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Intertextual perspectives of personal and political ideals are often shared by composers, regardless of forms and contexts, due to controversial periods of history causing the historical paradigms to resonate with audiences. Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis released in 1927 and George Orwell’s satiric novel ‘1984’ composed in 1948, address concerning ideas such as totalitarian power and dehumanisation through dystopian societies in which the catastrophic repercussions of the exploitations of power are exemplified. In Metropolis, Lang conveys the hope of a disenfranchised society reflecting his concerns due to the economic downturn of post-WW1 Germany. Contrastingly, ‘1984’ hyperbolically presents the absolute power of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia through a satirical voice, exposing the political manipulation of Orwell’s context. Through the comparative study of both dystopian texts, the responder can attain a greater understanding of the contextual influences due to the composers’ perspectives of power and control.
In circumstances of totalitarian power and control, a character’s perception of society is often reformed through the composer’s ideas reflected in their text. In Metropolis and ‘1984’, we witness the similar degradation of human values as the ramifications of post-war conflicts and dictatorial power. In Metropolis, the establishing shots of machinery maintaining the city, in conjunction with the long shot of the workers dehumanised through uniformed choreography, portray the workers as “machinery” maintaining the city too. Contextually, the financial disaster of the Weimar Republic caused mass unemployment, which the film represents through the dehumanisation of workers conveying the result of a totalitarian state as Lang’s visual medium of film is a dire warning of the continued consequences of political upheaval. These enslaved workers are further physically juxtaposed by the freedom of the upper class as presented in the extreme long shots of the ‘sons’ preparing for a running event in the stadium, unrestricted of what they can and can’t do. Additionally, the differing positions of the two groups demonstrate their place in society; workers are underground while the ‘sons’ are above ground. This is reflecting the dichotomy of the upper and lower classes in 1920 Weimar Republic where the ‘conservative elite’ had the will to live freely while workers were constrained to endure labour. The extended metaphor of dehumanisation, emphasised through the monochromatic mis-en-scene, stresses Lang’s key concern of the vitality of unity between the social classes in order to develop a cohesive and functional society. This notion is conveyed through the final scene of Grot shaking Fredersen’s hands. The long shot of the Art Deco church background reiterates Lang’s hope of unification and his perspective that developing a cohesive and functional society is imperative as portrayed throughout Lang’s film, especially though the hands, head and heat motif. It is the contextual influences and Lang’s textual form that represents absolute power and control with a heightened understanding of the negative impacts of a world consumed by totalitarian rule.
Unlike Lang’s film depiction of a capitalist totalitarian government’s eventual succumbing to the notion of a communist and socialist society, Orwell’s novel stresses totalitarian rule will ultimately stifle an individual’s attempt to rebel. This notion can be demonstrated through Orwell’s depiction of O’Brien to convey the immense control that a totalitarian government has, as reflected in “a boot stamping on a human face – forever”. The provocative imagery and violent verb “stomping”, portray the dictatorial governmental power over humanity through fear. Similarly, ‘1984’’s paradoxical slogan of “War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” portrays the government’s ability to psychologically manipulate the Oceanians into an everlasting life of propaganda-induced fear, unable to rebel to overthrow the government and therefore resulting in the totalitarian government’s enduring reign. Here, Orwell draws parallel allusions to Stalinism through the heavy propaganda used as the Oceanians kept silent through violence and fear, and the Party ruled via the Central Committee. However, technology is also portrayed as a futuristic means of power to monitor the masses; “hovered for an instant like a bluebottle, and darted again” where the simile and visual imagery of the provocative and intimidating Thought Police characterise the way in which they deliver a powerful “sting”, like a jellyfish when provoked, presenting the responders with the negative impacts of such a governmental system. Despite the varying textual form and contextual influences, Orwell’s novel ‘1984’ continues to provide a thorough understanding of the detrimental effects of a totalitarian rule.
It is without a doubt that both Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and George Orwell’s ‘1984’ portray thematic concerns that ultimately reveal the composers’ similar perspectives despite diverging in contextual period and textual form. Through the exploration of Metropolis, we have a greater understanding and appreciation of the hope for unity between societal classes of late 1910 and early 1920 post-WW1 Germany that was ironically juxtaposed by the subsequent Nazi Germany ruling. Similarly, ‘1984’ reveals the despair and hopelessness for society after the rulings of Stalin and Hitler that has ultimately changed the way in which the responder experiences the world. Thus, it is evident that the contextual periods have significantly influenced intertextual perspectives through the shared ideas of power and control.
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