March 17, 2005

Metropolis and Aesthetic Mediation


When watching Metropolis, I could not stop myself from thinking how great it would be if everything would burst into Wizard of Oz-type technicolor when the workers unite and begin to destroy the machines. However, in the beginning, I thought it was very appropriate the film to be in black-and-white, and it lends an even more monotonous feel to the film's technology, enhancing the plight of the workers.

Machinery dominates, of course. The workers in the film walk around for the majority of the movie with heads down, walking slowly toward their tasks. This seems to reinforce the idea that in an era of machines, human beings are expendable commodities that may work as interchangeable parts, just as the machine does.

While I was disappointed to find that titles in this silent film were few and far between, I began to really appreciate the actors' expressions, and even black-lipped beauty, as the movie progressed. The aesthetic beauty of the people, albeit 1920's style, made me realize that the same classic features are still sought after; for example, as in The Aviator, Cate Blanchett--a carbon copy of Katharine Hepburn.

The experimental seduction of mechanistic modernism in Eugene O'Neill's 'Dynamo' and the Federal Theatre Project's 'Altars of steel':

A nice long name for an article. Although I had issues understanding the majority of this article, this struck me:

These lavishly illustrated works show the influence of Lang's film 'Metropolis'...not just in the design of urban skyscrapers but also in the manner in which they emphasised teeming masses of humanity moving through the streets--less like blood through networks of veins, and more like a viscous fluid pressed nto tightly regulated streams, lubricating a great urban machine.

I had never thought about this, but it is true that the current skyscrapers of New York and even Hartford (yes, I've been there now), look a lot like the ones in Metropolis. The lines of windows, stretching up in grays and blacks into the sky are very reminiscent of those in the imagined film work of Lang.

The Americanization of Expressionism: The Hairy Ape (1922) and The Adding Machine (1923):

Before reading the Wikipedia entry on The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, I really did not have any idea of what expressionism is. I mean, it does have "expression" in the title, but what is it expressing? The audience....the artist? After reading up, I found that the artist is just expressing one's self without thought to the audience who will (probably?) view it.

I really want to kick myself, because if I had known this concept before my last paper, I could have gone beyond Freud vs. New Criticism.

In this article, Jerz characterizes The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, as

"An unrealistic, nightmarish setting, [with] the director employ[ing] painted cutouts for interior and exterior sets, arranging them asymmetrically, skewing all the horizontal and vertical lines. The misshapen angles, grotesque make-up, and striking lighting effects defin[ing] a visual standard for German expressionism."

When thinking of the scenery in Metropolis, the stages were as real to life as they possibly could be (that is, without special effects). The lab scene, for example, is startlingly well done, considering the minimal film technology for the time. The ellipticals around Robot Maria, for example, could only be achieved by some creative visual effects--revolutionary.

These effects were, according to Wikipedia, achieved with the artist's expression in mind, rather than the audience (relationship to expressionism); but isn't it lucky for the director that the audiences also enjoys scenes like this?

I am not entirely sure that expression in film is a not an oxymoron, especially in the current industry. The almighty dollar takes away from the possibility for the odd, unique, and artsy.

While this film did get really slow toward the end, and the credits were sadly minimal, I have a new appreciation for the expressions of actors and actresses, sound, and finally the portrayal of technology in film, whether real or imagined.

And finally an analysis of the thematic quote:

There can be no understanding between the hands and the brain unless the heart acts as mediator.

Hands: workers, Brain: Federson (big business--man), and Mediator: Federson's son who gets the girl: Maria. What a lovely shot at the end when the white-clad Federson's son holds hands between his father and the worker. If only we all could just get along like that...:-)

On the Ballet (?):
The question mark is to indicate confusion... Though I like the idea behind this musical score (using many instruments in synchronization and it finally being accomplished), I think it sounds a bit more like Daffy Duck falling down a flight of stairs. Sorry--not my ears' cup-o-tea.

I read the background before actually hearing it, and it is a lovely story of overcoming technological medium obstacles and finally realizing a dream, but only twenty-first century creators could put something like this together for real.

I remember in Writing for the Internet my first year, that one of our first assignments was to research the origins of the smiley. I had no idea what a smiley was back then.

However, in RUR, Jerz notes that this is the place where the word "robot" was coined.

Robots now have connotations with them, as do smileys, but this play made me think twice about the clunky piece of machinery image I have in my head:

DOMAIN: Have you ever seen what a Robot looks like

HELENA: Good gracious, no!

DOMAIN: Very neat, very simple. Really a beautiful piece of work.

Aesthetically-pleasing Just screwed up that stereotype. Sheesh I really have to work on this animating the inanimate habit I have developed. Robot oppression--I am becoming Helena--the robot freedom fighter. :-D

Posted by Amanda Cochran at March 17, 2005 6:36 PM | TrackBack

Can I ask if this was for a class, and which class it was for? I need to track what other courses are doing with films so I can adjust my syllabus for THE ART OF FILM (next Fall!) accordingly. I don't want to repeat what others have already shown... though I have a great unit on this film and it appears to have been spoiled.

Posted by: Mike ARnzen at March 17, 2005 7:12 PM

Oh Rotwang, how much you have taught me.

I saw this film at Regent Square in Pittsburgh about two years ago. It was the restored version with the original soundtrack... hopefully that's the one you watched, and not that God-awful 80's version with the heavy metal.

Posted by: Mike at March 17, 2005 7:59 PM

Media Aesthetics, Dr. Arnzen.

Mike, I am not sure if it was the original or not. It was a Reeves Library DVD, so I am guessing no. :-)

Posted by: Amanda at March 17, 2005 9:49 PM

Mike, I'm sure there is much more you can do with it -- it's such a rich film, and my interest in it is somewhat limited, in that I'm working up to teaching Galatea 2.0, and the technology/humanity divide, and the creation of the ideal woman are part of what I want to talk about. Let's talk when I get back from my conference.

Great job, by the way, Amanda... have fun in the big city.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at March 18, 2005 1:05 PM
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