As I’ve mentioned before, I’m currently working on my dissertation on the subject of science fiction film music. While I’m currently keeping the exact details of the thesis to myself for now, I would like to share a small piece of what I’m working on.
Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) is in a large part responsible for me being where I am now. I believe it was about six years ago that Turner Classic Movies did a special showing of a restored cut of Metropolis (as restored as it shall ever be) with a special re-orchestration of Huppertz’s score. And from the moment the film began, I was hooked. There is some special quality about Metropolis that draws me in every time. My favorite moment though? Well that is when Joh Fredersen (and the audience) are introduced to the robot for the first time.
Keep in mind that the term “robot” was only invented about six or seven years before this film was made. The Metropolis robot is a marvel to behold, as you first see her (and from the body type it is definitely a HER) sitting on a chair (in front of a pentagram no less, but the novelization provides a backstory as to why it is there), almost as if she is on a throne. As Rotwang (her creator) commands her to rise, the motion is so fluid, you’d almost believe it really was a robot (actually it was the actress playing the female lead Maria in the costume, Lang insisted that she be the one to do it).
The score is pure magic in this moment. A soft tremolo of suspense sets up the moment where the robot is illuminated. And as the robot slowly rises and begins to walk, a soft (and yet also firm) plinking is heard from the strings; a sound that is almost in step with the robot’s motions, and yet not quite. The melody is almost Oriental in nature; it is mysterious, otherworldly, this is something no one in the world of Metropolis has ever seen before!
The music continues without a beat as Joh is revealed to be either revolted or afraid of the robot as it extends her hand to greet him (or it could be a mixture of both). Everything musically speaking, is centered on this robot, for the moment.
That moment, the musical moment, when the robot appears, rises and walks, forms the first step of my dissertation (hopefully when it is finished, I’ll be able to share more of it with you. And, interestingly enough, the melody born from Huppertz, lives on in a number of film scores on similar subjects, the “children” of Metropolis, so to speak.
That is just a small sample of what I’m working on right now. I hope you enjoy it! -Bex
*all images are property of the film studio