I blogged about this movie on my last course, ‘Context & Narrative’ and I am now watching it again to look at how it was photographed, lit and edited.
Metropolis, Directed by Fritz Lang.
This is a great movie, made in 1927 it is a silent picture, made in Germany by UFA and this copy is as close to a restored version that anyone can get, as some scenes have been lost. However the overall story is intact and where key scenes are missing a brief text transition covers and explains the scene to carry through the plot for the next available scene. This already is a lesson to filmmakers who may in certain circumstances use a similar technique to fill a gap, but it has to be logical and still acceptable to the audience for your reasons to do so.
The movie begins with images of machines, pistons pumping, wheels and cogs turning, use of montage / kaleidoscope imaging have been used in this and later similar scenes. This was probably new technology to the film-maker as this sort of effects would have been made in the laboratory or with optical printing and would have been cutting technology in the film business at that time. Other examples of montage is the scene of the eyes and faces of the lustful men watching the robot Hel disguised as Maria dancing provocatively before them.
Another laboratory or optical-printer technique most noticeably used is the dissolve in the scene of the transition of the robots face from a metal mask to the face of Maria.
Lang has used a lot of Art-Deco stylisation in his picture, the lighting of the workers buildings with angled hard-lighting to emphasise shape and form, the dancing Hel her movements and poses imitate the Deco figurines by Josef Lorenzl and Pierre le Figuays.
Most of the shots swing between long-shots and medium-close-ups with just a few extreme-close-ups. I notice that the timing is typical for these types of shots the longer shots and given generally given longer screen-time than the medium-close-ups and the extreme-close-ups are very short. The editing system keeps to a very linear continuity-editing style and the 180-rule is also observed.
Lang also uses a lot of visual metaphor in this picture for example the machine is designed to vaguely resemble an ancient heathen God and in the scene of the industrial accident we see this machine transform in to a huge monstrous idol that is fed the workers as sacrificial victims. Later he uses statues from a Cathedral of the seven sins and the angel of Death who support the great cup that Hel stands in and begins her dance from. The works march in unison as if they are made to behave like the machines that they operate, their heads bowed in submission and oppression.
Examples of lighting-motivation can be seen with the candles that appear to be lighting the passage in the catacombs and the light that appears to be from the hand-held torches of Rotwang.
The theme of Bible story of Babel runs through this story, the building that is Freder’s father’s headquarters is reminiscent of the famous tower of Babel painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. We later see the story of the tower of Babel as a motif and Lang has also based his model of the tower on the painting by Gustave Dore. The theme of Babel extends to the constant reference to the head and hand requiring the mediation of the heart. The head being Freder’s father and the hand being the enslaved workers. The five pointed star used as a symbol behind Hel’s chair and on the door of Rotwang’s house.