There are some films that are so sacred in the cinematic canon, that have built up such a terrifying reputation, it can be unnerving to actually watch them.
Fitz Lang’s 1927 sci-fi classic Metropolis certainly falls into that category, which is part of the reason I’ve put off watching it for the last decade.
The granddaddy of the dystopian sci-fi flick, Metropolis’s vision of a distant future make it a natural pick for the FutureEverything team, who have drafted in Kraftrock legend Dieter Moebius (of Cluster and Harmonia fame) to provide musical accompaniment.
Screened in Salford’s beautiful St Phillip’s Church, musical hor d'ourves come in the form of Manchester’s very own Polinski, who kicks things off with a sharp set of rolling piano loops, soaring melodies and twinkly electro, which makes me want to throw shapes despite the fact I’m a) in a church, b) the event is all-seating, and c) it’s 8pm.
As the lights go down and Metropolis starts to roll, it almost immediately becomes clear that I needn't have worried: this is a work of brain-searing brilliance. Metropolis paints a picture of a two-tier city where wealthy aristocrats throw endless parties in their pleasure gardens while the unwashed hordes toil away in the City of the Workers far below. But Metropolis is as much sci-fi melodrama as political allegory, telling the story of Freder, the son of a wealthy industrialist, who descends to the worker’s city to search for Maria, a woman he has glimpsed and fallen in love with.
Visually stunning, Lang’s vision of the future city remains electrifying, even to jaded modern eyes, so one can only imagine the effect of the famous cityscape scenes on audiences in the twenties. Whereas most films are lucky to manage two or three truly memorable images, Metropolis stockpiles them by the minute. The sheer scale of some scenes is shocking - the workers' uprising features hundreds of extras and the lavish sets meant the film apparently cost over 7 million Reichmarks to film in 1927.
We’re watching the restored and restructured print tonight – around a third of the film was believed to be lost, but discoveries in Argentina and New Zealand over the last decade have allowed experts to piece together a reasonably complete cut. But tonight isn’t just about the film. While Metropolis’s original score is classical, it has long attracted electronic music producers - 70s electronic producer (the man behind Donna Summer’s iconic disco anthem I Feel Love) produced a tinted version of the film with a pop soundtrack.
But tonight's decision to use Dieter Moebius is inspired. Metropolis was a sacred text for a number of the major Krautrock artists like Cluster and Kraftwerk, and crouched over his sampler with only a single anglepoise illuminating him, Moebius looks every inch the film's reclusive wayward scientist.
With one eye on the screen and the other on his box of sonic tricks, his improvised score is so good that at times I forget it’s not actually the film’s original score. Throaty basslines rumble, ticking clocks loop endlessly, machine-sounds click and whirr, while synths bubble up and then disperse. It’s a thing of beauty.
A lesson then: don't put off watching those iconic works because you're worried they won't live up to the critical hype. Chances are they're iconic for a reason.