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Podcast logo of black retro UFO on a red background with the text Every Single Sci-Fi Film Ever*. *Almost.

5. Metropolis: The Most Infuential Sci-Fi Film Ever*

*Almost.

As with all episodes of this podcast there are spoilers ahead!

You can watch Metropolis (1927) here or here.

 

Description

After losing World War I Germany entered a time of economic hardship and political turmoil. In 1918 the Monarchy abdicated. The country was financially crippled by the reparations enforced by The Treaty of Versailles and German democracy began.

 

From 1918 until Hitler came to power in 1933 is known as the Weimar period. A time of political upheaval and artistic creativity. German Art and Cinema were thriving while the left and right were wrangling for control of the country.

 

In 1927 Fritz Lang made what is to this day considered one of the greatest films of all time. It is based on a story by Thea Von Harbou, his wife at the time, who went on to collaborate with Nazi Party on multiple films.

 

The ongoing influence of Metropolis on film is immense. Films like Blade Runner, Fifth Element, Frankenstein, Batman, and more recently Poor Things have all been influenced by it. And yet, the film itself was not a hit.

 

Luckily we have two luminary experts to help us understand the film, the society it came from and the themes it portrays.

The experts

Sonja Fritzsche is a professor of German Studies and an author/editor for many books about science fiction. She has taught courses on science fiction, utopia and Metropolis.

 

Noah Isenberg is a film historian and best-selling author. He is a professor at the University of Texas and editor of the book Weimar Cinema: An Essential Guide to Classic Films of the Era.

 

Chapters

00:00 Introduction, shownotes clarification and guests

02:30 Weimar: economics, Hitler and creative legacy

11:05 Fritz Lang

15:00 Thea Von Harbou

18:41 Lang’s Jewish heritage and Harbou’s Nazism

21:05 The rediscovery of missing Metropolis reels

22:05 Lang’s visual virtuosity

26:05 Fear of the future and the three faces of Utopia

27:50 The virgin, the whore and the workers unions

31:41 Critical reception Vs visual spectacle

35:32 Religious themes

37:37 The Nazi connection

45:23 Lang’s future: M, Woman in the Moon, Film Noir

48:25 Is Metropolis the most influential sci-fi film of all time?

50:36 Conclusions and recommendations

The shownotes​

• The Jazz Singer (1927) is often wrongly attributed as the first film with synchronised sound. There had been many experiments with introducing sound which may cause some confusion. Even so, Don Juan (1926) was released the year before the Jazz Singer and featured synchronised sound. 

• Although Laurel and Hardy were both in The Lucky Dog (1921) the first official film they appeared in as a comedy duo was Putting Pants on Philip (1927).

• You can watch The Cabinet of Dr Caligari here. It is one of the most famous films from the silent era and considered a prime example of German Expressionist cinema. 

The Golem (1915) is largely lost. The Golem: How He Came into the World can be viewed here. The character of the golem is from old Jewish folklore where a large being is created from mud and clay to protect Jewish people from antisemitism. 

• F W Murnau was a pioneer of German Expressionist cinema. His famous silent film Nosferatu can be viewed here

• The Räterepublik, also known as the Bavarian Soviet Republic was a very short lived self proclaimed socialist state in Bavaria that existed for a few months from November 1918. 

• Rosa Luxemburg was a revolutionary socialist who was murdered by German paramilitaries in 1919. 

• Gustav Landauer was a German anarchist who was murdered by German paramilitaries in 1919. 

• Hitler's failed attempt to overthrow the German government in 1923 lead to him being sentenced to five years in prison. He only served nine months. This attempt is sometimes referred to as the Munich Putsch or the Beer Hall Putsch. 

• Lang's Die Nibelungen: Siegfried and Die Nibelungen: Kriemhild's Revenge were both released in 1924 and were based on the poem Nibelungenlied which is from the 13th century. You can learn more about it here. Famous German composer Wagner wrote Der Ring des Nibelungen in the 19th century.

• Erich Pommer was a prominent film producer from Germany of Jewish heritage who was responsible for many of the great German Expressionist films of the silent era. He also spent time in Hollywood, the UK, Paris and returned to Germany after World War 2 to rebuild the film industry there. He died in 1966. 

• Fritz Lang directed Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922), The Testament of Dr Mabuse (1933) and many years later The Thousand Eyes of Dr Mabuse (1960).

Jud Süß made by Veit Harlan is a notoriously antisemitic Nazi propaganda film.

• A New York Times article by Larry Rohter's from 2010 about the new footage can be found here

• New Objectivity was a reaction to German Expressionism. You can learn more about it here

• Lyman Tower Sargent is an American academic and leading scholar of Utopian studies.

• The Bechdel test or the Bechdel-Wallace test asks if a film (or other medium) has at least two female characters who have a conversation about something other than a man. It is named after American cartoonist Alison Bechdel who attributed the test to her friend Liz Wallace.

• Laura Mulvey is an academic, a feminist film historian and a filmmaker. Her essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema from 1975 has been very influential.

• Voluptuous Panic was written by Mel Gordon.

• H.G Wells review of Metropolis can be found here. Wells was a prolific British writer who wrote many books including The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man and The Island of Dr Moreau.

Who The Devil Made It: Conversations with Legendary Film Directors was written by Peter Bogdanovich

• Sonja means First Spaceship on Venus by Kurt Maetzig which you can watch here

• You can learn more about World on a Wire by Rainer Werner Fassbinder here.

• Lotte Eisner was a film critic and writer. She wrote The Haunted Screen and many other books.

• Giorgio Moroder is a music producer and composer who was behind the 1984 new edit of Metropolis. This features a soundtrack featuring amongst other people Freddie Mercury, Bonnie Tyler and Adam Ant. You can watch and hear it here

NEXT EPISODE!

We will be looking at Frankenstein and speaking about monsters and their role in storytelling and science fiction. You can watch Frankenstein (1931) here.

 

Or check Just Watch for where it is available.

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