Read the Original 32-Page Program for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927)


One of the very first fea­ture-length sci-fi films ever made, Fritz Lang’s Metrop­o­lis took a dar­ing visu­al approach for its time, incor­po­rat­ing Bauhaus and Futur­ist influ­ences in thrilling­ly designed sets and cos­tumes. Lang’s visu­al lan­guage res­onat­ed strong­ly in lat­er decades. The film’s rather stun­ning alchem­i­cal-elec­tric trans­fer­ence of a woman’s phys­i­cal traits onto the body of a destruc­tive android—the so-called Maschi­nen­men­schfor exam­ple, began a very long trend of female robots in film and tele­vi­sion, most of them as dan­ger­ous and inscrutable as Lang’s. And yet, for all its many imi­ta­tors, Metrop­o­lis con­tin­ues to deliv­er sur­pris­es. Here, we bring you a new find: a 32-page pro­gram dis­trib­uted at the film’s 1927 pre­mier in Lon­don and recent­ly re-dis­cov­ered.


In addi­tion to under­writ­ing almost one hun­dred years of sci­ence fic­tion film and tele­vi­sion tropes, Metrop­o­lis has had a very long life in oth­er ways: Inspir­ing an all-star sound­track pro­duced by Gior­gio Moroder in 1984,with Fred­die Mer­cury, Lover­boy, and Adam Ant, and a Kraftwerk album. In 2001, a recon­struct­ed ver­sion received a screen­ing at the Berlin Film Fes­ti­val, and UNESCO’s Mem­o­ry of the World Reg­is­ter added it to their ros­ter. 2002 saw the release of an excep­tion­al Metrop­o­lis-inspired ani­me with the same title. And in 2010 an almost ful­ly restored print of the long-incom­plete film—recut from footage found in Argenti­na in 2008—appeared, adding a lit­tle more sophis­ti­ca­tion and coher­ence to the sim­plis­tic sto­ry line.


Even at the film’s ini­tial recep­tion, with­out any miss­ing footage, crit­ics did not warm to its sto­ry. For all its intense visu­al futur­ism, it has always seemed like a very quaint, naïve tale, struck through with earnest reli­gios­i­ty and inex­plic­a­ble archaisms. Con­tem­po­rary review­ers found its nar­ra­tive of gen­er­a­tional and class con­flict uncon­vinc­ing. H.G. Wells—“something of an author­i­ty on sci­ence fiction”—pronounced it “the sil­li­est film” full of “every pos­si­ble fool­ish­ness, cliché, plat­i­tude, and mud­dle­ment about mechan­i­cal progress and progress in gen­er­al served up with a sauce of sen­ti­men­tal­i­ty that is all its own.” Few were kinder when it came to the sto­ry, and despite its overt reli­gious themes, many saw it as Com­mu­nist pro­pa­gan­da.


Viewed after sub­se­quent events in 20th cen­tu­ry Ger­many, many of the film’s scenes appear “dis­turbing­ly pre­scient,” writes the Unaf­fil­i­at­ed Crit­ic, such as the vision of a huge indus­tri­al machine as Moloch, in which “bald, under­fed humans are led in chains to a fur­nace.” Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou—who wrote the nov­el, then screenplay—were of course com­ment­ing on indus­tri­al­iza­tion, labor con­di­tions, and pover­ty in Weimar Ger­many. Metrop­o­lis’s “clear mes­sage of clas­sism,” as io9 writes, comes through most clear­ly in its arrest­ing imagery, like that hor­ri­fy­ing, mon­strous fur­nace and the “loom­ing sym­bol of wealth in the Tow­er of Babel.”


The visu­al effects and spec­tac­u­lar set pieces have worked their mag­ic on almost every­one (Wells exclud­ed) who has seen Metrop­o­lis. And they remain, for all its silli­ness, the pri­ma­ry rea­son for the movie’s cul­tur­al preva­lence. Wired calls it “prob­a­bly the most influ­en­tial sci-fi movie in his­to­ry,” remark­ing that “a sin­gle movie poster from the orig­i­nal release sold for $690,000 sev­en years ago, and is expect­ed to fetch even more at an auc­tion lat­er this year.”


We now have anoth­er arti­fact from the movie’s pre­miere, this 32-page pro­gram, appro­pri­ate­ly called “Metrop­o­lis” Mag­a­zine, that offers a rich feast for audi­ences, and text at times more inter­est­ing than the film’s script. (You can view the pro­gram in full here.) One imag­ines had they pos­sessed back­lit smart phones, those ear­ly movie­go­ers might have found them­selves strug­gling not to browse their pro­grams while the film screened. But, of course, Metrop­o­lis’s visu­al excess­es would hold their atten­tion as they still do ours. Its scenes of a futur­is­tic city have always enthralled view­ers, film­mak­ers, and (most) crit­ics, such that Roger Ebert could write of “vast futur­is­tic cities” as a sta­ple of some of the best sci­ence fic­tion in his review of the 21st-cen­tu­ry ani­mat­ed Metrop­o­lis—“visions… goofy and yet at the same time exhil­a­rat­ing.”


The pro­gram real­ly is an aston­ish­ing doc­u­ment, a trea­sure for fans of the film and for schol­ars. Full of pro­duc­tion stills, behind-the-scenes arti­cles and pho­tos, tech­ni­cal minu­ti­ae, short columns by the actors, a bio of Thea von Har­bau, the “authoress,” excerpts from her nov­el and screen­play placed side-by-side, and a short arti­cle by her. There’s a page called “Fig­ures that Speak” that tal­lies the pro­duc­tion costs and cast and crew num­bers (includ­ing very crude draw­ings and num­bers of “Negroes” and “Chi­nese”). Lang him­self weighs in, lacon­i­cal­ly, with a breezy intro­duc­tion fol­lowed by a clas­sic silent-era line: “if I can­not suc­ceed in find­ing expres­sion on the pic­ture, I cer­tain­ly can­not find it in speech.” Film his­to­ry agrees, Lang found his expres­sion “on the pic­ture.”


“Only three sur­viv­ing copies of this pro­gram are known to exist,” writes Wired, and one of them, from which these pages come, has gone on sale at the Peter Har­ring­ton rare book shop for 2,750 pounds ($4,244)—which seems rather low, giv­en what an orig­i­nal Metrop­o­lis poster went for. But mar­kets are fick­le, and what­ev­er its cur­rent or future price, ”Metrop­o­lis” Mag­a­zine is invalu­able to cineast­es. See all 32 pages of the pro­gram at Peter Harrington’s web­site.


via Wired

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Metrop­o­lis: Watch a Restored Ver­sion of Fritz Lang’s Mas­ter­piece (1927)

Fritz Lang Tells the Riv­et­ing Sto­ry of the Day He Met Joseph Goebbels and Then High-Tailed It Out of Ger­many

Metrop­o­lis II: Dis­cov­er the Amaz­ing, Fritz Lang-Inspired Kinet­ic Sculp­ture by Chris Bur­den

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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