Metropolis Extends Critique of the Machine Age
BY MANUEL MENDOZA OF THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS.
Live dance sequences cleverly amplified the themes and look of the classic silent film Metropolis in a multimedia reimagining that opened the 28th annual Dallas VideoFest.
But what held the layered presentation together was Austin composer Brian Satterwhite’s understated new score, performed Tuesday night by the Dallas Chamber Symphony in a sold-out show at Dallas City Performance Hall.
Fritz Lang’s 1927 labor vs. management masterpiece remains a startling critique of the dehumanizing effects of the machine age. The story revolves around the son of an industrialist who descends into the bowels of the city to discover the plight of his father’s workers.
As the opening close-ups of grinding machines played on a screen high above the stage, black-clad student dancers from Southern Methodist University emerged from the orchestra pit, marching in fits and starts onto a raked platform.
The choreography by SMU dance professor Christopher Dolder, inspired by his mentor Martha Graham, echoed the film’s focus on mechanization and its impact on laborers as the regimented, stiff-bodied dancers jerked forward on their tiptoes, fell to their knees and crawled uphill. Their angular, dramatic poses reflected the workers’ struggle.
On the other side of the stage, another set of irregularly stacked platforms was the scene of video projections from Metropolis designed by Dolder to mingle with the live movement. This interaction peaked during the famous clock scene when the tightly arrayed dancers pushed their bodies against the projected image, mimicking their screen counterparts.
The frequency of the dance sequences fell dramatically during the second half of the movie. This was especially noticeable as the film action intensified. Perhaps the idea was to not distract from the narrative, but properly done it might have amplified the drama.
VideoFest used music producer Giorgio Moroder’s 1984 recut and colorized version of Metropolis, replacing Moroder’s pop soundtrack with Satterwhite’s commissioned score. The 12 musicians, conducted by Dallas Chamber Symphony artistic director Richard McKay, unobtrusively played the moody, atmospheric soundtrack from beneath the elevated screen.
The music galloped and ground, animating both the film imagery and the dancing and acting as the glue between the various elements. It had a contemporary feel while also reflecting the period and the machines that ruled it.
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