Metropolis is best known for the sexy female robot Maria. I read the book before watching the film to draw a comparison between the book and the film. How many times do we hear that the book is better than the film and can this be said of all genres e.g. war, love stories, human-like robots etc.?
In a book, the words give you everything. They create the landscape, the actions and the characters, yet everyone who reads the book will create a different visual picture. With a film, we will all see the same picture, hear the same words and digest more or less the same story.
But what about a silent movie? Without a full dialogue, can a science fiction film like Metropolis really come up with the goods?
A downloaded copy of the book constituted 213 pages. The story line is a world where people have become numbers, there is a clear situation of ‘them and us’ and ‘man machines’ are the order of the day. Robot technology is its key.
The repetitive language seems to drag you along, stealing your freedom of thought and this is extremely clever, for you have become a machine, a robot, like the men in the book who are brain dead from such repetitiveness work duties. You will have little idea of what is going on, maybe again by design for, part way through the book, it says ‘the hands worked for wages ….. the hands didn’t even know what they were making’. Unfortunately, this state of mindlessness affects your visual understanding of the erotic dance scene, so Maria doesn’t come across as a sexy female robot.
The film is of the old spool-type quality: think Charlie Chaplin and you’re there. The first ten minutes include a very touching introduction followed by about forty words or so, all trying to carry the story forward. Our understanding is therefore almost entirely in the hands of the actors and actresses, who use non-verbal communication to deliver the story.
Watching the lethargy of the robotic yet human workers as they enter the Paternoster lift to start work, their lack of interest and even heart are evident and the impressive body language and facial gestures of Freder (played by Gustav Frohlich) clearly put across the message that, in that very moment, he is lovestruck.
Maria is certainly a very sexy female robot in the erotic dance and, had the original audiences believed her to be a human being, she would probably have been labelled a hussy. Wearing a most delicate see-through gown, she cavorts with intent and the lust is well-portrayed, in the male actors’ staring eyes. I should imagine she also had the same effect on the male audience of that time. Today, films portray very real sex scenes, yet the ‘scandalous scenes’ that Metropolis had to remove ‘or face arrest’ included people playing footsy under the table and Maria removing her dress, though still well-clad in her underwear.
The special effects are incredible. The lighting, the vehicles and flyovers, the skyscrapers and even the motion of the Paternoster were carefully thought out. As regards to that lift, if you look carefully, you will see the illusion of the lift going down when, in reality, it is the backdrop of the lift that is going up. The scenes of the female robot in its making are superb – is it a woman made up as a robot or the reverse? Such genius must have been the forerunner of the likes of the Terminator and the Matrix, which show that special effects can still leave us in awe.
It seems the look of the sexy female robot has little evolved since 1926… the above video from the classic Metropolis by Fritz Lang, includes the Transformation from Maria into the robot Futura and the erotic dance of the life-like robot by the actress Brigitte Helm.
Summing up the book and the silent movie, the latter has more of a sense of warmth about it: the characters feel real and the emotions come through. However, having read the book before watching the film, I already had a fair idea of the plot, so I am left wondering if I would have had the same feeling, if that had not been the case. Either way, watching a silent movie has something special about it, as it’s amazing what you can pick up from the picture itself, even if it is your own personal interpretation.
written by Joan Archer
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