It came from "Metropolis": The legacy of a classic

Slide show: From "Star Wars" to Madonna, we look at how Fritz Lang's re-released masterpiece changed pop culture

Published May 15, 2010 6:01PM (EDT)

The original science fiction blockbuster, Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" is a high-water mark in the late silent era. Released in 1927, the same year as the first talkie, "The Jazz Singer," it's a parable of class struggle, foregrounding issues that obsessed 1920s audiences and that have persisted through the present: the oppressive scale of modern cities, the exploitation of the lower classes by the powerful, and the allure of technology, which is presented by Lang as something akin to dark magic.

Beyond any of that, "Metropolis" is eye candy, bankrolled by its studio, UFA, in hopes of dazzling audiences the world over, and perhaps giving German film some traction in the coveted U.S. market. Lang, among the most sadistic of movie visionaries, led hundreds of designers and craftspeople and tens of thousands of extras to push analog filmmaking to its conceptual limits (and his insistence on doing dozens of takes of certain scenes pushed his collaborators to their physical limits). "Metropolis" was the most expensive film made up until that time. But as studio bean counters still say, every penny (or, in this case, Reichsmark) is on the screen.

Paramount, the film's U.S. production partner, severely cut "Metropolis" so that theater exhibitors could schedule more showings per day. Film scholars’ 80-year quest to find and restore the excised material ended last week when a 25-minutes-longer version, which uses recovered and restored footage to flesh out the film's plot and characters and burnish its themes, is now showing at New York’s Film Forum.

Film Salon celebrates the pop culture legacy of Lang’s film with the following, highly subjective list of movies that crib from the film's iconic imagery: an elegant female robot born in a storm of man-made lightning; oppressed workers toiling in dingy subterranean factories; a city of Art Deco skyscrapers ringed by elevated train tracks and swarmed by prop planes and zeppelins. Entries are arranged in chronological order by release date. Add your own favorites to the comments section.

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By Matt Zoller Seitz

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