Thursday, 24 November 2011

Unit 2:space Essay.

I apologize for any spelling and grammatical errors!! and photos will be up later!

Unit 2 space:  Writing assignment.


This essay will analyse critically the production design and conceptual art of  Frits Lang’s Metropolis (1927). The role and importance of production design will be defined with reference from the book The art of production design by Christopher Frayling. The conceptual art of Metropolis will be explained using Fritz Lang’s Metropolis cinematic visions of technology and fear edited by Michael Minden and Holger Bachmann. Set design of the city conveyed in Metropolis will be assessed in relation to German expressionism using the website . further information about the architecture of metropolis will be extracted from Francois Penz and Maureen Thomas’s Cinema and Architecture. Finally key architects from the early 1900’s futurism art movement such as Antonio Sant’ Elia will be studied using to gain a better understanding of what may have influenced Lang and his set design team.

Main essay.

The film Metropolis depicts a monumental imposing  city buzzing with life, the founder and master of the city is Joh Frederson played by Alfred Abel the narrative revolves around his son a young man called  “Freder” played by Gustav Frohlich, he  rebels against his  father as he discovers the under city where the poor work to keep the city on top alive.  Lang’s depiction of  the “Under city” is a contrast to the vibrant modernistic city above, the city below is made up of a network of  deep caverns and caves, also a gothic styled cathedral. This idea of contrasting the light with the dark helps the audience to understand that there can be no light without dark, in terms of metropolis, Lang wanted to put across the idea that the city couldn’t survive with out the dark under city, ironically, the worker’s who in habit the dark under city are characterized as the innocent. Whereas the rich careless people of the city above are portrayed as evil and sinful. This notion is symbolic of the yin yang symbol of ancient china, the basic principle of this was that good can not live without evil. (fig1 :photo of upper class men being seduced)

Lang’s vision of  the  city was helped realised by producer Erich Pommer, and the lead art director Erich Kettlehut. Lang’s original Idea came to him when he and Erich Pommer visited Manhattan. In an anecdote written by Lang he states “  As I look into the streets, the glaring lights and tall buildings, there I conceived metropolis”(Minden and Bachmann 2002:4). What Lang didn’t mention in his travel log was that as he  explored the streets of Manhattan he  noticed a dark “undercurrent”(Minden and Bachman 2002:5) of the city that scared but intrigued him  at the same time. It was the idea of a covered-up, repressed, uglier city that fuelled his imagination for his masterpiece.

Before era of German expressionism came the futurist art movement,  originating in Italy and  pioneered by Thomas  Marinetti. It was based on the principle’s of looking to the future both politically and artistically, a noted futurist architect called Antonio Sant Elia  encapsulated the contemporary metropolitan ideology in his work during the early 1900’s his ability to in vision magnificent modernistic structures is reflective in Lang and his production teams work. The futurist art movement as a whole helped the world to conceive the possibilities of  future urban societies. “Architecture should be impermanent” (Nehrain Khalifa 2008) allowing it to constantly grow and change this idea is reflective of the production design of metropolis as we see an new city that has evolved from the old.

Lang like a lot of film makers at the time was heavily influenced by German expressionist art work. This movement introduced the style of sharp strait lines and dark contrasting tones especially on canvas. We see this style of art  in full effect in Robert Weine’s The cabinet of Dr. Calligari . Metropolis was shot 7 year after this. Lang  wanted  a similar effect for his film so he hired Erich Pommer who produced Caligari and Metropolis  he played a key role in in overseeing the process of creating the city from conceptual drawings to actual scaled models.

In the mid 1920’s at the time of the films production America had  saturated Europe with Hollywood blockbusters fuelling the publics need for escapism with suspense, comic relief and the inevitable happy ending. This put Germany and other Euro countries “under severe pressure  to produce better, bigger and more spectacular pictures”(Minden and Bachmann 2000:5) luckily producer Pommer Had the necessary funds to back such a big dream of langs. As the media was becoming such a powerfull force at this time, it was vital that “war torn”  Germany exploited that and used it to regaun status in the I of the world

A production designers job is to create the illusion of architectural space, a world in which the characters from the script come to life and are able to communicate with the audience effectively,
“ ideally the designer works from inside the script outward”(Diana Charnely 1997:154) to create a more believable world staying true to the vision of the director while being in coherence with the art directors craftsmanship. In order to create Lang’s metropolis, art directors and set designer would have had to have worked closely with each other to create a scaled model of the city, the designers would only create certain parts of the fiction world giving the audience a taste of the foreground, mid-space, and background.

The set design for movies that depict large cities such as Metropolis all follow a similar production process, firstly initial ideas are hand drawn to give the director an idea of the final product. For Lang’s production, art director Erich Kettlehut was given this responsibility he drew out the first conceptual art work for the film most depicting the tower of Babel that is the centre point of the city,(Tower of Babel fig2)

Using perspective Kettlehut gives us the sense of height and depth. Staying true to the expressionistic style of the film, most building are drawn with sharp straight lines  this gives us the sense of each building being a solid structure.  Kettlehut reinforces the vibrancy and bustle of the upper city by prevalently drawing futuristic infrastructure in the form of bridges leading from building to building or sky railway systems to facilitate public transport. all these elements that Kettlehut envisioned had logic and meaning behind them, As these plans were the blue prints to what the set design team would physically create the scaled model of the city.
(photo fig 4)

The under city followed similar design principle. The difference was some part of it were built on a much large-scale  to facilitate the flooding scene where crowds of people were shown. The main Set design objective of the under city was to create an “undercurrent threatening the second layer”(Minden an Bachmann 2000:5) to accomplish this, the design team had to create a almost desolate place void of life and vibrancy. This almost dead entity known as the under city had to fell plain but at the same time able to capture the audiences imagination. One of the clever ways Lang did this was to include a centre piece in the under city. This small monument in acted as the epicentre of the town, it is the place where every under city dweller rushed to as the flood water rose. (photo) 
Fig 5

It closely mirrors the tower of Babel at the centre point of the above metropolis. Stylistically this this approach of depicting both cities works as both places resemble and contrast each other, one of the strongest ideas presented in this production is the personification of the under city. The main city engine is seen to be the heart of the city both upper and below,  when this is destroyed and  the two places collide, both societies come close to death. Through this smart production design Lang portrays a strong motif throughout the film that implying that all the components that makeup the world of the Metropolis  all have their part to play in keep the world at balance.

To finalize this analysis, Fritz Lang, Erich Pommer and Erich Kettlehut have all played integral role’s in producing one of the most iconic film of the 20th century. Combining  master craftsmanship and a captivating vision this production set the bench mark for the modern day urban jungle film. The visionary expression can be seen throughout the production.


Quote 1:  Michael Minden and Holger Bachman (2000) Fritz Lang’s Metropolis: cinematic visions of the future.

Quote 2:  Michael Minden and Holger Bachman (2000) Fritz Lang’s Metropolis: cinematic visions of the future.

Quote 3: Nehrain Khalifa (2008) accessed 23/11/2011

Quote 4: Michael Minden and Holger Bachman (2000) Fritz Lang’s Metropolis: cinematic visions of the future.

Quote 5: Diana Charnely  (1997) Cinema and Architecture.

Quote 6: Michael Minden and Holger Bachman (2000) Fritz Lang’s Metropolis: cinematic visions of the future.

Illustration list

Fig 1:  Upper class men being seduced (1927) Metropolis

Fig2:  Erich kettle hut (1926) tower of Babel

Fig 3: designers modelling city (1926) Metropolis

Fig 4:   monument in under city (1927) Metropolis

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