From Fritz Lang Metropolis, critic Siegfried Kracauer wrote that “Americans loved its technical excellence; the British remain aloof; the French were stirred by a film that seemed to them a cross between Wagner and Krupp, and overall a worrying sign of German vitality. By Wagner, Kracauer certainly means the composer; Krupp refers to the arms manufacturer Friedrich Krupp AG. We must remember that Metropolis first came out in Germany in 1927, and thus became an increasingly unstable sociopolitical context today.
But it also came out in the golden age of silent cinema, and every serious moviegoer in the world will be eager to catch a glimpse of the elaborate dystopian future Lang and his collaborators have put together.
And screens around the world spectacle it did so, albeit in versions that were censored and cut in various ways that Lang found very distasteful. But bowlerized Metropolis seen by so many people at the time, it proved so compelling that the advertising material became almost as artistic as the film itself.
Over on Stephen O’Donnell’s Gods and Foolish Grandeur blog, you can see a selection of posters for Metropolis installed during the late nineteen twenties and early nineteen thirties in theaters in various countries, including Sweden, France, Japan, and Australia.
It’s all visually striking, but perhaps it’s no surprise that American product — a product, after all, of the culture that gave rise to Hollywood — gets so breathless with the accompanying text.
“FANTASTIC FUTURISTIC FATALISTIC,” promises one of the posters, but not without adding “IMAGINARY IMPRESSIVE IMPOSSIBLE” and “EROTIC EXOTIC ERRATIC.” Another sheet offers viewers a “HIGH INTO THE AIR!” Lest they suspect that it won’t give them a quarter’s worth of fantasy, it also promises them a plunge “DEEP IN THE EARTH!” A different catchphrase, also used in other English-speaking countries, states the film that “Everybody’s talking about it, but nobody can describe it!”
It wasn’t for lack of effort, let alone by the distributor’s publicity department: another of the poster’s detailed paragraphs boasts “an extraordinary, soaring love drama of two worlds that determine their destiny within the confines of a great city.” But over generations — and after restoration — Metropolis has exceeded this claim in value as a work of cinematic art, and is indeed as timeless as the question once used to promote it: “What will become of the world?”
Metropolis: Watch Fritz Lang’s 1927 Masterpiece
Read The Original 32 Page Program for Fritz Lang Metropolis (1927)
HG Wells Fritz Lang pan Metropolis in 1927 Film Review: It’s “The Most Ridiculous Movie”
See the Global Film Poster for Hitchcock’s vertigo: US, Japan, Italy, Poland & Onwards
10,000 Classic Movie Posters Digitized & Posted Online by Harry Ransom Center at UT-Austin: Free to Browse & Download
40,000 Movie Posters in the Incredible Eclectic Archive: Posters of Italian Tarkovsky, Japanese Orson Welles, Czech Woody Allen & Many More
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcastst about the city, language and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter book about cities, book The City Without a State: A Journey through 21st Century Los Angeles and video series City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.