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Did Fritz Lang invent the video phone in his 1927 sci-fi film 'Metropolis'?

Metropolis, the iconic 1927 German expressionist science-fiction film directed by Fritz Lang, has been lauded as one of the most influential films of all time. Written by German screenwriter Thea von Harbou alongside Lang, the project is a silent feature-length film starring the likes of Gustav Fröhlich, Alfred Abel, Rudolf Klein-Rogge and Brigitte Helm. 

As well as being a landmark moment in cinema, on closer inspection, it looks as if Lang, alongside creating one of the first ever science-fiction films, also happened to invent the video phone too. Considering filming took place in the 1920s, this is some serious foresight.

At the time of filming, between 1925–26, director Fritz Lang was handed a lucrative budget which stretched in excess of five million reichsmarks. In response, Lang and his production team went to work for 17 straight months, filming in Germany during the Weimar period. It would become one of the most referenced films of all time, setting the benchmark for those who came after it.

This film, which presents a highly stylised futuristic city, tells the story of a cultured utopia existing above a bleak underworld populated by, in large, mistreated workers. Focusing on privileged youth Freder, the character discovers a grim scene under the city and becomes intent on helping the workers which leads to greater conflict.

While Lang’s film is noted as being the major pioneer of the sci-fi genre, reflective studies of Metropolis have pointed out its remarkable early use of the video phone concept. Character Joh Fredersen, who is the master of the future city, appears to make a call during in which he combines the traditional telephone concept with that of a visual addition.

“Joh Fredersen appears to use four separate dials to arrive at the correct frequency for the call,” says Joe Mali in his feature on video phones in film. “Two assign the correct call location and two smaller ones provide fine video tuning. He then picks up a phone receiver with one hand and uses the other to tap a rhythm on a panel that is relayed to the other phone and displayed as flashes of light to attract attention.”

While it may not be the most ludicrous prediction from a piece of film or TV, remember when The Simpsons predicted Trump as president? It does show that Lang’s vision of the future maybe had some truth sewn itno it as well.

See the clip, below.