I was thinking about the concept that the paradigm shift from the silent film rendered them inaccessible. For a contemporaneous audience, any individual silent film fitted into a frame of reference & stylistic convention. A modern audience lacks almost all of the social and stylistic references which would give the film meaning. Indeed, Metropolis will largely be regarded as an original template for other, later, media.
When I start to think about Metropolis in these terms, I start to think about my old friend Baudrillard’s definition of the hyper-real. Surely his analogy of a map whose physical counterpart has disappeared corresponds closely with the history of Metropolis. It is an original which has now only a kind of circular reference with works derived from itself. The fact that this situation has arisen from historical destruction of the references rather than the constructed hyper-reality of the modern era does not alter this.
As anarchangel23 is bound to ask: “So What?” Why is this interesting? What can we use this analysis stance to accomplish in either our understanding of the world or the work? He is my academic conscience.
Well, in the broadest possible sense, I think that it illustrates exactly the way in which literature detaches itself from the circumstances and world of its origin to assume a kind of life of its own. Can we not observe in this microcosm the same processes that gave us Homer’s curiously timeless works, or the amorphous and adapted mythologies of Arthur and the Wild West? Narrowing this analysis scope, we can see in Metropolis the originating myth of our own mechanized culture.
This concept also gives us, if not exactly a metric, then at least a concept, of what we might mean when we talk about the intrinsic value of an art of work: that it can stand free of its references amidst and encouraging a slew of referents. If Metropolis seems to speak today to the same issues of dehumanizing mechanisation and the class conflict of the proletariat vs. the aristocracy, it is not because it was prescient, but because it was universal.
As a hyper-real object, Metropolis breaks free of the paradigmatic shifts which I outlined as problems in my previous discussion. It becomes itself an originating aesthetic or concept, virtually forcing you to accept and interrogate it on its own terms.