Long a Classic Film, 'Metropolis' Earns UN Archive StatusFor the first time ever, a film has been declared a historic document by Unesco. "Metropolis," the renowned German film directed by Fritz Lang in 1927, was placed on the Memory of the World Register at the fifth meeting of the International Advisory Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization held at Chongju, North Chungchong province, on June 29.
In an effort to preserve important "documentary heritage" from around the world, Unesco selects historical documents that reflect a diversity of language and culture, and the organization grants the title "Memory of the World," to those selected. This year, "Metropolis" was honored along with two Korean pieces; "Seungjeongwon Ilgi," diaries of the royal secretariat during the Choson dynasty, and the second volume of "Jikji-simgyeong," an anthology of great Buddhist priests' Zen teachings.
The inclusion of "Metropolis" is meaningful because it reflects a new trend in recognizing films chiefly for their cultural importance. "Motion pictures have led 20th century popular culture, but the cultural significance of films has been underestimated," said Cho Hee-mun, a film critic and professor at Sangmyeong University. "The decision by Unesco is thus an important development in the history of motion pictures."
The International Federation of Film Archives recommended that "Metropolis" be considered as a nominee for the Memory of the World Register. Jeong Hong-tak, Vice President of the federation, explained, "'Metropolis' is one of the masterpieces of the golden era of silent film. The film is almost perfect and it is hard to distinguish a time gap between this film and others produced recently." He added that the quality of the film's preservation was superb, considering the age of the film.
"Metropolis," set in an imagined city of the 21st century where society thrives upon slavery, is considered a science-fiction classic. The film's cast numbered more than 37,000, and production costs were huge; the filmmakers ran into financial problems. The film exhibits Lang's mastery with a camera; he created numerous scenes which are still emulated in productions today. The film also contains marvelous cinematography and lighting of the imagined city that influenced subsequent architectural styles. Such techniques were imitated in Hollywood films of the 1930s and 1940s.
Lang made his film debut in 1919 with "Halbblut," "Half Caste" in English, and his credits also include "Dr. Mabuse" in 1924. There are 69 works listed on the Memory of the World Register, including "Hunminjeongeum Haeryebon," an ancient manuscript of the Korean alphabet (Hangeul) with commentary, Henrik Ibsen's "A Doll's House," handwritten by the Norwegian author, and a Gutenberg Bible, the first book printed in Europe with movable type. Of the 69 pieces, only seven were produced in the 20th century, including "Metropolis," and Poland's "Warsaw Ghetto Archives."
by Shin Yong-ho