How about this storyline for a film? A dystopian society is the setting, where the ruling class wields power from a vast tower complex within the city, oppressing the working class.
And the working class’ labor seems only to benefit the ruling class. Sound familiar? The only thing missing is an annual reaping of children to compete in a deathly competition, which serves to keep the working class in line. Fritz Lang’s 1927 classic Metropolis may not exactly follow the same storyline as The Hunger Games, but the premise is somewhat the same. And in the eight decades separating the two films, futuristic themes have always attracted audiences to the movies.
Just as they will beginning Saturday, May 26, when Baton Rouge Gallery Center for Contemporary Arts opens its annual Movies & Music on the Lawn outdoors silent film series. This year’s set of movies follow the series’ theme, “Black and White to the Future.”
And what better way to start the series than with the most classic film in the genre? Metropolis may not have been the first sci-fi film made, but it’s thought to be one of the genre’s oldest masterpieces.
“And we’ll be watching the restored version,” Jason Andreasen said. Andreasen is the gallery’s executive director, and his reference is to a missing 25 minutes that was restored during preservation work in 2010. Which means the film’s run-time is well over 200 minutes.
“But we’ll definitely be showing the whole thing,” Andreasen said. “And all of the films in this series will be backed by original music. That’s what makes our series a unique experience. We’re matching films with a score that has never been heard — the music is being created for this film on this night, which makes it a one-time experience.” Metropolis will begin at 8 p.m. on the lawn behind Baton Rouge Gallery, featuring an original score by electronic musician matt.cee.
The series will continue with a collection of short films by George Melies on June 30 with music by jazz/funk fusion band Captain Green; Aelita: The Queen of the Mars on July 28 with classical improv band The Incense Merchants; The Man from Beyond, starring Harry Houdini on Aug. 25 with experimental band The (New) Zeelanders; Himmelskibet: A Trip to Mars on Sept. 29 with chamber rock band England in 1819; and The Lost World on Oct. 27 with electronic musician DJ OttO.
As in past years, the $5 admission includes popcorn. But unlike previous years, the gallery has scheduled a different band to perform with each film.
“We used to have the same band performing for every film,” Andreasen said. “We changed that a few years ago, and we had two bands performing during the series. But this year we have a different band for each film, and it’s also the first time that we’ll be using electronic musicians, who produce their music through digital technology.”
“Black and White to the Future” follows last year’s series, “Slapstickers,” which featured some of the silent movie era’s greatest comic stars. The theme proved popular, with one screening drawing an audience of more than 300. “That was the Charlie Chaplin film, The Kid,” Andreasen said. “People were crowded on the lawn and sitting on ground that elevates behind the lawn. When the sun was going down, you could see their silhouettes.”
He smiled. That sight was special. But really, any “Movies & Music on the Lawn” audience is special. People show up early, most carrying blankets and picnic dinners, all there to see movies that are almost a century old.
“It’s a setting where they can visit with other people sitting around them,” Andreasen said. “It’s a chance for people to really talk.” And they will on May 26, eating their dinners and saving their popcorn for that first scene of Lang’s Metropolis, which film critic Roger Ebert called, “One of the greatest achievements of the silent era.”
It’s the story of a utopian city where the wealthy live carefree, oftentimes oblivious to the workers beneath the city who keep it functioning. But things begin to change when the son of the city’s founder falls in love with a working class woman named Maria.
Maria’s prophecy is that the two classes will join.
Without competing in any Hunger Games.