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Sunday, December 4, 2022




The recent colorized release of Metropolis, a 1927 silent film (nee black & white) has brought attention to the production’s entirety, especially the now mildly erotic dance scene staged by director Fritz Lang. 

Following is the colorized version of then-18-year-old Bridget Helm’s iconic dance. CLICK HERE.  

In its nearly 100 years, the film has experienced uncommon attention for a silent German-born expressionist Sci-Fi flick. It is remarkable how a film that has undergone such deep adulterations (time, tastes, political winds) remains a fresh topic of cinematic discussion now in the 21st century. 

Before going more into the deeper meanings (or lack thereof) let’s check a biography of the film. Wikipedia does a yeoman’s job in reviewing and amplifying the totality of the film. CLICK HERE.  

AUTHOR, AUTHORLang and Harbou in their Berlin apartment in 1923 or 1924, about the time they were working on the scenario for Metropolis. Metropolis's screenplay was written by Thea von Harbou, a popular writer in Weimar Germany, jointly with Fritz Lang, her then-husband. The film's plot originated from a novel of the same title written by Harbou for the sole purpose of being made into a film.

Colin Greenland reviewed Metropolis for Imagine magazine and stated that "It's a measure of the sheer power of Lang's vision that it survives this heavy-handed cosmetic modernizing quite intact. Inspired by his first sight of Manhattan, Metropolis is a dark dream of the city of 2026, where the idle rich live in penthouses and play in rooftop pleasure gardens while the faceless workers toil in the machine caverns far, far below." (Doesn’t that scenic description smack of Philip Dick’s 1950s sci-fi novel that eventually was made into the Blade Runner films?)  

According to Roger Ebert, "Metropolis is one of the great achievements of the silent era, a work so audacious in its vision and so angry in its message that it is, if anything, more powerful today than when it was made." 

. Back to our theme: The following essay on the meaning of the dance scene in Metropolis is by Diana Dill writing in the blog: Cinema of Attractions, 2011: 

The scantily clad woman dancing (like Bridget Helm in Metropolis) demands viewers' attention on two levels. The erotic nature of her dance immediately catches the viewers' attention, but the editing too asks viewers to look. In the latter portion of the clip, the eyes of the male spectators are edited together in a strange almost kaleidoscope-like image. 

One critic explains that this is a “cinema that displays its visibility, willing to rupture a self-enclosed fictional world for a chance to solicit the attention of the spectator.” Not only is the character of Maria (Helm) cueing viewers to look with her dance and her gazes at the camera, but the stylized editing is used to call attention to the act of viewing. 

However, the dance isn’t the only important part of this scene. Maria is dancing for a purpose, to seduce the men of Metropolis so they will obey her. As Musser explains in reference to A Trip to the Moon, “scantily clad women do more than just display their sexuality.” I purposefully chose a longer clip of this sequence because it shows how Maria’s dance is not a self-contained spectacle interrupting the main narrative of the film. The dance is intercut with scenes of the main character (Freder) having a nightmare, and serves a narrative function. 

Additionally, the same shots of the eyes that call viewers to look serve to both interrupt Maria’s dance, and function in terms of narrative to show that they are being seduced by her. These interruptions can perhaps serve to undermine the scene as being purely an “attraction.” For a narrated version of Metropolis via the blog CLICK HERE. 

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