10 January 1927: On this day in Berlin history, Austrian-born film-maker Fritz Lang premiered his polarizing but legendary silent film Metropolis.
The dystopian piece of science fiction was written and filmed during the interwar period of Weimar Germany along with his then wife, Thea von Harbou, who had written the original novel of the same name that worked as the basis of the eventual movie’s plot. The first showing took place in the biggest cinema in Germany at the time – the newly renovated Ufa-Palast am Zoo near Berlin’s Zoologischer Garten.
Although not necessarily the first science fiction movie ever produced – as is often mistakenly claimed – it was nonetheless among the first feature length films of the genre. Drawing imagery and themes from the German Expressionist movement of the time, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was greatly inspired by famous authors such as H.G Wells and Mary Shelley. It did, however, transcend its own artistic pigeonhole and was a significant influence on the film noir aesthetic that would eventually take Hollywood by storm.
Despite its modern reputation and high critical praise, Metropolis was initially met with mixed feelings. By the time of the world premiere in Berlin, the film’s length had already been significantly cut down – yet many still found it far too long and laborious. H.G. Wells himself described it as “silly” and derivative of both his own works and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Not everyone was so condemning, however. Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels took the messages about the pitfalls of political bourgeoisie and their suppression of the “forces of Labor” to heart and, soon after the Nazis’ rise to power in 1933, he informed Lang that Hitler wanted him to make films for the NSDAP.
Lang, being of Jewish heritage, and becoming increasingly dismayed by his wife’s growing sympathies towards the Nazi Party, finally left Berlin on July 31, 1933 and was a naturalized citizen of the United States by 1939.
You can learn more about Metropolis and Berlin’s rich film history at the Deutsche Kinemathek – the Museum for Film and Television at Potsdamer Platz.