Fritz Lang: Metropolis 1927

Fritz Lang: Metropolis 1927

This was not only the first real science fiction classic, it was the most expensive silent film ever made, costing approximately 7 million Reichsmark. Fritz Lang had been inspired by a 1924 visit to Manhattan. “I saw the buildings like a vertical curtain, opalescent, and very light. Filling the back of the stage, hanging from a sinister sky, in order to dazzle, to diffuse, to hypnotize.” The film is set in the future (2026), when mankind is split into two interdependent factions: the thinkers who plan and live in luxury but have no technical skills, and the workers who live underground creating the wealth that the thinkers benefit from. The screenplay was co-written in 1924, by Lang and his wife and long-term collaborator Thea von Harbou, it seems to borrow ideas from Capek’s RUR (1921), and echoes themes of HG Wells The Sleeper Awakes and Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. The film was originally 153 minutes, but was cut for release in USA, and subsequently about 25% of the original has been lost. However, with current releases on DVD (and versions on youtube) you at least get some idea of the immense vision of the original – the dramatic robot and the cityscape sets are spectacular. The spectacular transmutation of robot and woman (Maria) are still powerful optical effects.

Jonas Mekas/The Living Theatre: The Brig 1964

Jonas Mekas/The Living Theatre: The Brig 1964

The Brig is a play written by former U.S. Marine Kenneth H. Brown (born 1936). It was first performed in New York by The Living Theatre on 13 May 1963 [1] with a production of it filmed in 1964 by Jonas Mekas. It has been revived in New York in 2007. It received an Obie Award.
The play depicts a typical day in a United States Marine Corps military prison called The Brig. Brown spent thirty days in a Brig for being Absent Without Official Leave whilst he was with the Third Marines in Camp Fuji Japan in the 1950s.” (wikipedia)

I saw this film in an all-night session on experimental ‘underground’ film at the BFI in the early 1970s. The staccato, dehumanised, robotic actions and the rigid military choreography and cruelty of the plot, reminded my of Antonin Artaud and his ideas of the Theatre of Cruelty. This movie is a visceral shock to the system, a saraband for McCarthyism, a premonition of the war in Vietnam, an essay of military elite training.