Me in ‘Metropolis’

On Anthony Burgess, Fritz Lang and Inspiration

Metropolis Movie

It’s not often that the trades yell at you in German, but such was the case this week when IndieWire’s Christian Blauvelt reported on (Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva’s report regarding) a casualty of the Writer’s Guild of America strike this week:

Ach der lieber! German Expressionism fans everywhere are in sorrow as Sam Esmail’s seven-years-in-the-making passion project, a series adaptation of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” has been shelved…

— Christian Blauvelt, IndieWire

Surely, this is a drag for all concerned, except for maybe Fritz Lang, whose film Metropolis has inspired more than its fair share of acolytes — unconsciously or consciously.

Let’s start with the unconscious.

Artists can absorb influences so deeply it can be renewing — if not startling — when we discover traces of them in our later, “mature” work. By traces, I don’t mean George Harrison-style cryptomnesia when you suddenly have to lawyer up thanks to a couple of misappropriated “doo langs.” No, I mean the subtle nods or oblique homages to the works that inspired us and the ones who made them.

Sometimes we forget some of these instances of inspiration and then later trip over them like psychic land mines when reviewing our work.

I credit my newfound awareness of this potentiality to author Anthony Burgess, whose essay, A Movie That Changed My Life, got me thinking about the quiet DNA of influence.

For Burgess, Fritz Lang’s expressionistic and dystopian Metropolis prefigured ideas that later became the author’s A Clockwork Orange and a quasi-sequel to an Orwell classic cheekily titled 1985. The essay brought to mind my personal transformative relationship with Lang’s expressionistic genius.

The first images of Metropolis I laid eyes on were in what I’m assuming was 1979’s The Art of Star Wars by Carol Titleman, which I pored over as a seven-year-old. There was a poster-worthy image of Metropolis‘ robot revealed as the spiritual ancestor of the nebbishy C-3P0 as conceptualized by artist Ralph McQuarrie.

Ralph McQuarrie’s concept art for C-3PO is a nod to Fritz Lang’s activist robot.

I wouldn’t see Lang’s film until five years later when it came to the Plaza Theatre in Petaluma, California. The Plaza was a revival house in the heart of town, responsible for birthing many a local cineaste (and the inspiration for the “Lumiere” in my first novel The Late Projectionist). But this was 1984, so the version of Metropolis making the rounds wasn’t the original silent, black-and-white Fritz Lang original but rather a sort of extended found-footage, color-tinted, music video version tailor-made for the MTV generation.

We can thank or blame Giorgio Moroder for this particular cut. 

For context, Moroder is “the founder of disco and an electronic music trailblazer” (according to his bio). An Italian-born producer and film composer, Moroder is responsible for film scores including Scarface and Midnight Express and also soundtrack singles like Top Gun’s “Take My Breath Away” and Blondie’s “Call Me” in American Gigolo. This is just conjecture, but it seems that Moroder had the notion of building a soundtrack and needed a movie upon which to pin it.

Notably, Moroder outbid David Bowie for the rights to Metropolis (we can cry about that later). He then reduced the film’s running time (or butchered, depending on your sense of authorial sanctity) and added this New Wave-ish soundtrack:

Admittedly, I remember being quite taken by Bonnie Tyler’s “Here She Comes,” with all its chordal echoes of Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Crimson and Clover” and heavy rotation on MTV as a video culled from Moroder’s cut.

So, yeah, I didn’t (at least first) see the version of Metropolis that inspired Burgess, but I was inspired nonetheless. Perhaps the dilution of the film’s potency has resulted in the comparatively weaker sauce that is my oeuvre. But Tony’s dead, so I have time to catch up. So do you — start with Moroder’s edition on YouTube:

Film is a visual medium, and, if the task of literature is to stud the brain with quotations, cinema’s job is to cram it with images which transcend storyline and feed the need for myth. — Anthony Burgess

Consider it fed, Mr. Burgess.

Works of mine inspired directly and indirectly by Metropolis

J00D — Dystopian sci-fi à la mode (password needed for Genius Subscribers).

DH’s Interview with Anthony Daniels (C-3PO!) at SFGate

Farewell, My Android, a “flipbook” by DH and Raymond Daigle:

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