March 5th, marks the 88th anniversary of the opening of Fritz Lang’s classic film Metropolis, at the Rialto Theatre in New York City. This version differed greatly from the film that opened in Berlin, Germany in January, 1927. Because of a distribution deal Ufa made with Paramount and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the American studios could edit the Ufa films any way they saw fit. Paramount, distributed Metropolis in North America, cut the film by a half an hour and rearranged scenes, making the plot incomprehensible. While this version was not a critical success dramatically, what did impress most critics was the art direction, which utilized design themes so modern, it was almost considered avant-garde.
Otto Hunte (1881 – 1960), Erich Kettelhut (1893 – 1979) and Karl Vollbrecht (1886 – 1973) were the team of art directors that created the look of the dystopian city. These three men had collaborated for the first time on the Fritz Lang film The Indian Tomb (1921) and would continue as art directors on Lang’s Dr. Mabuse the Gambler (1922) and Die Nibelungen (1924). For Metropolis, the futuristic appearance of the city was heavily influenced by two current art movements, Modern or Modernistic (now known as Art Deco), which had just be given a massive kick off party at the 1925 Paris Exposition, and the more established Italian Futurism. To learn more about Futurism click on the links below.
Here are a couple of videos about the Futurism exhibition held at the Guggenheim Museum in 2014.
And this one from The Economist –
Below are images of the city, where Futurist inspiration is clearly evident –
The film’s opening montage, is seeing a Futurist painting come to life –
The interior sets reflect 1920’s Modernistic design trends.
And the most spectacular of the interiors – the Yoshiwara night club.
Metropolis, was one of the first films to employ Art Deco designs. If it does not seem so avant-garde to us in the 21st Century, it’s because we’ve had almost 90 years to catch up to it.
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