I can’t remember exactly when I first saw Metropolis (at least that I was consciously aware of), but I’m pretty sure it was 1991 or 1992. My local PBS station frequently played it in those years, and I watched it on the small black and white TV my family had in the kitchen. Yes, I grew up before all TVs were in color! Our bigger TV in the living room was color, but we also had that smaller set. It also didn’t get all the channels the other TV did.
My entire life, I’d watched old films with my paternal grandma, or took my pick of the old films and historical dramas she had on VHS. I already loved history, so I never thought to dismiss these films as old and musty, unhip, boring. Even today, most of the contemporary films I watch are historical dramas, foreign, or indie.
So many years later, I honestly couldn’t tell you exactly when I learnt films used to be silent. I don’t recall ever watching any silents with my grandma, since she was born in 1927 and grew up with sound films. I don’t mean to stereotype, but let’s be honest, she wasn’t from a generation that tended to like and appreciate silent cinema. It was out with the old, in with the new. The reawakening of interest only really started in the 1950s.
So when I discovered Metropolis as a preteen, I was fascinated. Even with a much-truncated version, years before the near-complete restoration, I thought it was awesome. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to see many silents until 2004, when I finally began actively pursuing my longtime passion.
The initial spark (for anything) is different for every person. While most silent fans recommend comedies as the ideal starting-place, this sci-fi film did it for me. A silent film was so different, new, fascinating. It also helped that I’ve always been different from the crowd, born in the wrong generation on several fronts.
I’ve never been interested in most things from modern pop culture. I love films from my great-grandparents’ and grandparents’ generations; I prefer music from my parents’ generation (along with my childhood decade the Eighties); and I just love history in general. It took years for my parents, esp. my father, to accept this is a genuine passion, not a phase to be mocked.
When I saw this film after my political awakening at age fifteen, in 1995, it took on a whole new personal meaning for me. I realised it was about class struggle and the exploitation of the proletariat by the ruling classes. My political views aren’t something I like to get into here, but this is the kind of post where they’re very pertinent.
I grew up poor and working-class, with deep proletarian roots on both sides of my family. I’ve honestly never aspired to be bourgeois, and would be very happy being respectably working-class for the rest of my life. I just can’t relate to the typical bourgeois lifestyle. I’m 100% NOT some spoilt limousine liberal.
My political views are shaped by my life experiences as a have-not. I’ve never forgotten how awful it was to grow up without a lot of money, denied certain toys my parents wanted to get me but couldn’t afford. My parents didn’t have $10,000 in the bank at one time until I was about fifteen, and we didn’t own our own home till I was a legal adult. At one point, we lived in the ghetto.
While I’m no longer as super-far-Left as I was in my teens and very early Twenties, I’m still much further Left than probably most of my readers (though there are some issues I take a more conservative view on, and my personal beliefs are rather old-fashioned). It’s too complicated to get into here, but I have nothing in common with modern-day neoliberals. I’m a real Leftist, not some regressive neoliberal.
Not only did Metropolis introduce me to silent cinema, but it also took on a whole new meaning, deeper and more personal, after I began coming of age and developing my political views. I doubt a simple comedy could’ve done that!