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Fritz Lang’s Metropolis
Cinematic Visions of Technology and Fear

Edited by Michael Minden
and Holger Bachmann

 

cover

BOOK REVIEW

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis: Cinematic Visions of Technology and Fear
Edited by Michael Minden and Holger Bachmann

Camden House : Rochester, New York : 2000
ISBN 1-5711-3122-1 : 326 pages : hardcover : $65.00
ISBN 1-5711-3146-9 : 326 pages : trade paperback : $29.95

Reviewed by Carl Bennett
The film Metropolis (1927) has endured a both blessed and cursed existence. Cursed by audience bewilderment and indifference in 1927, the film was cut after its initial German run and was never shown outside of Germany in any form that resembled director Fritz Lang’s original concept. Metropolis didn’t recoup its massive expenses and Lang was hung out to dry by UFA, the producers of the film. The film is nonetheless blessed since, despite its confused plot and fragmented survival state, it endures as one of the most popular films of the silent era. Its magnificent visual successes are greater than the deficiencies of its mawkish story. And thus Metropolis even survived disownment by its creator, Lang, and triumphs in its popular acceptance by modern audiences.

This collection of both new and previously-published material is a precarious balance of history and analysis. The book is divided into sections of related material grouped into a rough chronological order. The editors provide lengthy introductions covering the production and initial reception of the film. Part one covers original materials and documents, including a comparison of the novel and scenario written by Thea von Harbou, articles on the film’s production, and a collection of contemporary European and American reviews. Part two features Enno Patalas’ valuable article detailing the late 1980s film reconstruction efforts of the Munich Filmmuseum, a project that Patalas supervised. Also in the section are analytical pieces exploring the inherent problems of modern assessment of an incomplete, even mutilated, film.

But, wait! There’s more! Part three reprints a series of four analytical, at times over-intellectualized, articles mulling over Metropolis’ “structures of narrativity” and “the mediation of technology and gender.” Part four offers three new articles of more analysis. By the way, issues of gender and structuralism and psychoanalysis are popular with university intellectuals who analize (pardon me, analyze!) a ‘text’ (that would be Metropolis in this case) to impress, with their astounding insights and prodigious critical skills, an audience of other university intellectuals. The overriding image that comes to mind is of a cadre of circus performers playing to an empty tent.

While it should be clear that a substantial portion of this book holds no interest of mine, a university library will find that this book is a must-have acquisition for its readers. Obversely, public libraries and Metropolis enthusiasts will deem it of great value for the contemporary and modern information related to the film’s production, distribution and reconstruction issues. The book is also illustrated with more than two dozen illustrations made up chiefly of production and film stills, frame enlargements, and promotional materials. We feel that the historical and reconstruction information alone is worth the expense of the institutional pricing and do recommend this book, but we also feel that it is important to note that few readers will happily digest its entire content menu. The book is also available from Camden House in paperback.

 
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