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Guest post: How to Solve a Problem Like Maria

In case you missed the listings, TCM is screening Fritz Lang’s Metropolis this week—and users of the splendid TCM smartphone app can stream it at their leisure. I have a very fond spot for this film, beyond its significance as a masterwork of world cinema. I was a student at the University of Michigan’s Film and Video Studies program in the early 1990s when a previous restorations effort was unveiled at the Michigan Theater. In 2010 I was asked by Eureka’s Masters of Cinema to contribute to the UK Blu-Ray edition of the newest restoration, and got the special privilege of being one of the first people to see it.

Earlier this summer, the Chicago Symphony’s CSO at the Movies program screened the film with live accompaniment by the symphony, and I had the pleasure of taking my daughter Ann to see it with me. She had not seen the film before, and came out of the screening full of energy and enthusiasm for what she’d just experienced. It occurred to me that given that she’s blogged here before in my place, I should once again hand the keyboard to her to let her share her perspective. Click the fold below and I’ll let Ann take over from there—

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Hey there, Ann back again, this time to talk about Metropolis, and how it’s the action packed silent thriller I didn’t know I needed, but I so totally did.

Believe it or not, but Metropolis, made in 1927 by Fritz Lang, is a hard sell to my friends. For some reason telling a bunch of teenagers about a German silent film that dramatizes the devastating gap between the haves and the have-nots using robots and weird scenes in a cave church with a futuristic town that looks suspiciously like Chicago didn’t hook ‘em. Weird!

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The line that piqued their interest was when I said the main character, Maria, is an unsexualized badass revolutionary who leads an entire society into a new age. They liked that part, and I do too.

Before I go any further into this, I would like to point out here that I like action and thriller films. Even the ones where the female characters ARE sexualized, I can handle it. For example, Jurassic World is a prime example of the hyper-sexualized female character that I still was able to enjoy. I’m able to put my angry-feminist-movie-watcher-goggles aside for these films and have a good time. However, every once and a while I’ll watch a thriller/action movie where the female characters are 3-dimensional and realistic; making the film in question totally mind-blowingly awesome (Kill Bill, Mad Max, I’m looking at you guys).

It took me some time to process why I found it so much more satisfying then something like, say Jurassic World(which please know I’m not trying to tear to shreds, as I said, I enjoyed it. Recently, I’ve figured out what it was. Representation is important! I do not look like Bryce Dallas-Howard or Scarlett Johansson after doing as much physical activity that their characters do in movies like Jurassic Worldor The Avengers, which makes it less believable, but when I see Uma Thurman, covered in blood and sweat and dirt, right after plucking the eyes out of her enemy, I can look and think “Yep! If I had done all of this, that’s probably what I would look like”, compared to watching Jurassic Worldand thinking “Yep! If I had done all of this, that’s probably what men wished I looked like”.

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Okay, did I lose any of you? I promise we’re getting back to Metropolisright now. Maria saves the world in this movie! She takes an entirely dystopian society and almost singlehandedly fixes it, or at least begins to. And never once does her gender play into it. No one ever stops her or degrades her because she’s a young woman, and none of the obstacles come from her being a woman.

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She comes in, ready to lead a revolution, and everyone’s like, “Yeah, okay. I like this chick–something I have almost never seen in any contemporary movie that’s come out in my lifetime.

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(Also, quick side note, I LOVE how the only physical difference between real Maria and evil robot Maria is that the robot’s dress was unbuttoned more and they gave her more eye-makeup. That’s probably what the evil version of me looks like too. Plus when she goes off the rails the first thing she does is go to a nightclub. Evil robot Maria sounds like a lot of fun, actually. Although she did try to kill everyone’s families by flooding the underground city, that was kind of a buzzkill move I suppose. Still, when they burn the robot at the stake, she “dies” laughing at them. Wow.)

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(Another side note, off the first side note—just how idiotic are those underground workers? Night after night they come to sermons where Maria preaches nonviolent resistance, and then one night her robot duplicate shows up to offer a complete 180 degree switch. Hey, everybody, let’s have a riot! And they all go, “Sure, why not? What shall we destroy first?” Nobody bothers to question this complete flip flop.)

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Back to the point, this is a movie with a young female protagonist who saves the day without ever being the damsel in distress, or the romantic interest for the male protagonist. And it’s the most popular silent movie of all time! It’s a kickass silent movie in a weird Chicago-like city, with evil party-animal robots. It’s a dystopian future before dystopian future themed films were cool. Plus it’s the poster child for awesome female representation. Hm, maybe that’s the tagline I should’ve used on my friends. Noted.

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5 Responses Guest post: How to Solve a Problem Like Maria
Posted By Steve Burrus : July 18, 2015 3:46 pm

I mustr admit that I have never seen Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” silent movie from 1927. But I will now after reading all about the strong female protagonist lead in it!

Posted By george : July 18, 2015 8:01 pm

If Brigette Helm intrigues you, several of her other German films can be seen on YouTube, in various states of picture quality. The early talkie ALRAUNE (1930) is worth checking out. She even has a Dietrich-like cabaret number.

Posted By Steve Burrus : July 18, 2015 8:26 pm

Is “Metropolis” availanble for viewing on youtube or not? I ask because I don’t have the TCM app.

Posted By Richard Brandt : July 18, 2015 10:38 pm

You can almost certainly find “Metropolis” on YouTube, although since there have been so many different versions over the years it’s hard to be sure which you’ll get. There are several claiming to be the two-and-a-half-hour “restored” version, though.

Posted By Dan Oliver : July 19, 2015 2:07 pm

The apple has not fallen far from the tree. I love your writing, David, but now I would also like to hear more from Ann.

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