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Metropolis French Magazine, Paris, 1928 {cover}


Robert Rousseau de Beauplan, La Petit Illustration - Metropolis, Paris, #372 (Cinema #11), 3 March 1928, 12p. Special issue dedicated to the film. This booklet contains a number of illustrations, plus text (in French) by de Beauplan which comments upon the making of the film and presents a detailed synopsis. The links below are to reproductions of the various pages in the booklet, showing original text and illustrations. These are followed by a translation of the original French text into English, prepared by Philippe Lemieux of Quebec, Canada, during October-November 2000:

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The Making Of Metropolis

The film Metropolis, presented exclusively at the Imperial theatre in Paris over the past several months, is doing very well and its life is far from over in France. It has known similar successes in Germany, in England and in every other country where it has been shown. It is a German film, produced by the "Ufa" and distributed in France by "L'Alliance Cinématographique Européenne" (The European Cinema Alliance). Fritz Lang directed it based upon a script by Thea von Harbou.

Germany's reputation in film production is well established by the films it exports as well as the daily contribution of its screenwriters, directors and actors to international cinema. The United States in particular have called upon them more and more. They have borrowed its stars such as the admirable Jannings or the delicate Lya de Putti, just to name a few. German cinema first attracted our attention with a singular modernism of which Doctor Caligari remains the best known work in France. It has been noticed for its strength, its penchant for symbolism and realism, or sometimes as in The Nibelungen or Faust, for its romantic grandeur, not to mention its technical perfection. Lately, German cinema has leaned towards a more sombre approach. The masterpiece Germany has given us in this category is undeniably Variety from E-A Dupont.

Metropolis is of another sort. It is, as the Americans put it, a "superproduction" to which we can rightly attach the adjective "colossal". The production of the film is said to have cost 6 million marks, which is 36 million francs. Filming took place from May 2nd 1925 to October 30th 1926 over 310 days and 60 nights. Apparently, 620 000 metres of negative were used. Aside from the eight principals, 750 other actors were hired to fill small parts as well as 25 000 male extras, 11 000 female extras, 1 100 bald extras, 750 children, 100 Black extras and 25 Chinese extras. These are the numbers given by the production company. Salaries were paid in excess of 1 600 000 marks, the costumes cost 200 000 marks, and lights, wood, mortar and other materials cost 400 000 marks. This last expense would seem modest if it were not for the advantage of using scaled down maquettes shot at close range instead of full sized sets.

Metropolis is a form of anticipation, much like Jules Verne or Wells, of the city of the future. In a strongly suggestive article written for an English periodical, Wells criticised the portrayal of human existence in a few centuries hence given in the film. The skyscraper, says Wells, will by then be a derivative anachronism. Cities will not develop vertically but rather horizontally due to the ever-growing speed of communications. If it can take only 10 minutes to travel 100 kilometres, then who would want to live on a thirtieth floor in the West End? The improvements in industrialisation will reduce the intensity of work as well. The worker may be intellectually frozen by the continual repetition of a gesture imposed by too great a specialisation but he will not be physically drained by the work. Perhaps these objections are justified but in this type of fiction, we must allow the author's imagination to be free. Even if Metropolis speaks of the future and, in a marvellously amplified manner, a moral conflict of the present time, this romantic saga has an undeniable charm in its visual translations. It is both fascinating and frightening.

Film-wise, French reviewers have welcomed Metropolis with admiration and warmth. Among them, M. Emile Vuillermoz wrote in Le Temps : "The Americans have never achieved such technical perfection nor have they ever given us the impression of an intelligent use of unlimited funds. The virtuosity of the camera work is well beyond anything that has been presented to date not only in terms of the audacity of conception and the scale of production but also in its graphic spirit and masterful rhythm. This rhythm is that of the director. It is not the rhythm of life. It owes nothing to observation. It raises itself to the dignity of ideology. It is a grand notion applied to a debatable subject, irresistible nonetheless. Friends and foes of the silver screen must experience this unique document about which interminable discussions will be held but which also represents in world cinema an important step, quickly jumped but not soon forgotten."

La Presse wrote : "It is nothing if not some Jules Verne, Wells or else the mysterious Edgar Poe which is brought to life with their 1001 ingenious finds. The psychedelic android transformation scene is indescribable and directed with great mastery."

In l'Homme libre, M. Félicien Faillet writes : "There is in this grandiose work, an invincible feeling that is not dissimilar to the medieval and romantic spirit of Wagner. A trilogy arises : the heart, the brain and the hands as the foundation of a future and eternal society. It is a grand and powerful myth."

In the very interesting monthly film magazine Photo-Ciné, Miss Lucie Derain writes : "The script contains splendid moments. There is a bit of everything in Miss Thea von Harbou's work : the accomplishment of the most ambitious dreams of the Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, of Welles and his future Eve and time machine, etc. One can only marvel at the intensity of the conception and the colossal perfection of a an almost Dantesque vision. A grand, harmonious and well balanced film where the strongest ideas of the German spirit express themselves, it is an exceptional and timely film."

The list of quotes like these is endless as well as positive reviews of the cast's performances : to Brigitte Helm who showed surprising duality in playing two contradictory characters, one angelic, the other satanic, to Gustav Froelich, lively and noble Freder, to Alfred Abel, the terrible Joh Fredersen, to R. Klein Rogge, a modern doctor Faust as well as a Mephisto, and to the anonymous multitude of extras who in fact play the main part. As for the director of the film, Fritz Lang, his reputation makes it unnecessary to dwell upon his work. Before Metropolis, The Three Lights (Destiny), a grandiose "optic symphony", and The Nibelungen had made him famous.

Robert de Beauplan

Metropolis

Metropolis, the great city of the future, rises its pyramids of stone, monstrous symbols, towards the sky. It is a modern Babel, given birth to by that other pole of human pride : science. The houses of Metropolis, a hundred stories high, have been piled up one on top of the other in order to conquer the heavens. In comparison, the highest cathedrals are small structures. The skyscrapers of New York would easily fit underneath the smallest of its bridges. Its roads are an aerial system of metal mesh. Cars move about two hundred meters above ground. Planes land on roofs like birds on a shingle. Incredible machines give life to this buzzing nest of Titans.

A man made it grow : Joh Fredersen, a superman and a demigod of unyielding genius. In the centre of his domain he erected the Tower from which he reigns on high. This is where every strand of activity ends up, like the nerves of the brain. Fredersen is the brain of Metropolis and only a brain, unencumbered by leaps of the heart which have never worried the flow of his speculations. What are common men for Joh Fredersen ? Certainly not beings made of skin and blood who think and suffer but rather factors indifferent to his calculations. He does not propose to better society using progress to augment the riches of everyone. Quite the contrary : in order to attain an unprecedented state of progress it is necessary for individual riches to be unequal and for the greater majority to create through their hopeless labour, pain and sacrifice, the rewards of the elite. In this way, the evolution of a future society under the tyrannical rule of creative science recreates the hard laws of antiquity and slavery as the unavoidable state of aristocratic privilege.

Joh Fredersen has divided humanity into two groups, which he rules as a despot. On the one side, the elite who will know nothing but satisfaction and joy. On the other, the slaves who serve the machine instead of the taskmaster. To the first group go all the favours of destiny. In fact, Fredersen did not choose them from sentimental predisposition. He is just as immune to their gaze as that of the others but he needs subjects to play all the roles within his experiment. To the second group is dedicated unending work.

Therefore, Metropolis is two cities. Under its ground whose smallest fraction is worth too much to waste, Fredersen has dug the worker's city, new marvel of the world and a labyrinth of hallways. Night and day, the same cold and artificial light shines down on the worker's city, which is unaware of the true day and the true night. The workers are the human larvae which live there. They move from the depths they live in to the factories where they work to the regular and uninterrupted beat of a ten-hour shift. Then, they perpetually return to the depths.

Under the free sky stand the "Houses of the Sons". That is the name given to the collection of sumptuous and monumental residences of the elite. This is where lie the university, the libraries, the stadium and the Eternal Gardens. The most beautiful young women are taken care of there like rare orchids. Their only responsibility is to remain beautiful and be free of worry. For hours on end, without the least bit of hesitation, the "sons" of Metropolis indulge both body and spirit in play and happiness, pleasure and delight. And isn't the happiest one of all, the most joyous and the most beautiful the only son of the Master Joh Fredersen : Freder ?

One day, a stranger appeared, a young woman, at the door of the Eternal Gardens. Wearing a simple grey dress and sporting a radiant head of hair, she appeared to Freder, dignified and proud. Her face was serious and filled with pity. A poor flock of miserable and pale children stood all around her. Their eyes were filled with wonder at the sight of the splendid gardens and its inhabitants.

She leaned towards the children and pointed to the sons of Metropolis, their muscular bodies draped in shirts of white silk, and said in soft and maternal voice : "Look ! These are your brothers !" She stood up again and addressed the sons of Metropolis, particularly Freder, and as she pointed out the children that accompanied her she shouted : "Look ! These are your brothers !".

The servants came running. They chased away the impromptu visitor and the poor children. The Eternal Gardens regained their usual serenity but Freder understood the call and its underlying criticisms and suggestions. He was shaken. A rebirth took place within him. He will leave his entourage in order to go as an apostle of this unknown world of suffering and sadness that has been shown to him.

He penetrates the world of the famous machines of Metropolis for the first time. He approaches the men who serve them for the first time. He had never before seen such sombre faces, frozen grimaces and shoulders bent by the weight of the task. They are all the same in their black uniforms with their mechanical and mute gestures, they are the slaves of work. They have nothing to wait for in exchange of the inhuman work they accomplished the day before as they did so today and will again tomorrow and the days after that until their old age and then, death. The red light of fire and the lightning of electrical discharge surround the hell of these tasks. The air they breathe is saturated with carbon dust mixed with jets of boiling vapour. Freder feels himself fill with compassion. He also discovers on what rests the magnificent buildings of Metropolis. A single moment of weariness or a single false manoeuvre is all that is needed for a catastrophe to take place, one in fact where the workers would be the first victims. It is just then that a worker's mistake causes an explosion. Freder hears the screams of the injured and sees pass in front of him bleeding victims on stretchers.

His soul torn asunder, Freder runs to his father. He pleads with him to save those that are in pain and those that suffer. Fredersen those not understand. He has never known pity. He only knows the law which he has made. Under Freder's gaze, he fires an underling, Josaphat, for a small mistake of no importance. He does not realise that in that instant, he has alienated forever his own child.

Freder follows his conscience. He has only one thought : to find the young woman that showed him the meaning of human solidarity. He wants to mingle with her and those that are his brothers. As he is walking through the city, he notices a man attempting suicide by throwing himself under the wheels of a car. Freder saves him. It is Josaphat whose will to live is gone thanks to the harshness of Fredersen. Freder comforts him. He asks for his address and writes it down : Bloc 99, 7th house, 9th floor, and promises to see him soon and help him. He then continues his trek through the underground city and reaches the central boilers, the hot zone of Metropolis.

At that moment, Georgy, a young worker, falls exhausted to the ground next to his machine. Freder helps him up, wakes him and suddenly, a generous thought comes to his mind. He exchanges clothes with him and gives him Josaphat's address where he is to go. Freder, unrecognisable in worker's clothing, takes his place at the machine.

Joh Fredersen has not been without noticing his son's strange behaviour. Worried, he has ordered one of his private detectives, the one called Slim, to follow Freder and keep an eye on him. Slim saw Georgy get into Freder's car and followed him thinking it was Freder, fooled by the clothing on Georgy's back.

The car races through the streets of Metropolis. It is night and the spectacle is wondrous. The luminous signs are blinding. A life of luxury and pleasure, of intense seduction is displayed. Ravishing women dressed in splendid night-gowns are passing by in fast cars. Georgi is fascinated. He remembers that he has in his pockets enough money to taste this life of excess. As he notices the name of Yoshiwara presented in letters of fire in the sky, he orders the driver to stop so that he may enter the famous club and take part in the festivities.

That same night, Joh Fredersen pays a visit to Rotwang, the most enigmatic man in Metropolis. His house, decorated by numerous strands which form a monstrous spider web, appears old and decrepit, standing in the shadow of the surrounding buildings. Mysterious, this house is the same as its owner.

Rotwang is the brilliant inventor of much of the technological marvels which are the pride of Metropolis. He once loved a woman, Hel, who was stolen from him by Joh Fredersen. She died giving birth to his son Freder. The passing years have done nothing to alleviate the suffering and hatred between Rotwang and Fredersen who are nonetheless forever tied to each other in the creation of Metropolis. Rotwang the scientist is also an artist. He has sculpted a gigantic head, a beautiful and tragic image in memory of Hel. He has done more that that. He has created from the ground up an artificial being, similar in every way to a human being, able to move, smile, cry, talk, and he has given this female automaton the living resemblance of Hel. Fredersen feels a chill crawl down his spine as he sees the double of the woman he adored and that Rotwang has, in a brisk moment of jealousy, revealed to him.

Joh Fredersen is so moved that he almost forgets the point of his visit. He shows Rotwang two plans found by Grot, the worker's foreman, in the pockets of two workers killed in an accident and that none can explain. Rotwang does not take long to recognise the underground catacombs which have existed for millennia under the worker's city. He invites Fredersen to follow him by using a secret passage which begins in his very own house.

A surprising sight awaits them : thousands of workers stand assembled in a giant crypt around a hostel dominated by giant wooden crosses. Freder is among them in the front row. With a bewildered expression, he is standing in front of the hostel, listening to a young woman dressed in white and who seems to be illuminated from the inside out by a mystic light. He has found the one he was looking for. She is speaking comforting words to the men standing before her. She gives them hope, love and faith. She tells them the story of Babel which she then explains the meaning : the ambitious structure fell because those who worked at its building could not understand each other. There must be a mediator between the hands that build and the minds that conceive, that mediator is the heart.

Maria is the name of this young woman who does not know that she is being spied upon by two strangers. She also does not realise that the mediator she seeks with all her soul is right under her nose, on his knees, dressed in worker's clothing. However, Rotwang has recognised Freder and a hideous plan of vengeance takes form : Fredersen must lose his son. Rotwang hides his intention well.

Joh Fredersen wants to tighten his grip on the workers and to this end, he needs Rotwang. He asks him to give his automaton Maria's face. The false Maria, as demonic as the real one is angelic, will destroy the work of her counterpart and crush the will and hopes of the workers. Rotwang agrees but first, he must capture the true Maria.

In the meantime, the crypt has emptied slowly and only Freder is left, alone with Maria who finally recognises him. He promises to be the mediator of which she spoke, a wonderful role to play among his brothers. And in these cold and sinister catacombs, the two of them exchange vows.

Left alone in the shadows, Maria has the distinct impression of being followed. She is scared and begins to run away. Unbeknownst to her, she has taken refuge in the very place Rotwang wants her : his own house.

The next day, Freder will live the very first disappointment of his life. Having met with Josaphat in his flat, he learns that Georgi did not come. The first man he had tried to help had betrayed his trust. Georgi had had quite an exciting night for himself at Joshiwara but wishes now that he could take it back. Slim has by now discovered the substitution that took place and sent Georgi back to the workers underground from which Freder had delivered him.

Freder went to the cathedral where he was to meet Maria. He waits for her in vain. As he leaves the church, sad and confused, he passes in front of Rotwang's house and hears Maria scream for help. He recognises her voice as he catches a glimpse of her face in a small window covered with bars. He runs to the front door which gives way to his pounding. He enters the empty house and finds in the farthest room the scarf worn by Maria in the catacombs.

In the meantime, Rotwang has isolated himself in his secret laboratory with Maria whom he has put to sleep. The laboratory is filled with terrifying machines, a hallucinatory arsenal of magic. Rotwang has placed Maria in a glass tube and tied her down using metal binds. He has placed a metal headpiece and electrodes on her body. He flips a switch and sparks fly. Slowly, the artificial being is transformed into a perfect replica of the patient and given life.

By the time Freder finally reaches Rotwang, the operation is already complete. Freder shouts "Where is Maria ?" to which Rotwang responds with irony "With your father!". Freder races to his father's office and arrives just in time to see Joh Fredersen hold in his arms a new Maria, voluptuous and indecent, the double created by Rotwang. Freder however, does not know the truth and falls to his father's feet, unable to accept what he sees. A violent fever has taken a hold of his mind. In his delirium, he sees Maria preaching in the cathedral as in the Apocalypse, announcing the end of the world.

Joh Fredersen has decided to use the false Maria to have the workers rise up against him. He hopes to bring them to the edge of the abyss and then have them at his mercy. But Rotwang has plans of his own.

The false Maria passes through Metropolis and everywhere she goes, she destroys love and friendship. She is a great and insatiable corrupter. The Eternal Gardens are deserted. The "Sons" spend their nights in orgies at Joshiwara and fight with each other over this creature which has made them all crazy.

Freder, resting in bed, has learned of the extraordinary events taking place in Metropolis thanks to Josaphat. He runs to the catacombs where the false Maria is inciting the workers to revolt. He shouts "No! You are not Maria! Maria spoke of peace, not murder!". The crowd wants to kill Freder but Georgi wants to protect him and is killed in his place. The frantic crowd disperses shouting "To the machines! To the machines!"

Meanwhile, the true Maria has succeeded in escaping Rotwang and runs to the worker's city. Only the children are left since the women have joined the men in destroying the machines. They are lost in madness. The water, which is not being looked after, begins to invade the underground city. Torrents stream and might well engulf the entire city. Maria sounds the alarm. She is joined by Freder and Josaphat who help her to save the children and lead them to the "House of Sons".

Too late, the workers have understood their mistake. The learn that their city is destroyed and they believe their children to have drowned. Their pain becomes blind fury and hatred aimed at the one who has brought them to the abyss. They search for her everywhere. The false Maria is in Joshiwara.

Perched on a man's shoulders, followed by drunk men and crazed women, she screams "It is the end of the world!" The workers grab her and build a bonfire to kill her. Freder, believing her once again to be Maria, tries to save her. However, the true Maria has made her way to the cathedral along with repentant souls. She is being pursued by Rotwang who has lost his mind. In her race, she climbs the bell tower and hanging from the rope attached to the bell, makes it ring. Atop the cathedral, a battle ensues between Freder and Rotwang who falls to his death. The crowd is on its knees. Joh Fredersen appears. Maria and Freder speak to him. He opens his arms and a great reconciliation takes place.

Metropolis, the colossal city will repair its ruins. She will be even stronger now than before the tragic events which almost destroyed her. From this day on, a new law will govern its life : she will dispense happiness to all, even to those who work in its depths.

Acknowledgement

I would like to thank Philippe Lemieux of Quebec for the translation of this text from French to English during October-November 2000.

Site last updated: 31 January 2011.

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Metropolis Bibliography - Introduction Metropolis Bibliography - Books, Articles and Manuscripts Metropolis Bibliography - Internet Web Sites Metropolis Bibliography - Artwork, Posters and Photographs Metropolis Bibliography - Music Metropolis Bibliography - Film Metropolis Bibliography - Videos, Quicktime, DVD Metropolis Bibliography - Reviews 1927 Metropolis Bibliography - Australia 1928 Metropolis Bibliography - Posters