The Metropolis of Tomorrow by Hugh Ferriss

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Crowding Towers.

The work of architectural renderer Hugh Ferriss (1889–1962) has appeared here before. The Metropolis of Tomorrow (1929) was a major influence on the architectural style I deployed in the Reverbstorm series, together with Berenice Abbott’s photographs of New York City in the 1930s. Ferriss’s hazy proposals for cities of the future are more visible today than they used to be thanks to the popularity of those sites that enjoy outmoded visions of the future.

Flickr has been a good source of Ferriss’s drawings in the past but the Internet Archive recently posted the entirety of The Metropolis of Tomorrow, pages as well as pictures. The book appeared a couple of years after Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and shares that film’s idea of the future city as a kind of superannuated New York. Skyscrapers were still a relatively new idea so this seemed a natural development at the time, as did the concept of super-highways and rooftop aerodromes. Human beings in Ferriss’s future are either ant-like specks or they’ve vanished altogether among the massed ranks of towers which often look more like less like buildings and more like Art Deco spacecraft. Lang’s vision was dystopian only in the way it relegated its workers to the underworld, while Ferriss’s proposals were wholly optimistic. Looking back we’re more aware of the shortcomings of such ideas, and from my perspective it wasn’t so difficult to bring out the latent menace inherent in these megastructures. Ferriss’s metropolis, like that of Fritz Lang, is a fun place to visit but you wouldn’t necessarily want to live there.

Browse the rest of the book here or download it here.

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Overhead traffic-ways.

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Apartments on bridges.

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Evolution of the set-back building: second stage.

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Verticals on wide avenues.

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Dr Mabuse posters

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This picture of a séance in the 1920s circulates endlessly in the Tumblr labyrinth, usually without attribution so that many of the people seeing it won’t be aware that it’s a still (or a set photo) from Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922). Mabuse himself originates in a novel of the same name by Norbert Jacques published in 1921, the tale of a Moriarty-like super-criminal at large in Weimar-era Berlin. Lang made three films about the character, the first two of which, Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, and The Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) feature Rudolf Klein-Rogge as the sinister Doctor, an actor better known today for his role as the mad scientist, Rotwang, in Lang’s Metropolis (1927). Testament was banned by Goebbels for being subversive. The third film, The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960), was also one of the director’s last but it managed to revive interest in the character at a time when super-criminals were coming back into vogue. Wolfgang Preiss played Mabuse in this film, and in several sequels by other directors.

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I’ve known about the Mabuse films for years, thanks in part to Lotte Eisner’s superb history of German silent cinema, The Haunted Screen (1952), yet despite this I’ve still not seen any of the films. That should change soon with the news that Eureka Video are releasing a new print of Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler on Blu-ray at the end of October, a restored version that will run for 280 minutes. The running time sounds excessive but Eisner points out that the film was originally screened in two parts: The Great Gambler: An Image of the Age, and Inferno: A Game for the People of our Age. In addition to Rudolf Klein-Rogge fixing everyone with his hawk-like glare there’s also Alfred Abel playing a weaker character than his master of the city in Metropolis. Moviemail describes Mabuse as “a criminal mastermind whose nefarious machinations are based around hypnotism, charlatanism, hallucinations, Chinese incantations, cold-blooded murder, opiate narcosis and cocaine anxiety”; how can one resist?

The posters gathered here are from a web trawl so lack the usual credits. The second film evidently had a wider distribution hence the greater quantity of posters from other countries.

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Weekend links 117

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Illustration and design by Karlheinz Dobsky.

Above and below: samples from Die Lux-Lesebogen-Sammlung, an exhibition of booklets for young people published by Sebastian Lux from 1946–1964. All were designed and illustrated by Karlheinz Dobsky.

• At The American Scholar: “Vladimir Nabokov’s understanding of human nature anticipated the advances in psychology since his day,” says Nabokov biographer Brian Boyd, and An Unquenchable Gaiety of Mind: “On visits to Cambridge University late in life, Jorge Luis Borges offered revealing last thoughts about his reading and writing,” says George Watson.

• The British Library releases The Spoken Word: “A rare collection of recordings featuring the American writer William S Burroughs and the British-born artist Brion Gysin.” Related: Interzone – A William Burroughs Mix by Timewriter.

• Charting the Outlaws: Christopher Bram (again) talking to Frank Pizzoli about his recent study Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America.

• The BBC asks “Where are you on the global fat scale?” I’ve always been thin but was still surprised to find my BMI at the very bottom of the scale.

The “otherness” of Ballard, his mesmeric glazedness, is always attributed to the two years he spent in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai (1943–45). That experience, I think, should be seen in combination, or in synergy, with the two years he spent dissecting cadavers as a medical student in Cambridge (1949–51). Again the dichotomy: as a man he was ebulliently social (and humorous), but as an artist he is fiercely solitary (and humourless). The outcome, in any event, is a genius for the perverse and the obsessional, realised in a prose style of hypnotically varied vowel sounds (its diction enriched by a wide range of technical vocabularies). In the end, the tensile strength of The Drowned World derives not from its action but from its poetry.

Martin Amis on The Drowned World by JG Ballard.

The Chickens and the Bulls: “The rise and incredible fall of a vicious extortion ring that preyed on prominent gay men in the 1960s.”

• It’s that Zone again: Jacob Mikanowski on Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and Geoff Dyer’s Zona.

• Scans of the rare film programme for London screenings of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

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Illustration and design by Karlheinz Dobsky.

• “The web is a Library of Babel that could go the way of the Library of Alexandria.

Fila Arcana: alchemy- and occult-themed embroidery by Mina Sewell Mancuso.

A Very Edgy Alice In A Very Weird Wonderland: illustrations by Pat Andrea.

Malka Spigel reveals a new track from her third solo album.

John Martin and the Theatre of Subversion.

Olafur Eliasson: Little Sun at Tate Modern.

• Meanwhile, back in 1972: Mahavishnu Orchestra live at the BBC (30 mins), and the complete performance of the MC5 on Beat Club (29 mins).

Ballet Mécanique

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A film to round off a week of connected posts. Ballet Mécanique (1924) is more Dada than Surrealist if you want to get strict about the taxonomy, but the latter movement grew out of the former, and this short experiment by Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy is a pioneering piece of work however it’s labelled. The film was photographed by Man Ray who used a variety of techniques including animation and kaleidoscope shots to present a “ballet” of machine parts and kitchen utensils. Some of the kaleidoscope images are so close to the opening shots of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) you have to wonder whether a viewing of this gave Lang ideas.

Ballet Mécanique has been provided with many scores over the years, from player pianos and sirens to more traditional arrangements. The copy at the Internet Archive has a contemporary score but like all silent films this can always be replaced with music of your own choosing.

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Previously on { feuilleton }
Dreams That Money Can Buy
La femme 100 têtes by Eric Duvivier
Metropolis!
Entr’acte by René Clair

Metropolis!

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Design by Boris Bilinsky (1927).

The restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) was released in the UK this week by Eureka Video and my head is still spinning from having finally seen the missing scenes I’ve read about for years. There’s little I can say about the film itself that hasn’t already been said at length elsewhere, dramatically it’s not Lang’s best—M (1931) is a superior work on that score—but it’s still essential viewing for anyone interested in cinema history.

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Brigitte Helm as cinema’s greatest robot: a screen grab from the Blu-ray edition at the Eureka site. Click for full-size.

The 25 minutes of restored footage add as much to the film as was claimed, especially in the longer sections, the removal of which rendered the motivations of several characters nonsensical, as well as creating disjunctions in the story. The plot thread concerning the dead woman Hel, wife of the master of Metropolis, Joh Fredersen, and idée fixe of the inventor Rotwang, was excised when it was felt that American audiences would laugh at the woman’s name; distributors allowing their low opinion of an audience’s intellect to ruin a work of art is nothing new. That cut at least had an excuse, however misguided. What’s more surprising about the restored version is seeing the minor cuts which were made throughout, many of them occurring in places which makes it appear that the negative had been attacked at random and for no good reason. The new material suffers next to the old which has better photography than many films made years later but the disparity isn’t so jarring once you’re used to it. A short but crucial scene is still missing but intertitles are used to describe the action. For now this is the most complete version of Lang’s film to date, with far more returned to it than I ever hoped to see.

Watch the trailer
The film restoration site
Metropolis Robot: The Maschinenmensch Project
Metropolis Film Archive: A Bibliography and Checklist of Resources
Metropolis (1978) by Kraftwerk | Metropolis (1979) by Motörhead (apparently written after Lemmy had watched the film)

Previously on { feuilleton }
A Secret Wish by Propaganda
Metropolis posters