Friday, September 9, 2011


Let me just say to start off with, I'm not going to recommend you ever watch Metropolis, a 1927, German-made, two-and-a-half-hour silent film. I'm thoroughly surprised I made it through the whole thing, myself. Nick wanted to watch it for his shared podcast at; an in-depth discussion of it will be on an episode you should be able to listen to soon. I watched it with him because it was two and a half hours of TV in my living room; what else was I going to do? Thankfully, we split it into a two-night show.

Now, to be fair, it's an amazing film for its time, but you have to know how to appreciate silent films. Honestly, they just aren't my thing: the jerky movements, the exaggerated make-up and stage actions, the sparse dialog written on black screens, the pound-you-over-the-head lesson of the movie. In this case, it was something like "The mediator between the head and hands is the heart!" It's really almost comical. But when you think about the movie from the standpoint of the people viewing it at the time, it was probably both remarkable and as fast-paced as it should have been. Since then, we've learned to watch movies differently, as my husband pointed out to me. Our movies are faster, chaotic, but they've gotten so by degrees, matching the pace our lifestyles have set. We expect movies to be unrealistic and as realistic as possible. We accept the impossible in the blink of an eye. In 1927, they were used to seeing plays, so the movie was a glorified play, slowed down so that you could process the unbelievable things portrayed in the movie, things that could never happen so comparatively realistically in a play.

Metropolis is actually science fiction, believe it or not, a vision of their future and our current times. We laugh now, but think about our fantasies for the years ahead. Humans like to dream the impossible, and usually we shoot both too far and too little ahead at the same time. Their vision was much more industrialized; who could have predicted the digital world? But they also envisioned whole cities underground and flight between buildings. The plot is essentially about a young man, Freder, from the upper, wealthy city, who falls in love with a prophetess who is trying to help the laborers of the underground city. He switches places with a worker and learns how miserable life below is, all for the benefit of those above. Meanwhile, a mad scientist creates a double of the prophetess out of a robot to destroy the life and work of his nemesis, Freder's father Joh Fredersen, the creator of the city of Metropolis. Surprisingly, there is a happy ending to the madness. I don't think our movies today would have gone in that direction.

The timing of the movie is interesting. Think about it: 1927 in Germany...right before Hitler. Portions of the film were lost, and then years later, some of those were retrieved in Argentina, of all places. The movie remains incompletely recovered to this day, but any missing pieces are filled in by written narration on black screens.

I guess this movie inspired generations of film makers after, and you can see why, but just take my word for it. Unless you are a film school student or an avid watcher of the classics, this movie has no need to cross your radar...and I apologize for making it cross yours. But if you are like my husband, you might be glad to have seen it, once it is over. Some people can appreciate such things better than I can, movie-lover that I am.


  1. I'm sorry you didn't enjoy this more, but if it was one of your first silent films, I can understand why. It's an era of filmmaking that will seem ridiculous to you until you become used to their style and visual language. That's why I would typically recommend Charlie Chaplin films to anyone first watching silent films, because those are funny anyway and would be a painless introductory experience. Then after you've watched some comedies you might try working in some more dramatic films like this one.

    For my part, I found Metropolis fascinating and I'd even say riveting. I had expected it to have lots of vivid imagery and interesting ideas; I didn't expect to find it as suspenseful as I did. It's really a masterpiece of early filmmaking, but I agree, not for the uninitiated.

    P.S. At least it wasn't Intolerance, which is a 1916 film that's over 3 hours and probably more archaic cinematically this this film! (Warning: Nick will probably want to watch Intolerance at some point.)

  2. The "angle" I have on "Metropolis" (1927) is that even though I don't think it's one of my favorite films ever, it deserves so much credit just for how good of a story it is. The film is masterfully executed, and it has enough content for a great discussion.

    I would agree, a Chaplin film would be a good start in order to make the transition to silent films easier. "Modern Times" (1936) would be a good one. Also, there is Harold Lloyd in "Safety Last" (1923), or Buster Keaton in "The General" (1926), both incredible films. Then if you want to go in the dramatic direction, maybe "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans" (1927).

    "Intolerance: Love's Struggle Throughout the Ages" (1916) (2 hours and 43 minutes) is actually only ten minutes longer than Metropolis, but it's a different kind of film. I was thinking what film to choose for the 1910-1920 period and I ended up picking "Intolerance" because of its grand scale and multiple story lines, which I think makes it easier to watch, but it's still archaic. However there were many moments where the film affected me, and I felt very involved with the film. "Metropolis" is a good film to be exposed to before tackling something like "Intolerance".

    I guess I've just watched too many movies that last 3+ hours to think that "Metropolis" (2 and a half hours) is long. I don't think it's long, but it does have a long introduction. I've seen a large number of movies that last 3 hours, and I'm used to the experience now. After seeing "Cleopatra" (1963) and "Das Boot" (1981) (Germany), each lasting between 4 and a half and 5 hours, that redefined "long" for me. But I'm from the school of thought that says that an hour and a half for some movies is actually too short. Shorter films like that sometimes leave me wanting more. "The Best Years of Our Lives" (1946), the first film we did for the podcast, is actually 2 hours and 52 minutes long but it feels like 2 hours because of how well it is made. Sometimes the more engaged you are in a story, the faster the movie seems to go.

    Note: Audiences in 1927 weren't used to watching a film as long as "Metropolis" either, but even though the film is 84 years old, silent, long(er), filmed in a foreign country, and with an unusual epic story, the film stands at # 92 on the IMDb Top 250 today. Quite an achievement.

  3. Tim and Brian, thanks for the comments and added insight. And Tim, thanks for the warning on Intolerance. Ha, ha.

    To the rest of my readers...there you go. There are actually people who like these sorts of movies, are even fascinated by them. I don't deny, Metropolis has its place in the world, just not so much in mine. But I don't watch a lot of classics, so what do I know?

  4. God, you are amazingly daft. Believe it or not, there are rights and wrongs in this world INCLUDING opinion; despite what your liberal teachers made you feel in school, opinions can be wrong and this is one of them. You look like an incompetent saying one of the best films of all time is bad because of "jerky movement" and the "makeup" of all things. I could probably say the same thing about your makeup. "we've learned to watch movies"?? Really? And then the Hitler comment...if you knew anything about history, you'd know that there has long been a sense of German Nationalism which Hitler just so happened to carry on. I cannot believe that people would take your comments on movies as gospel. This isn't the first time I've read your reviews and each time I keep hoping that some light in the darkness will come, but alas, I am always disappointed. You focus on the trivial and rarely get into the red meat. If I were you, I'd stick to something I know better; cooking and cleaning?

    1. David, opinions are opinions, what can I say? I don't deny I am incompetent when it comes to classic films. I don't watch a lot of them or enjoy them as much as modern films. It's just my preference. Brian is the expert on those. I don't wear make-up. History was not my strong subject. I sincerely hope nobody's taking my reviews as gospel. And frankly, if you don't like my reviews, please don't come back to my site. I promise it will be more of the same. Perhaps, as you imply, my writing is more for moms and others like me, who don't have time to "get into the red meat" when it's cooking on the stove.

    2. Also, if you care, please read the following:

  5. Natasha, law states that ignorance is not an excuse; this too applies to life. To say you don't know anything about classic films and to then pan them is ridiculous. The same goes for history. I think anyone who has ever taken a history class would know that one of the major reasons for the world wars was just about every country, let alone Germany. That is almost, dare I say, common knowledge. I think it's also very ignorant to speak to moms since I know plenty of moms who would have said the same thing I did. If no one takes your opinions as gospel, then why are you writing a blog? Seems contradictory to me. As I said earlier, I keep hoping to see something come through but I'm let down everytime; doesn't mean I don't keep hoping for good in the thanks but I'll continue to come back. I wrote because I thought you really needed a check on your reviews because there hasn't been anyone ballsy enough to call you out on some glaring inadequacies. And I would think if you were cooking red meat on the stove that you would have plenty of time to delve into it. So with that, think before you write because the implied purpose to a blog is to enrich the readers...of which you do not. Although blog writers tend to have a bit of ego wrapped in their musings, it still produces something of value; I half think, and hopefully I am wrong, that this is all ego...

    1. David, if you insist on coming back, then please read my review more carefully. It is not nearly as negative or erroneous as you seem to think it is. I very clearly state that the movie did not interest me. Is that wrong now? I also give the movie kudos for what it does. I know it's a piece of good art. Still doesn't mean I have to like it.

      I'm open for friendly, constructive dialog on my reviews. Brian offered some really good stuff about the movie while all you did was criticize my person, which you know absolutely nothing about. That was rude. I'm open for discussion but not head-bashing. These are the last words I have for you.


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