Second Time Around

The Architecture of the Future
Nimble film viewers this week have a chance to re-see two of cinema's finest speculations on the urban architecture of the future. Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1926) screens this Thursday and Friday at Grace Cathedral, with a new live organ score by Christopher Putnam. Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), meanwhile, shows at the Red Vic in the Haight on Wednesday and Thursday, and also at the Cine/Club for teen-agers at the Dolby Screening Room this Friday (see Reps Etc. for more details on all of these).

The latter film owes much to the former, as does almost every science-fiction movie of any ambition. In particular, it owes Metropolis its "look" -- high-rises and air cars fill its screens. Compare the old industrialist peering through his picture window at a crowded cityscape in Metropolis with the view through the shaded window at the top of Tyrell's ziggurat in Blade Runner. In both films the sun is reserved for the rich -- the poor huddle below in darkness and squalor. (Much of this, in turn, is rooted in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine (1895), with the lotus-eating Eloi supported by the labors of the subterranean Morlock.)

In Metropolis Lang emphasizes the subhuman, robotic quality of the workers as they shuffle through their underground warrens, the industrialist sending down an eroticized robot to enslave them further.

By the time Blade Runner appeared, however, fears and hopes for a revolutionary proletariat had come and gone. Mere anarchy is loose upon this world, with the common folk almost a race apart from the elite. Through this future city's film noir spaces dart renegade robots of a different sort -- replicants, "more human than human."

These two key tech noirs unify the recurrent "fear of technology" strain in science fiction and horror fiction with philosophical concepts of human alienation -- expressing these concepts architecturally through brilliant set design, along with much else.

-- Gregg Rickman

Metropolis screens Thursday and Friday, Sept. 24 and 25, at 8 p.m. at Grace Cathedral, 1100 California (at Taylor). Admission is $15-25; fax 749-6361 for tickets. Blade Runner screens Wednesday and Thursday, Sept. 23 and 24, at 7 and 9:35 p.m. with a Wednesday matinee at 2 p.m. at the Red Vic, 1727 Haight (at Clayton). Admission is $6; call 668-3994. The latter screens Friday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. at the Cine/Club, Dolby Screening Room, 100 Potrero (at Division). Admission is free for all Bay Area high school students; call 864-2026.

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