Utopias Module Week 3: Things to Come (1936), Metropolis (1926)

* by Mr Andy Sawyer

Things to Come (1936)
Produced by Alexander Korda, Directed by William Cameron Menzies,
Script H. G. Wells, Lajos Biro
Cast: Raymond Massey (John Cabal / Oswald Cabel), Cedric Hardwicke (Passworthy), Margaretta Scott, Ralph Richardson (Boss), Edward Chapman, Maurice Barddell

Thing to Come

Adapted from Wells's novel The Shape of Things to Come (1933). Wells's version of the script published in 1935 as Things to Come (Cresset Press).

Wells: "The book upon which this story rests ... is essentially an imaginative discussion [Wells's emphasis] of social and political forces and possibilities, and a film is no place for argument. The conclusions of that book therefore are taken for granted in this film, and a new story has been invented to display them ..." (TTC, 9)

Set in "Everytown". World War 2 breaks out in 1940 and lasts for thirty years. Social breakdown is hastened by gas attacks and plague (the "wandering sickness"). In 1970 the town is under the domination of "The Boss", but Cabal from "Wings over the World" arrives to rebuild society.
* Note dialogue -- "Freemasonry of science" (scene in Harding's lab). Boss: "Who are you?" ... Cabel: "... law and sanity."

The visual symbolism of Cabal, in black.
* The huge black planes coming out of the clouds.

Bombastic speeches on the possibilities of science leading to the linking scenes of reconstruction:
* Machinery: clean and bright: people in control, supervising rather than operating machines.

Note Wells's comments on Metropolis: "All the balderdash one finds in such a film as Fritz Lange's (sic) Metropolis about 'robot workers' and ultra skyscrapers, etc. Etc., should be cleared out of your minds ... Machinery has superseded the subjugation and 'mechanisation' of human beings." (TTC, 13-14)

The idyllic society, away from the contamination of the open air (Asimov's The Caves of Steel?)
* Grandfather showing grandchild pictures of the old world: this new world getting "lovelier and loverlier".

* What is the nature of power in this society -- the leader is Cabal's grandson -- is there a personality cult about him?

Discontent, particularly regarding the "space gun". Revolt led by Theotocopulos. Note: "I will go for this Brave New World of theirs -- tooth and claw!" (TTC, 93)

Final speech:
Passworthy: "Is there never to be an age of happiness? Is there never to be rest?"
Cabal: "Rest enough for the individual man ... But for MAN no rest and no ending. He must go on -- conquest beyond conquest. This little planet and its winds and ways, and all the laws of mind and matter that restrain him. Then the planets about him, and at last our across immensity to the stars. And when he has conquered all the deeps of space and all the mysteries of time -- still he will be beginning."

The Shape of Things to Come

First published in 1933. n.b. after Stapledon's Last and First Men (1930)

"a book that for all its flaws is one of his most fascinating, most characteristic, and most stunning performances." (Frank McConnell, The Science Fiction of H. G. Wells, p. 205)

History of the world from 1929-2105. Change through an "open conspiracy" of world revolutionaries.

* Scenario based on J. W. Dunne's An Experiment With Time (1927): the dreams of Dr Philip Raven of the League of Nations, in which he reads a "History of the Future": the decline into war and ruin and the rebuilding of civilisation and a World Government.
* Post-Versailles Europe examined not through contemporary eyes but through the device of a voice from the future.
* What kind of narrative is Things to Come? A novel? A history? A political manifesto? The hero is humanity reather than specific individuals.
* What is Wells's stance? Warning? Advocating? A mixture of the two? It is obvious that WW1 was not "the war to end war" but that something equally apocalyptic is on the horizon.
* Note ow Wells distances himself of the "History": Book 4:4 "The Schooling of Mankind" on the "inhumanity" of the account; the tragedy of the story of Essenden and Horthy.
* Note the quotes from contemporary writers, or still-living writers as if from their future reflections ("Aldous Huxley (1894-2004)" [p. 411]).
* Technocracy "A soundly scientific effort to restate economics on a purely physical basis." (p. 291)
* Bloomsbury "a tuberculous London slum". (p. 292)
* Twentieth century revolutionary movements different from the 19th: "it was no longer to be class insurrection of hands; it was to be a revolt of the competent." (p. 305) [cf Heinlein's "competent man"] See also Book 3:3 "The Technical Revolutionary".
* The internationalism of the engineers and tehnocrats. Englehart at the 1965 Basra Conference: "You flew here, Tarvarish Peshkoff, in my squadron. How do you propose to return?"
* The establishment of the Air and Sea Control. (See Kipling's Aerial Board of Control in "As Easy as ABC"). Closing down of religion -- invasion of Mecca, etc. (p. 382)
* "I did not notice ... how small a part women played in the drama that began with the World War." (p. 388) Once political emancipation is achieved, women vanish out of the picture. No women in important positions in Modern State Fellowship. "Ancilliary" work.

A critique of Last and First Men? (McConnell, 211): focus away from the vision of racial perfection?

Metropolis (1926)
Directed by Fritz Lang
Script Fritz Lang, Thea von Harbou
Cast: Brigitte Helm (Maria), Alfred Abel (Joh Frederson), Gustav Froehlich (Freder Frederson), Rudolf Klein-Rogge (Rotwang)

Inspired by Lang's first glimpse of the Manhattan skyline in 1924. See interview in T. Atkins, Science Fiction Films.

Lang trained as architect. Soaring, complex sets.

Regimented workers, herded underground like prisoners. Rebellion is threatened in the catacombs. The ons of the owners play in the "Eternal Gardens". Encyclopedia of Science Fiction: "One might almost say that the film's metaphor is to keep the very spectacular sf for the elite above, while the Gothic grub gnaws at the city's roots."

* The medievalism of Rotwang's house, and the way he is both scientist and alchemist. The tunnels from his house to the catacombs, linking upper and lower sections of the city.
* Although the film focuses on huge constructed expanses and buildings, much of the action focuses on a few enclosed spaces -- the catacombs, the machine-rooms, Rotwang's house -- and a recurrent image is of a character (usually Maria or Freder) at at closed door.
* Metropolis may be vast, but is also claustrophobic.

The churning machinery: Freder's hallucination of the Moloch-machine turning into a hellmouth. When Freder, Christ-like, takes a worker's labours upon himself he is almost literally crucified, calling to his father.

The skyscrapers, reminiscent of a New York skyline but one which has been radically and symbolically transformed: teeming streets, jets of steam hissing from sirens, rhythm of machinery, aeroplanes and airships. Note the covers of sf magazines and interior illustrations by artists like Frank R. Paul.

What does the machinery in Metropolis do? What does it produce? Compare with Things to Come where it is controlled, not controlling, and there for a purpose -- the reconstruction of society.
* Can we read the flashing lights, hooting sirens and jets of steam more symbolically than when they were "real" signs of heavy industry? The machines and huge, regimented crowds of workers are tableaux, massive exercises in pageantry which emphasise the relationships between characters. Are the machines in Metropolis like Blake's "satanic mills" -- expressionist symbols of sterility and enslavement?

* Why is the robot formed as a female?

Note the admiring language of Forrest J Ackerman in the introduction to the Ace edition of Thea von Harbou's novel, e.g.:
* "Metropolis, My Home Town."
* Rotwang , "the evel Ralph 124C 41+ of his day".

Is the final scene of Metropolis -- with the "mediation" between capital ("the head") and labour ("the hands") utopian or dystopian? ("I was convinced that you cannot solve social problems by such a message" -- Langin Atkins, Science Fiction Films)

See also:
Sigfried Kracauer, From Caligari to Hitler (on German Expressionism)
Roger Dadouin, "Metropolis: Mother-City -- 'Mittler' -- Hitler" in C. Penley, et al, Close Encounters: Film, Feminism and Science Fiction.

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