Remember way back when Madonna was still cool and she made the video “Express Yourself“? The grim images of workers slaving away in dark rooms in an expansive city were an homage to Metropolis, a silent film made in the 20s in Germany. A cinematic masterpiece, the special effects of Metropolis remain stunning 85 years later. What Madonna didn’t know was that years later, in 2008, lost footage of the film would be found in Argentina, allowing a more complete restoration. It was this version, accompanied by a live three-piece orchestra, The Alloy, that I had the pleasure of viewing at the Rose Theatre in Port Townsend.
Metropolis paints a dystopian picture that is relevant to today’s politics. A class system has workers devalued and living underground while the upper class lived and played without a care. Sound familiar? One blog, moviediva, examines the movie in the context of Germany of the 20s, with a severe depression that ultimately led to the rise of the Nazi party. It’s an interesting read. Unfortunately, unlike the benign and helpful “mediator” who was sought in the story (a savior archetype), the Germans ended up with Hitler.
From a personal standpoint, Metropolis can also represent the inner journey. The son of the aristocrat has a Buddha-like awakening while frolicking in his garden, when he is unexpectedly exposed to a group of impoverished children. Awakened to suffering, his personal journey takes him to the depths of the workers’ city, even becoming a worker himself — and in his personal growth, has the potential to change the world. I write a lot here about overcoming inner struggles, and this includes traveling to the greatest depths of our being in order to triumph.
One of the memorable characters in Metropolis is Marie, who is encouraging faith among the workers. The same actress plays another role in the movie, that of a robot made in her image to trick the workers. She follows instructions to incite them to violence; unfortunately for the workers, they do not realize that in their rebellion, they risk destroying themselves. The robot invites references to the Whore of Babylon, and perhaps can be relevant today in terms of the myth of woman as destructive temptress.
The tagline of the movie is “The mediator between the head and the hands must be the heart.” Though dismissed later by Lang himself as being silly, I think it’s true for all of us — as individuals and, collectively, as a society.
I’m unclear as to how Metropolis plays into the narrative in Madonna’s video, but oh, well. It was fun to watch it again with a greater understanding of the Metropolis references…and to tap my toes a bit.