January 10, 1927: Metropolis Released
Audiences were stunned. Nothing before had ever been seen with the special effects and weird futuristic cityscapes of this film. Metropolis has been called the original science fiction film being the first of its kind with its visual style, imagery and use of special effects. The film is said to have set the precedent for all sci-fi genre that came after it.
Additionally, this is one of the earliest appearances of a robot in movies (the term robot was first coined at least six years earlier). The robot in the film was built by a mad scientist trying to resurrect his lost love. When unleased the robot (looking like the hero’s lost love) begins to unleash chaos throughout Metropolis, driving men to murder out of lust for her and stirring dissent amongst the workers. And speaking of lust, the film was highly censored after the first showing.
The Maschinenmensch [German for machine-human] is a gynoid (female robot – female android) created by sculptor Walter Schulze-Mittendorff. Named Maria (false Maria) in the film she was the first robot ever depicted in cinema. Robot Maria’s haunting blank face, slightly open lips, and pronounced female curves in the film have been the subject of disgust and fascination alike.
A whole-body plaster cast was taken of actress Brigitte Helm, and the costume was then constructed around it. The cast was made from a plastic wood substance discovered by chance at the time.
Consider the influence of Robot Maria
Before this, Victorian-type robots were depicted almost like steam boilers, with simple rods for arms, designed to be able to replicate human work, but not so much look human. Lang’s Machine Man instead makes the robot look as human as possible. It is likely every android in a subsequent movie has taken inspiration from the False Maria.
Star Wars’ C-3PO
Iron Man clearly participates in the lineage.
Blade Runner portrays bioengineered beings known as “replicants” who have literally infiltrated human society, very much like False Maria does in Metropolis.
Star Trek’s androids draw on Lang’s interpretation
Gynoids haven’t just endured in film, but also in modern pop culture. The particular notion of a female android, or “gynoid”, has quite thoroughly taken hold of humans’ collective creative mind. How many times have we seen Lady Gaga or Madonna in some type of metallic, futuristic outfit? And recently Beyoncé sported a contraption that was nearly an exact replica of False Maria’s costume.
This film is 2 + hours; when you have time it may be worth a watch.