Friday, April 29, 2011

EbertFest 2011: Metropolis!

Great films are the heart of EbertFest. I've seen three so far, so let's discuss the first.

1. Metropolis (1927 - clip at the end)

This is my first silent film ever, at 51 years of age. Wow. What an experience. I had the unbelievable privilege of seeing the reconstructed and restored two-and-a-half-hour version. A beautiful print, and a wonderful experience.

You can find a description of the plot online that are better than my ability to describe it. Let me simplify it to this briefly:

Joh Fredersen (the mind) runs the teeming futuristic - staggeringly futuristic for 1927 - above ground Metropolis. His son Freder, beset by a vision of a beautiful woman, sets off into the Worker's City undergound to find his "brothers", the workers. The question is whether the worker drones, represented chiefly by the mechanic Grot (the hands) at the Heart Machine, will rise up under the quasi-religious figure Maria and overthrow the privileged in the Metropolis above. Make sense? Try figuring all of that out without dialogue for the most part.

Note: The fact that the movie has a plot has apparently not been apparent for many of the years since it's release. My new friend Peter, who I met at the Virginia theater in the hour before the showing, tells me that he has seen the film many times over the last 30 years in Germany - but always much shorter and chopped up versions. He frankly thought it was an expressionistic film, and was surprised Wednesday night at the full version that it did in fact have a recognizable plot. It totally changed how he looked at the film.

There are periodic cue cards and "interstitles" to guide you along with the very physically dramatic silent film acting style. Big movements. Physical risks. Arched eyebrows. And such. What I noticed most about the silent film was the silence. I could hear myself thinking throughout, without dialogue coming at me. I Tweeted that I could "hear myself imagining".

To cut to chase: the tagline at the ending of the film is this:

"The mediator between the Mind and the Hands is the Heart!"

To translate that into plot: the Mediator (Freder) between the Mind (Joh Fredersen, the leader of the Metropolis) and the Hands (Grot, the representative of the Workers) is the Heart (Freder/Maria). There, that makes sense now.

To translate it into my understanding of my first silent film:

The mediator between the silent Film on the screen and my film-going Heart was the Score by the brilliant live Alloy Orchestra.

3 guys in the pit. One guy on keyboard. Two guys on percussion. Playing and banging continuously for 2.5 hours. Wow. Brilliant. They really added to the emotional experience of the film. I would go through phases of not being aware of them being live. But, then I would see the mallets striking the metal and be thrilled again that this energetic and moving score was being played live. They set the mood. Brooding, scary, kinetic, hopeful. The brought it all home in a way that was more than just song clips juxtaposed to set a mood in a typical movie. It was a wall of sound throughout. I will hear those drums in my head for days.
 Kudos to the Alloy Orchestra - the Heart of this viewing of Metropolis!

The best part! I had a moment Thursday morning to share this experience with our host himself, Roger Ebert in a brief but meaningful chat. I told him that I enjoyed my first ever silent film. That I "could hear myself imagining". Roger wrote me two notes on his notepad during our chat. "Silent movies bring on a reverie" and "They are in the head". Yes. Absolutely. What an experience it was - both the movie and the chat with Roger. I'm having the full EbertFest experience!

And now, a clip of Metropolis!

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