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Bits n' Pieces


This web page contains images and commentaries concerning various aspects of Fritz Lang's silent film Metropolis (1927). As these items do not fit within any other section of the Metropolis Film Archive web site, they are grouped together at this point. Topics covered and discussed include:

Metropolis Money - Until recently, surviving versions of the movie Metropolis do not feature any reference to, or images of, money, yet for the original film money was specially printed and used on a number of occasions. Reference to money is found throughout Thea von Harbou's novel Metropolis, whilst within the film it features heavily in the Slim / Josaphat sub-plot, whereby Slim goes to the latter's apartment and bribes him to leave Metropolis and desist from helping Freder. The money was also used by Georgy to gain access to the Yoshiwara nightclub and imbide in its carnel pleasures. He had found a large quantity of it in his pockets when he swapped clothes with Freder at the paternoster machine. Though Georgy had intented to take a message to Josaphat regarding a meeting with Freder, the temptation of the money was too great and he never made it to Josaphat's apartment.

The Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin, contains a number of examples of this Metropolis money, in 100, 500 and 1000 Mark (Metropolis) denominations. A sample is reproduced above. It is interesting that money should feature this way in Metropolis, for Germany suffered a number of notable financial crises during the 1920s. The country was in the grip of hyperinflation during 1923, just prior to Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou setting down to write their script, and it faced similar problems (though to a lesser degree) during the latter part of 1926, as filming neared completion. This latter financial crisis placed pressure on Ufa executives to ensure that Metropolis - the most expensive German film to date - earned foreign income, particularly in the form of US dollars. The result? - the savage editing of Fritz Lang's three hour version down to a ninety minute American edition.

At one point towards the end of 1923 inflation in Germany was at the rate of more than 12 million per cent, and hundred thousand mark notes were being printed. It is therefore interesting that there are a number of similarities between the design of the Metropolis money and the one hundred thousand million Mark note which featured in the famous Dada collage 'Bankruptcy Vultures' by Hungarian refugee and Bachaus lecturer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy (reproduced below).

Moholy-Nagy was a Dada Expressionist artist who also lectured at the Bauhaus from Spring 1923. One of the Bauhaus students was Dutch ex-Dadaist Paul Citroen, who was responsible for a series of photographic montages entitled 'Metropolis' which appeared around htis time, and may have influenced Fritz Lang - a student of architecture and associate of various Bauhaus artists. Lang, Citroen and Moholy-Nagy have variously been identified as the artist responsible for a montage which featured in French publicity for the film upon its release at the end of 1927. As noted by John Whillett, in his The Weimar Years - A Culture Cut Short, (London, 1984), this Metropolis montage is similar to the composite city-urban photo-montage constructed for the 1929 production of The Merchant of Berlin. Citroen is most likely repsonsible for this latter work, which was formerly attributed to Moholy-Nagy, who also worked on the production. It is of a similar style to his 'Metropolis' collage of 1923, reproduced below.

The Metropolis montage associated with Fritz Lang's film, and reproduced below, initially appeared unattributed in the 1927 French trade newspaper Cine-Miroir and the 1928 La Petit Illustration special Metropolis issue.

This montage has recently been identified as coming from the hand of the artist and set designer Boris Konstantinovitch Bilinsky (1900-1948). A poster version of the montage, with signature, was illustrated in an anonymous article entitled 'Plakate für deutsche Filme in Frankreich' [Posters for German Films in France], published in the Berlin Zeitbilder during January 1928. For further discussion on Bilinsky's Metropolis work, refer Boris Bilinsky French Posters & Montages 1927.

Metropolis Robot - The robot which features in Metropolis is stunning, and one of the most memorable aspect of the whole movie. Its precise origins are unclear. We know that the sculptor was Walter Shultz Mittendorf, and that Fritz Lang and his design team had input into its creation, yet the beauty of the robot is unlike any other produced up until that point in time. It was thought that robots, being of mechanical construction and design, whould therefore appear mechanical and rigid. We can see this in the robot which featured in Carel Capek's R.U.R play of 1923, wherin the term 'robot' was first used. The origns of the sensual design of the Metropolis robot may lie in the work of Novembergruppe member Rudolf Belling (1886-1972), the leading Expresisonist sculptor between 1918-22. His brass female head of 1925 (reproduced below) is in many aspects similar to the head of Futura (one of the names given to the Metropolis robot in Thea von Harbou's book. Belling may have influenced Shultz-Mittendorf in his work for the film.

Also influential may have been Bauhaus teacher and sculptor Oskar Schlemmer who, during 1921-3, was experimenting in figurative, perfectly balanced works. The sleek body of the Metropolis robot was in a similar style.

The Gropius Monument - Between 1920-22 architect and Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius (1883-1969) designed a memorial monument ('Monument for the March Dead in Weimar') to the nine worked killed in resisting the Kapp putsch. This stark, abstract, modernistic public sculpture of reinforced concrete was obviously the basis for the monument located in the central square of the underground city within Fritz Lang's Metropolis. The Gropius monument (reproduced below) was a political statement, and a monument to the struggle of workers. By copying its design, Lang was also making a political statement.

The Metropolis monument had a base which mirrored Gropius' work. However it also featured a large warning gong which was used in the film by Maria to alert the children of the city to the imminent danger of flooding waters. Wheras the Gropius monument was located in a quiet park setting which enhanced the opportunity for reflection upon its significance, the Metropolis monument was located in the middle of the central square of the underground city. Workers passed it each day as they travelled to and from work. Unlike the monument in the park, it was surrounded by the noise of massive machines working away twenty four hours each day. The gong was therefore a practical addition to the worker's memorial structure, and a means of calling them together.

Hands - The image of the human hand is made frequest use of by Fritz Lang within Metropolis. A single hand, or a group of hands, forms a powerful symbol representing individual and communal struggle. The most obvious and striking examples of this is the use by the director of a mass of hands stretching out and reaching skywards towards their perceived object of salvation. This can be seen in the following episodes and images:

  1. The hands of the workers of Babel reaching out to the newly completed Tower of Babel in order to tear it down and bring about an end to their suffering. Earlier in the film we saw their hands raised as fists, expressing their anger towers those who designed and oversaw construction of the monstorus building.
  2. The hands of the lecherous men in the Yoshiwara nightclub, reaching up in an effort to touch the semi-naked, evil Maria as she sits astride the seven-headed serpent of the Apocalypse, with a chalice of abominations in her hand. The men reach out for Maria in order to satisfy their lust.
  3. The hands of the young children of the underground city, reaching skywards towards Maria and Freder on the gong monument in the rapidly flodding town square. The children seek salvation from the rising waters and the misery of their existence.

In all these cases, the mass of hands features in the lower foreground of the view, whilst the saviour or object of desire is in the centre background, looming largely. Lang also makes symbolic use of individual hands in the film, most notably with regards to the artifical, black metallic hand of the scientist Rotwang. The crazed inventor's hand is a symbol of his physical and emotional suffering as a result of the loss of his beloved Hel to Joh Fredersen. This common use of hands as a motif throughout the film reflects the chaos and struggle of the residents of Metropolis (aka Berlin and Germany) as they struggle to stop from falling into the abyss and come to terms with a rapidly changing society.

Hel - Goddess of Death

A major narrative strand of the original version of Metropolis - both novel and film - focussed on Hel, the former lover of Rotwang, later wife of Joh Fredersen, and mother of Freder. Rotwang's subsequent maddness, as evidenced in the film, was brought about by his loss of Hel to Joh Fredersen and her death as a result of giving birth to Freder. In memorium, he constructed a large monument to her within his ancient house.

Hel was the ancient goddess of the dead in Norse mythology. Because of the lack of understanding of the significance of this name, and the suggested 'silliness' of calling a woman 'Hel / Hell', the American team under Channing Pollock edited out all references to Hel from the film prior to its American release in March 1927. The German distributors at UFA subsequently did likewise in August of that year.

In order to appreciate the true significance of the deletion of this major theme from Fritz Lang's film, we need to refer back to Thea von Harbou's original novel of Metropolis. Many authors have subsequently commented upon the significances of this editorial change to how the film was originally received outside of Germany, and to its subsequent reception and analysis. In regards to the mythological background to the Goddess Hel, the following quote from Compton's Electronic Encyclopedia outlines some of the history of this reference:

"Hel, in Norse mythology, goddess of the dead and ruler of the underworld. Hel was one of three monstrous creatures the trickster fire god Loki gave birth to after eating the heart of a witch, the giantess Angerbotha. Hel's siblings were the gigantic wolf Fenrir and Jormungand, the evil serpent that coiled around the world. According to the 'Prose (or Younger) Edda', after Hel was born, the principal god, Odin, cast her into the dark, frozen wastes of Niflheim and gave her authority over nine worlds. Anyone who died of sickness or old age was sent to her, and she was required to give board and lodging to them. She had great mansions in Niflheim for herself and to house all the dead who came there. The walls were exceptionally high, with enormous gates. Her hall was called Elvidnir, or Eliudnir (Misery), her dish Hunger, her knife Famine, and her male and female servants Ganglati and Ganglot (both of whose names mean "slow-moving"). The threshold where one entered was called Stumbling-block, her bed was Sick-bed, and her curtains Gleaming-bale. Her hound, Garm, guarded the gate.

Hel, the Northern Death Goddess. Painting by Robin M. Weare, 1996.

Hel was thought to feed on the brains and marrow of humans. In appearance, Hel was fierce-looking and easily recognizable: half black and half flesh-covered. In demeanor, she was described as rather downcast. Occasionally she would leave Niflheim and roam over the Earth on a three-legged white horse, gathering up the many who perished in plague or famine. The realm of Niflheim itself was often simply referred to as Hel, after the goddess. When the beautiful but doomed god Balder was treacherously murdered, Hel housed him in a huge golden hall befitting his station, and she was sympathetic to the request of the gods, delivered by the god Hermod, that Balder be returned to heaven. She agreed to release Balder from the realm of the dead, but only if every creature in the world grieved for him. Since the giantess Thokk refused to weep for him, Balder was forced to remain in Hel.

Scholars have argued, based on surviving texts, that Hel was not considered an evil deity until Norse beliefs began to be influenced by Christianity. Before that time she was not associated with the evil god Loki. The fact that her two brothers were monsters, not even human in form, while she was considered a goddess, would support this claim. There was no stigma of cruelty attached to her; rather, she appeared to be sad or depressed. Her palace was as imposing as the halls of the gods, and she met the dead souls who came to her with courtesy. They seemed to dwell peacefully in Hel; they were not tortured or mistreated in any way. Nevertheless, by the Viking age, emphasis was placed on Hel's subjects as criminals--murderers, thieves, adulterers--and others who had not died in battle, and thus had not been carried off by Odin's Valkyries to the heavenly palace of Valhalla. In this tradition, Hel's subjects are tormented and miserable. And according to the 'Rose Edda', at the time of Ragnarok, the battle at the end of the world, Loki would lead all of the people belonging to Hel in the fight against the gods. At that time, other creatures from Hel's domain would also be loosed on the world: the serpent Nidhogg, the wolf Fenrir, and the dog Garm. The English word hell comes from the name of this Norse goddess.

Barbara Walker's The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets says of Hel:

One half of Hel's body was that of a beautiful woman. The other half was that of a rotting corpse, green and black. She ruled the realm of Niflheim, a huge black canyon in icy mountains, where those who did not die gloriously in battle went when their span of life was finished. The Christians applied Her name to their afterworld of punishments. Yet in the Eddas, Niflheim was not burning but icy cold, filled with sleet, icy slush, cold mud and snow. The entrance was guarded by Garm, the horrible hound whose breast was splattered with the blood of the dead. Her hall was called Damp-With-Sleet. Her plate was Hunger, Her knife Famine; Her two servants were both called Slow-Moving. Her bed was Sick-Bed, the stone at the entrance to Her hall Drop-to-Destruction. So the Vikings described Her and Her home.

Though the Vikings regarded Her with horror, the common people worshipped Hel. There were places sacred to Her in Holland. "The early 'hell' seems to have been a uterine shrine or sacred cave of rebirth, denoted by the Norse hellir....Hel was despised by the church, but the common people seem to have thought her more benevolent than otherwise."

Aenne Wilkommen's Costume Designs

Aenne Wilkommen was costume designer for the production of Metropolis. She had earlier worked with Lang on costumes for Die Nibelungen (1923-4). Reproduced above are two of her preliminary drawings for Metropolis costumes. On the left, we see Freder in his work clothes and normal silken attire; on the right is the garment design for one of the Pleasure Garden girls. Additionally designs, from the collection of the Deutsche Kinemathek, Berlin, are reproduced in Jacobson & Sudendorf (2000).

Metropolis Bibliography - IntroductionMetropolis Bibliography - Books, Articles and ManuscriptsMetropolis Bibliography - Internet Web SitesMetropolis Bibliography - Artwork, Posters and PhotographsMetropolis Bibliography - MusicMetropolis Bibliography - FilmMetropolis Bibliography - Videos, Quicktime, DVDMetropolis Bibliography - Reviews 1927Metropolis Bibliography - Australia 1928Metropolis Bibliography - Posters