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Film

How Fritz Lang movie 'Metropolis' inspired a David Bowie album

@Russellisation

At the turn of the 20th century, cinema was a mere glint in the eye of photographers, inventors and creatives around the world, each as excited as the last to take advantage of the brand new innovation of the motion picture. Though, back in the 1900’s, cinema was still in its rudimentary birth, restricted by a black and white picture, a lack of audio and severe technological limitations. As a result, filmmakers had to get creative. 

A Trip to the Moon by the revolutionary filmmaker Georges Méliès was the first to inspire cinema with a vision of the future, with the French illusionist utilising the versatility of the medium to bring to life one of the industry’s first commercial successes. Detailing the incredible journey of a group of astronomers who are fired to the moon in a cannon-propelled capsule, Méliès’ film is a sandbox of imaginative concepts that helped to pioneer the future of science fiction filmmaking. 

Presenting a revolutionary approach to special effects, the 15-minute film would inspire countless filmmakers across the world to project their wildest imaginations on screen, no less than Fritz Lang with his 1927 masterpiece, Metropolis. Predicting a future dominated by flying cars and everyday robotic assistants, Lang’s film is a pioneer of science fiction that celebrated the advancements of technology at the turn of the new century. 

Pushing the rather limited cinematic medium to its absolute limits, Lang created an expressionistic world of jagged skyscrapers, industrial landscapes and strange dystopian horror, resulting in a three-hour marvel of science fiction. Injecting several concepts and powerful images throughout its runtime, Lang’s Metropolis was destined to become a valuable commodity of popular culture.

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So influential was Lang’s film, that the late great David Bowie named the film as one of his very favourites, with the performer describing his film tastes as “mostly pre-1930 German films. They’re very stylised, that’s the kind of film I like, but no one makes them like that now”. Pointing to the likes of F.W. Murnau and G.W. Pabst as specific inspirations, it was Fritz Lang who Bowie cherished the most, with Metropolis having a profound effect on Bowie and his later career. 

Paying tribute to the classic film, Bowie named his third album Metrobolist before pressures from his label forced him to switch the name to The Man Who Sold the World, meanwhile, later down the line, the singer took inspiration from Metropolis’ iconic visuals for the live tour of his Diamond Dogs album. As Bowie’s former lover, Amanda Lear, told Miami News in 1978, Bowie “rented the film and ran it over and over again in his house. And that’s where Diamond Dogs came from – the whole staging and album and everything, Bowie got from Metropolis”. 

After the iconic tour, Bowie settled in Berlin, choosing the city specifically for its connection to German expressionism, the filmmaker’s Fritz Lang and Robert Wiene, as well as their influential films, Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. As the performer explained to Uncut Magazine in 2001, “It was an art form that mirrored life not by event but by mood. This was where I felt my work was going”.  

Carrying his love for the film into his old age, Bowie even tried to buy the rights to the film itself in order to try and restore the film and re-release it for new audiences. Although he failed in his noble endeavours, his efforts certainly show that David Bowie may have been the biggest and most enthusiastic Metropolis fan of all time.

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