March 17, 1927 [Metropolis]

After seeing Metropolis I hunted up Marx; certainly, those storm-bird talons would drag me from the curving metal woods of that picture. First, his assertion that “the laborer becomes poorer the more wealth he produces”—and also “becomes a cheaper commodity the more commodities he creates." There we go: a neatly balanced assertion of irony of materialism, as dismaying as it might be. But then he sounds a deeper note:
... the object, which labor produces, its product, confronts the laborer as a strange thing, as a power independent of the producer. The product of labor is labor, which fixes itself in the object, it becomes a thing, it is the objectification of labor. The "making real," or realization, of labor is its objectification. The realization of labor appears in political economy as the "making unreal," or loss of reality of, the laborer, objectification as the loss of and slavery to the object, appropriation as estrangement, as alienation.
I was unexpectedly terrified by this “strange thing” appearing in the hand, a puppet-version of the self lying there, made real. I'm alienated from everything I’ve made—and still the thing turns toward me in a weird manifestation of Lot’s wife, and it looks back at me, and turns me into an object, appropriated, disregarded, cast aside.

Metropolis reaches out tentatively to Marx’s nightmare—but draws back a bit, deciding instead to hope for salvation from a Great Man—or Woman, or Automaton (better yet is Karel Capek’s word, “Robot"—Czech for “forced labor”). And then there’s the role of “the heart” as “mediator” between the head and hands. It all seems miles away from Marx’s “scientific” view of society.

But perhaps not: Once more, reading titles becomes more a distraction than an illumination. I’d much rather trust what I see: a machine’s fairy-tale soaring to airy castles—New York as El Dorado—and plummeting to dank dungeons—the workers’ realm far underground, where dynamos rattle like dragon’s-breath. Fritz Lang creates a monumental future—and the result is fear: of the size of things, the bursting waters, the height and depth of each structure, until I felt lost, overwhelmed—all right: alienated. Lang’s cold passion and precise Babel pressed upon me like gravity.

And the Maria-robot weighs most on my mind, a lidless silver manifestation of alienation, the Thing separate from us, but still us, ghastly like a corpse, yet smooth and beautiful. It holds me—as do the work-day, and the need to hope--and it grasps, as hungry as the master inventor, Rotwang, for something New, something More. I’m not sure what I’m getting at—but I do know that Lang has forced me to accept cinema’s lack of limits; the images surge forward, heedless of any submission, like the Universe in Stephen Crane’s scary little poem, which, having heard a man announce, “Sir, I exist!” responds, “The fact has not created in me / A sense of obligation.”


NOTE: This is one of a number of diary entries that appear here not in chronological order. In reviving this site, I've included some entries earlier left out. —The Editor


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