The #1 spot on Douglas Brode’s list of 100 Greatest Science-Fiction Films is the 1927 Fritz Lang classic,
This is an incredible piece of cinema by any standard, and in order to pay it proper tribute we four booksellers held a private screening of Metropolis and would like to share our thoughts about it with all of you…
“Metropolis is one of my favorite films. Beautifully filmed and designed, it set the standard by which all science fiction films have been defined. It is also a curiously schizophrenic film that veers wildly between Fritz Lang’s Communist influenced anti-establishmentarian views and those of his wife and creative partner Thea von Harbou, whose growing fascination with the messianic authoritarian “man on a horse” idea would eventually lead her into the arms of the Nazi Party. This very division in the viewpoints of the creative team which was also a couple is a striking example of what life was like during Germany’s Weimar Republic where families were increasingly being torn apart by political and cultural divisions. Like Orwell’s 1984, whose title was an anagram for the year that he was truly discussing, Metropolis is not a film about the future but a harrowing account of the times in which it was conceived.
I had intended to read and write about Thea von Harbou’s novel, Metropolis, upon which the movie is based but I had not the time. She is an interesting figure of whom I know little about. Von Harbou also scripted Lang’s adaptation of Die Nibelungen and M, two more of the “greatest movies ever made.” As I mentioned above, she eventually became an ardent Nazi whilst Lang was forced to flee to the United States due to his Jewish heritage. It’s a shame that, as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been an English language biography of this highly controversial yet exceedingly talented and influential woman.”
“Watching Metropolis it’s very easy to forget why it’s one of the great sci-fi films. It’s very easy to watch it with friends and not really pay attention. Because it’s silent you’re very tempted to make silly jokes while drinking beer, or talk about other things, but then out of the corner of your eye you’ll catch something familiar and you’ll realize that whatever shot is on the screen you’ve seen it before. Not because you’ve seen Metropolis before (although I have) but because almost every great science fiction film that has come after has borrowed from it. Whether it’s a shot of the city that’s perfectly replicated sixty years later in Blade Runner, or Ralph McQuarrie’s original C-3PO designs which are an almost exact copy of Maschinenmensch, all of the great sci-fi classics owe something to Fritz Lang’s masterpiece. So while Metropolis is certainly an exercise in great storytelling and wonderful, for the time, effects, I think the reason that it’s at the top of Brode’s list, and definitely deserves to be there, is because of all the films and filmmakers it has inspired since.”
“I watched Metropolis for the first time as part of a modernism class in college. We were looking at the way the tenets of modernism spread through more than just literature–art, film, music all started to incorporate the reactionary destruction of tradition all at the same time. Igor Stravinsky composed The Firebird. Gertrude Stein wrote weird and weirder plays and short stories. Pablo Picasso started to play with cubism. And Fritz Lang brought us Metropolis.
Watching it now, almost ten years later, I have a deeply satisfying reaction to the film. I get invested in the survival of Freder and Maria, in the success of the workers’ revolt. I get chills at the end, where head and hands join together. And I simultaneously want and don’t want a remake, starring Owen Wilson as Freder and Jonah Hill as Grot, the foreman. Can I just get some test footage, to be sure?
Metropolis more than earns its place on the FANTASTIC PLANETS list. If you’ve never seen it, definitely check out the remastered, nearly-complete cut on Netflix. It’s absolutely worth it.”
“Having only ever seen bits and pieces of this most famous of famous films, I was excited to finally sit down and watch the film that has so influenced sci-fi cinema (or all of cinema, really). And it is a marvel. It’s scope and design really are stunning and stand out to this day. Its influence on later films is indisputable.
But I walked away from the film confused by its narrative. For the first third of the film I was fairly certain I understood what the movie was about, and then it took a confusing turn I never really recovered from. Was this a proletariat call to arms? An appeal to human kind’s greater and more noble nature? Or was it, in the end, just some artful scheme to convince the lower classes to submit to their masters with a not-at-all-hidden messianic allegory? Upon reading Brode’s description of the film it’s pretty clear where the disconnect comes from. Turns out Fritz Lang did intend the film as call for a worker’s revolution, but his wife and creative partner, Thea von Harbou, managed to turn the tone decidedly anti-revolutionary. I have to admit, the narrative of this movie is kind of a mess, like it’s trying to be too many things at once (I submit the flood and the “witch” hunt in Act 3 as exhibit A & B to this argument). I’m also not crazy about the score. It’s great for a historical perspective on the film, but doesn’t work well with the imagery and design (I’m fully aware that this is coming from my contemporary perspective as a person who is immersed in electronic music – in 1927 I’m sure the score was perfectly adequate). I am, however, pretty keen on watching the Giorgio Moroder version now, with tinted film, higher frame rate, and a soundtrack that includes Pat Benatar, Adam Ant and Freddie Mercury. In fact, I’ll watch this film with almost any electronic or alternative soundtrack. But I probably won’t ever sit down to watch the original ever again.
As for its being #1 on the list… since Brode doesn’t offer any particular defense of his specific rankings, I can only assume it’s placement is based on the film’s influence, longevity, creativity, cultural impact and vision. And that’s a lot to consider, so it probably does deserve the #1 spot with this criteria. But for me, beyond its stunning design and a few extremely beautiful scenes, it’s really just not that watchable.”
If you have yet to pick up your copy of Douglas Brode’s Fantastic Planets, Forbidden Zones, and Lost Continents: The 100 Greatest Science-Fiction Films it is available in hardcover in our UT Press section.