The Making of Metropolis: Actress Brigitte Helm

Brigitte Helm as Maria

Brigitte Helm as Maria

Fritz Lang discovered the 17-year old actress Brigitte Helm for the double-role of  Maria and her robot counterpart in METROPOLIS and she gives a remarkable performance in the film, convincingly portraying both angel and whore . In this 1927 article she discussed the rewards and difficulties of working with Fritz Lang, a notorious perfectionist.

THE  MARIA OF THE UNDERWORLD, OF YOSHIWARA, AND I

By Brigitte Helm

What excited me most about the role of Maria in Metropolis were the character’s crass differences, because these also lie hidden in my own nature: the austere, pure and chaste Maria, who believes in doing good, and the Maria the obsessed siren. Whenever I’m told how well I portrayed these intertwining and contradicting elements, I find it flattering and take it as a compliment.

It was incredible work. Now that it’s over, I have trouble remembering the disheartening and sadder moments – only the sunnier and uplifting moments stay with me. Sometimes it was like heaven, and other times like hell! The three weeks spend shooting the water sequence, when the underground city is flooded, were unbelievably hard on my health. Even now, I have to admit that I don’t know how I got through it.

Mad scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) prepares to transform his robot into the likeness of Maria (Brigitte Helm)

Mad scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge) prepares to transform his robot into the likeness of Maria (Brigitte Helm)

The night shots lasted three weeks, and even if they did lead to the greatest dramatic moments–even if we did follow Fritz Lang’s directions as though in a trance, enthusiastic and enraptured at the same time – I can’t forget the incredible strain that they put us under. The work wasn’t easy, and the authenticity in the portrayal ended up testing our nerves now and then. For instance, it wasn’t fun at all when Grot drags me by the hair, to have me burned at the stake. Once I even fainted: during the transformation scene, Maria, as the android, is clamped in a kind of wooden armament, and because the shot took so long, I didn’t get enough air. But like I said earlier, today I have to make an effort to remember the unpleasant things: they’ve just faded away. Now that I relate so much to the role of Maria, I can’t image myself playing any other role. Only I can’t imagine myself not working in films again. So I’m curious to see just what is going to happen.

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About the Author

Lawrence French

LAWRENCE FRENCH celebrated his 20th anniversary as a contributor to Cinefantastique Magazine with his cover story on the making of THE RETURN OF THE KING. As Cinefantastique’s longtime San Francisco correspondent, he has written numerous stories about Pixar and Lucasfilm, and interviewed such genre stalwarts as Vincent Price, Tim Burton, Ray Harryhausen, John Lasseter, Phil Tippett and Ray Bradbury. He is also the editor of the highly regarded website on Orson Welles, Wellesnet.com. His book as editor of Richard Matheson’s Edgar Allan Poe scripts for THE HOUSE OF USHER and THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM was published by Gauntlet Press in 2007, with a second volume on TALES OF TERROR and THE RAVEN due out in the future. For Cinefantastique Online, he currently writes the regular column Supernal Dreams.

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