Fritz Lang’s Metropolis at the Tivoli

“Imagine Toronto in 2927,” announced press agents when Fritz Lang’s Metropolis premiered at the Tivoli Theatre on September 12, 1927.

“Erotic, exotic, erratic” are other words used to describe the futuristic and prophetic tale, but had Fritz Lang directed his masterpiece ten years earlier, Ontario movie-goers may have waited longer to see it.

According to Eric Minton in the Canadian Film Society’s 1969 “Silent Screen Review,” a war-time ban on German films kept many classics of European cinema from hitting Ontario screens until the late 1920s, when the Ontario Censor Board finally showed some leniency.

Good thing they did, because it was a big hit all over the province. The previous week, it premiered in Ottawa to similar fanfare, The Ottawa Journal reporting that the seating capacity of the Regent Theatre “was taxed to the utmost at both afternoon and evening performances.”

Metropolis, restored with lost footage discovered in Argentina in 2008,   plays Tuesday and Wednesday at Bell Lightbox along with a newly-commissioned score by Gabriel Thibodeau.

Everything Unusual in the German Film – Toronto Daily Star, Sep 13 1927

“Metropolis at the Tivoli is a puzzler to the organist. No music written seems to suit this German picture, in which everything is unusual.

The man-enslaving city of the future is the theme; a supercubistic nightmare of power machinery and underground workmen’s houses; above them the pleasure-whirled, cloud-raking pinnacles, airships ferrying the streets; down below the grim regiments of convict-life workers, the slaves of the metropolis whose super-baron is Masterman.

As all men below Masterman are machines, so his chemist with the aid of whirling halos contrives a machine that acts like a women. His son Eric, suddenly plunged into the inferno of powerhouse cubsit architecture, blinding light, long catacombic corridors and boiling steam, falls in love with the workers as brother and with a young woman who preaches Christ down in the deeps. The chemist replace Mary with her image in mechanism, lacking only the soul. The mechanic humanoid’s job is to preach industrial subjection; but unaccountably the emotionalistic dummy preaches sabotage. Chaos ensues; the city the subterranean homes are in danger of devastation until Eric in a fight with the magician on top of the cathedral comes to the rescue.

Two reels in length have probably been cut out. But enough is left to show the astounding technique of UFA, formerly ketched in Variety; the German lack of the truly human; the amazing use of lights, planes, focuses, distances, masses, river-like mobs and the subtle resemblance of all the workers to the mechanical action afterwards disaplyed in the preaching humanoid — so splendidly acted by a star whose name is forgotten. A picture of earthquakian interest — and no humour.”


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