Now That You Have 'Metropolis,' What Are You Going to Do With It?

The 1927 film Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang, was released into the public domain at the beginning of this year. The question is, what are you going to do with it now that it is free and open to the public? I know what I did.

I’ve had an interest in Metropolis since a kid when reading that the design of C-3PO in Star Wars was based on the robot in that movie (and other movie-fan reasons). You can see the similarity more distinctly if you look at Ralph McQuarrie’s preproduction painting of C-3PO. (You could read about things like this back then, in American Cinematographer or Starlog, before the Campbellian hero’s journey lore took over.)

Same as caption.

(Wikipedia: Photo by Jiuguang Wang from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States; Maria from the film Metropolis, on display at the Robot Hall of Fame, CC BY-SA 2.0)

I saw the film sometime somewhere (perhaps in college) and again to my recollection in a colorized version on VHS. Currently, Tubi has Metropolis in true black and white (not colorized) and presents it as an actual silent film (not even music is added).

Copy of the novel Metropolis with the robot and two humans in the foreground and a cityscape and sun in the background

(My copy of Metropolis)

Lang’s wife Thea von Harbou wrote a novel version of Metropolis concurrently with the development of the film. I read the novel I think in the late 1980s. A penciled in price indicates I bought it used (63 cents). I love the cover artwork. It has no publication date inside but from the artwork and the cover price of $1.25 I would place it in the 1970s. A listing from AbeBooks puts it as 1975. The spine remains proudly uncreased (!).

Metropolis is now in the public domain, so I couldn’t help myself.

Metropolis release poster, with robot in foreground and Art Deco city in the background.

(Wikipedia: Metropolis release poster: Illustration by Heinz Schulz-Neudamm. Distributed by UFA. MOMA PD-US)

The eyeliner was no problem but the pancake makeup was harder to procure, as well as the jodhpurs. The problem was that my TV screen is too small; in order for it to work you need to be able to fit through it. But the local Odeon was playing it in celebration, and wouldn’t you know it there were others with the same idea. They were lined up outside to get in. They used orange lipstick in black-and-white films because red showed up too black, so there was plenty of that around, and slicked hair and bobbed hair, and some with hunched shoulders wearing coveralls to portray the workers. We all decided to march into the theater in that unified step the workers do in the film, abrupt and staccato because that’s how old film runs in modern projectors, as if frames are missing (and some are), and finally broke into individuals once in the theater proper. But we didn’t sit down for long.

The film began. We waited until the sequence of shots showing various angles of the city skyline. We didn’t march. We ran. We jumped. We dove.

And entered the city.

Yes, sometimes there are blips. A person will suddenly jump forward a few feet. A transport will suddenly move a block. Frames are missing. Sometimes scratchy lines obscure your vision, but for most of the time the city (your vision of it) has been restored.

And we’re in that city now. Metropolis was inspired by Fritz Lang’s first view of New York City. And his and other’s visions inspired others years later. Could we not inhabit it as New York City could be back then?

It’s free. It’s public domain. You can enter when you want.

Dive in. The Art Deco’s fine. 1

Frame from the film, a cityscape with a large tower in the background.

(Wikipedia: The New Tower of Babel: By Karl Freund, G√ľnther Rittau, Walter Ruttmann (cinematographers); Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Foundation, PD-US)


  1. (Alas, the bit after the movie poster above is fictitious, but is real enough to me.) [return]