Metropolis directed by Fritz Lang is a classic example of German Expressionism, the set design was huge and extravagant using over 20 times the resources often used for feature films of the day. To create this spectacle the production company took a huge risk with the budget of the film risking bankruptcy if it was not a huge success. Fortunately Metropolis was a triumph and a landmark in film making history in terms of set design.
The Film tells the story of Metropolis, a futuristic city in which there is a hierarchy between the managers and the workers. The managers live in ultra luxurious sky scrapers while the workers survive in horrendous conditions underground,working their fingers to the bone. Freder, played by Gustav Froehlich is the son of the cities founder Joh Fredersen. After becoming infatuated with the young Maria played by Brigitte Helm, Freder follows her down into the workers mines where he discovers the conditions in which the workers live. Maria not approving of the segregation between the two wants to built a union between the workers 'hands' down below and the powers above 'heads'. After Frederson finds out Maria's agenda and his son following her cause he allies himself with old Nemesis Rotwang to prevent a rebellion among the workers. However Rotwang, an inventor betrays Joh by turning his newly invented robotman into the form of Maria, ordering her to instigate an uprising by the workers causing anarchy and destruction in the city.
Metropolis is groundbreaking due massively to the extravagant set design which has been influential in modern day cinema "Lang's impossibly vast skyscraper-ziggurats are the blueprint for nearly every science-fiction movie city of the past 30 years" (Halter:2007). The skyscrapers and architecture above ground are vast and futuristic, surrounded by light and vibrancy. This contrasts with the underground world of the workers which is dark and lifeless. This hierarchy is demonstrating the segregation of classes which is present in many societies. The poor or lower classes often suffer while those of a higher class indulge themselves in luxury. This German Expressionistic contrast between light and dark has influenced film makers to the present day with films such as Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands. The audience often associates dark and blackness with misery and death while light colours are used to express life and energy
"Black levels are superbly maintained as is the monochromatic gradation, which keeps the contrast tight and sharp throughout." (Cabin:2010)
The pace in the film also demonstrates this as the workers are slow moving with their heads hung in a state of perpetual misery, moving in sequence. Above the ground everything is fast paced usually associated with thriving cities. There is a sense of individuality among the heads living above ground where as the hands are perceived to work in sequence and as one single entity like a colony of worker ants. Sean Axmaker of the Parallax View observes "From chaotic elements moving individually to a mobilized force moving en masse with unstoppable momentum: man colliding with the force of technology." (Axmaker:2010)
Although there is this apartheid between the heads and hands it is apparent that the machines have ultimate control over the people as the robot Maria was the catalyst which caused the uprising of the workers. Also when the machines were destroyed the city was in a state of mass panic as the humans were dependent on machines to live their everyday life.
List of Illustrations
Fig 1. The Robot
Fig 2. The thriving city
Fig 3. Maria
Stills accessed from http://www.leninimports.com/metropolis_masters_of_cinema_series_2010_gallery.html
Ed Halter of the 'Village Voice' (Published Jul 10 2007) http://www.villagevoice.com/2007-07-10/film/back-to-the-future/ (Accessed 09,11,11)
Chris Cabin of 'Slant Magazine' (Published Dec 7 2010)
http://www.slantmagazine.com/dvd/review/metropolis/1884 (Accessed 09,11,11)
Sean Axmaker of 'Parallax View' (Published 16 Nov 2010)