Lobby card issued for the original
American release of Metropolis by Paramount in March 1927,
showing a group of stooped, exhausted workers walking past
one of the soulless machines which powers the city. The
poster publicizes the 10 reel Channing Pollack edition of the film. It ran for anywhere from 67 to 107 minutes, having been cut down from
Fritz Lang's original 17 reel, three hour plus version which had premiered in
Berlin on 10 January 1927.
Lobby card issued for the original American release of Metropolis by Paramount in March 1927, showing a group of stooped, exhausted workers walking past one of the soulless machines which powers the city. The poster publicizes the 10 reel Channing Pollack edition of the film. It ran for anywhere from 67 to 107 minutes, having been cut down from Fritz Lang's original 17 reel, three hour plus version which had premiered in Berlin on 10 January 1927.
"Why are you so interested in a picture which no longer exists?" (Fritz Lang to novelist Robert Bloch, upon being queried about Metropolis).
Fritz Lang's 1927 silent feature film Metropolis is a landmark in the history of the development of cinema as an artform. Monumental in both scale of production and the themes it addressed, the film is widely regarded as the pinnacle of German Expressionist filmmaking during the 1920s. It was the first of a long line of science-fiction and fantasy spectaculars which continues to this day in the form of blockbusters such as Bladerunner and the Star Wars series. The term science-ficiton does not sit easily with the film, and the descriptor 'technological gothic' may be more appropriate when considering its content. The film has also been labelled an 'anti-documentary', though it is almost invariably included in any compendium of science fiction film.
The Metropolis Film Archive web site pays due homage to Fritz Lang's original production, a complete copy of which apparently no longer exists. Also acknowledged throughout this site is the team involved in the film's production between 1924-6, comprising perhaps the cream of German cinematographers and set designers at the time.
The web site is divided into ten sections roughly based on physical format and content - e.g. books, articles, photographs, videos, etc. - and usually chronologically therein. The chronological arrangement helps reveal the history of the film and the manner in which it has been viewed over time - from its point of initial creation and development as an idea and script by Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou during 1924-5, through filming at the Ufa (Universum Film Aktiengesellschaft) Neu Babelsberg studios near Berlin between May 1925 and October 1926, and culminating in a grand premiere at Berlin's Ufa-Palast am Zoo on 10 January 1927. The film's subsequent fate is also discussed.
From its point of inception Metropolis was to be no ordinary film. Conceived as a major cinematic production, it was backed by the gigantic, state-operated Ufa during a period when German filmmaking was at the cutting edge of quality cinematic production. In that brief period following on the end of World War I in 1918 and up until the seizure of power by Adolf Hitler's National Socialists (NAZI) Party in 1933, German studios were responsible for the creation of such memorable films as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), Nosferatu (1921), Das Nibelungen (1924), Metropolis (1927) and The Blue Angel (1930). The late teens and early twenties in Germany was a time of rampant inflation, decadence, personal liberty, violence and insecurity, and artistic freedom of expression. It was followed by the unfortunate rise of the Nazis during the late twenties and early thirties, which saw a severe clampdown on these freedoms in all walks of life, especially the arts and politics.
During the twenties the barriers separating film from art became decidedly blurred in Germany and Europe. Abstract Expressionism, Dada and the Modernist movement carried over into motion picture making, and directors such as Fritz Lang, Friedrich Murnau and Sergei Eisenstein absorbed many of the ideas being put forward by artists and writers of the time. The infuence of the German Bauhaus School in regards to the use of light, arrangement of objects (staging), architectural innovation, and modern design was especially strong. Cinematographers, set designers and script writers were also similarly influenced, such that the team which produced Metropolis were of like mind in seeking innovation and looking to push the boundaries of film as art. Fritz Lang spelled out this philosophy in an article published during October 1926, towards the end of the final editing phase of Metropolis:
There has perhaps never before been a time so determined as ours in its search for new forms of expression. Fundamental revolutions in painting, sculpture, architecture, and music speak eloquently of the fact that people of today are seeking and finding their own means of lending artistic form to their sentiments. Film has an advantage over all other expressive forms: its freedom from space, time, and place. What makes it richer than the others is its natural expressiveness inherent in its formal means. I maintain that film has barely risen above the first rung on the ladder of its development, and that it will become the more personal, the stronger, and more artistic the sooner it renounces all transmitted or borrowed expressive forms and throws itself into the unlimited possibilities of the purely filmic... (F. Lang, Die Literarische Welt, 2, 1 October 1926)
Initial German reviews of the director's 17 reel (elsewhere given as 9 or 14 reel), 4189 metre long, three hour plus film were decidedly mixed, finding fault in elements such as the narrative structure, and critical of its Socialist / Communist elements. The visuals were generally highly praised and audiences flocked to see this cinematic spectacular throughout 1927-8. Fritz Lang's masterpiece was almost immediately recognised as a landmark in German Expressionist filmmaking, whilst its use of lighting to set mood (a common expressionist device partially revived in the late 1940s as a prominent element in Film Noir), state-of-the-art special effects, and overpowering set design, all marked new standards in the developing art of the motion picture.
The film's central theme of workers revolting against domination by exploitative management, their soulless machines, and new technologies, also struck a chord with reviewers and the general public, though many critics in America and Britain objected strongly to this anti-Fordism / anti production-line tale. As such, Metropolis, with its many themes and sub-texts - inluding the almost obligatory 'boy meets girl, boy looses girl, boy finds girl' - was a controversial film from day one. It garnered both positive and negative comment wherever it was shown, and generated much critical discussion in the press upon release.
Due to pre-release publicity in Germany during 1925-6 in association with the large scale of the production - it was supposedly the most expensive German film production to date, costing some 5 million Marks - and UFA's self-promotional activities, a great deal was expected of the film; and whilst a great deal was in fact achieved by Lang and his team, the resultant film was subject to indept scrutiny and criticism from a number of quarters. This largely adverse criticism was due, in part, to factors beyond the director's control. For example, the film was savagely cut and re-edited to change many key elements prior to screening outside of Germany. American and foreign theatre managers were generally unwilling to allocate more than ninety minutes to a feature in their program, during a period when film attendance figures were high. Metropolis suffered accordingly as the original version was thought to be too long. Also, individual projectionists and theatre managers saw to it that the film was screened at a ludicrously fast speed of up to 26 frames per second (as at its Berlin premiere!), thereby affecting the rhythm and pace of the original film, which had in all likelihood been cranked at the standard speed of 16 frames per second. As such, few people outside of Berlin saw Metropolis as Fritz Lang originally intended. The butchered, speeded-up version which was presented to European and American audiences in 1927 - and which we continue to see to this day - was disjointed, illogical in parts, and therefore open to criticism on a number of fronts. Lang could rightly claim that by the middle of 1927 his original film no longer existed.
Critical assessment of this technically ground-breaking epic film has been substantial and is ongoing. This can be seen in the large body of published material relating to the film and listed in the Metropolis Bibliography included on this web site. Nevertheless, and despite the initial critical reception and the age of the film, Metropolis continues to be highly regarded and influential to a new generation of film makers. Since the time of its initial public screening, Fritz Lang's futurist drama has motivated critics and others to comment on aspects of its production, the many filmic elements, narrative structure, and way in which it reflects and comments upon so many aspects of Weimar Germany and German culture during a period of great turbulence and social change. They have also attempted to define its place in the developing history of cinema. However, such an expansive, multifacetted film as Metropolis is not easily pigeon-holed. The New York Times reviewer in 1927 called Metropolis:
...a remarkable achievement....a technical marvel with feet of clay...a picture as soulless as the manufactured woman of the story...
On the other hand, Phil Hardy, in his indispensable 1984 Encyclopedia of Science Fiction Films, introduced the entry for Metropolis with the following comment:
A monumental film, Metropolis is the classic of the genre, unparalleled in scope and ingenuity until Kubrick's 2001 - A Space Odyssey (1968)...
There have been many such assessments over the years which praise the film and recognise its landmark status, or are severely critical and dismissive of it as populist kitsch. Such reviews have become more common with the passage of time. However, just as there were glowing reviews, so also scathing criticisms appeared in the press of the day. The most notorious and vitriolic of these was undoubtedly that published in the New York Times on 17 April 1927 by the well-known English science-fiction writer H.G. Wells. He called Metropolis:
...the silliest film. I do not believe it would be possible to make one sillier... That vertical city of the future we know now is, to put it mildly, highly improbable...The hopeless drudge stage of human labour lies behind us. With a sort of malignant stupidity this film contradicts these facts...Then comes the crowning imbecility of the film - the conversion of the likeness of the Robot into Maria...
Wells' "crowning imbecility" is in fact one of the greatest moments of film ever created, and perhaps points to that author's misguided and self-righteous assessment of Metropolis. A number of contemporary (1927) reviews - including Wells' emotive review cited above - are reproduced in Section 7 of this web site. They are important not only in revealing the variety of opinions held concerning the film, but also in containing snippets of information on its making, screening, and subsequent savage editing by the American team under Channing Pollock - a process itself subject to some controversy at the time.
Following on from this initial notoriety and varied reception, Metropolis has been subject to much discussion and critical assessment over the years. The process has been spurred on in recent times by the development of film studies as an academic discipline, by investigations into aspects of Weimar culture during the 1920s, and by Metropolis' reconstruction and widespread re-release on video during the 1980s. This new electronic medium (video), and its CD ROM variants such as Apple Quicktime and DVD, have brought Fritz Lang's silent epic out of the art house cinemas which supplied the bulk of its audience from the 1930s through to the 1970s, and into the loungeroom, where countless millions can now view it at their leisure. As a result, the film's cult status has grown, indirectly leading to a greater appreciation of German filmmaking during the 1920s and of Fritz Lang in particular.
Since the time of Lang's death in 1976 an audience of both non-professionals and academics have assessed the film in the light of contemporary opinion and building upon over half a century of film analysis. As a result, Metropolis is now recognised as a classic, and the first truly modern science-fiction epic. Despite its age, it continues to impress when compared with many latter-day blockbusters, especially in the use of special effects and the sense of wonder it creates. For example, the scene in which the robot is transformed into an evil version of Maria remains stunning and as mysterious in its technical achievement as when first seen back in 1927. Metropolis' continuing influence on directors and cinematographers is evident in films such as Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), Dark City (1998), and Star War - The Phantom Menace (1999), all of which pay due homage to Lang's masterpiece through their set design and use of bleak, towering cityscapes. As a result of the many accolades it has received over the years, Metropolis is usually listed amongst the Top 10 science fiction films of all times, alongside classics such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Forbidden Planet, and Star Wars.
The following web site aims to bring to the notice of interested researchers and fans of Metropolis the wealth of primary and secondary source material which has appeared since Fritz Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou first developed the idea for a film based in a large, futuristic metropolis. This supposedly occurred during the first half of 1924, climaxing around July of that year when the couple used the opportunity of a holiday in the Austrian Alps to complete the initial scenario. It was further developed by Lang when, one evening in October 1924, he saw the model for his futuristic metropolis whilst gazing out at the flickering, neon-lit New York skyline from a vantage point on board the ship which had brought him and fellow Ufa officials to America. That skyscraper-dominated skyline would come to define progress and the city of the future. Its adoption by Lang as a central motif for his film was indeed prophetic. Upon returning to Berlin, Ufa and the talended director set about bringing this metropolis to reality. Filming began in May 1925 and was wrapped up in October 1926. The rest is history.
The following web site builds upon the work of previous researchers, and seeks to include as wide a range of resources as possible, regardless of language or format. The recent proliferation of Metropolis-related Internet web sites - some of which are listed in Section 2 - has greatly assisted in the task of compiling this site.
The Metropolis Film Archive is broken down into the following sections:
Lobby card issued by Paramount for the original American release of Metropolis in March 1927. It shows Freder Fredersen holding Georgy, one of the workers of the underground machines. He has collapsed from exhaustion brought about by having to work 10 hour shifts in an artificial 20 hour day imposed upon the workers by Freder's father, Joh Fredersen, the master of
Lobby card issued by Paramount for the original American release of Metropolis in March 1927. It shows Freder Fredersen holding Georgy, one of the workers of the underground machines. He has collapsed from exhaustion brought about by having to work 10 hour shifts in an artificial 20 hour day imposed upon the workers by Freder's father, Joh Fredersen, the master of Metropolis.
1. Bibliography - Books, Articles, and Manuscripts [Metrob]
- Author Index to Bibliography [Metrol]
- Draft Film Script circa 1925-6 [Metrow1]
- Thea von Harbou's Novel / Roman 1926 [Metrom]
- Metropolis Photo Novel 1926 [Metrom2]
- Metropolis UFA Magazine (Theatre Program), German, 1927 [Metrom4]
- Metropolis UFA Magazine (Theatre Program), Dutch, 1927 [Metrom3]
- Metropolis Magazine (Theatre Program), London, 1927 [Metros1]
- Metropolis Serialised Version, London, 1927 [Metrox]
- Metropolis French Magazine Cine-Miroir 1927 [Metrox1]
- Metropolis Swedish Magazine Filmjournalen 1927 [Metrox2]
- Metropolis Finland Magazine Filmiaitta 1927 [Metroe3]
- Metropolis Czech Novel 1927 [Metrod2]
- Metropolis French Magazine La Petite Illustration 1928 [Metrou1]
- Metropolis French Novelisation 1928 [Metrom1]
- Metropolis Dutch Novel 1928 [Metrod1]
2. Internet Web Sites [Metroc]
3. Images - Artworks, Photographs & Sculptures [Metrod]
- Erich Kettelhut Drawings 1925-6 [Metrop]
- Photographs - Select Production Stills and Screen Shots [Metroy]
- Metropolis Book 2000 - Additional Images [Metrot]
- see also: Posters [Metroja and Metrojb]
4. Music - Scores, LPs, Cassettes, CDs [Metroe]
- Score - Channing Pollock Version 1927 [Metroe1]
- Vox 78 rpm 12 inch Singles 1927 [Metroe2]
5. Film [Metrof]
- Scene & Intertitle Listing (Parts 1-4) [Metron1 - Metron4]
- 1926 Intertitle Card Listing and Reel Lengths [Metroq]
6. Videos - U-matic, VHS, Beta), Quicktime, CD, DVD [Metrog]
7. Reviews - 1927 [Metroh]
- Quotes, Comments and Reminiscences 1924-76[Metroo]
- see also: Australian Release 1928 [Metroi]
8. Australian Release - 1928 [Metroi]
- Canberra Collection, ScreenSound Australia [Metrok]
- The Art of Percy Benison [Benison]
- Part 1 - Original Release - 1927 [Metroja]
- Part 2 - Re-release - 1962-2000 [Metrojb]
- Bits n' Pieces (Money, Robot, Monument, Hands, Special Effects) [Metrov]
- Metropolis Chronology 1924-28 [Metroz]
- Missing Scenes [Metrov2]
- Yoshiwara [Metrov1]
Between the various sections there is some overlap of items, though this is not common. The major critical assessments of the film are to be found in 'Section 1: Books, Articles and Manuscripts,' with some examples at 'Section 7: Contemporary Reviews 1927.' In recent times a number of important works have been published on the Internet, and this trend is increasing. Therefore, 'Section 2: Internet Web Sites' should also be consulted when seeking significant works on Metropolis, and especially those with pictorial content. The most highly recommended Internet sites are Augusto Cesar B. Areal's Metropolis Home Page and Aitam Bar-Sargi's Metropolis Reconstruction site. .
In the compilation and development of this web site I would like to acknowledge the assistance of the Reverend Douglas Quinn, the Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin, John Overall, Dave Pilner, Aitam Bar-Sargi, George Vladar and Phil Edwards of Cinemarts. All have provided positive comments, assitance and suggestions which are much appreciated.
Any comments, corrections, or additions to the content of this site are most welcome. Please e-mail the author at: Michael Organ, Australia. Also, check out my Home Page.