Celebrating Great Films

Thursday, June 20, 2013


#89 at the time of writing.

A contemporary review of this film by H. G. Wells accused it of "foolishness, cliché, platitude, and muddlement about mechanical progress and progress in general." I wholeheartedly agree - but his damning criticism ignores all that is amazing in this movie.

With Yevgeny's Zamyatin's We having appeared a few years earlier, and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World just around the corner, this kind of dystopic vision was clearly all the rage in 1927. But never before had science fiction been brought to the silver screen so ambitiously.

Epic sets, a cast of thousands, the world's first cinematic humanoid robot, a plot that still resonates today, and all dripping with art deco style. Yes, the acting is hammier than a pigsty and the plot is often overtly silly, but it's a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of the past.

The hordes of German workers marching like machines presages Nazi displays of power. Indeed, it was one of Adolf Hitler's favourite films. Propagandist Joseph Goebbels also took the film's message to heart. In a 1928 speech, using some of the language from the film, he declared: "The political bourgeoisie is about to leave the stage of history. In its place advance the oppressed producers of the head and hand, the forces of Labor, to begin their historical mission."

Famously, due to some over-enthusiastic cuts by the studio after the film foundered at the box office, a quarter of this film was thought lost to the ages for nearly eighty years - until in 2008 the manager of a Buenos Aires cinema club discovered an uncut reel in the archives of his local Cinema Museum.

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