Thursday, January 10, 2008


I got the chance to check out this classic film by Fritz Lang at the Silent Theatre with my friend John--and his friend/neighbor Peter--last night. Metropolis first premiered in Berlin on this very day 81 years ago. My only knowledge of the film was that parts of it were used in the Queen video for Radio Ga Ga.

The original version of the film was believed to be 210 minutes (that's 3 1/2 hours!) long, but about a quarter of the film has been lost. The version I saw was about 2 hours long (that's plenty long enough!) and was restored beautifully. Written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou in 1926 with the story set in the year 2026, the film uses concepts of the Socialist Party platform to create a dystopian world where only two classes exist: the privileged leisure class and the exploited worker class. But socialist politics and futuristic sci-fi aside, the movie is really a melodramatic love story.

Take one spoiled rich boy, have him meet up with one idealistic lower class girl and you have--Love Story. Or switch the genders and it's Atonement. Of course neither of those movies had mad scientists, identity thieving robots or a bell ringing scene that rivals The Hunchback of Notre Dame. But whatever statement Metropolis intended to make with its incessant images of machine gears whirring and grinding away, it ends up saying "and they all lived happily ever after..." Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Prior to the feature, we got to see two shorts--A Trip to the Moon (Le Voyage dans la Lune) the famous 1902 film by Georges Méliès which was one of the first films to use special effects and from 1906, Dream of a Rarebit Fiend, which also pushed the boundaries of the technology at the time with its use of stop camera action. My friend John, who works at Digital Domain which does a lot of the big and small specific effects seen in movies today, was impressed at what the films were able to achieve with their relatively low-tech, crude methods of yesteryear. There was a bed-spinning sequence in Dream of a Rarebit Fiend that was just as effective as similar effects in The Exorcist, released almost 70 years later.

The Silent Movie Theatre has a collegial atmosphere in John's opinion. Except for the first two rows of couches and the silver lam´e; curtain covering the screen, I felt it was more like a grade school auditorium. You could just imagine a Christmas pageant or some kiddie play with elves and fairies taking place there. It doesn't have the ornate oriental feel of Grauman's Chinese or even the nouveau art deco of the Majestic Crest. It really isn't much to look at at all. It's best feature: live piano and organ accompaniment by Bob Mitchell.

Mitchell first played the accompaniment to Metropolis in 1928. That's right--80 years ago! He accompanied silent movies at age 12 in 1924 until 1928--the advent of the talkies. He took a 60 some odd year break from accompanying silent films--but not from making music, which he's done for over 90 of his 95 years. Lucky, lucky guy! He returned to his roots in the early 90s when the Silent Movie Theatre opened up. He's a bit hunched over and needed help to sit down at the organ, but once there he played for two hours straight without sheet music or even looking up at the screen.


1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you were with me to see all that, it was a rare treat indeed.

    The story had somewhat of a comicbook feel, in that each actor was dramatically different visually from the others. The "thin man" was tall, the Heart worker was big and gruff and bearded. The important characters were even more outlandish than the regular guys. The lead actress did a great job of immediately letting you know when she was playing Good Maria or Evil Robot Maria.

    maybe I should see more movies!