Watch Metropolis’ Cinematically Innovative Dance Scene, Restored as Fritz Lang Intended It to Be Seen (1927)

When it came out in 1927, Fritz Lang’s Metrop­o­lis showed audi­ences the kind of whol­ly invent­ed real­i­ty, hith­er­to beyond imag­i­na­tion, that could be real­ized in motion pic­tures. Its vision of a soci­ety bisect­ed into colos­sal sky­scrap­ers and under­ground war­rens, an indus­tri­al Art Deco dystopia, con­tin­ues to influ­ence film­mak­ers today. This despite — or per­haps because of — the sim­ple sto­ry it tells, in which Fred­er, the scion of the city of Metrop­o­lis, rebels against his father after fol­low­ing Maria, a good-heart­ed maid­en from the under­class, into the infer­nal low­er depths.

In the role of Maria was a then-unknown 18-year-old actress named Brigitte Helm. “For all the steam and spe­cial effects,” writes Robert McG. Thomas Jr. in Helm’s New York Times obit­u­ary, “for many who have seen the movie in its var­i­ous incar­na­tions, includ­ing a tint­ed ver­sion and one accom­pa­nied by music, the most com­pelling lin­ger­ing image is nei­ther the tow­ers above nor the hell­ish fac­to­ries below. It is the star­tling trans­for­ma­tion of Ms. Helm from an ide­al­is­tic young woman into a bare­ly clad crea­ture per­form­ing a las­civ­i­ous dance in a broth­el.”

Halfway through the film, Maria gets kid­napped by the vil­lain­ous inven­tor Rot­wang and cloned as a robot. It is this robot, not the real Maria, who takes the stage in the scene in ques­tion, prac­ti­cal­ly nude by the stan­dards of silent-era cin­e­ma. Lang used the sequence to push not just the bounds of pro­pri­ety, but the aes­thet­ic capa­bil­i­ties of his art form: view­ers would nev­er have seen any­thing like the frame-fill­ing field of eye­balls into which the slaver­ing crowd of tuxe­doed men dis­solve. Here we have a medi­um demon­strat­ing deci­sive­ly and pow­er­ful­ly what sets it apart from all oth­ers, in just one of the scenes restored only recent­ly to its orig­i­nal form.

When Thomas allud­ed to the many extant cuts of Metrop­o­lis in his 1996 obit­u­ary for Helm, the now-defin­i­tive ver­sion of the pic­ture that made her a star still lay in the future. 2010’s The Com­plete Metrop­o­lis includes mate­r­i­al redis­cov­ered just two years before, on a 16-mil­lime­ter reduc­tion neg­a­tive stored at Buenos Aires’ Museo del Cine and long for­got­ten there­after. Now, just as Lang intend­ed us to, we can behold his cin­e­mat­ic vision of rulers employ­ing the high­est tech­nol­o­gy to keep even the elite mes­mer­ized by tit­il­lat­ing spec­ta­cles — a fan­tas­ti­cal sce­nario that has noth­ing at all to do, of course, with the future as it actu­al­ly turned out.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

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

Fritz Lang Invents the Video Phone in Metrop­o­lis (1927)

H.G. Wells Pans Fritz Lang’s Metrop­o­lis in a 1927 Movie Review: It’s “the Sil­li­est Film”

10 Great Ger­man Expres­sion­ist Films: From Nos­fer­atu to The Cab­i­net of Dr. Cali­gari

Watch After the Ball, the 1897 “Adult” Film by Pio­neer­ing Direc­tor Georges Méliès (Almost NSFW)

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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