Dmytro Morykit performs an empathetic modern score to Fritz Lang's classic silent movie in the Waterside Theatre
What is striking about Fritz Lang's 1927 silent film Metropolis is the familiarity of so much of the design and cinematography on show. The film has been copied, mimicked and paid homage to countless times in the nine decades since its release.
Directors in the latter half of the 20th century in particular returned again and again to Lang's sci-fi classic, which at the time of production, was the most expensive film ever made. George Lucas and Ridley Scott are among the many who have been inspired by it, and its influence can be seen in features, cartoons, advertisements and music videos till this day.
While Metropolis was a financial failure and met with a mixed critical reception upon release, it has since entered the cinematic Hall of Fame as one of the most influential films of all time – the image of the robot Hel (the inspiration for Lucas’ C-3PO character in Star Wars) is now iconic, and has become a symbol of Weimar Germany.
As visually stunning and ahead of its time as it is, Metropolis, as a silent film, relied on its score for much of its emotional impact. The original music for the film was composed by Gottfried Huppertz; over the years, however, admirers of the film, inspired by the sheer scale of Lang's visual achievement, have set the movie to their own music. English-born composer and pianist, Dmytro Morykit, is the creator of one of the latest musical treatments.
The enthusiastic response at its premiere in Scotland last year – and a subsequent live performance during a screening of the film in London – convinced Morykit to seek a larger audience for his work. The Waterside Theatre in Derry is the final leg of a three-date tour of Northern Ireland.
Metropolis is an exploration of the tension between those who hold power and an oppressed workforce, which plays out around a central love story. Revolutionary fervour is awakened in Metropolis by Maria, the film’s heroine. Her actions inform Freder, the son of the city’s founder and autocratic ruler, Joh Fredersen, about the exploitation of the underground population by the privileged class above ground.
Freder ultimately falls in love with Maria – a working class Joan of Arc – but when his father sees the threat to the world he has created, he enlists the help of Rotwang, a Frankenstein-style inventor, to destroy the infant rebellion with the use of his humanoid machine, Hel. Meanwhile, Freder sets off on a quest to find Maria and discover more about his brothers underground. What follows is a tense, atmospheric, and highly-stylised visual feast.
Lang, as much as he looked to the future, was inspired by what was available to him. A version of Manhattan’s Art Deco skyline frames Metropolis’ futuristic elevated transport system, for example; the portrayal of cabaret-fuelled decadence enjoyed by the privileged class is straight out of F Scott Fitzgerald, and other contemporary depictions of the Roaring Twenties. Visually, the director sets industrial modernity cheek by jowl with Gothic imagery.
As for the music, there is scant repetition from Morykit across the 29 original pieces that make up his score. His unobtrusive accompaniment to the film complements the drama well; it is easy to forget he is here playing live at all. His composition is empathetic to each developing scene, and essentially allows Lang’s work to be the star of the show.
Played from memory, his music acts as an understated guide, helpfully pointing the audience in the right emotional direction, rather than forcing matters. In the closing scenes, for example, he adds drama to the terrifying prospect of the children of the city being drowned by a flood unwittingly created by their parents, who have turned into a mob desperate to protect their assets.
Morykit’s score may be modern, yet it has a timeless quality that might contribute to Metropolis being embraced by a wider contemporary audience. The score could so easily be enjoyed as a live performance in its own right, but combined with Lang’s classic, groundbreaking visuals, it makes for wonderful entertainment.
Visit the Waterside Theatre website for information on forthcoming events.