Metropolis Live

Dmytro Morykit performs original score to Fritz Lang's sci-fi silent movie classic on Northern Irish tour

Audiences in Northern Ireland will have opportunities to see two live performances of the 1927 classic silent movie Metropolis in the coming weeks.

Directed by Austrian-German auteur Fritz Lang – who went on to have a career in Hollywood – Metropolis was made during the artistic renaissance of the Weimar Republic. Filmed over 17 months with a cast of thousands, the film depicts a city of the future where the wealthy industrials have prospered thanks to a class of oppressed subterranean workers.

The most expensive film ever made at the time, Metropolis survived a mixed critical reception to become one of the best-known films of the silent period, and is today regarded as one of the most influential films of all time – one of the greatest of all sci-fi epics.

Lang, who fled Germany for Paris in 1934 after the Nazis came to power, also made the noted German noir M in 1931, but Metropolis is seen as his finest achievement. Directors including George Lucas and Ridley Scott have been inspired by the film, and musical acts as diverse as Kraftwerk and Madonna have referenced it in their songs. 

The Ulster Orchestra will be performing Gottfried Huppertz's original score for Metropolis in Belfast in March, but before that, English-born composer and pianist Dmytro Morykit is set to perform his own original score during three screenings of the film in Lisburn, Belfast and Derry.

Such is the prevalence of imagery from Metropolis in popular culture, according to Morykit, that those seeing it for the first time may perhaps experience a sense of déjà vu. 'A lot of the scenes from the film have been used time and time again,' he explains. 'The pop industry has used a lot of the imagery. The dance sequences have been done over and over again. You can see where it comes from. It comes from this film.'

Morykit, who was born in England of Ukrainian and Italian parents, was asked to compose an original score to Metropolis for his local film club in Perthshire. He first performed the work in April 2014, and since then has become absorbed in the film – what was almost an accidental project has now ventured out on an extensive tour.

A musician and composer for four decades, Morykit says that the 29 separate movements that make up his score represent, in a way, the trajectory of his musical life. And in parallel with the film's director, his work on Metropolis has subsequently become his magnum opus.

'Some of the pieces I have worked into other things before, but it all seemed to come together for Metropolis. It was a great way to engage a lot of material. It was also very difficult to do, but at the same time it represents a large chunk of my musical life.'

Morykit argues that, while audiences must appreciate other classic films in the comfort, and relative seclusion, of their front rooms, screening Metropolis with a live musical performance of the score in public arts venues is a great way to engage a contemporary audience.

'We are engaging people in the here and now while they are watching something that happened almost 90 years ago,' he exclaims. 'What is really interesting is this idea of a 90-year-old film that was science fiction at the time, representing a sort of dystopian future, but it still looks modern. The film is timeless.'

Different versions of Huppertz's original score have been recorded over the years, but for Morykit the music is very much of its time. 'That’s why I felt there was there was room for a completely different score to engage a modern audience.'

So far reaction to Morykit's work has been encouraging. After the performance in Perthshire, for example, Metropolis Live sold out at its London premiere at Wilton’s Music Hall, where it received a standing ovation.

'That was where it first hit me – what I had done,' recalls Morykit. 'It was really satisfying to think I had hit the spot. With the music, I had tried to reflect the emotional content so that people could relate to the scenes in a very visceral way. The reaction was confirmation of what I was trying to do. I feel it has taken the film somewhere else. It has updated it.'

Morykit's score work was written in just eight weeks, a marathon of round-the-clock composing. During live performances, he plays the two-hour soundtrack from memory and describes performing the piece as 'like a duel' between the musician and the film.

'Getting it to the stage, where I could play it all in one run, took until the night before (the first performance). It tests my musical stamina and it was very difficult to get it to that stage, but it was also a great relief.'

Having invested so much time and energy into the Metropolis Live project, Morykit is now enjoying taking it on the road; the forthcoming three-stop tour of Northern Ireland is the first stage. Two nights back in Wilton’s will follow next month, and he hopes to take it to Europe, and perhaps even to Lang's country of origin.

'It seems to have a shelf life of more than one performance and we are only really starting to roll it out now,' says the composer. 'That’s why it is great to come to Northern Ireland.'

Metropolis Live is at the Island Arts Centre, Lisburn, on January 16; Crescent Arts Centre, Belfast, on January 17 and Waterside Theatre, Derry on January 20.