It’s not often I review a non-fiction book for Project: Monster, but in this case the need arises. For a film like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, my appetite for knowledge and introspection is as insatiable as the Heart Machine at the core of the city. I grew up with various incomplete versions of the film, at long last seeing the restored version. I finally read the original novel and listened to a radio play based on it. I even discovered an anthology of short stories based in that world, one of which offered the great city’s origin story. Still I wanted more. I wanted to learn about the movie, how it was made, to gauge the full measure of its impact, and maybe to learn more about the restoration process. Few movies have that kind of effect on me. This was borderline obsession for a while.
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis: Cinematic Visions of Technology and Fear is one of the few books on the market that goes into that kind of detail. It’s essentially an essay anthology, but the depth and breadth of what’s inside is pretty astounding. It feeds the machine rather well. Reading this and letting it slowly digest is one of the reasons it took so long to properly review the film. Even then, I barely scratched the surface. This book offers insight like you wouldn’t believe.
The book is separated into four parts. Part one deals with the novel, the screenplay, vintage production reports, and vintage era reviews, including a most famous one from H. G. Wells. Part two deals with the edits and restoration over the decades, and it should be noted that this book was published in 2000, before the Argentine 16 mm negatives were recovered, leading to the final restoration in 2008. Even so, it’s a fascinating look at this entire process from those in the know. Part three deals with the content and themes of the film’s narrative, from technology to gender and so much more. Part four deals with contemporary critique and analysis, offering a modern perspective on the film. There are numerous photos and illustrations, including some behind-the-scenes stills and publicity art.
In short, it’s a book for film buffs and specifically for fans of Metropolis. If I’m being honest, this is the kind of book I’d love to have for a number of silent classics as well as for more than handful of films since that era. The essay format makes it easy to digest. As I hoped it would, this made my appreciation for the film even deeper than before. Perhaps my only concern is that maybe I’ve exhausted the bulk of the material that’s out there now. Even so, there are always new perspectives to be gained, and I think the offerings in this book are worth revisiting down the road for just that reason. I’m grateful to have found it.