Who am I talking about? Who but Robot Maria, the evil cyber-alchemical doppelganger of sweet organic Maria in Fritz Lang's 1927 Metropolis. No joke.
In the above shot Robot Maria's letting Joh Fredersen, the "brain" or "head" of the futuristic titular megacity, that she totally "gets" what he's on about and is ready to get the job done.
And here, she's fascinating the super-rich patrons of the Yoshiwara nightclub, and pretty much literally embodying the you-know-what of Babylon. Rockin' the headgear, natch. To think that actress Brigitte Helm was a mere teen when she acted in this. Kick ass!
Who knew that these would be the most actually prescient aspects of this delirious epic, which will be screening in a newly restored version presented by Kino International at Manhattan's Film Forum beginning May 6 7? The new restoration, which adds almost thirty minutes of newly-found (and frequently rather rough-looking) footage to Lang's epic, fleshes out certain plot threads—the "Thin Man"'s pursuit of Freder Frederson, for instance, which has some great cat-and-mouse action—and expands on certain crucial action scenes, such as the attack on the city's "Heart Machine." The reason the restored footage looks so rough is because its source is a very old 16mm print found in Argentina a couple of years back. In the new restoration, this footage is presented in a different scale from the previously restored stuff; there's a black border on the top and left sides of the frame. The effect is slightly...scholarly. But it doesn't at all detract from the film's exhilaration. And the new material of course also adds mightily to the film's, well, ridiculousness.
While Lang and producer Erich Pommer were inspired by their first glimpse of the New York City skyline when they shared an ocean voyage to the States in 1924, who the hell knows what was inspiring scenarists Lang and Thea von Harbou when they cooked up Metropolis' stew of religious allegory and goofy labor-relations parable. The film's epigram about how the "mediator" between "brain and hands must be the heart" is one of the most empty-headed bromides ever to not grace a Hallmark card. (And it says quite a bit about Madonna Ciccone's intellectual attainment, such as it is, that she adopted it whole-heartedly for that dopey Metropolis-homage video for "Express Yourself.") H.G. Wells was in fact one-hundred percent correct when he deemed this "the silliest film." It's not just the nonexistent-to-incoherent philosophy it trucks in. I mean, think about it: Joh Frederson (the great Alfred Abel), decides he's going to use Rotwang's Robot Maria to drive the workers to violent unrest, after which he will have a perfect excuse to oppress them further, and violently. But apparently it doesn't occur to him that as said workers go about their violent unrest, they're likely to do such damage as to pretty much shut the city down. Which they do. After which Fredersen...calls in the army or national guard he's had on alert since hatching his scheme, instructing them to impose martial law? Why no, he does no such thing. Such a strategy isn't even mentioned. No, instead Fredersen staggers to Metropolis' cathedral, to witness the climactic rooftop battle between his dippy son Freder and the magnificently evil Rotwang (the even-greater-than-Abel Rudolf Klein-Rogge).
That's right, Joh; don't just do something, kneel there!
Metropolis is also one of the earliest and most significant proponents of the "who cares if it makes sense, as long as it looks cool?" school of filmmaking. (A friend reminded me of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari when I brought up this notion, and he has a small point; only Caligari's overt subject happens to be the derangment of the senses, which gives its visuals a wholly apropos rationale throughout.) What the hell does the clock-looking gizmo that worker Georgi (aka "11811") has to tend to actually do, anyway? Why does Good Maria keep dicking around with those heavy levers even after she's got the gong alarm sounding but good? Etc. We all know the answer to these questions, finally, which is "Who cares?"
Which brings me to a final question: Would Metropolis be as much of a blast if it were, in fact, smarter and/or made more sense? Lang's prior Dr. Mabuse Der Spieler (which, we should recall, was adapted from an outside source) is equally thrilling but not nearly as risible. And for that, I still think this picture's unself-conscious pulp idiocy is somehow part of its greatness. And if someone would like to argue that it's not idiocy, I'm willing to entertain that, too. In any event, this new Metropolis is essential viewing. Of course.