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The Metropolis Newspaper Advertisements & Cartoons

of Percy Benison, Australia, 1928

Cartoon newspaper advertisement by Benison from the Sydney Sun, 11 April 1928, showing a somewhat crazed Rotwang leaning over the sedated Maria in his transformation machine.

Introduction

In association with the Australian release of Fritz Lang's silent film Metropolis during April 1928, a substantial media campaign was launched in the major cities of Melbourne and Sydney. The campaign by Cinema Arts, the local distributor for films by the German production house UFA, gave rise to a number of prominent advertisements being placed in local newspapers and magazines leading up to the premieres on 7 and 14 April respectively, and during the initial 4-week run at the Auditorium (Melbourne) and Regent (Sydney) theatres. The advertisements were a mixture of official UFA-based images such as reproductions of posters and stills from the movie, along with locally produced black and white line drawings and other artworks. These Australian images were more in the nature of cartoons, and reflected the skills and opinions of local artists and promoters. They were obviously inspired by images and narrative elements presented within Metropolis.

Whilst the Melbourne advetisements emphasised the sociological aspects of the film and the theme of worker revolution, those is Sydney were more sensational, promoting the motifs of a 'killer robot' on the loose in the city, a 'crazed scientist' at work, and a lacivious, seductive vamp enticing the unwary to their doom. The most memorable of these Sydney images bore the signature of the artist 'Benison'. The black and white line drawings were done in a similar style to that well-known Australian artist and portrayer of naked female flesh, Normal Lindsay. 'Benison' was in fact Percy Benison (1881-1972), a commercial artist whose black and white line drawings had graced the pages of Melbounre and Sydney newspapers and magazines such as the Bulletin, Table Talk and The Lone Hand since 1901.

The most challenging of Benison's Metropolis drawings was of the Futura robot. In one Sydney newspaper advertisement he presented it as a cross between the modern, destructive, robotic android seen in the film Robocop (1980s), and a Japanese anime character in the tradition of Astro Boy (1960s). The fact that Benison drew this image in 1928 when science fiction as we know it today was in its infancy, and the term itself was yet to be adopted, make's the image all the more amazing.

Sydney newspaper advertisement for the screening of Metropolis in that city during April 1928. Artwork by Benison. The image is more typical of 1970s Japanese Anime, rather then late 1920s science-fiction or newspaper art. It shows the Metropolis Robot in a menacing stance which bears no relationship at all to what is actually portrayed in the film, though it does work well as an attention-grabbing advertisement. This portrayal of Futura is not based on any other known Metropolis artwork.

In the line drawing of Rotwang at work by his transformation machine, the inventor is presented as nothing short of a crazed madman. This pre-empted and was the model for future characterisations of now-famous screen scientists Dr. Frankenstein (1931) and Dr. Strangelove (1968). The latter character wore the black-gloved artifical hand of Lang's original, and the monocle made famous by the German director himself. A further drawing by Benison portrays the robot, following her transformation into the evil Maria, as a typical 1920s vamp, and reveals the artist's obvious enjoyment in portraying the female form. A number of Benison's drawings for The Lone Hand in 1914-5 portray Australian women in all their guises.

Cartoon newspaper advertisement by Benison from the Sydney Sun, 12 April 1928, showing the evil Maria partying with a crowd at Yoshiwara's.

These Metropolis drawings by Percy Benison were undoubtedly lively and aimed to attract readers of Sydney's newsapapers to the film's presentation at the Regent theatre. They are also interesting in revealing the workings of a commercial artist during the period when silent movies were a major outlet for mass entertainment. In order to better understand their context and background, we need to find out more about the artist Percy Benison.

Biographical

Percy Benison was born 'at sea' en route to Australia in 1881 and spent his early years in Victoria. With a natural talent for drawing, his had his first work published in the Bulletin magazine during 1901. By 1905 he was employed as political cartoonist for Melbourne's glossy Table Talk, and throughout the 1910s his black and white cartoons and line drawings appeared in magazines such as The Lone Hand and the aforementioned publications. Following a move to Sydney around the time of the First World War, he continued to work as a commercial artist and in the field of advertising. A man of varied interests and talents, during the 1920s he managed a local boxing championships and for 3 years was boxing commentator and interviwer for radio station 2BL.

Sydney newspaper advertisement for Metropolis, showing a vampish Maria in transformation machine headgear (The Sun, 20 April 1928). The image of a seemingly drugged, bare-shouldered and pouting-lipped Maria, as portrayed in this ad by artist Benison, was a long way from the reality of the film.

Between 1930-9 Benison was Advertising Manager for the firm of Richard Hudnut & William R. Warner, which specialised in producing beauty pageants and medical products. Benison is known to have performed the duties of judge at one of these pageants in 1927. During World War II he was a member of the Army Censorship Board. He later branched out from advertising work and charicatures into fully developed cartoon strips, compiling the Billy Koala strip for the Sun Herald and Blackie for the Mirror. As an active member of the commercial artists community, he was at various stages secretary of the Commercial Artists Associaiton of Victoria, president of the Commercial Artists Association of New South Wales, and a member of the Newspaper Cartoonists Association of New South Wales. Whilst in Melbourne he had been a costume designer for the Bijou theatre and also for J.C. Williamson. In Sydney he was a producer for the Sydney Operatic Society. During the late forties and early 1950s he worked for John Fairfax and Sons, producing cartoons, drawings and advertising material.

Percy Benison died at Cammary, Sydney, on 17 March 1972, aged 91 years. A collection of his papers, drawings and published material is to be found in the Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales. A detailed survey of his many published illustrations and advertising work is yet to be undertaken.

Bibliography

Percy Benison Papers, 1901-1972, ML MSS 651 and ML MSS 5758, Mitchell Library, Sydney. {Manuscripts, drawings, newscuttings, photographs, publications.}

Published Drawings & Cartoons

'A Comparison -The Melbourne Girl : The Sydney Girl', The Lone Hand, 2 December 1912. Full page line drawing.

'Girls - The Girls They Left Behind Them', The Lone Hand, 1 December 1914. Full page line drawing, showing different types of Australian women.

Billie Koala, cartoon strip, Sun Herald, Sydney.

Blackie, cartoon strip, Mirror, Sydney.

Full page Sydney newspaper advertisement publicising the screening of Metropolis at the Regent Theatre (The Sun, Sunday, 15 April 1928). The ad features a number of elements: the naked and buxom Maria strapped into Rotwang's transformation machine (an image not seen in the film and obviously derived from the artist's imagination); the evil Maria's dance at Yoshiwara's; and a crude version of Freder as he attempts to resuce Maria and the children from the flooded underground city. Benison is listed as the artist.

Site last updated: 20 February 2011.


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