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Saturday, September 30, 2023


CINEMA TALK: German classic gets new score

A true gem of German cinema is coming to Houston. Director Fritz Lang’s expressionist masterwork, Metropolis (1927), will be played Friday evening at Discovery Green Park. A new score, written and performed live by Texas musicians, will accompany the screening.

Set in 2027, Metropolis is a silent film that tells the story of a capitalist city-state whose populace is divided in two. The upper-class citizens, responsible for planning civic infrastructure and doing mental labor, live well-appointed lives in magnificent skyscrapers, whereas lower class workers are relegated to living below ground, in a dank and sunless city. During long shifts, workers are dehumanized as they undergo monotonous industrial labor and file to and from machinery like docile slaves.

One day Freder (Gustav Fr√∂hlich), the son of Metropolis’s callous autocrat, discovers the workers’ dismal conditions and the hardships they face. He rebels against his father and stands by the workers in their quest for a better living situation. What follows is an improbable adventure that, among other things, involves a mad scientist, an evil robot, massive labor revolt, a flood, exotic dancing and ubiquitous biblical references. To reconcile the clash between workers and his father, Freder soon faces the necessity to act as a mediator, or in more attractive language, must become the heart between the hands and head of society, as says the film’s epigram.

The film’s art direction set the standard for science fiction, influencing later filmmakers like Stanley Kubrick, Ridley Scott and Terry Gilliam.

Metropolis speaks to us in allegory and metaphor. For instance, the intricate machinery depicted in the film seems to serve no pragmatic purpose for the city, but in the context of the narrative, it demonstrates the affects that industrialization and alienation has on the human condition. As it’s said in the film, the workers become "living food for the machines of Metropolis," and they "lubricate the machine joints with their… blood."

While some aspects have become antiquated in the past 81 years, the spirit of the film has not, and Metropolis has undoubtedly passed the test of time. With its lively plot, grand imagery and social insight, Metropolis is sure to offer something to all viewers.

It will be interesting to hear the new score this weekend. Dozens of scores have been written for Metropolis, but the original 1927 score suits it wonderfully, offering musical motifs for the film’s different characters, events and emotions. In a silent movie, it’s imperative the music be almost as communicative as the images. Let’s hope our Texas musicians deliver.

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