Original 1927 theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Fritz Lang|
|Produced by||Erich Pommer|
|Written by||Thea von Harbou
|Music by||Gottfried Huppertz (original version)|
|Running time||148 min (2010 restored version)
153 min (1927 original cut, lost)
|Country||Germany (Weimar Republic)|
|Budget||5,100,000 Reichsmark (est.)|
|Box office||75,000 Reichsmark (est.)|
Metropolis is a 1927 German expressionist science-fiction film directed by Fritz Lang. The film was written by Lang and his wife Thea Von Harbou, and starred Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel and Rudolf Klein-Rogge. A silent film, it was produced in the Babelsberg Studios by UFA.
Made in Germany during the Weimar Period, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia, and follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city's ruler, and Maria, whose background is not fully explained in the film, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classist nature of their city. Metropolis was filmed in 1925, at a cost of approximately five million Reichsmarks. Thus, it was the most expensive film ever released up to that point.
The film was met with a mixed response upon its initial release, with many critics praising its technical achievements and allegorical social metaphors with some deriding its "simplistic and naïve" presentation. Due both to its long running-time and footage censors found questionable, Metropolis was cut substantially after its German premiere; large portions of the film were lost over the subsequent decades.
Numerous attempts have been made to restore the film since the 1970s-80s. Giorgio Moroder, a music producer, released a version with a soundtrack by rock artists such as Freddie Mercury and Adam Ant in 1984. A new reconstruction of Metropolis was shown at the Berlin Film Festival in 2001, and the film was inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Register in the same year, the first film thus distinguished. In 2008, a print of Lang’s original cut of the film was found in a museum in Argentina. After a long restoration process, the restored film was shown on large screens in Berlin and Frankfurt simultaneously on 12 February 2010.
In late 2026, wealthy industrialists rule the vast city of Metropolis from high-rise tower complexes, while a lower class of underground-dwelling workers toils constantly to operate the machines that provide its power. The Master of Metropolis is the ruthless Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), whose son Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) idles away his time in a pleasure garden. Freder is interrupted by the arrival of a young woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm), who has brought a group of workers' children to see the privileged lifestyle led by the rich. Maria and the children are quickly ushered away, but Freder is fascinated by Maria and descends to the workers' city in an attempt to find her.
Freder finds himself in the machine rooms and watches in horror as a huge machine explodes, causing several injuries and deaths, after one of its operators collapses from exhaustion. Appalled by what he has witnessed, Freder runs to tell his father. Fredersen is angered that he learned of the explosion from Freder rather than his assistant Josaphat (Theodor Loos), and fires Josaphat as a result, showing no sympathy toward him or the workers. Knowing that he can only go into the depths and become a worker, Josaphat attempts suicide but is stopped by Freder, who sends him home to wait for him. Concerned by Freder's unusual behavior, Fredersen dispatches the Thin Man (Fritz Rasp) to keep track of his movements.
Returning to the machine rooms, Freder encounters the worker Georgy (Erwin Binswanger) and takes his place when he collapses at his post. The two men trade clothes, with Freder instructing Georgy to go to Josaphat's apartment and wait for him. However, while being driven away by Freder's chauffeur, Georgy becomes distracted by the sights and sounds in the licentious Yoshiwara nightclub and spends the evening there instead. Meanwhile, Freder finds a map in his pocket and learns of a secret meeting from another worker as he suffers hallucinations brought on by the exhausting shift.
Fredersen has received copies of the map as well, taken from the bodies of the men killed in the explosion, and takes them to the inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) in order to learn their meaning. Rotwang had been in love with a woman named Hel, who left him to marry Fredersen; she died giving birth to Freder, but he has since built a robot (a Maschinenmensch, or Machine-Human) to "resurrect" her, to Fredersen's horror. The maps show the layout of a network of ancient catacombs beneath Metropolis, and the two men leave to investigate. They eavesdrop on a gathering of workers, including Freder, and Maria waiting to address them.
Maria prophesies the arrival of a mediator who can bring the working and ruling classes together, and urges the workers to have patience. Freder comes to believe that he could fill the role, and after the meeting breaks up, he declares his love for her. They agree to meet in the city cathedral the next day, then part. Fredersen orders Rotwang to give Maria's likeness to the robot so that it can ruin her reputation among the workers, but does not know of Rotwang's secret plan to destroy Freder as revenge for losing Hel. Rotwang chases Maria up through the catacombs and kidnaps her.
The next morning, the Thin Man catches Georgy leaving Yoshiwara, orders him to return to his post, and takes Josaphat's address from him. Freder goes to Josaphat's apartment in search of Georgy, but finds that Georgy never arrived. After telling Josaphat of his time in the workers' city, Freder leaves for the cathedral, just missing the arrival of the Thin Man. Josaphat rebuffs the Thin Man's attempts to bribe and intimidate him into leaving Metropolis; the two fight, and Josaphat escapes to hide in the workers' city.
Freder does not find Maria at the cathedral, but he does overhear a monk preaching about the Whore of Babylon and an approaching apocalypse. Coming across statues of Death and The Seven Deadly Sins, he begs them not to harm Maria, then leaves to search for her. He hears her cries while passing Rotwang's house and ends up trapped inside until the robot has been fully transformed into Maria's double. Rotwang sends her to greet Fredersen; Freder finds the two embracing in his office and faints, falling into a prolonged delirium. The false Maria begins to unleash chaos throughout Metropolis, driving men to murder out of lust for her in Yoshiwara and stirring dissent amongst the workers.
Freder recovers ten days later and seeks out Josaphat, who tells him of the spreading trouble. At the same time, the real Maria escapes from Rotwang's house after Fredersen breaks in to fight with him, having learned of Rotwang's treachery. Descending to the catacombs, Freder and Josaphat find the false Maria urging the workers to rise up and destroy the machines. When Freder accuses her of not being the real Maria, the workers recognize him as Fredersen's son and rush him, but Georgy protects him and is stabbed to death. Fredersen orders that the workers be allowed to rampage, so that he can justifiably use force against them at a later time.
The workers follow the false Maria from their city to the machine rooms, unknowingly leaving their children behind. They abandon their posts and destroy the Heart Machine, the central power station for Metropolis, after its foreman Grot (Heinrich George) reluctantly grants them access to it on Fredersen's orders. As all systems above and below ground fail, Maria descends to the workers' city, which begins to flood due to the stopped water pumps. She gathers the children in the main square, and with help from Freder and Josaphat, they escape from the workers' city as it crumbles in the flood.
In the machine rooms, Grot gets the attention of the wildly celebrating workers and berates them for their out-of-control actions. Realizing that they left their children behind in the now-flooded city, the workers go mad with grief and storm out to avenge themselves upon the "witch" (the false Maria), who spurred them on and has since slipped away to join the revelry at Yoshiwara. Meanwhile, Rotwang has fallen under the delusion that Maria is Hel and sets out to find her. The mob captures the false Maria and burns her at the stake; a horrified Freder watches, not understanding the deception until the outer covering disintegrates to reveal the robot underneath.
Rotwang chases Maria to the roof of the cathedral, pursued by Freder, and the two men fight as Fredersen and the workers watch from the street. Josaphat tells the workers of their children's safety to stop them from harming Fredersen. Rotwang eventually loses his balance and falls to his death. On the cathedral steps, Freder fulfills his role as mediator ("heart"), linking the hands of Fredersen (the city's "head") and Grot (its "hands") to bring them together.
- Gustav Fröhlich as Freder, the hero of the film.
- Brigitte Helm as Maria, the workers' peaceful advocate, and her robot double; also as the Creative Man, Death, and the Seven Deadly Sins.
- Alfred Abel as Joh Fredersen, the master of Metropolis and Freder's father.
- Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Rotwang, a mad scientist.
- Heinrich George as Grot, the foreman of the Heart Machine.
- Fritz Rasp as The Thin Man, Fredersen's spy.
- Theodor Loos as Josaphat, Fredersen's assistant.
- Erwin Biswanger as Georgy (or 11811), a downtrodden worker.
Metropolis features a range of elaborate special effects and set designs, ranging from a huge gothic cathedral to a futuristic cityscape.
In an interview, Fritz Lang reported that "the film was born from my first sight of the skyscrapers in New York in October 1924". Describing his first impressions of the city, Lang said that "the buildings seemed to be a vertical sail, scintillating and very light, a luxurious backdrop, suspended in the dark sky to dazzle, distract and hypnotize".
The appearance of the city in Metropolis is strongly informed by the Art Deco movement; however it also incorporates elements from other traditions. Ingeborg Hoesterey described the architecture featured in Metropolis as eclectic, writing how its locales represent both “functionalist modernism [and] art deco” whilst also featuring “the scientist’s archaic little house with its high-powered laboratory, the catacombs [and] the Gothic cathedral”. The film’s use of art deco architecture was highly influential, and has been reported to have contributed to the style’s subsequent popularity in Europe and America.
The film drew heavily on Biblical sources for several of its key set-pieces. During her first talk to the workers, Maria uses the story of the Tower of Babel to highlight the discord between the intellectuals and the workers. Additionally, a delusional Freder imagines the false-Maria as the Whore of Babylon, riding on the back of a many-headed dragon.
The name of the Yoshiwara club alludes to the famous red-light district of Tokyo.
The screenplay of Metropolis was written by Fritz Lang and his wife, Thea Von Harbou, a popular writer in Weimar Germany. The film's plot originated from a novel written by Harbou for the sole purpose of being made into a film. The novel featured strongly in the film's marketing campaign, and was serialized in the journal Illustriertes Blatt in the run-up to its release. Harbou and Lang collaborated on the screenplay derived from the novel, and several plot points and thematic elements — including most of the references to magic and occultism present in the novel — were dropped. The screenplay itself went through many re-writes, and at one point featured an ending where Freder would have flown to the stars; this plot element later became the basis for Lang's Woman in the Moon.
Metropolis began filming on 22 May 1925. The cast of the film was mostly composed of unknowns; this was particularly true of nineteen-year-old Brigitte Helm who had no previous film experience.
Shooting of the film was a draining experience for the actors involved, due to the demands made of them by director Fritz Lang. For the scene where the worker's city was flooded, Helm and five hundred children from the poorest districts of Berlin had to work for fourteen days in a pool of water that Lang intentionally kept at a low temperature. Lang would frequently demand numerous re-takes, and took three days to shoot a simple scene where Freder collapses at Maria's feet; by the time Lang was satisfied with the footage he had shot, actor Gustav Fröhlich found he could barely stand. Other anecdotes involve Lang's insistence on using real fire for the climatic scene where the false Maria is burnt at the stake (which resulted in Helm's dress catching fire), and his ordering extras to throw themselves towards powerful jets of water when filming the flooding of the worker's city.
Helm recalled her experiences of shooting the film in a contemporary interview, saying that "the night shots lasted three weeks, and even if they did lead to the greatest dramatic moments — even if we did follow Fritz Lang’s directions as though in a trance, enthusiastic and enraptured at the same time — I can’t forget the incredible strain that they put us under. The work wasn’t easy, and the authenticity in the portrayal ended up testing our nerves now and then. For instance, it wasn’t fun at all when Grot drags me by the hair, to have me burned at the stake. Once I even fainted: during the transformation scene, Maria, as the android, is clamped in a kind of wooden armament, and because the shot took so long, I didn’t get enough air."
Shooting on Metropolis lasted over a year, and was finally completed on 30 October 1926.
Special effects 
The effects expert, Eugen Schüfftan, created pioneering visual effects for Metropolis. Among the effects used are miniatures of the city, a camera on a swing, and most notably, the Schüfftan process, in which mirrors are used to create the illusion that actors are occupying miniature sets. This new technique was seen again just two years later in Alfred Hitchcock's film Blackmail (1929).
The Maschinenmensch — the robot built by Rotwang to resurrect his lost love Hel — was created by sculptor Walter Schulze-Mittendorff. A whole-body plaster cast was taken of actress Brigitte Helm, and the costume was then constructed around it. A chance discovery of a sample of "plastic wood" (a pliable substance designed as wood-filler) allowed Schulze-Mittendorff to build a costume that would both appear metallic and allow a small amount of free movement. Helm sustained cuts and bruises while in character as the robot, as the costume was rigid and uncomfortable.
Early release history 
Metropolis had its premiere at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo movie theater in Berlin on 10 January 1927, where the audience reacted to several of the film's most spectacular scenes with "spontaneous applause". At the time of its German premiere, Metropolis had a length of 4,189 metres (approximately 153 mins at 24 fps). Metropolis had been funded in part by Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and UFA had formed a distribution deal with the two companies whereby they were "entitled to make any change [to films produced by UFA] they found appropriate to ensure profitability". The distribution of Metropolis was handled by Parufamet, a multinational company that incorporated all three film studios. Considering Metropolis too long and unwieldy, Parufamet commissioned American playwright Channing Pollock to write a simpler version of the film that could be assembled using the existing material. Pollock shortened the film dramatically, altered its inter-titles and removed all references to the character of Hel (as the name sounded too similar to the English word Hell), thereby removing Rotwang's original motivation for creating his robot. In Pollock's cut, the film ran for 3170 meters, or approximately 115 minutes. This version of Metropolis premiered in the U.S in March 1927, and was released in the U.K around the same time with different title cards.
Alfred Hugenberg, a nationalist businessman, cancelled UFA's debt to Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer after taking charge of the company in April 1927, and chose to halt distribution in German cinemas of Metropolis in its original form. Hugenberg had the film cut down to a length of 3241 meters, removing the film's perceived "inappropriate" communist subtext and religious imagery. Hugenberg's cut of the film was released in German cinemas in August 1927. UFA distributed a still shorter version of the film (2530 meters, 91 minutes) in 1936, and an English version of this cut was archived in the MOMA film library.
Despite the film's later reputation, some contemporary critics panned it. The New York Times critic Mordaunt Hall called it a "technical marvel with feet of clay". The Times went on the next month to publish a lengthy review by H. G. Wells who accused it of "foolishness, cliché, platitude, and muddlement about mechanical progress and progress in general." He faulted Metropolis for its premise that automation created drudgery rather than relieving it, wondered who was buying the machines' output if not the workers, and found parts of the story derivative of Shelley's Frankenstein, Karel Čapek's robot stories, and his own The Sleeper Awakes. Wells called Metropolis "quite the silliest film."
Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels was impressed, however, and took the film's message to heart. In a 1928 speech he declared that "the political bourgeoisie is about to leave the stage of history. In its place advance the oppressed producers of the head and hand, the forces of Labor, to begin their historical mission".
Fritz Lang later expressed dissatisfaction with the film. In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich (in Who The Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors, published in 1998), he expressed his reservations:
The main thesis was Mrs. Von Harbou's, but I am at least 50 percent responsible because I did it. I was not so politically minded in those days as I am now. You cannot make a social-conscious picture in which you say that the intermediary between the hand and the brain is the heart. I mean, that's a fairy tale – definitely. But I was very interested in machines. Anyway, I didn't like the picture – thought it was silly and stupid – then, when I saw the astronauts: what else are they but part of a machine? It's very hard to talk about pictures—should I say now that I like Metropolis because something I have seen in my imagination comes true, when I detested it after it was finished?
In his profile for Lang featured in the same book, which prefaces the interview, Bogdanovich suggested that Lang's distaste for his own film also stemmed from the Nazi Party's fascination with the film. Von Harbou became a passionate member of the Nazi Party in 1933. They divorced the following year.
Roger Ebert noted that "Metropolis is one of the great achievements of the silent era, a work so audacious in its vision and so angry in its message that it is, if anything, more powerful today than when it was made." The film also has a 99% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 104 reviews.
The original premiere cut eventually disappeared, and a quarter of the original film was long believed to be lost forever.
In 1984, a new restoration and edit of the film was made by Giorgio Moroder. Moroder's version of the film was tinted throughout, featured additional special effects, subtitles instead of intertitles and a pop soundtrack featuring well-known singers, instead of a traditional score. It was the first serious attempt made at restoring Metropolis to Lang's original vision, and until Kino's restoration in 2002 and 2010, it was the most complete version of the film in existence; the shorter run time was due to a faster frame rate than the original. In August 2011, after years of being unavailable on video in any format due to music licensing issues, it was announced that Kino International had managed to resolve the issues, and not only would the film be released on both Blu-Ray and DVD in November of that year, but it would also have a limited theatrical re-release.
The moderate commercial success of the Moroder version of the film inspired Enno Patalas to make an exhaustive attempt to restore the movie in 1986. This version was the most accurate reconstruction until that time, being based on the film’s script and musical score. The basis of Patalas' work was a copy in the Museum of Modern Art's collection.
In conjunction with Kino International, Metropolis’s current copyright holder, the F.W. Murnau Foundation released a digitally restored version of the film in 2002. This edition included the film’s original music score and title cards that described the events featured in missing sequences. Previously unknown sections of the film were discovered in film museums and archives around the world, and the footage was digitally cleaned and repaired to remove defects.
In 2005, Wollongong-based historian and politician Michael Organ had examined a print of the film in the National Film Archive of New Zealand. Organ discovered that the print contained scenes missing from other copies of the film. After hearing of the discovery of the Argentine print of the film and the restoration project currently under way, Organ contacted the German restorers about his find. The New Zealand print contained eleven missing scenes and featured some brief pieces of footage that were used to restore damaged sections of the Argentine print. It is believed that the Australian, New Zealand and Argentine prints were all scored from the same master. The newly discovered footage was used in the restoration project.
On 1 July 2008, film experts in Berlin announced that a 16 mm reduction negative of the original cut of the film had been discovered in the archives of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The print had been in circulation since 1928, starting off with a film distributor and subsequently being passed to a private collector, an art foundation and finally the Museo del Cine. The print was investigated by the museum’s curator after he heard an anecdote from a cinema club manager expressing surprise at the length of a print of Metropolis he had viewed. The print was in poor condition and required considerable restoration before it was re-premiered in February 2010. Two short sequences from the film, depicting a monk preaching in the cathedral and a fight between Rotwang and Fredersen, were in extremely poor condition and could not be salvaged.
Copyright issues 
The American copyright had lapsed in 1953, which eventually led to a proliferation of versions being released on video. Along with other foreign-made works, the film's U.S. copyright was restored in 1998, but the constitutionality of this copyright extension was challenged in Golan v. Gonzales and as Golan v. Holder it was ruled that "In the United States, that body of law includes the bedrock principle that works in the public domain remain in the public domain. Removing works from the public domain violated Plaintiffs' vested First Amendment interests." This only applied to the rights of so-called reliance parties, i.e. parties who had previously relied on the public domain status of restored works. The case was overturned on appeal to the Tenth Circuit and that decision was upheld by the US Supreme Court on January 18, 2012. This had the effect of restoring the copyright in the work as of January 1, 1996. Under current US copyright law, it remains copyrighted until January 1, 2023.
Original score 
The film score of the original release of Metropolis was composed by Gottfried Huppertz and it was meant to be performed by large orchestras to accompany the film during production. Huppertz took inspiration from Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss, plus some mild modernism for the city of the workers and the use of the popular Dies Irae for some apocalyptic imagery. Huppertz borrowed and altered the "Dies Irae" theme from Berlioz's Symphony Fantastique as well as the French National Anthem. His music played a prominent role during the shooting of the film, since during principal photography many scenes were accompanied by him playing the piano to get a certain effect from the actors.
The score was rerecorded for the 2001 DVD release of the film with Berndt Heller conducting the Rundfunksinfonieorchester Saarbrücken. It was the first release of the reasonably reconstructed movie accompanied by the music that was originally intended for it. In 2007, the original film score was also played live by the VCS Radio Symphony which accompanied the restored version of the film at Brenden Theatres in Vacaville, California on 1 and 2 August. The score was also produced in a salon orchestration which was performed for the first time in the United States in August 2007 by The Bijou Orchestra under the direction of Leo Najar as part of a German Expressionist film festival in Bay City, Michigan. The same forces also performed the work at the Traverse City Film Festival in Traverse City, Michigan in August 2009.
For the 2010 almost complete reconstruction, the score was performed and recorded for the DVD release by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Frank Strobel, who also conducted the premiere of the reconstructed version at Berlin Friedrichstadtpalast.
Other soundtracks 
There have been many other soundtracks created for Metropolis by different artists, including, but not limited to:
- 1975 – The BBC version of Metropolis features an electronic score composed by William Fitzwater and Hugh Davies.
- 1984 – Giorgio Moroder restored and produced the 80-minute 1984 re-release, which had a pop soundtrack written by Moroder and performed by Moroder, Pat Benatar, Bonnie Tyler, Jon Anderson, Adam Ant, Cycle V, Loverboy, Billy Squier, and Freddie Mercury.
- 2000 – Jeff Mills created a techno score for Metropolis which was released as an album. He also performed the score live at public screenings of the film.
- 2004 – Abel Korzeniowski created a score for Metropolis played live by a 90-piece orchestra and a choir of 60 voices and two soloists. The first performance took place at the Era Nowe Horyzonty Film Festival in Poland.
- 2004 – Ronnie Cramer produced a score and effects soundtrack for Metropolis that won two Aurora awards.
- 2005/2011 – The New Pollutants (Mister Speed and DJ Tr!p) performed Metropolis Rescore live for festivals since 2005 and are rescoring to the 2010 version of the film for premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival 2011.
- 2010 — The Alloy Orchestra has scored four different versions of the film, most recently for the American premiere of the 2010 restoration.
Janelle Monáe based both her concept albums on the original film including her EP, Metropolis: Suite I (The Chase) released mid-2007 and The ArchAndroid released in 2009. The latter also included an homage to Metropolis on the album cover, with the film version of the Tower of Babel among the remainder of the city. The albums follow the adventures of Monáe's alter-ego and robot, Cindi Mayweather, as an messianic figure to the android community of Metropolis.
A short clip from the film was shown in the music video for System of a Down's "Sugar".
In late 2012 and subsequently into early 2013, California based electronic musicians The M Machine released "Metropolis Pt. 1" and "Metropolis Pt. 2", a two part album based on themes and storylines from both the original adaptation and also from the Giorgio Moroder's musical reworking.
The music video for UK punk rock band UFX' 2013 "Crack" remaster uses several sections of the film edited together, including the transformation of the robot into Maria’s double, Freder's nightmarish visions and the robot Maria's dance.
Awards and honors 
- Ranked No. 12 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010. It was ranked number 2 in a list of the 100 greatest films of the Silent Era.
See also 
- List of dystopian films
- List of films featuring surveillance
- List of films in the public domain in the United States
- List of German films 1919–1933
- List of most expensive non-English language films
- List of rediscovered films
- Kreimeier, Klaus (1999). The Ufa story: a history of Germany's greatest film company, 1918–1945. Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 156. ISBN 0-520-22069-2.
- SciFi Film History - Metropolis (1927) - Although the first science fiction film is generally agreed to be Georges Méliès' A Trip To The Moon (1902), Metropolis (1926) is the first feature length outing of the genre. (scififilmhistory.com, retrieved 15 May 2013)
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- Minden, Michael; Bachmann, Holger (2002). Fritz Lang's Metropolis: Cinematic Visions of Technology and Fear. New York: Camden House. ISBN 978-1-57113-146-1.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Metropolis (film)|
- The official Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung site for the complete restoration
- The official Eureka/Masters of Cinema (UK) site for the complete restoration
- The official Kino (US) site for the complete restoration
- Metropolis at the Internet Movie Database
- Metropolis at Metacritic
- Metropolis at Rotten Tomatoes
- Michael Organ, The Metropolis Archive 2011
- Movie stills and literature on Metropolis
- Original programme for the British premiere of Metropolis in 1927