An Expressionist Vision
German Expressionism is a unique film style that came out of Weimer Germany, the period between World War I and World War II. It focused mainly on the visual aspects on the screen meant to express emotions that trigger more personal reactions from the audience. According to David Hudson, German expressionism was an exploration "into juxtaposing light and shadow" as well as madness and obsession in an urban setting complete with complex architectural structures. When Fritz Lang's Metropolis was released in 1927, Luis Buñuel wrote that, "if we look instead to the compositional and visual rather than the narrative side of the film, Metropolis exceeds all expectations and enchants as the most wonderful book of images one can in any way imagine" (Hudson). The narrative is supported by the visual images, but more importantly, they are also credited for creating it. It is a feast for the eyes and the imagination. Mise-en-scene is the composition or everything that is visible within the frame. In this paper I will show how Metropolis was impacted by mise-en-scene in the following ways: setting, staging, lighting, and costumes . The setting establishes inequality among the classes through its use of locations. The workers have their own city deep below the surface of the earth. When their scheduled shift is over they travel in unison down to this city using several massive elevators. Upon exiting the elevators a bland, rudimentary city comes into view. All of the buildings are identical in the same way that the workers are forced to be. There is no plant life, meaning the streets are just barren cement, aside from the large warning bell in the center of the square. This alarm being the focal point of the entire city foreshadows the impending crisis that is going to occur between the classes. The worker's living conditions are undesirable, but their working conditions are even worse. They must transform into human robots to operate the cold hard machinery. Freder witnesses one worker fail to keep up, the pressure rises causing an explosion; he has a vision of the "Moloch" machine turning into a great sacrificial alter. A terrifying monster devours the helpless workers as they are led into its mouth. Upon viewing the locations reserved for the working class Freder decides that something must be done to help them. Meanwhile, the privileged upper class resides high above the land in a towering metropolis they are oblivious to the discontent below them in the depths. Their environment is a technological wonder, filled with hundreds of automobiles traveling down highways connecting to the numerous unique buildings. The locations that we witness for the ruling class are constructed for leisure. They have "the complex named the Club of the Sons' with its lecture halls and libraries, its theaters and stadiums" and the Eternal Gardens with exotic plants, birds, and outfits (Metropolis). There is even an entire entertainment district called Yoshiwara, for the people seeking less respectable forms of amusement. Joh Fredersen is the "master of Metropolis" in his office at the top of the Tower of Babel. However, the only work done in that office is paperwork and the monitoring of several screens. The staging of Metropolis creates relationships between characters reflective of their roles within the story. These roles are described by the film's epigram: "The Mediator between head and hands must be the heart" (Metropolis). For example, in the last scene the executive Joh Fredersen, who represents the head, and the worker Grot, who represents the hands, meet on the steps of the cathedral. Standing a few feet from each other, they maintain a distant relationship even though they want to make peace and repair the rift between classes. Grot lifts his hand for a handshake then Fredersen takes a small step forward and lifts his hand as well. However, Fredersen closes his hand into a fist so Grot stuffs his hands into his...
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Hudson, David. "German Expressionism." GreenCine. 2006. GreenCine Inc. 7 July 2007. .
Lehman, Peter and William Luhr. Thinking About Movies: Watching, Questioning, Enjoying. Second Edition. MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
Metropolis. Dir. Fritz Lang. DVD. F. W. Murnau Foundation and Transit Films. 1927.
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