Problem like Maria
I remember this as a visually dazzling fairy tale that made me think about manipulation and oppression. There was also something thrilling about the saintly Maria being replaced by a robot Jezebel. I would recommend it, but it’s been many years since I’ve seen it.
I think I was around 14. I watched the version with the Moroder score when it was first shown on Channel 4.
Strangely enough, this film is tied up with my feeling about the early days of Channel 4. I was 10 when the channel launched and I gradually became aware of how different it was from the existing broadcasters – it seemed more adventurous, intellectually stimulating and, well, more fun. I remember strange animations late at night, daring comedy, the (in retrospect hideously embarrassing) ‘youth programme’ Network 7 and a range of films like Metropolis. I think that Abel Gance’s Napoleon was also shown around this time, but it might have been later. I recorded both films and watched them each about three times on VHS.
What struck me about Metropolis was first of all the beauty of the design – the vision of this high tech city and the extraordinary look of the robot Maria. This is even though the version I saw was colourised, which even at the age of 14 struck me as gratuitous. I have to admit, however, that the Moroder score probably made the whole thing more enjoyable and gave an additional patina of modernity.
The ambition of depicting how a society worked also appealed to me – the image of the man pulling at the hands of a clock, and the weary crowds of workers leaving for a few hours rest has stayed with me as a potent image of how hideous life can be under an oppressive regime. That this regime was economic rather than based on any apparent ideology didn’t turn me into a Marxist, but it was certainly influential in some way.
Other than the hideousness of this potential future, the other most arresting element for me was the character of Maria. I can imagine that theorists have had a field day with an inspirational ‘Mary’ figure who attempts to save humanity and whose evil, sexualised doppelganger is destroyed on a pyre. I remember being struck by just how modern the evil Maria’s licentious behavior seemed, and finding it all rather exciting – I was quite an innocent teenager.
In summary, I suppose that the film did widen my view of the world, and elements of it have definitely stayed with me. I think it might be time for me to watch it again, except this time I’ll definitely go for one of the longer black and white versions. Perhaps they’ll show it on Film 4 or BBC Four – I doubt it would be screened on what Channel 4 has become today.
Doctor Who, Star Wars, Buck Rogers, Blake's 7, Nineteen Eighty-Four
I wouldn't describe myself as a science fiction fan, but I suppose it was pretty mainstream in the 70s and 80s.
Blade Runner, Stanislaw Lem, Asimov
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