Richard Begam will speak on “From Automaton to Autonomy: Mechanical Reproduction in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis” on Wednesday, March 23, at 4:30 in Tribble C216. A reception will follow in Ammons Lounge, A107.
Begam considers issues of modernism and modernity in Fritz Lang’s 1927 cinematic masterpiece, Metropolis. Drawing on Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Prof. Begam examines how Lang develops visual equivalents to the “auratic” and the “mechanical” in mounting his own critique of technology. At the heart of the film is the relation between automation — exemplified by the robot Maria — and the autonomy essential to Lang on aesthetic and political grounds. From Automaton to Autonomy: Mechanical Reproduction in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. The latter is a major concern of Benjamin’s essay, whose “Epilogue” famously claims that fascism aestheticizes politics. In From Caligari to Hitler, Siegfried Kracauer takes up Benjamin’s charge and levels it at Metropolis, asserting that the film is proto-fascist. Prof. Begam responds by arguing that what Kracauer regards as Lang’s extrinsic formalism—his “ornamental” patterning—is in fact intrinsic to the film’s Weimarian liberalism.