From Babel Tower to Metropolis


Movie Poster

 
 

Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) features a range of elaborate special effects and set designs, ranging from a huge gothic cathedral to a futuristic cityscape. In an interview,  Lang reported that “the film was born from my first sight of the skyscrapers in New York in October 1924”. He had visited New York for the first time and remarked “I looked into the streets – the glaring lights and the tall buildings – and there I conceived Metropolis.” Describing his first impressions of the city, Lang said that “the buildings seemed to be a vertical sail, scintillating and very light, a luxurious backdrop, suspended in the dark sky to dazzle, distract and hypnotize”. He added “The sight of Neuyork [sic] alone should be enough to turn this beacon of beauty into the center of a film”

The film was written by Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou, and starred Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel and Rudolf Klein-Rogge. A silent film, it was produced by Erich Pommer in the Babelsberg Studios by Universum Film A.G.. It is regarded as a pioneering work of science fiction genre in movies, being among the first feature length movies of the genre.

Filmstudio Babelsberg or The Babelsberg Film Studio located in Potsdam-Babelsberg outside Berlin, Germany, is the oldest large-scale film studio in the world, producing films since 1912. Today it covers an area of about 25,000 square metres (270,000 sq ft) and thus is Europe’s largest film studio. Hundreds of films, including Josef von Sternberg’s The Blue Angel were filmed there. More recent productions include V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2006) , The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass, 2007) , Valkyrie (Bryan Singer, 2008), Inglourious Basterds (Quentin Tarantino, 2009), Cloud Atlas (The Wachowski brothers and Tom Tykwer, 2012), The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson, 2014) and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 (Francis Lawrence, 2014).

 
 

 
 

Made in Germany during the Weimar Period, Metropolis is set in a futuristic urban dystopia, and follows the attempts of Freder, the wealthy son of the city’s ruler, and Maria, a poor worker, to overcome the vast gulf separating the classes of their city. Metropolis was filmed in 1925, at a cost of approximately five million Reichsmarks, making it the most expensive film ever released up to that point. The motion picture’s futuristic style is influenced by the work of Futurist Italian architect, Antonio Sant’Elia.

The appearance of the city in Metropolis is strongly informed by the Art Deco movement; however it also incorporates elements from other traditions. Ingeborg Hoesterey described the architecture featured in Metropolis as eclectic, writing how its locales represent both “functionalist modernism [and] art deco” whilst also featuring “the scientist’s archaic little house with its high-powered laboratory, the catacombs [and] the Gothic cathedral”. The film’s use of art deco architecture was highly influential, and has been reported to have contributed to the style’s subsequent popularity in Europe and America.

 
 

The New Tower of Babel, Fredersen’s headquarters in Metropolis

 
 

The Tower of Babel in Maria’s recounting of the fable was modeled after this 1563 painting by Pieter Brueghel

 
 

The film drew heavily on Biblical sources for several of its key set-pieces. During her first talk to the workers, Maria uses the story of the Tower of Babel to highlight the discord between the intellectuals and the workers. Additionally, a delusional Freder imagines the false-Maria as the Whore of Babylon, riding on the back of a many-headed dragon. Also, the name of the Yoshiwara club alludes to the famous red-light district of Tokyo.

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