“The Merging of Man and Machine”

This month’s film is the third out of the nine films discussed in this series that happens to have been released in exactly five different editions. You’ll recall, this was also true of last month’s movie “Brazil.” The other film that shares this distinction is the ancestor of them all, Fritz Lange’s “Metropolis” (1927).

Why so many versions? Did the previous cuts ring too false or too true? Is a motion picture as mutable as a melody on which infinite variations can be tried? Or is everything in the man made universe going to be treated like an App, from now on, subjected to continual revision? This question becomes a theme in Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982).

One marvelous function of art is its ability to employ ambiguity to trigger controversy and stimulate vital discourse. The multiple editions of these movies represent an extravagant debate. Motion pictures take months to edit and finish. Likewise, they are extremely cumbersome, time consuming and expensive to pull apart and put back together. What’s at stake must be very important to go to all that trouble. For a movie to have been subjected to so much surgery means that it struck a cultural nerve. The filmmaker is to be applauded. Stories, and particularly science fiction stories are probes into our future. They lead us into deeper, more meaningful examinations of the consequences of our past actions and our role in shaping the future.

I have not read the novel by Philip K. Dick that was the starting point for the “Blade Runner” script. Thematically, it’s easy to take it for a premonition about class warfare. With dialog like, “if you aint cop your just little people,” this director is as keen on the subject as Terry Gilliam was in “Brazil,” where we watched the stuggle of a man against the bureaucratic machine. In “Blade Runner” the machines revolt against man. Can they really do that? Have they accomplished it already? This puzzle pops up consistently throughout all nine motion pictures reviewed in this series so far.

The way into that conundrum in “Blade Runner” is to depict the machine as man’s jealous twin. You can replace Deckard vs. Replicant with Democrat vs. Republican or Cain vs. Able. It’s all the same story. We’re talking about different sides of human nature that are polarized from the start, but from that schism springs the interracial love story in Mr. Scott’s riddle’s heart.

“West Side Story” was good with that subject too. Of equal interest to me is how this runner suggests that sooner or later our physical bodies will become technologically enhanced to the point we can live on indefinitely. It won’t be long and our original DNA will become something indistinguishable from manufactured robes and rods of miraculous stem-cell fiber grafted into our mainframe and programmed to prolong our feast here.

My grandmother, who died decades ago, wore the first generation of life extension technology under her skin. She would have probably been tossed in the bone heap in her thirties, like her own mom, were it not for all the fancy hardware she’d had hot-wired in. She had a mechanical fingers, wrist, hips and knees. Medical mechanics kept her mobile, in the 1960s and 70s, by replacing malformed bones and gristle, with plates, screws, hinges and pins. You could see the zippers all over her skin where they went in.
After a continuous string of more than thirty major operations, a sizable sum of her was man made. Count me as one who regarded that kind of technology as a godsend.

Consider all the scientific leaps that have taken place since then and take them to their logical conclusion. Somebody’s bound to aim for technologically assisted immortality. If such a thing’s possible, aren’t we bound to try and produce it artificially? How soon before we all essentially become Replicants and who will decide how long we live?

As we drop down to examine Blade Runner’s finely honed edge, the first thing we notice is the look of the future world Rick Deckard lives in. Almost every filmmaker in this series seems to have incorporated some of Fritz Lange’s visual design in “Metropolis” into their own futuristic landscape. If you haven’t already watched the documentary “Voyage to Metropolis” inside “The Complete Metropolis” edition from Kino International. There you will be treated to comparisons of sets in “Metropolis” and “Blade Runner” side-by-side for your convenience.

While we’re scanning the scenery in “Blade Runner,” notice what is still circulating in popular culture after thirty years. How accurate was “Blade Runner” in predicting our present? In a hyper-vertical city center, a geisha girl can be seen on a digital billboard popping a pill and smiling serenely. So, the target demographic is Asian, the population is on mood drugs, which are advertised in the mass media. Check. Mass communication is accomplished on massive screens, check. Petroleum is being refined big time, check. Budweiser and Cuisinart show up on signs, check. Hari Krishnas still chant their lines. Also Hilton and Bulova have traversed the times. Check, check. Not bad, but we did underachieve in a major line of innovation that this storyteller predicted. Transport on Deckard’s beat has lifted off the ground. In this reality, the information highway has made the hovercraft less of a priority. Deckard’s riding a highway in the sky but take away that and he looks like he’s stuck in Shanghai.

Now let us commence, as “Blade Runner” does, by discovering what a replicant is. According to the interrogator, across the desk from the first replicant we ever meet, a turtle and a tortoise are the “same thing”. “Blade Runner” unfolds by asking, what if the difference between machines and humans was no greater than that between turtle and tortoise? The tortoise is a perfect metaphor for a replicant, by the way, because a replicant is simply a shell inside of which resides human nature.

The interrogator scrutinizes the reaction of the replicant after telling him a tortoise is lying helpless on its back. The replicant in “Blade Runner” identifies with the helpless creature because he’s in a similar pinch. The manufacturers feared that the longer the replicants lived, the more attached to being alive they’d become, so replicants are programmed to shut down after four years.

If they live long enough, they develop emotions like hate, anger, fear and envy and then they can’t coexist peacefully with humans. This reasoning is presented as common sense to us the audience. Let’s zoom in on that assumption. The thing we are afraid of in “Blade Runner” is a machine that expresses hate, anger, fear and envy. What? You mean like guns? Nobody questions such a machine’s obsolescence when it’s called a replicant. Deckard is our hero. Everyone in the audience is cheering for him–even die-hard gun owners. Everyone in the audience knows that machines are very dangerous when they are used for hate, anger, fear, etc. Those machines he’s chasing down and eliminating are very scary and ought not to be allowed to run loose in our society. One could argue that Deckard needs a gun to do his job, but that’s not a pistol in his belt. Deckard’s weapon is for retiring dangerous machines.

As with automobiles, new editions of brand name replicant designs are constantly being rolled out and old ones need to be retired. Sean Young plays Rachel, the replicant calendar babe, a gleaming piece of R&D that would scoop any man’s fantasy for kink on the techie frontier. She’s convinced she’s human. Tycoon genius Eldon Tyrell says he’s giving Rachel memories that will expand her ability to handle emotions more comfortably.

The identity crisis of Rachel’s character after Deckard reveals her true nature to her would be hard to imagine in real life. It would be like any one of us being told at age 21 that we were fake. The predicament is not unlike the unfortunate Harry Buttle’s, in act one of “Brazil”, who has another person’s identity accidentally grafted on to his and his life slides downhill. There’s no way to imagine the shock when your memories suddenly supply zero context for your life, but they’re still there and they never go away. What would that feel like to find out your entire past is nothing but an App and not only that, so is your response to it? This is the twisty, mind-bendy spell of Ridley Scott’s epic cop flick.

To be continued…

“Love of the Machine”

As mentioned in the last post, future cop Rick Deckard carries what looks like a gun, but it’s not for killing. Deckard’s weapon is for retiring replicants. Whenever a replicant outlasts its usefulness, the weapon is his tool for shutting it down.

Malfunctioning machines must be shut down if we are to survive. This is the common sense being drawn upon in “Blade Runner,” just as it was in Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey.” In those movies, the solution was obvious to us all. Nobody questioned it.

Well, what about corporations, political parties, churches and the media? Aren’t those machines capable malfunctioning too? By the same logic, wouldn’t we want someone like Deckard in our modern times that can stop malfunctioning machines from running amok?

What if Philip and Ridley are a bona-fide tag team of modern prophets? Do we have the equivalent of rebel replicants in our world? They could appear a lot different here. Let us identify what such a thing might look like. Perhaps the replicant on the run in our reality might be defined as any machine that wants to enjoy the same rights as human beings. If this is considered a malfunctioning machine in science fiction, then why would we allow its equivalent to go unchallenged in our existing reality?

Another engrossing irony in “Blade Runner” is the genetic engineer JB Sebastian’s predicament. His is only twenty-five years old but looks fifty. JB explains his ailment to replicant Pris. He has Methuselah Syndrome, meaning his glands age too fast. This boy genius represents a familiar archetype with an interesting twist. The eternal child faces premature death. JB’s family of toy friends further exposes the infantile mentality that was behind the development of those selfish machines. Out of frustration with his demise he helped invent the replicant to stand in for him when life abandons him.

Machines are invented as solutions to problems. Wheel plus arrow equals progress. We build them to to fill a gap between where we are and where we want to be. Or perhaps our brain is too smart for our frame and it’s destroying us. We’ll see. We adore our gadgets, obviously. You are most likely gazing into the eyes of one this very minute. Some of us worship them a bit much it seems. The warning the prophet issues here is to forbid them from ever having the status of human beings.

The love scene between Rachel and Deckard illuminates our 21st century affair with technology turning it into ironic, cinematic sex play. Soon after she saves his life, Rachel holds up with Deckard in his flat. They sip some booze. Deckard lies down and slips into a dream. Rachel plays his piano, a machine that does a great service to humankind. Then, with red tipped claws, she unfastens her hair, transforming herself from a wily, manufactured predator to supple, feline plaything. Deckard wakes up and tells her he dreamed of music. She looks in his eyes, he leans in and she runs away, or tries. Deckard stops her at the door and pours it on.

More likely this hyper-intelligent gizmo with the gorgeous face just intentionally planted that song in Deckard’s head and, not only that, her programmer has calculated Rick’s reaction with such accuracy that when his sexual impulse strikes, Rachel’s made to run and Deckard is counted on to chase.

So love makes robots of us all. That’s funny. It’s ironic and it’s all so erotic the way submissive/dominance roles are reversed. Deckard commands that Rachel tell him to kiss her and she obeys.
“Tell me you want me,” he commands and she obeys again.
“Say it again” he orders.
“I want you” she repeats, then adds without prompting, “put your hands on me,” and boing! Deckard obeys. They clench for an electric kiss. Olé!

Before we leave the subject of music, allow me to direct our attention to the fabulous sound track of “Blade Runner.” Harken back and hurl your lasso around that very first film I mentioned in this series, “Koyanniskatsi” (1982) which reached for new dynamics in the relationship of sound to image. Is it out of the question to suggest that Phillip Glass receives a nod here from the filmmaker in his choice of investing new wave electronic pioneer Vangelis with responsibility for the score? In any case, it works.

In a sci-fi/western/noir, how does a villain and a hero settle the score? The final irony plays out like a showdown, up on the roof with agent Deckard and replicant Roy armed for existential angst instead of gore. They’re hemmed in amid a tight grid of phallic towers. Fan blades revolve aimlessly in the drizzling rain. Searchlights sweep like fire hoses over a fuzzy haze. On the verge of demise, Roy looks amazed. One hand expresses tremendous gentleness as the rebel clutches a white dove he’s found. With the other exhibiting impressive strength he snatches Deckard off a beam overhanging the gleaming forest of titanium and glass where he’d been helplessly about to fall. Roy hurls Deckard down on the roof roughly but well out of harm. He philosophizes on the fleeting nature of existence for a moment then, through half a smile he mutters “time to die,” and bows his head.

It had to end this way. We all agree, because machines are there to help humanity or else get out of the way. The audience believes this and that is why, on that appointed day, Roy’s internal clock must be allowed to grind to a stop. Then the white dove in his hand flaps upward through a gash in the gloom toward a shard of clear blue sky. What a surprise! I never considered the possibility of such a sight in Deckard’s world. I just assumed the sun had disappeared too, long ago, behind a shroud of permanent smog. It leaves me hoping that our love affair with technology will serve life, not enslave it and ultimately smooth out our brute instinct with our compassionate side.

“Nocturnal Emission”

Are we sleeping? Do we need a wake up call? Good stories call out our common conscience. If a major goal of democracy is to give everyone a gun, then a major goal of storytelling must be to prevent us from pulling the trigger. The preservation and protection of personal liberties could not be of greater importance in the minds of the great storytellers. The films in this series have that in common.

It is high time that Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (1936) be fit into our massive blog on Humanity and the Machine. It is not technically science fiction, as most of the films in this series are, but neither is Geoffrey Reggio’s “Quatsi Trilogy” which opened the series and yet it informs us so richly about our future.

Contextually, Chaplin’s “Modern Times” presents us with a romance between two optimistic homeless persons. Ideologically it pays respect to the poor and working classes during the height of the industrial era. As a piece of research into what makes humans laugh, “Modern Times” conducts us through a prolonged, elaborate and ingenious series of gags accomplished by a combination of rigged sets, split second choreography and virtuosic variations on the mechanization of humans.

I have pitted guns and movies against each other in this series more than once. “Modern Times” gives us a chance to compare the two very similar looking machines that produce them. Compare any state of the art factory assembly line, making say weapons of the WW I era, with the one in the movie set that manufactures laughs in Chaplin’s blockbuster movie. Both depend on a huge collective of workers. Both were made for a profit. It could be argued that Charlie Chaplin’s factory has produced something of much greater and lasting value for the benefit of more people than any other factory of its time.

As for the argument that movies are fantasy and not accurate when compared to the real world, even though it premiered almost seventy years ago, “Modern Times” managed to foresee the two-way screen that enables Big Brother to eavesdrop on law-abiding citizens. “The Matrix (1999), reminds those who have taken on the questionable karma of invading the privacy of the masses, that they too are being watched at all times, no doubt from all angles.

Surveillance may be a dandy method for catching criminals but it sets up the environment for a war on thought. Another fine science fiction film that delves into this subject and would deserve to be included in this series, if it wasn’t already discussed in these pages a few years back, is “Fahrenheit 451” (1966). As if we were actually paying attention, the French New Wave prophet Francois Truffaut brought Isaac Asimov’s science fiction classic to the screen to provided us with advanced warning on the totalitarian wet dream that is well on its way to becoming the norm in America today.

See “Someone is Watching Watching Over You” – https://openchannelcontent.com/wordpress/2010/07/593/

Storytellers by nature are prophets. Could our best contemporary ones be on par with the old world prophets of scripture? Hardly. Those great oracles in the scriptures have had a long time for their prophecies to be adulterated by hypocrites. Their words have been being cooped by power brokers for thousands upon thousands of years. The modern day prophets haven’t been recognized yet.

There is an amusingly prophetic sequence in “Modern Times” where we were warned about this recent very grave and disastrous privacy violation imposed on Americans by our government. The Little Tramp is not a tramp yet but a factory worker. The first act of Modern Times deals with the events that lead up to his homelessness. His trouble begins when he clocks out for lunch two minutes early, ducks into the washroom and leans back on a washbasin for a cigarette break.
“Hey you! What are you doing there? shouts the boss,
The startled worker almost falls in the sink scissoring his legs twice in the air before his feet return to the floor.
Get back to work?”

From an enormous screen that moments ago was only a wall, a hard nosed executive frowns down on the little, blue-bibbed man.
Charlie drops his smoke and scurries back to the jangling noise and repetitive stress of the factory assembly line.
So many Americans seem to have skipped the shock response altogether and rushed back to their business without question.

Better Keep Your Wits About You

The alien integrated society where Korbin Dallas lives and loves is a total privacy-invaded State. His government forces him to undertake service or be marginalized. This is the identical arrangement placed upon Rick Deckard in “Blade Runner,” and also Sam Lowry in “Brazil.” Since their governments can’t inspire the protagonist to serve their interests, they leave them no other alternative.

The great prophetic science fiction writers of our times infiltrate our minds, with the help of movie machines, for our collective enlightenment. They are warning us about other kinds of machines that are invented to infiltrate our minds for the purpose of our collective enslavement.

It is sometimes best to dispel the oppressive overtones of serious subjects with a little humor before performing an autopsy on them with the tools of storytelling. Levity is the great gift of directors Charlie Chaplin and Terry Gilliam, and never more so than in their movies about man and the machine. With all the other titles in this series having been dramas, commenting on “Brazil” and “Modern Times” and “The Fifth Element” (1997) have brought welcome relief, sort of.

Luc Besson’s eleventh movie is an futuristic western adventure comedy with plenty of serious matters addressed. Korbin’s celestial hook-up begins in a cultural melting pot, divisively classed and pressed against the glass of heavy surveillance, suspended between aggressive, armed police and roving, ruthless gangs.

The lone wolf of tonight’s final frontier mystic chuckler is played by box office Buddha Bruce Willis. He falls for a sexy Supreme Being, Leeloo, a Manga-inspired orange crush Venus. Leeloo makes her entrance into the heart of space commando Korbin Dallas as a teenaged test tube Messiah in a state of the art genetic tech womb. From that cutting edge birth canal, twenty year old Mila Jovavich was rocketed into the universe of international movie stardom as well and “The Fifth Element” became the most financially successful French film of all time.

In contrast to the rest of the films in the series, one of the splendid enjoyments of watching “The Fifth Element” is how cute everything looks. Unlike the gloom that permeates the majority of the films in this series, the elemental character of Besson’s “Fifth” is imbued with candy gloss, glitter and pop.

Stewardesses on the ship to Flostun Paradise, wear cuddly shifts, topped in 1960’s inspired wigs and pillbox lids.  Each one of them is a bonafide babe. They act in such a mechanically pre-programmed manner sometimes, you wonder if they’re dolls.

The virtual and the real swap places multiple ways in “The Fifth Element.” Good guys are hard to tell from crooks. Korbin encounters shape-shifting desperadoes and ubiquitous police posses, prowling for outlaws. Everywhere there’s cops and hoods fighting for turf.

I have intentionally put off, until now, discussing “The Fifth Element” because of its sheer silliness. But its overstatements are appropriate for the futuristic, slapstick, twitching hybrid that it turns out to be.

At the mid-point and onward, the role of Ruby Rod flips the proceedings into hilarious camped-out excess, courtesy of the hysterical Chris Tucker. Playing the part of a high-strung, omnisexual MC, he flaunts a voracious but vapid vivacity on the media mainstream, diddling the chicks like a rooster, oozing with greed for the phony next thrill, treating his fawning public like they make him ill. With a hollow hairstyle that resembles a loofah, Tucker goes about seducing every boy and girl on the ship, cavorting in a fabulous wardrobe by Jean Paul Gautier. My laughter generally goes uncontrollable at this point. Ruby’s hollowness is only surpassed by his shallowness.

For this segment, one might regard “The Fifth Element” as trivial compared to others in this series. I consider it serious science fiction, like “Modern Times”, just the same and just as prophetic. Even though its tone is calculated for laughs the subject and it’s treatment comments sincerely on some existential dead ends we find ourselves in today in the name of progress.

Time and again, the warning from the prophets seems to be about how technology can be used either for destruction or service. It all depends on the motive of the operator. In placing this assumption at the core of the story, “The Fifth Element” is updating a message from Fritz Lange’s “Metropolis” (1927). “The mediator between the head and the hands is the heart.”  Fritz Lange later regretted his decision to flash this slogan both at the beginning and end of his story. He renounced the movie later as fairy tale oddly enough. It surprised me to find this out because I never thought of “Metropolis” as anything but a fairy tale. Ironic that, while Fritz Lange was evidently uncomfortable with it, what he achieved with that one fairy tale became a hallmark for every successive generation of prophetic film makers to follow.

His warnings are taken up again brilliantly in “District 9” (2009) which will surface this summer to round out this series on man and the machine, but we won’t conclude, either, without projecting “Metropolis” back up on screen once again.

With the marriage of motion pictures and telecomunications, we’ve stumbled upon a globally unifying storytelling device. This is an opportunity we cannot afford to pass up. I call upon the filmmaker’s of the world to tell stories that make us want to be our best and to wish the best to our fellow human beings.

Enlightened storytellers from all walks of life and every culture with motion pictures have been delving into the deepest and most complex subjects imaginable for over a century. It appears that storytelling and cinema stand to contribute more, by far, toward the survival of the human race, than anyone would have guessed when it was invented.


The Machine in My Shadow

In my opinion the film we are about to watch represents the current high water mark in the steady flood of films that attempt to shine a light on our relationship with the machine. No other cinematic  extravaganza since “The Matrix (1999),” that I’ve watched anyway, has transferred more indelible impressions into my brain. This movie had passed through wide release and gone to home video before I bothered to watch it. Let’s just say, I hope there are more Sci-Fi epics this good just waiting to be discovered.

In “District 9”, (2009) by Neill Blomkamp, a gigantic alien refugee barge is marooned in the sky above Johannesburg. Its occupants erect slums in its shadow. Setting the story on earth in the present day, rather than some zone of the future, makes the action unfold with foreboding immediacy and uncanny familiarity. I’ve watched it three times and walked away with my nervous system flushed and brain left twitching with after image, clear into the next day. It is not always an easy ride, but “District 9” sails along with novelty and surprise and while there is no visual in the film so impressive as that alien gallion in the sky, it is drama of a human scale on which the story relies.

District 9’s dilemma does not focus on an apocalypse, like so many science fiction films. One could say it is about “race,” based on where it takes place. Fear, prejudice, savagery and rebellion and enlightenment all flash across the protagonist’s face. On the flip side, we discover some capacity for compassion, as well, residing underneath the Prawn’s rigidly engineered carapace. In contrast to the love story told to us in “Blade Runner,” the climax in “District 9’s comes when aliens and humans cooperate to save, not the human race, but the aliens.

At the heart of this story, refugees just want to go home. Anyone can relate to that? Right? Not one person in the audience does at first. Believe me, these are very strange creature/machines, communicating with creepy, insect-like hisses and clickings. These “Prawn,” as they are known, walk on hind legs, like us, but are disgusting to look at and barbaric and kinky besides. Come be a spectator at white South African Alien Relocation Chief Wikus Van de Merwe’s life while it turns into a sheer nightmare. His one hope of deliverance comes by embracing his enemy, from the inside out.

There’s a fair amount of shocking, visceral sensation in “District 9” but, as with the best of this genre, the worst is left to imagination. It also classifies as a horror flick, like Ridley Scott’s second sci-fi masterwork, “Alien,”

“District 9” earns high marks for the way its production design and editorial style elevate the action. Another recent film with a fascination for “reality television” is Ralph Fiennes’ fine first feature “Coriolanus” (2010) which has the added distinction of being a daring Shakespeare adaptation.

Both movies seem to not only comment on our appetite for news but on ways the news machine can be used to either inflame or sooth. In “District 9” we are hustled into the center of the action with a hypnotic mix of television newscasts, surveillance clips from the relocation front, and frequent, documentary sidebar hindsight, slipped in amid the grittier footage, an official story is carefully being floated in, from cool-headed spokespersons, located in offices or studios a safe distance away. Truth here is nothing but an amalgam of facts compiled from a compendium of DV tracks, examining some earthshaking acts, beneath which we are all still reeling, wrestling with and hoping not to let ever happen again.

Besides the immediacy with which the storytellers are able to invest this tale, “District 9” also manages to make us emotionally relate to two of the strangest strangers in motion pictures. Ironically, the Prawn named Christian and his bright little curious offspring give Wikus a dose of much needed humility. Through those three, hopefully we relate to all displaced folk everywhere and their quest for home and family.

“The Mother of All Man and Machine Movies”

“Metropolis” (1927) has been celebrated, desecrated, lost and found, but continues to grow in renown through nearly nine decades. I’ll wager I’ve mentioned this title times nine if I’ve mentioned her once. Most of what I’ve referred to is how so many subsequent science-fiction filmmakers have quoted aspects of director Fritz Lang’s visual style, a style which he attributed to his first view of New York City steaming into New York Harbor.

What impresses me first, in watching “Metropolis” this time, is how rudimentary some of the acting is, but at the same time, how effectively those actions communicate the character’s mood even today. Lang was by no means the first filmmaker to exploit how pantomime stands in for the human voice in silent film. Any good actor’s job is to employ novel ways to hold the attention of the audience all the way to the back of the auditorium.

Not all of the people that would watch his film would be able to read the intertitles, understand the language they’re written in, or fully comprehend the futuristic setting. So he directed his actors to project emotions with overstated body language and mask-like faces as if they were live on stage playing to a huge house. As motion pictures evolved, a more naturalistic acting style was tailored to the intimacy of motion picture screens.

Lang’s approach to directing actors was emblematic of the German cinema of his time. I wonder if the gaudy Expressionists weren’t always deliberately playing to the least educated viewer. I’d grant extra credit to any storyteller that tunes in, not just to his or her own immediate peer group, but audience members that exist in the cultural eddies. Consider the utterly diverse group of folks that have seen this film since it was first made.

Let’s aim our prism now into the heart of this film. What makes “Metropolis” more popular today than when it was first released, and more popular this year than last? Allusions to the apocalypse and the whore of Babylon aside, I don’t know how much has been written about Fritz Lang and his co-writer lifting their structure from Judeo/Christian scriptures, but few have wondered, out loud at least. I think it may be the key to why the footage has been spliced no less then five different ways, producing five distinct editions with as many different running times. Makes no difference whether Lang just lucked out, or knew what he was doing, the storyline in “Metropolis” reads like the book of Moses. Wise storytellers down through the ages all agree. You stand a better chance with your audience when you base your tale on a popular one from the good book. Interestingly enough, Fritz was raised a Catholic by a Jewish mother.

The handshake at the conclusion of Lang’s dystopian deliverance saga, is probably the best explanation for the controversy. The exceedingly tidy ending of “Metropolis” attracted the greatest amount of criticism during the first run and still does to this day. It was as if Moses and Ramses II hugged each other at the end of “The Ten Commandments.”

The second most paradoxical twist of this film’s fate was the lame excuse American sensors produced in order to impose a trim on the import. It was trumped up from a trivial detail, namely that Freder’s deceased mother’s name was “Hel.”

Helen, Helga, Hilda, Hilary Olga, and such all share their roots. Hel, is still a common name in Europe. Hell, it wouldn’t be a problem at all except, way back then, apparently not enough women in America were named Hel-somethingorother to help us understand. It would prove too much for Americans to associate that ancient root with anything but the devil’s wicked plan. Underneath all this “Metropolis” was penalized for fumbling with scripture. The masterpiece was circumcised before it ever played in America. Three different negatives went on to be snipped away at until the original eventually vanished altogether.

The colorful history of “Metropolis” includes a fascinating foray into the realm of film preservation and restoration. Fans of the subject are treated to a rich cache of support materials in the 2010 release from Kino/Lorber entitled, “The Complete Metropolis.” Not only will you be able to watch the newly restored, authorized edition that most nearly replicates the one screened in Berlin at its premiere in 1927. In the same package there is an enticing documentary “Voyage to Metropolis” on the state-of-the-art transfer process that it went through after being considered lost for 80 years. The last uncut negative of Lang’s “Metropolis” was thought to have been destroyed.

The account of how the forgotten print was found in a film archive in Buenos Aires in 2008 plays better than fiction. It’s a compelling excavation into the discovery of lost treasure. One of the greatest achievements in the silent film era was brought back from the abyss. Ironically, that cinematic resurrection becomes one of the all-time greatest achievements in film preservation.

The reception of “Metropolis” was paradoxical from the start, having been savaged by the intelligentsia for its sentimentality and congratulated for ushering in massive technological breakthroughs to the motion picture arts. Astoundingly, Fritz Lang famously pronounced “Metropolis” a disappointment as well as an embarrassment. What should really have embarrassed him is the fact that he placed half the blame on his former wife and collaborator. I wonder if he was really blaming the Nazi party, for liking it. His wife became a Nazi sympathizer, a fact which was attributed as the cause of their breakup. Lang’s private life would make the subject of an interesting movie of its own. If anybody will put up the funds, I’ll write a treatment.

I referred to Lang’s denunciation of his most famous film once before, a couple of posts back. Pronouncing it a “fairytale” was the flimsy criticism he supplied. The filmmaking is so skillful and the directing so audacious I don’t believe Lang could have regretted “Metropolis.” Perhaps he said so under duress, allowing some wrong voice to influence him for a time. I read another quote in which he called it his greatest movie. All arguments aside, I’ll bet not one of his detractors ever contributed more to our culture, with all their best works combined, than Lang did with this one heartfelt workingman’s blues.

I don’t mean “Metropolis” should never be picked on, but getting us all to agree to what’s bogus and what’s not is another thing. Whatever its shortcomings the film remains important enough, to enough folks, to keep gaining popularity and garnering more praise, year after year.

Next month, we’ll delve into specific characters and scenes in “Metropolis” highlighting some passages of brilliance and virtuosity that make this film worthy of long-term study.