Sunday, 31 May 2015

Double Bill: Metropolis (1927)/ Dark City (1998)

I watched these after a very long drive indeed. I was too wired to sleep, too brain-dead to write, and both were freely available. 

They make a decent pair. Metropolis has a few clear influences on Dark City: both cities crush their populations, channeling them about in anonymous streams, stripping them of free will. Both are packed with gorgeous design: Metropolis is a bright, futurist surface lording it over a subterranean machine world. Dark City is a brooding, reshaping, anytime cityscape. But while I watched a few other interesting points occurred that might be worth recording.

The Music:

With Metropolis you arrive expecting a score, and it is fine as it goes. The surprise is that Dark City is scored as if it too is a silent movie. That bloody soundtrack hardly lets up the whole length of the movie. This creates the urge to hurl the telly out the window, the relentless music swamping dialogue and stomping on tension too many times. A little silence could have really helped.

The Squint:

Still, Dark City is darn watchable, mainly due to the wonderful cast: Jennifer Connelly, Ian Richardson, William Hurt, Richard O’Brien – and, of course, Freak-Master General, Rufus Sewell. Sewell never quite had the movie career he deserved, possibly due to his funny eye. Happily that remarkable super-squint is a positive boon in Dark City, a visual symptom of his other-worldly ‘tuning’ abilities. What’s interesting is that a squint also provides a key visual queue in Metropolis, as the Robot ‘False’ Maria is revealed and identified via Brigitte Helm’s twitching, fluttering wink. You can’t help wonder if Dark City’s Director, Alex Proyas, cast Sewell with Helm’s mush in mind.

The Scientists:

Another dodgy eye is to be found, of course, in Dark City’s Dr Daniel Shreber – a wonderfully barmy (and weirdly breathy) performance by Keifer Sutherland. He’s a worthy successor to Rudolf Klein-Rogge’s Rotwang – Metropolis’ own mad scientist, and illustrates Lang and Proyas’ association of perverted science with their cityscapes hidden powers: Rotwang creates a destructive, robot double agent on the orders of Fredersen, Metropolis’ Master. Shreber is coerced by the Strangers to mess with the memories of his fellow humans. What’s interesting is that both films excuse their scientists as tortured individuals whose actions are motivated by personal tragedy. That’s curious, as scientists rarely need to be forced into questionable projects.

The Clocks:

Both movies’ populations are slaves to time. Workers under the surface of Metropolis toil with the hands of a clock machine, turning them to meet meaningless, flashing prompts. Dark City’s populace is frozen in time each night, held in perpetual night, living out meaningless mixed up lives built on false memories. It’s interesting to see how each city’s population break free from that imprisonment. Metropolis’ ‘heroes’ often grate – particularly Feder, strutting about in his daft jodhpurs – and the people are portrayed as a panicky mob. Still, they do at least have some kind of part to play in the story, rioting, burning the false Maria and generally letting off steam. It’s a different story in Dark City, where Murdoch is the sole force of the revolution, the population very much set dressing for a hero and his love interest.

The Heart:

Metropolis, which is a preachy affair, opens with a moral: that ‘the mediator between brain and muscle must be the heart’. It's a muddled sort of line, symptomatic of the movie's scattered message - which drew it acclaim from Joseph Goebbels and scorn from HG Wells. Lang would surely have preferred things the other way around. Dark City too finds something vital in the human heart, but here the message is simpler and more powerful for it: Murdock tells the Strangers that their search for humanity’s individuality should not have taken place in the mind but in the heart: “You were looking in the wrong place”, he says.

An interesting double bill and the first of many I have planned for the summer. Next up I'm thinking it's time for some old Mars movies: Battle Beyond the Sun and Angry Red Planet. Watch this space...