Lang, the visionary German film-maker, cinematic tyrant and creator of movie genres, worked for over a year on his most expensive movie, the dystopian sci-fi epic Metropolis, only to see it exhibited around the world in shortened, differently edited versions. Despite the spectacular sets and the dazzling special effects, its allegory of a future where an exploited underclass works in subterranean machine halls to support a small, pampered aristocracy living in palatial skyscrapers, received a mixed reception. The general public was puzzled, the critics, among them HG Wells, often scornful.
But Metropolis – shown by film societies to excited cinephiles in tattered, faded, incomplete copies, and its familiar stills reproduced in books – went on to become one of the landmarks of world cinema, among the last of the silent classics. It influenced generations of film-makers and musicians, providing iconic images of oppression and liberation.