Sunday, January 30, 2011

METROPOLIS (1984) - it's Joe Vs. the Volcano minus the volcano, or an old timey reinvention of Orwell's 1984

Here's some clips from the film, to the tune of my favorite song from the soundtrack, Bonnie Tyler's "Here She Comes".

While high school students are forced to read books against their will, like factory automotants
, they usually skim through the Cliff Notes version instead (or they hit up Wikipedia if they’re too busy getting high to bother with some lame pamphlet), Not to toot my own horn, but I actually did read the occasional book during my school days. One such book was George Orwell’s 1984, a really really really important book about the future and stuff. Written way back in olden times, it was an attempt to predict how the modernization of society would develop once the mid eighties rolled around, while lacking the flashy fun of other science fiction novels and comic books of the time. I guess it's okay to be boring if you've got a really important point to make.

I hate to be a negative Nancy, but...sorry George, you got it all wrong! For one, he predicted that everyone in the future would be wearing some gray sad bastard jumpsuit. Granted, I was but a wee lad circa 1984, but I recall seeing stuff like parachute pants and neon wristbands and what have you; fashion that explodes with good times and effervescence. Hell, just check out the movie Breakin’, which was released in the real year of 1984. In Orwell’s world, you’d imagine that Turbo, Ozone, and whats'-her-face would all be sitting around, dressed in drab uniforms, utterly morose that popping and locking had been outlawed by the fun police. Hardly. Breakin’ jams color and fun straight up your ass (Breakin’ 2 manages to up the ante in this department), showcasing modern young people free to perform any street dance to their heart’s desire, wearing any combination of neon clothing they so choose (assuming they can find it at the Salvation Army). It's called FREEDOM folks.

While most movies released in 1984 were colorful and happy a la Breakin’, one film released that year bucks this trend to present something akin to Orwell’s futuristic vision while employing old timey aesthetics (I don't count the 1984 adaptation with John Hurt solely because the soundtrack is performed by the Eurythmics; it's my blog, I make the rules). The film in question is called Metropolis, directed by somebody named Fritz Lang (I’m assuming his parents were big R. Crumb fans), with music by…GIORGIO FUCKING MORODER!!! YES!!! Of course, Giorgio rocks the house, but, as I have stated before, he usually functions best when forced into the crassest of corners. Here is the exception that proves the rule, clearly an artistic meeting of the minds between two ambitious artists. It’s unfortunate that they never worked together again. Maybe there was some ill will between them. After all, Giorgio exploded in popularity around this time, his big ass hits soaring across America's airwaves. This might have led to an ugly scene, where, during a mixing session, a jealous Fritz hurled a Flashdance soundtrack LP at Giorgio in a fit of rage, disgusted that he remained an unknown talent overshadowed by some Italian dude that sells a million records just getting out of bed in the morning. Then again, if you're Giorgio Moroder himself, you get to listen to Giorgio's patented driving synth pop on a daily basis, and this will no doubt inspire you to superhuman feats.

The story revolves around the son of the business party dictator, who decides to leave his world of power and privilege to follow on the heels of some hot German chick revolutionary, who is trying to unite the workers to overthrow the government. Normally this dude would be perfectly happy to hang out and play tennis and complain about his stock options, but a hot German chick will change a man. As a massive Doro Pesch fan I should know.

Well, the German chick is captured by a mad scientist, who creates a robot version of her to control the workers and lead them to their demise, sort of an anti-Rosa Luxemburg via the robot girl from Small Wonder. I guess these worker types should be careful who they pick to be their mob leader.

There are plenty of scenes showing off big futuristic sets, which no doubt cost a boatload of money. Thankfully, under the guiding hands of Reaganomics married to free market splendor, movie studios at the time were able to afford such garish extravagances of the cinema.

My theory is that the film uses an old timey aesthetic to comment on the novel 1984. An Orwellian vision of the future is presented as drab and antiquated, a relic of the past, slyly conveying that such pessimistic visions are outdated in this brave new world, and even a little dehumanizing. Heck, the characters don’t even speak during the film! There's occasionally dialogue in text form (no Cliff Notes available for this one), but I have a feeling this is only so you can follow the story. I think if the filmmakers really wanted to tell a story about where humanity is headed, they would've at least let humanity speak. Instead they poke fun at these pessimistic visions and their penchant to portray the human race as a faceless, voiceless mass, which in turn inspires people to become enslaved to these visions ingrained in them throughout their schooling. If all of this sounds depressing, keep in mind that Billy Squier, Freddy Mercury, and Pat Benatar also perform on the soundtrack. All colorful individuals I might add. Oh Fritz, what sweet irony ye hath wrought.

So, in summary, people don’t want to go the movies to see honest workers reduced to wage slave robots, or see how a populace is held in check by corporate propaganda, or be shown how a farcical government is controlled by the interests of the wealthy. No…they wanna have fun! Maybe cheer on an underdog or two. For god sakes, THE KIDS NEED TO SAVE THE REC CENTER FROM EVIL CORPORATE INTERESTS!!! Against all odds, Nitro and the gang win out and celebrate with an outdoor breakdance concert! You see, corporations may be big and evil, but they get their asses kicked when pitted against the indomitable human spirit. Speaking of which…where the hell is Breakin’ 3 – Eccentric Ballyhoo? I’ve been waiting 25 years for that fucker. Now that there’s some annoying war going on, it’s the perfect time to finally make it happen. Folks, let’s bring back the FUN!


  1. You might try reading Thea von Harbou's novel in one hand simultaneously with Orwell's novel in the other, scanning back and forth from one to the other as if you were reading one very wide, cut-up style book. It may be an exercise that would lend additional perspective. (I've never been brave enought to try it.)

  2. @John
    That might work, but I'd think you'd have to actually go through the trouble of cutting and pasting. Otherwise you would constantly get lost. Maybe there's an ebook function where you can throw two files together and hit "jumble" (the icon would be a heavily worn fedora), but I'm not one to ever read an ebook. Great idea though :)

  3. I hope you do realize this movie was made in the 20's and re-released in 1984.

    1. Yes. Thank you for your concern about my mental well being though.