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Eighty years after its premiere in Berlin on January 14, 1927, Austrian director Fritz Lang's Metropolis remains among the most powerful visions of urban modernity and the most famous German film in the history of cinema. It dramatically represented how the conflicts—economic, political, social, familial, psychosexual, architectural, and spiritual—of technological society dominate the prospects for life in the city. Already in its title, an English language word, it suggests a universal urban condition. Depicting the harshly routinized existence of city dwellers earlier analyzed by German sociologist Georg Simmel, Metropolis proposed the city as a productive but highly alienating machine.

Prior to Lang's film, which he claimed (falsely) was inspired by his vision of New York's bright lights during a visit in 1924 to promote his The ...

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