Dir. Fritz Lang; writ. Lang, Thea von Harbou; feat. Alfred Abel, Gustav Frölich, Brigitte Helm, Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Theodor Loos, Heinrich George (NR)
It's too reductive to call Fritz Lang's 1927 film a landmark of cinematic science fiction. Although it is undeniably a sci-fi movie, Metropolis is more significant as the first silver-screen expression of the anti-utopian theme that would haunt the 20th century, visions (sometimes exaggerated and unlikely, sometimes frighteningly plausible) in which mankind's baser instincts are assisted by technological advances, making life hell for at least a large portion of Earth's inhabitants. Released nearly two decades before 1984 and more than half a century before Blade Runner (which, like Metropolis, featured a lady-shaped robot or two), the film's influence can't be overstated.
But people don't return to Metropolis because it is influential; they are drawn to its vibrant chiaroscuro images - German Expressionism at its peak, with inspired sets, special effects, and images - and for the fable of the story, in which an entire world of subterranean workers supports a leisure class above them, and movements toward revolution are countered with distractions created by leaders who want to maintain the status quo. In other words, it ain't science fiction.
Screening note: Metropolis was butchered by distributors the year it was released, and for 75 years has only been seen in various stages of disrepair. (Viewers who have complained about plot holes and inconistencies have generally been referring to problems generated by this unkind treatment of Lang's masterpiece.) This week's screening, though, will be of a 2001 restoration that is closer than any international audience has ever seen to Lang's original cut - and that is accompanied by the original orchestral score, instead of the goofy Giorgio Moroder synth-track that is heard on most video copies. — John DeFore
El Fantasma de la Opereta
Dir. Fernando Cortés; writ. Juan García, Gilberto Martínez Solares; feat. Germán Valdés, Ana Luisa Peluffo, Luis Aldás, Marcelo Chávez, Famie Kaufman (NR)
You know the story, which has been interpreted by artists as varied as Brian De Palma, Lon Chaney, Dario Argento, and Andrew Lloyd Webber: beautiful singer, haunted theater, obsessive stalker with disfigured face. Fernando Cortés' version, released in 1960, plays the whole things as comedy for a change. — John DeForeEl Fantasma de la Opereta screens at the Institúto de México, 600 HemisFair Park, at 4pm on Sunday, August 10. Info: 227-0130.