Film reviews

Metropolis at the Royal Albert Hall – Event Review

As a science fiction fan, when it comes to essential films that have shaped the consciousness of its genre, then Metropolis would be at the top of that list as a cinematic masterpiece. Impressively made before the age of special effects, you can trace its influential lineage through films such as Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner with its sprawling neon-lit canvas, to George Lucas’ Star Wars and the creation of C-3PO. The tributes extend into comic book folklore where Superman’s fictional city is named after the film and can pop up in music videos thanks to Queen and Radio Ga Ga.

But its most famous example comes in its soundtrack composing.  It’s almost a rite of passage for any musician or composer, and historically there are more than ten unique interpretations of Metropolis’ mood and feel.  The most famous and contemporary version belongs to the 1984 re-release by Giorgio Moroder, featuring the talents of Freddie Mercury, Pat Benatar and Bonnie Tyler.

Unfazed by its daunting presence is British composer and pianist Dmytro Morykit. Having composed his own unique concept in 2014, the Royal Albert Hall was always in safe hands. His repertoire is impressive – he was about to play through the entirety of Fritz Lang’s classic with minimal cues or signals. He was going to play this from his memory. As a first time witness to his work, I knew this ‘one-man show’ was going to be exciting and a special night for everyone.

Situated in the Elgar Room of The Royal Albert Hall (a room I ignorantly didn’t know existed, besides the main concert hall stage), the screening had a ‘Lynchian’ feel about its set up and production. With a spotlight lit Yamaha grand piano in one corner and black draped curtains surrounding its screen, it could easily have materialised from Twin Peaks! Despite the uncomfortable seating provided, it magically created an intimate environment.

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Because of its distinguished history and the various versions/cuts/prints found over the years, Metropolis has the same equivalence as Blade Runner. Therefore, it’s a shame that the 2010 version was not screened which features recently discovered footage found in Argentina. It doesn’t detract from the experience besides movie aficionados who could probably nitpick and spot the difference between the various cuts. That’s not the case. Other than the excuse of a prolonged runtime (and Morykit and his gifted fingers playing through exhaustion), the newest version is by far the most comprehensive and absolute. I say that with an honest sincerity, especially for viewers who may not be familiar with Metropolis if they came to the Royal Albert Hall as a first time experience. For footage that was supposedly lost, never to be retrieved again, the found footage develops more of its topical narrative and provides further evidence of Lang’s extraordinary vision.

Nevertheless, for a film that was made ninety years ago, it still has a majestic quality. To this day I’m still amazed by its production scale where it reportedly involved over 37,000 extras, which is unheard of by today’s standards. Metropolis is the very definition of ‘old school’ filmmaking. But most importantly, it’s still ahead of its time on its social-political themes on the rich and poor divide, the attitudes and persecution of women and a distinct mob mentality spread through hysteria. As a communicative form of German expressionism, the theatrics are insanely over the top and wonderfully accentuated. Sometimes it can be unintentionally comical (particularly Gustav Fröhlich’s Freder), but Metropolis always retains its core message of a better life and society for all people.

With an enthusiastic energy, Morykit does an incredible job in translating those elements through his musical composition, carrying a dramatic depth. Probably his best-defining work comes in Lang’s most iconic moment – the transformation of The Machine Man.  There were moments where it musically sounded a little too light-hearted, especially in scenes which depict Maria (Brigitte Helm) in a perilous situation from Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge). But it’s a prime example of how musical interpretations for a silent film can immediately alter a mood, especially for a scene that has a menacing quality by nature.

But as a one of a kind experience, the Royal Albert Hall made it count.  They created the perfect conditions to see Metropolis on the big screen where it felt like a private screening specially for you.  Fuelled by the magnetism and artistry that Metropolis evokes, it was a pleasant evening well spent.

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One comment

  1. Lovely review, thank you. Unfortunately, the longer any type of performance lasts, the more you become aware of the seating, uncomfortable or otherwise, which brings me to…

    I see the reviewer highlighted on the fact it was the shorter restoration being screened. Apart from the fact that many actually prefer the shorter version (those scenes were cut for a reason!), there’s a limit to how long an audience can be expected to sit still without an interval. Additionally, a solo pianist is working for the entire film, as opposed to an ensemble or orchestra, where scores are deliberately structured to give different musicians regular breaks.

    Ultimately, screening the half-hour longer ‘complete’ Metropolis would add at least an hour onto the length of the evening, allowing for an interval. I’m sure the composer considered all this and more when initially writing his score, and I believe he made the right decision.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, as did my partner. We both hope to experience the film this way again but can see how it being any longer could very likely test the patience of non-silent film aficionados.

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