Thursday, July 22, 2010


I'm neglecting my ramble about Metropolis. There's always so much going on. As it is, I feel like I'll need to just let this ramble... ramble a bit and not worry so much about making great, brilliant statements--so I can at least get it out there.

I saw it twice at Cinema 21. As exciting as it was to see it on the big screen, I did what I always do when I see old films on the big screen. I kept trying to stop myself from being absorbed in the movie so that I could experience the moment of seeing it huge. Somehow, I get so sucked into a film that in a way it doesn't matter whether I see it big or small. I had to

oh wait. spoilers.

I had to just tell myself, stop--Machine Man Maria's about to get burnt at the stake--watch this--really watch this. And then I'd try to really watch it and would sit there doubting that I was really seeing it fully. On that screen. Outside of my head.

Had a nice discussion today with a friend who was saying the broadness of the characters and the silent movie acting style distanced him too much from the human story. I totally get that, and often have problems when I'm distanced from the human story, but there's something about silent film. Instead of feeling distanced I feel... the whole thing is iconic. A parade of archetypes. And maybe because of the lack of much dialogue and maybe because silent film was that one step away from theater, I think a good silent film can give you that parade of archetypes in a way that's really effective and satisfying.

It's like not just stepping back from a story but lifting off from it, as if you're in one of those biplanes or dirigibles floating by means of string through that spectacular Metropolis cityscape, and you're seeing the story of something bigger. Not Freder and Maria but what they represent. Every very personal story of people is also the story of what they represent, of course, but there's something cool that happens when those details of reality are stripped away. If it's done well.

Style is part of it. These years down the line, the look of Metropolis is a part of history, and seeing it, you get the illusion of touching that part of history. Which is all about icons too.

I love how that past takes its vision of the future and creates its world. Metropolis is lush and extravagant. And the music! So beautifully matched, stylistically, and so effective. I have to say, toward the end, the soundtrack didn't seem to be matched up with the movie. We'd leave Yoshiwara, blink to another scene, and we'd have the Yoshiwara theme go a second or two past where it should have ended. There were moments where I liked what happened with this--where the music took on an irony with the scene, but the cuts in strange places were irritating. Especially since I'm so focused on the music when watching. Some of my favorite moments come when the music and the visual fit together beautifully, like when the waves of electricity are running all over Rotwang's laboratory and up and down the Machine Man and there's such surprising beauty in the music. Or just the opening when the title sort of constructs itself on the screen and then morphs into the pumping of the machine. That is so powerful.

Favorite moments. Robot Maria laughing as she's burnt at the stake. Robot Maria conducting the uprising--her distended arms and the famous "wink." The very start of the flood when, in this version, the music is silent for a moment and this slick, black ooze of water starts through a crack in the ground. The moment when the first two children step down out of one of the tenements during the flood. So, so chilling. The whole Moloch sequence, of course (here's the name in Hebrew: מול), and the fabulous cityscapes (double of course). The moment when Fredersen sits at his desk and you see the crazy swimming lights of the city all over his face and the space around him. The moment when he runs his hands through his thinning hair... had a lovely discussion with a friend who's an actress who was absolutely floored by Alfred Abel's Joh Fredersen. Wish I could bring back all the discussions I've had, especially Thursday night--such an excellent (champagne fuelled) discussion--two writers, one actress, one film maker and one fine artist--that night alone was enough to fuel my creative soul for the rest of summer. Where was I? Moments. Rotwang's entrance--hair, hand, eyebrow. Maria's face--my god, who is the Renaissance painter who created her face? I mean it. When I look at her, I know she looks like she was painted by some specific master, but I can't place it. Anyway, Maria's face isn't a moment. Where was I?

Oops, what time is it? This is a long lunch. Yipes. Better get back to the machine.


  1. i saw Metropolis very recently for the first time and have thought about it every day since. i get that silent movies have a sort of dismissability to them - they're generally cruder in a variety of areas (cinematography, costume, design, acting) that it can be difficult to relate or at least easy not to relate. that said, the gigantic furious spectacle of Metropolis counters all that. it's epic, life-and-death, past v future, man v machine. You can't look away, you can't stop watching!

  2. yes, yes, yes, beautifully put, mr. bp!