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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Poetic Seduction

Vespertine (2011)

 
 

Björk‘s artistic incarnations seem very intentional, well thought out. Vespertine, her fifth studio album was released on August 27, 2001. The initial title for the album was Domestika. A song titled Domestica (originally titled Lost Keys) was included as a B-side on the Pagan Poetry single. Björk has stated that she decided to call the album Vespertine instead of Domestika because the new title dealt with the prayer aspect of the album, which she wanted to note, while she felt that calling the album Domestika would have been “too much”, because Björk felt that the songs on the album were already “domestic” enough. She felt the need to call the album after another aspect of itself. The word Vespertine also relates to nighttime, for example things that come out at night, and the title was also partly inspired by that.

Although one of Vespertine’s themes is the night time, the frontal artwork designed by studio M/M Paris and photographed by Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin highlights a sunny time. It might be because the song, Sun in my Mouth, was a single from that album. Björk adapted the lyrics of Sun in My Mouth from the poem I Will Wade Out by E. E. Cummings. The word “sea-girls” is changed to “seagulls”, and the last few lines of the poem are omitted.

The recipe for success was ready to be mixed: ornithology, poetry and Greek mythology. Björk used metaphors taken from nature to describe Vespertine: “is little insects rising from the ashes.”

The ancient Greeks thought that ποίησις (poiesis), with a broad meaning of a “making”, was also the “joint of everything”, the amalgamating element of the world. So, maybe that was the ideal concept for Björk.

On the cover of Vespertine she can be seen wearing the swan dress designed by Marjan Pejoski that caused a stir at the 2001 Academy Awards.

Марјан Пејоски (Маrjan Pejoski) is a Macedonian fashion designer who lives and works in Great Britain. That infamous swan dress put him on fashion’s map. Some people thought Alexander McQueen was the author of that dress due to his previous collaborations with Björk.

 
 

Promotional pictures by Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin

 
 

Björk in Oscar 2001 red carpet

 
 

Still from Pagan Poetry (Nick Knight, 2001) music video. She’s wearing a dress designed by Alexander McQueen. The music video “is about a woman preparing herself for marriage and for her lover”, Knight said.

 
 

Clifton Webb, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Allen

 
 

Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930) Promotional pictures

 
 

Pejoski’s swan dress has a precedent. In 1935 Marlene Dietrich attended a Halloween party hosted by South African actor Basil Rathbone and his wife Ouida Bergère. It was a party to entertain movie stars. The Person You Admire The Most was the theme. Dietrich chose Leda, the mytological figure seduced by Zeus, and asked Travis Banton, a Paramount iconic costume designer, to make her dress. Elizabeth Allen was going to accompany Dietrich. Allen’s choice was out of her reach. She wore an androgynous outfit, actually a copycat from Morocco’s costumes. And Clifton Webb was disguised as Fu Manchú.