It makes sense watching the 1927 film “Metropolis” in an old-timey venue like the Nevada Theatre (Sept. 5). Before the advent of talking pictures, this epic movie tantalized with ambitious special effects. It cast a shadow on the future of the real world and influenced the cinema world as well.
More than 80 years after its debut, “Metropolis” seems a hilariously overwrought, romantic science fiction. Yet, this film still carries foreboding and forbidding images. Those images are not many degrees of separation away from conditions we suffer today.
Yes, it's funny to see the melodrama of silent-era filmmaking. The hand wringing alone is enough to slap seriousness senseless. Hidden within its flagrant lack of subtlety lies many grand symbolic representations: The steam whistles blare the changing shifts as thousands of downtrodden workers march to dehumanizing rhythms. The workers toil at impossible to sustain (or understand) machinations.
Maria –– the embodiment of caring, activist goodness –– radiates hope for the children, for the masses and for the impressionable son of the ruthless techno-ruler. The son would probably have flunked out of “Savior 101.” Nonetheless, he's destined to lead all to enlightenment.
For a while, bad Maria gets swapped into good Maria's place. Bad Maria is manufactured and infused with life by the story's evil genius. She does some seductive things that the film censors probably had to snip from the film way back when.
Ah, but lost footage has been found, and the reconstructed version is probably why “Metropolis” is making the rounds again. Bad Maria's lascivious dance and men's drooling reaction to it are worth the price of the movie ticket. (Disclaimer: She's lots sexier than the Frankenstein monster, but a pretty silly brand of seductress even by PG-rated, contemporary movie standards.)
Director Fritz Lang made an innovative, salient, and telling film in 1927. In 2010, “Metropolis” may be telling us to suspend a huge aura of disbelief. Still, it's an imaginative way to travel 80 years back to the future.