Metropolis (Germany, 1927, Fritz Lang)
Director Fritz Lang's HG Wells-inspired tale is a surreal and occasionally incomprehensible storyline (though many narrative problems have been solved by rediscovered footage) is sometimes overwhelmed by a visually spectacular exercise in German expressionism. Master cinematographer Karl Freund fills the screen with an array of stylized shadows, oblique camera angles, geometric images, and nightmarish labyrinths.
The film's dialectical theme, with a world divided between the wealthy and the poor, the managers and the workers, the Head and the Hand, may seem dated in these post-Marxist times, and its message that the head and the hand can do no good without the heart may seem a little romantic to more cynical ages, but the warnings about techno-demagoguery continue to have modern relevance.
The actors give typical silent-film performances, full of exaggerated expressions and broad gestures, but they express their characters' fragile humanity despite these mannerisms. Rudolf Klein-Rogge's unforgettable work as the evil genius Rotwang became the template for all subsequent mad-scientist performances.
Despite being a critical and popular disappointment on its initial release, the film eventually gained cult status and was rediscovered by critics and audiences alike in the latter part of the 20th century. A number of incarnations of the film emerged over the years after the film's copyright expired in 1953. When it was re-released in the 1980s, some missing footage was restored and a synthesizer-heavy soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder was added, to much gnashing of critical teeth. The film has undergone more restorations in 2002 and 2008, with the latest still ongoing, each time adding some found footage, adding more clarity to the narrative and potency to the film.