a film trope was done here FIRST. The scenes in which abandoned cars litter the city streets while chaos breaks out? This is the first for that. It’s the first for so much!

1927 metropolis lang

It’s also German, and Hitler loved it. His regard for Lang, whose mother was born Jewish, led directly to Lang fleeing Germany rather than working for Hitler.

If you’ve never seen Metropolis before, here are two places you can see it free online. The first one, HERE, has been re-scored by The New Pollutants. The second one, HERE, has a score more like the original. I especially love the cityscape you see at about the 17:30 mark.

Leona Laurie