[Fritz Lang, dir.: Metropolis (1927 / 1984)]
I recently bought myself a copy of Metropolis with the notorious "disco" soundtrack by Giorgio Moroder. I agree that this sounds a bit quixotic, given the fact that the "complete" restored version of 2002 has now been succeeded by an even more complete version based on the recent discovery of an uncut print of the original film (before it was edited down for American release) in an obscure film archive in Buenos Aires.
What can the Moroder version - with its garish tinting, subtitles substituting for captions, and stills standing in for certain scenes - have to offer to us now? Well, probably not all that much unless you remember sitting, breathless, in the Civic Theatre in 1984 as the opening titles appeared and that drum beat began! You had to be there, I guess.
Isn't Brigitte sublime? Only nineteen, with the huge eyes and waif-like face of the silent era star, she really comes to life when she has to embody the "evil Maria" robot ... Click here and you can relive the moment for yourselves, courtesy of YouTube.
Incidentally, don't you think the Magus / Inventor Rotwang looks a bit like our own Panmure poet and visionary Richard Taylor? Especially in some of the more recent posts on his mind-bending blog Eyelight ...
Watching the movie again got me to thinking about that whole feel of the 1980s: its strange mixture of grunge and glam, the apocalyptic tone of its art. For me, I guess the style of the decade had been set once and for all a couple of years before, in 1982, when I staggered out into the daylight after having first experienced the sublime vistas of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. The monstrous ziggurats dominating the skyline, the crowded Asian noodle-bars and ceaseless rain in the streets below ... On the one hand, it seemed like the landscape of a dream; on the other hand, I felt as if I'd literally seen the future. It was grimy, it was noir, it was retro, it was intensely melancholy - and I loved it.
[Blade Runner (1982)]
I couldn't believe it when the film promptly disappeared from the big screen, all the local reviewers prattling on about how "gloomy" it was, and awarding all their stars to whatever other vacuous space opera was uppermost at the time. What was it, in fact? E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial? How well that's stood the test of time!
For a while it was as if no-one understood that a new decade had begun, that a new sensibility had been announced by Scott's film. The seventies cast a long shadow. When I finally left for London in 1986, though, I saw that the revolution had indeed taken place. "Thatcher means Death" was the first piece of graffiti I saw shortly after landing: the monsters were real, the Tyrrell corporation really was in charge. The Cold War was still on, you must remember, and the most powerful country on earth was ruled by a zombie, controlled by his freeze-dried wife and her astrologers ...
I remember going to see a screening of Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin at the filmhouse in Edinburgh in about 1987. The film itself had been too thoroughly assimilated by subsequent cineastes to excite me very much ("Life," as Marianne Moore once memorably remarked, "is not like that.") But they'd put another Russian short on before it, to fill out the programme.
Now that film, "Chess-Crazy", totally blew my mind. It was completely stupid. The plot consisted of everyone being so mad on chess that they'd start playing it at the drop of the hat: peasants, businessmen, soldiers and all. The hero, on his way, to see his girl, is constantly distracted by random chess matches wherever he goes.
It was a silent film, from the mid-twenties, I suppose, and yet the costumes looked completely up to the minute. The hero was wearing baggy trousers, a blazer, a striped jumper - I saw him in bars in town every day. The heroine looked pretty fetching in her vintage dress. Even her hair was in haut 80s style ...
I know that people see the 80s now as all Duran Duran and Cyndi Lauper: tight shirts and mullets or kooky fringes - but that's not how it looked at the time. Our revolution may have been betrayed ... what was it all for, in any case? Better fashion solutions? 1989, and the fall of the Berlin wall, the velvet revolution in Prague, did seem more like the end of something than a new beginning. It was bizarre to hear that the Americans seemed to be under the impression that they'd won something, that now they could really start ruling the world ...
Those of us who'd really assimilated Blade Runner knew better than that. If there was change coming, it was coming from the east: initially from Japan, but then from China itself, the sleeping giant.
What, after all, had the Americans won? Who were their enemies now? YOu can't have a military-industrial complex without a dastardly foe. For a while their movies seemed as if they were literally casting about for villains - no more commies, no more SMERSH, no more sinister commissars ... They tried "separatists," drug cartels, "terrorists" until they came up with the perfect solution: Islam. That's worked out really well for all of us, hasn't it?
Blade Runner had it right, once again. "I have seen the future and it works" - that silly remark by an American journalist about the Bolshevik revolution - had to be transformed, for my generation, into "I have seen the future and it's dark" ...
[Sean Young in Blade Runner (1982)]