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12 Futuristic Facts About Metropolis

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There's no debate: Fritz Lang's Metropolis is the most influential science fiction film ever made. To watch it now is to constantly think, "Oh, so that’s where that came from." The sets, costumes, stories, and themes have inspired filmmakers, music videos, fashion designers, and architects, most of whom only saw a severely truncated version of the film yet were struck by it anyway. As with many sci-fi films, Metropolis' visuals are better than its story, but the story proved to be an archetype of the genre. Let's head deep, deep underground to learn more about one of Germany's most vital contributions to cinema.

1. THE FILM INSPIRED AN ECLECTIC LIST OF POP CULTURE CONTRIBUTIONS.

Here’s a list of just a few of the things that were inspired by Metropolis: The design of C-3PO; The Matrix; the videos for Madonna's "Express Yourself," Whitney Houston's "Queen of the Night," and several Lady Gaga songs; Brazil; the futuristic cities of Blade Runner, Dark City, The Hudsucker Proxy, and Tim Burton's Batman films; and the wild-haired "mad scientists" of countless movies.

2. AT THE TIME, IT WAS THE MOST EXPENSIVE MOVIE EVER MADE.

The budget of 1.5 million Reichsmarks eventually swelled to 5.3 million, which in 1926 was about $1.2 million. The film looks like it cost even more than that, with its huge sets and massive crowds of extras (though see below). But adjusted for inflation, that $1.2 million is only $16 million, or about one-tenth the cost of a large-scale sci-fi epic made today. Movies are a lot more expensive to make now than they were then.

3. PEOPLE HAVE EXAGGERATED JUST HOW HUGE IT WAS.

Articles about Metropolis often mention that Lang used "thousands of extras," with 36,000 being the number officially declared by the studio in publicity materials at the time. But according to Lang, that's nonsense. "There were never thousands of extras,” he said in 1971. “Never ... Two hundred and fifty, 300. It depends how you use a crowd."

4. IT INTRODUCED A TECHNIQUE THAT WAS STILL BEING USED AS RECENTLY AS THE LORD OF THE RINGS.

Lang built some very large sets, but a lot of the visual effects he wanted required something even bigger. For those, his cinematographer and special effects guru, Eugen Schüfftan, adapted an old bit of stage trickery, using mirrors to "project" actors into miniature models or drawings. This came to be known as the Schüfftan Process and was used quite a bit over the next few decades until new technology came along that made it easier to get these effects. Still, it's not unheard of even today: Peter Jackson used the old trick in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

5. THERE IS PROBABLY NO ONE ALIVE WHO HAS SEEN THE WHOLE MOVIE.

Metropolis was 153 minutes long when it premiered in Berlin in January 1927, longer than theater owners liked movies to be. When its box office performance was marginal at best, and with its distributor, Ufa, in financial trouble already, the studio made arrangements to sell the film and chop it up for foreign release.

The butchered, almost incoherent version that played later that year in the UK and the U.S. was about 115 minutes long, followed by a re-release in 1936 that was only 91 minutes. Then, wouldn't you know it, the original version was lost. For 80 years, the only way you could see Metropolis was in one of those shortened forms, with various scenes occasionally rediscovered and re-added.

In 2008, a battered negative of the original cut was found in Buenos Aires. It was painstakingly restored and issued on DVD and Blu-ray two years later, now 148 minutes but still not quite complete, as a few scenes were damaged beyond repair. (The restored version uses intertitles to explain what's in the missing footage.) So the only people who have ever seen the full, original, complete version were the Berliners who caught it in the first few months of 1927, nearly 90 years ago.

6. IT WAS INSPIRED BY THE REAL METROPOLIS.

Lang visited New York City in 1924 and, in his own words, "I looked into the streets—the glaring lights and the tall buildings—and there I conceived Metropolis." Now, that's a bit of an exaggeration. Lang was already working on the Metropolis script with his wife, Thea von Harbou, when he visited the Big Apple, so the city wasn't what gave him the idea in the first place. But New York, and especially the Art Deco architectural style of the time, certainly influenced the visual design of the film.

7. LANG ALMOST GAVE SOME POOR KIDS HYPOTHERMIA.

For the scene where the workers' city is flooded, Lang brought in some 500 children (note that that's more than the 250 to 300 extras he cited earlier) from Berlin's poorer districts and had them stand in a pool of water that was, in the words of one actor, "kept at quite a low temperature, to nip excessive demonstrations of our youthful gaiety in the bud." The sequence took 14 days to shoot. To his credit, Lang made sure the kids were well fed and cared for during those two weeks on the set, and he was no more indifferent toward them when the cameras were rolling than he was toward anyone else.

8. IT TOOK A YEAR TO FILM AND IT'S A WONDER NOBODY DIED.

Lang was a meticulous, exacting filmmaker, often doing multiple takes for even uncomplicated scenes. By the time Lang spent two days getting a shot of Freder collapsing at Maria's feet, the actor playing Freder could barely stand up. In the scene where Maria is burned at the stake, the actress' dress caught fire. In the flooding sequence, he commanded extras to throw themselves at the jets of water, which were coming with fire hose force.

9. THE NOVEL AND THE MOVIE HAD A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP.

Thea von Harbou wrote the novel of Metropolis in 1925, specifically so her husband could make it into a film. Thanks to shrewd thinking at Ufa, before the novel was published, it was serialized in a magazine, accompanied by photos from the still-in-production movie. The book was released to coincide with the movie's premiere, and also had photos in it—an early example of cross-promotion. (By the way, the novel had supernatural and occult elements that didn't make it to the final cut of the movie.)

10. H.G. WELLS SAID IT WAS THE SILLIEST FILM HE'D EVER SEEN.

The visionary sci-fi author's The Time Machine had inspired Metropolis' division into an upper world and an underworld, so it must have stung a bit when Wells hated the movie. He called it the "silliest film" he'd ever seen, saying it was wrong, "with a sort of malignant stupidity," about the direction society was headed. "Metropolis, in its forms and shapes, is already as a possibility a third of a century out of date," Wells wrote.

11. THE LEADING LADY'S MOM GOT HER THE PART.

Brigitte Helm—born Brigitte Schittenhelm in 1906—acted in school plays but had no professional experience when, in 1924, her mother sent her photo to Fritz Lang, hoping he might cast her in a film. Lang gave young Brigitte a screen test, which she charmingly described in the printed program for Metropolis: "Someone gave me a letter to read, and while doing this, the lights were switched on, and the cameraman turned the handle. The great moment had come. I was being filmed! Then an actor approached me unexpectedly, and in a loud thrilling voice insulted me. Afterwards I heard that this incident was necessary, as Mr. Lang wanted to test my expression." Lang liked what he saw and cast 18-year-old Brigitte as the female lead.

12. IT WAS A FLOP AT THE TIME, AND FOR REASONS THAT WILL SOUND VERY FAMILIAR.

As mentioned above, Ufa pulled out all the stops to hype Metropolis prior to its release, with marketing materials trumpeting how big and lavish the production was, how it was unlike any previous film, and how Lang was a visionary. And then the critical consensus, both at home and abroad, was that the movie was amazing visually but had a weak story—the very same criticism lobbed at countless expensive sci-fi adventures released in the 21st century. "Nothing of the sort has ever been filmed before; the effect is positively overwhelming," said the Variety review. "Too bad that so much really artistic work is wasted on this manufactured story." Or The New York Times: "A technical marvel with feet of clay, a picture as soulless as the manufactured woman of its story." Some things never change ...

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Orson Welles: Carl Van Vechten, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain. H.G. Wells: Keystone, Getty Images.
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History
When Orson Welles Met H.G. Wells: Two Years After The War of the Worlds Panic, the Two Icons Finally Met
Portraits of Orson Welles and H.G. Wells.
Portraits of Orson Welles and H.G. Wells.
Orson Welles: Carl Van Vechten, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain. H.G. Wells: Keystone, Getty Images.

Two years after narrating an adaptation of H.G. Wells's 1898 novel The War of the Worlds on the radio—and purportedly causing some listeners to panic, thinking that Martians were invading Earth—Orson Welles came face to face with the British author. Coincidentally, the two men were in San Antonio, Texas for separate speaking engagements, and radio station KTSA arranged for an on-air chat on October 28, 1940.

Welles, who was just 25 years old at the time, had a friendly conversation with the 74-year-old Wells, who expressed his delight at meeting "my little namesake, Orson," and joked that Welles should drop the extra "e" in his name. They touch on the author's visit to the United States, listeners' reaction to the radio show, Adolf Hitler, and Welles's next project, Citizen Kane.

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CCAC North Library, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
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16 Surprising Facts About Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451
CCAC North Library, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0
CCAC North Library, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

For more than 60 years, Ray Bradbury's science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451 has sparked imagination, debate, and rebellion. The dystopian story of a man who burns books to prevent the dissemination of ideas—and then comes to realize the error of his choices—criticized censorship at the height of the Cold War. The novel remains full of surprises, contradictions, and misconceptions.

1. ADOLF HITLER WAS THE BOOK'S DARK INSPIRATION.

Fahrenheit 451 centers on Guy Montag, a fireman tormented by his job: Instead of putting out fires, he is expected to burn books to keep them out of the hands of the public. In an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts, Bradbury explained how he came up with this concept:

"Well, Hitler, of course. When I was 15, he burned the books in the streets of Berlin. Then along the way I learned about the libraries in Alexandria burning 5000 years ago. That grieved my soul. Since I'm self-educated, that means my educators—the libraries—are in danger. And if it could happen in Alexandria, if it could happen in Berlin, maybe it could happen somewhere up ahead, and my heroes would be killed."

2. THE NOVEL'S TITLE IS MISLEADING.

A popular tagline for the book is "the temperature at which book-paper catches fire, and burns." But 451°F actually refers the auto-ignition point of paper, meaning the temperature at which paper will burn if not exposed to an external flame, like that from Montag's flamethrower. Books can, however, ignite at temperatures between the 440s and 480s, depending the density and type of paper.

3. THE NOVEL WAS ADAPTED FROM BRADBURY'S SHORT STORY "THE FIREMAN."

In 1950, Bradbury published his first book, a collection of short stories called The Martian Chronicles. The following year, he wrote "The Fireman," which was published in Galaxy magazine in 1951. From there, Bradbury would expand the tale to create Fahrenheit 451.

4. BRADBURY DID NOT WRITE FAHRENHEIT 451 IN NINE DAYS.

Author Ray Bradbury signs his new book Bradbury: An Illustrated Life at Barnes & Noble
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images

A popular apocryphal story is that Bradbury hammered out Fahrenheit 451 in just over a week. That story is wrong: It was the 25,000-word "The Fireman" that he wrote in that time period. The author would later refer to the short story as "the first version" of the eventual novel. But over the years, he would often speak about "The Fireman" and Fahrenheit 451 interchangeably, which has caused some confusion.

5. HE WROTE HIS FIRST VERSION ON A RENTED TYPEWRITER IN A LIBRARY BASEMENT.

Bradbury and wife Marguerite McClure had two children in 1950 and 1951, and he was in need of a quiet place to write but had no money for renting an office. In a 2005 interview, Bradbury said:

"I was wandering around the UCLA library and discovered there was a typing room where you could rent a typewriter for 10 cents a half-hour. So I went and got a bag of dimes. The novel began that day, and nine days later it was finished. But my God, what a place to write that book! I ran up and down stairs and grabbed books off the shelf to find any kind of quote and ran back down and put it in the novel. The book wrote itself in nine days, because the library told me to do it."

6. HE SPENT $9.80 ON TYPEWRITER RENTAL.

Bradbury's nine days in the library cost him, by his own estimate, just under $10. That means he spent about 49 hours writing "The Fireman."

7. THE BOOK IS VIEWED AS A CRITICISM OF McCARTHYISM.

Fahrenheit 451 was published on October 19, 1953 in the midst of the Second Red Scare, an era from the late 1940s to the end of the 1950s characterized by political and cultural paranoia. Many Americans feared Communist infiltration of their values and communities. Because of the context of its publication, some critics have interpreted Montag's story as a challenge to the censorship and conformity that U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt sparked.

8. BRADBURY WAS REALLY WRITING ABOUT THE DANGERS OF TELEVISION.

Ray Bradbury
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Bradbury feared TV would be the death of reading—and perhaps extinguish a crucial part of our collective humanity. "Television gives you the dates of Napoleon," Bradbury lamented, "but not who he was." He also said TV is "mostly trash."

9. BRADBURY'S BIAS TOWARD READING DIDN'T KEEP HIM AWAY FROM TV.

Not only has the prolific author of more than 600 works allowed his short stories and novels to be adapted for TV, but also he's written teleplays for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and his own anthology series The Ray Bradbury Theater, which ran for six seasons between 1985 and 1992. For his efforts, Bradbury won a string of honors, including the CableAce award for best dramatic series (The Ray Bradbury Theater), an Emmy for The Halloween Tree, and a lifetime achievement honor from the Bram Stoker Awards.

10. FRANÇOIS TRUFFAUT'S MOVIE ADAPTATION MADE A BIG CHANGE TO THE STORY.

Clarisse, the teenage girl who befriends Montag, is unceremoniously killed in a hit-and-run accident in the novel. In the movie, she survives. Far from being put off by this alteration, Bradbury liked it. When he adapted the novel into a stage show, he took a cue from the movie and let Clarisse live.

11. FAHRENHEIT 451 HAS BEEN ADAPTED FOR OTHER MEDIA.

Aside from Truffaut's film and Bradbury's play, the novel has also been reconceived as a BBC radio drama, a video game, a graphic novel, and a 2018 movie starring Michael B. Jordan and Michael Shannon.

12. BRADBURY CONSIDERED FAHRENHEIT 451 HIS ONLY WORK OF SCIENCE FICTION.

Though he is regarded as a master of the science fiction genre, Bradbury viewed the rest of his work as fantasy. He once explained, "I don't write science fiction. I've only done one science fiction book and that's Fahrenheit 451, based on reality. Science fiction is a depiction of the real. Fantasy is a depiction of the unreal. So Martian Chronicles is not science fiction, it's fantasy. It couldn't happen, you see?"

13. FAHRENHEIT 451 IMAGINED EARBUDS.

When the novel came out, headphones were large and cumbersome things. But Bradbury imagined "the little Seashells, the thimble radios," which rested in the ear canal, and played music to Montag's sleeping wife. These "seashells" went from science fiction to science fact in 2001, when Apple designer Jonathan Ive debuted earbuds.

Still, "predicting" wasn't something Bradbury was interested in. "I've tried not to predict, but to protect and to prevent," he said of Fahrenheit 451. "If I can convince people to stop doing what they're doing and go to the library and be sensible, without pontificating and without being self-conscious, that's fine. I can teach people to really know they're alive."

14. FOR YEARS, BRADBURY REFUSED TO LET FARHRENHEIT 451 BE PUBLISHED AS AN E-BOOK.

Fahrenheit 451 e-book on the Kindle
Richard Unten, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

As the novel makes clear, Bradbury treasured the printed word. When asked in 2009 if he'd allow an e-book version of Fahrenheit 451, the author responded to the would-be publishers, "To hell with you and to hell with the internet. It's distracting. It's meaningless; it's not real. It's in the air somewhere."

He went on to declare e-books "smell like burned fuel." But in 2011, 91-year-old Bradbury gave in when Simon & Schuster offered him a seven-figure publishing deal, in which the rights to publish an e-book version were integral. However, Bradbury did win an important concession: Simon & Schuster agreed to make the e-book available for free downloads at public libraries.

15. BRADBURY KNEW WHAT HE WOULD DO IF HE LIVED IN FAHRENHEIT 451'S DYSTOPIA.

In the book, there is an underground band of rebels who attempt to preserve the written word by memorizing great works of literature. Asked which book he'd commit to memory in such a circumstance, Bradbury answered, "It would be A Christmas Carol. I think that book has influenced my life more than almost any other book, because it's a book about life, it's a book about death. It's a book about triumph."

16. FAHRENHEIT 451 IS BRADBURY'S MOST POPULAR NOVEL.

It's sold more than 10 million copies, earned critical acclaim, and is considered one of the major novels of the 20th century. Fahrenheit 451 has won several awards, including the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award in Literature, a Prometheus "Hall of Fame" Award, and a Hugo Award. And Bradbury earned a Grammy nomination in the spoken word category for the 1976 audiobook, which he performed himself.

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