Skip to main content

Actress Edie Falco

Actress Edie Falco plays Carmela Soprano, wife of Tony Soprano on the HBO drama The Sopranos. The role turned her from a relative unknown to a TV star. She's had roles on Law & Order and Homicide: Life on the Street. She starred in the independent films Judy Berlin, Trust and Laws of Gravity. This interview first aired October 5, 2001.

10:30

Other segments from the episode on September 13, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, September 13, 2002: Review of the television show "Sopranos;" Interview with Dominic Chianese; Interview with Edie Falco; Interview with Steve Van Zandt; Review of the…

Transcript

DATE September 13, 2002 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Review: First four episodes of "The Sopranos'" fourth season
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, in for Terry Gross.

After 16 months between original episodes, the HBO drama series "The Sopranos"
finally returns this weekend to launch its fourth season. TV critic David
Bianculli says it was worth the weight, especially with the below-average crop
of new fall TV series just around the corner.

DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:

Just about everyone wants to talk to me about "The Sopranos," and there are a
few things they want to know and a lot of things they don't want to know.
What they want to know most is, have I seen it? Yes, at least the first four
episodes of this new fourth season. They also want to know, is it as good?
Yes. Yes, it is. What they don't want to know is just about everything else.
They don't want to know what happens, which is another indication of just how
much fun and how eagerly anticipated this show is. I wouldn't be at all
surprised if the fourth-season premiere of "The Sopranos" shatters all
previous ratings records for a cable TV series. The buzz is that strong, and
the wait has been that long.

And you know what? People aren't asking me about any other TV show this fall.
Last year at this time, I was all excited about "Alias" on ABC and another spy
series, "24," on Fox. This year, I'm not really thrilled about any of the new
shows, and apparently neither is anybody else. "The Sopranos" is so much
better. It's partly because David Chase, who created "The Sopranos," knows
how to introduce and develop fascinating, complicated, eccentric and totally
believable characters. He did it on "Northern Exposure," he did it on "I'll
Fly Away," and he did it as long ago as when he was a writer on "The Rockford
Files" and "Kolchak: The Night Stalker."

I think it's also because "The Sopranos" is so good at doing what the
broadcast networks aren't doing much of anymore. Even though each episode of
"The Sopranos" contains a payoff of some sort, its stories stretch out over
several episodes, and even several seasons. It's unpredictable in the best
sense. Even people we care about deeply can die or show a frightening dark
side at any moment. Shows like "Hill Street Blues" and "St. Elsewhere" used
to do that regularly. Now it's done on a few network series--"Alias," "24,"
"Buffy the Vampire Slayer"--but not many. The trend instead is for safer,
more self-contained dramas, so that the shows aren't asking too much of the
audience; not to have to watch each week, and not even to care that much.

"The Sopranos" flies in the face of all that. Yes, its placement on cable is
perfect, because the freedom to present more graphic language, violence and
sex is integral to this series, just as it with another HBO series, "Oz." But
most of all, "The Sopranos" works because of the writing and acting.
Character gets as much emphasis as plot, and this allows terrific actors to do
some great work. James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, as Tony and Carmela
Soprano, are at the center of an incredibly gifted acting ensemble. The
talent extends to the actors portraying such minor characters as Bobby, the
overweight Soprano mobster who serves as caretaker to Tony's ailing Uncle
Junior. Here are Tony and Bobby talking at a diner counter at a scene that
gives away absolutely nothing about the plot of the season opener, but which
shows just why "The Sopranos" is such a delight. It made me laugh out loud
about a subject I never thought I could laugh about. Bobby is played by Steve
Schirripa.

(Soundbite of "The Sopranos")

Mr. JAMES GANDOLFINI ("Tony Soprano"): Mom really went downhill after the
World Trade Center. You know, Quasimodo predicted all this.

Mr. STEVE SCHIRRIPA ("Bobby"): Who did what?

Mr. GANDOLFINI: All these problems, the Middle East, the end of the world.

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: Nostradamus. Quasimodo's the hunchback of Notre Dame.

Mr. GANDOLFINI: Oh, right, Notradamus.

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: Nostradamus and Notre Dame. It's two different things
completely.

Mr. GANDOLFINI: It's interesting, though, they'd be so similar, isn't it?
And I always thought, `OK, hunchback of Notre Dame, you also got your
quarterback and your halfback of Notre Dame."

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: What the (censored) did they do?

Mr. GANDOLFINI: Obviously, I know. I'm just saying, it's interesting the
coincidence.

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: What?

Mr. GANDOLFINI: You're going to tell me you never pondered that, the bad
thing with Notre Dame?

Mr. SCHIRRIPA: No.

BIANCULLI: These first four episodes are full of surprises, shocks and subtle
turns. A touch here or a remark there end up having very large consequences.
"The Sopranos" plays out like a novel, and the next chapters have finally
arrived. I'd tell you not to miss them, but if you're like any of my friends,
you've already got your night planned.

BOGAEV: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Edie Falco discusses her role on "The Sopranos" and her
acting career
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Barbara Bogaev, sitting in for Terry Gross.

Let's continue our archive edition on the HBO series "The Sopranos," which
starts its new season on Sunday. Edie Falco has won two Emmys for her
portrayal of Tony Soprano's wife, Carmela. Before "The Sopranos," Falco
appeared in another HBO series, "Oz," as corrections officer Diane Wittlesey.
She's often performed on stage and is currently starring in the Broadway
revival of "Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune." Falco also appeared in
the Broadway show "Side Man" and recently starred in the John Sayles film
"Sunshine State."

Let's hear a clip from the last season of "The Sopranos." Carmela's difficult
mother-in-law, Livia, has just died. The extended family is assembled after
the funeral, and Tony's sister Janice has forced everyone into the awkward
situation of sharing a remembrance of Livia. Carmela has been drinking
several glasses of wine. Finally, she speaks up.

(Soundbite of "The Sopranos")

Ms. EDIE FALCO: This is such a crock of (censored).

Unidentified Woman: Carmela.

Ms. FALCO: I'm sitting here thinking I should protect my children from the
truth about their grandmother on the one hand; on the other I'm saying to
myself, `What kind of example am I setting?' Evading and smiling, passing out
cheese puffs over a woman that we all know was terribly dysfunctional, who
spread no cheer at all...

Unidentified Woman: Carmela, be quiet.

Ms. FALCO: This is my house.

Unidentified Woman: I'm leaving.

Unidentified Man: Let her talk, goddamn it.

Unidentified Woman: ...(Unintelligible).

Unidentified Man: No, I'll speak if I want, goddamn it! Who are you,
minister of propaganda? We suffered for years under the yoke of that woman,
years! She estranged us from our own daughter, ruined I don't know how many
goddamn Christmases. I don't want to even begin to count.

Unidentified Woman: Here.

Unidentified Man: No, don't hand me that! Bull (censored)! You wanted it,
you got it.

BOGAEV: Terry spoke with Edie Falco last year, when she asked about creating
Carmela's personal style, whether it was putting on the hair, the nails or the
gold necklaces that transformed Falco the most.

Ms. FALCO: I would have to say it's the nails. There is something
very--like, I couldn't be more different from Carmela in this respect, in
particular that I'm always building something or painting something or
chopping wood or some such nonsense. And you put those nails on and it
becomes very clear what a different class, or something, of person that she
is, how she is physically incapable of doing these things that I do regularly.
You know, it's heels and tight-fitting clothing and big hair and makeup where
you can't really touch your face and jewelry that feels uncomfortable to me,
but this is all very much a part of who she is. So it takes me a certain
degree of time to get ready to shoot. And in that period of time, I
definitely feel a transformation take place, but I don't know that it's
anything, you know, miraculous about me. I truly believe that, you know, if
my father was to put on the fingernails and the hair that he would end up
becoming Carmela after two hours as well.

TERRY GROSS reporting:

When you met James Gandolfini, who plays your husband Tony Soprano, had you
seen him in anything else before?

Ms. FALCO: Sure. He was one of those actors you always think, `Oh, good,
he's in this. He's great.' He scared the hell out of me when I found out
that he was the guy playing my husband because previous to that I'd seen him
beat a bunch of people up and, you know, he'll kill me for saying this, but he
played a lot of tough guys and a lot of mean guys. And, you know, they're
like, `Yeah, this is the man you'll be going to bed with in this show.' And I
thought, `Well, that's interesting.' So I was basically afraid, but he's the
one who made the initial phone calls to introduce himself when he found out
who was cast and that he wanted to have lunch so we could get to know each
other. And I realized, `OK. That's right. He's just an actor,' that perhaps
he's, you know, not the mean guy that I've seen in all these movies. And, you
know, needless to say that it's very much the case, that he's a lovely guy.

GROSS: Yeah. In a way, I figure you became an actress to get away from the
kind of suburban life and neighborhood that you grew up in and now you're
famous for playing it, for embodying it.

Ms. FALCO: It was funny that the first bunch of roles that I got
professionally were playing waitresses, which is, of course, what I did for 15
years to support myself. It seemed like a cruel joke. But I don't know that
I ever really wanted to leave my suburban upbringing. I mean, you wanted to
move to the big city as a young kid and knowing that's where you have to go to
be an actress and all that. But I guess it is sort of funny that I ended up
kind of back in that environment. But I was never in any huge rush to leave
it.

GROSS: How many years did you waitress before you were able to make a living
as an actress?

Ms. FALCO: Oh, on and off for, I guess, 20 years, probably. From, you know,
my first waitressing job to my last probably covered a span of 20 years. And
I was so unhappy. You know, the jobs varied in difficulty and in income and
clientele and all that kind of stuff, but I was so unhappy and just got more
so as the years went by. It was the only way I knew to make a living and
still have time available to go to auditions and classes and all that stuff.
But it was--ehh, I was just miserably unhappy, and I was sure that it would
never end. I remember going to Sunday brunches, you know, to set up the
restaurant and think, `This is my life now. For the rest of my life, this is
what I'll be doing.'

And I still have moments where I wake up and realize that I don't have to set
up a restaurant on a Sunday morning. I will still walk past a restaurant with
a sign that's saying, you know, `Help Wanted' and think, `Oh, that's a pretty
busy lunch crowd. I should check in there,' you know. I wonder if that will
ever completely go away. I can't say for sure that it will.

GROSS: What was the worst part of waitressing?

Ms. FALCO: Occasionally I would be recognized for some small film that I had
done or theater performance, and for some reason it upset me tremendously. I
preferred to kind of put on my waitress face, you know, my sort of, you know,
worker face while I was doing this stuff, `I'll bring you your drinks and I'll
bring you your food and I'll tell you the specials if I'm in a good mood, and
I don't want to be recognized as a human even.' I sort of felt like if I'm an
actress, that's what I want to be doing. I want to be walking down the street
getting my coffee when someone recognizes me, as if when I'm acting, that's
what I do and that's all I do. I don't know, I'm try--you know, I'm having to
discover this as I'm talking about it as to why it would affect me the way it
did. But that is definitely the way it affected me. I hated it and I
occasionally even denied it, that I was the person they thought I was.

GROSS: Do you think you learned anything about people by waiting on them,
things you could draw on for performances?

Ms. FALCO: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. There were certain stereotypes of
people, depending on the area in which I waitressed or the time of day. It
was frightening how predictable sometimes it would be. I mean, there was a
certain echelon of individual who I despised. Oh, God, getting into this, I
should probably shut up at this point. But where they would never make eye
contact with you. They would come in and you'd--you know, `Can I get you
something? Can I get you a drink?' and they would not so much as glance in
your direction. They would--you know, they'd ask you a question, they'd be,
you know, still looking at the person they're with or, like, pointing to
something on the menu and they would not so much as look up. You know, I
became evil towards the end of this whole thing, so I don't know how much was
them and how much was me.

GROSS: Do you tip well now?

Ms. FALCO: Oh, God, I do. I'm a little over the top. But, you know, there
are worse things. You know, you live literally dollar-to-dollar when you're
waitressing, and I remember times when I was working--I would work from--the
shift was from 4 to 4, if you can believe this--4 PM to 4 AM was one of the
first jobs that I had. And I remember having to go home with $24 after that
many hours and I would have to spend $10 taking a cab home because I lived up
by Columbia University at the time and the restaurant was way downtown. So,
you know, 12 hours of my life for 12 bucks or whatever, so--outrageous. But
years and years were spent like that. And to know that a person is not
expecting more than whatever it is, 16 percent or something, and to give them
a nice big tip--You know what? It used to make my day, so it's the very least
I can do.

It's an interesting thing when dating that me and female friends have talked
about, the first really big thing you learn about the guy you're dating is how
he treats waiters and waitresses at a restaurant and what a huge effect that
will have on the rest of the relationship or its longevity. You know, it's a
big thing for me. These people are doing a job, you know, and for the most
part, as far as I'm concerned, an unpleasant one, and the least you can do is
be polite.

GROSS: Well, Edie Falco, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Ms. FALCO: It was my pleasure.

BOGAEV: Edie Falco from an interview Terry recorded last fall. Falco plays
Carmela Soprano on the HBO series. She's currently starring on Broadway in
the revival of "Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune."

Coming up, musician and "Sopranos" hit man Steven Van Zandt. This is FRESH
AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Steven Van Zandt discusses his role on "The Sopranos"
and his musical career
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

Steven Van Zandt co-stars in "The Sopranos" as Silvio Dante, hit man and owner
of the Bada Bing strip club. Van Zandt is also the guitarist in Bruce
Springsteen's band. Like Springsteen, he's from New Jersey, and that's where
they met in the '70s. In the mid-'80s, he left Springsteen's E Street Band to
pursue a solo career, and although he returned to the band, he continues to
make solo albums. Van Zandt is on Springsteen's new album, "The Rising,"
which came out this summer. He's currently on tour with Springsteen.

This spring, he launched his own nationally syndicated radio show, "Little
Steven's Underground Garage."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. STEVEN VAN ZANDT (Musician/Actor; Host, "Little Steven's Underground
Garage"): If you are just tuning in, you missed 17 of the coolest rock 'n'
roll songs ever recorded, because that's our format here. You are in the
"Underground Garage," and in spite of all evidence to the contrary, I am
Little Steven. We're on the Hard Rock Cafe...

BOGAEV: Steven Van Zandt's first band back in 1966 was called the Source.
When Terry spoke with him this summer, she asked him who his band played for.

Mr. VAN ZANDT: We had dozens and dozens of places to play. High schools,
obviously. We had the beach clubs, because we were on the Jersey shore. VFW
halls. There was a television show called "Hullabaloo" which had Hullabaloo
clubs. There was three of those clubs in New Jersey where we played. There
was teen-age nightclubs built specifically for teen-agers, place called Le
Teen de Vous(ph).

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Just a lot of places, especially before that, you know,
magical sort of period there from '65 to about '67, '68, before drugs really
made it to the suburbs, you know. And then once drugs came to the suburbs,
all the teen-age places got closed down.

TERRY GROSS reporting:

How does performing in your 50s compare with performing in your 20s?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Well, you know, it's a lot more fun. (Laughs)

GROSS: Is it really?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Yeah.

GROSS: Well, why is that?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Because you don't care anymore, you know. (Laughs) You don't
care about anything particularly, you know. You just sort of--there's not a
lot of anxieties. You're not struggling, you know. You're not really trying
to prove anything. You are who you are and you better be pretty much at ease
with that by now or you are a mess. It's mostly good stuff. You know what I
mean? When you're starting out, there's just a lot of--you know, you're
struggling, you don't know whether you're going to make it or not. You don't
know quite where you're going. Are you doing the right thing or--all those,
you know, thousands of questions you have as a kid. At this point, you know,
they've all pretty much been answered, you know. And as far as we're
concerned--I don't know if this is true for everybody, but, I mean, I am able
to go on stage with the same attitude as I've always--you know, since I was
15, which is, you know, I fully intend to do the greatest show anyone's ever
seen, and I don't even consider anything less than that, you know. I think we
all sort of feel that way.

GROSS: Now one of the things about the Springsteen band is that on stage
there's always a lot of, like, male bonding action, you know, like, you know,
Springsteen and Clarence Clemons or you and Springsteen looking at each other
and there's, you know, this kind of like bonding going on on stage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Is that something that you kind of planned out before or is that just,
like, chemistry that happens on stage?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: No, we have a few weeks of bonding sessions before a tour.

GROSS: Bonding rehearsals.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. VAN ZANDT: We go into the woods and sort of, you know, beat drums and
bond. No, we--it's--I think that's the band's thing, you know. I mean, we
are as close to a band as you can be, even though it's a solo artist, being
Bruce Springsteen. And that's part of the band phenomenon, is that
communication of friendship and family and, you know, the artificial family
that McLuhan talked about, you know. But it's the phenomenon that got started
by The Beatles and the thing that everybody responded to, but new things, a
new concept, the concept of a band, you know.

GROSS: My guest is Steven Van Zandt. He's the guitar player in Bruce
Springsteen's band and on "The Sopranos" he plays Silvio Dante, hit man and
owner of the Bada Bing club. Let's hear him in a scene from "The Sopranos."
Tony has been trying to break up with his Russian girlfriend. He sends Silvio
to give her the message that Tony's through with her.

(Soundbite of "The Sopranos")

Mr. VAN ZANDT: How you doin', hon?

Ms. OKSANA BABIY: Who sended you? Tony?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Yeah, he aksed me to bring you this.

Ms. BABIY: What is it? Money? I don't want it.

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Yes, you do. There's $75,000 in here.

Ms. BABIY: Seventy-five.

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Listen, Irina, I know you're upset. Let me give you a little
advice. In my business, I see girls come and go, so I know time is the great
enemy. You've got a very short window. It's not good to get too hung up on
any one thing. On the other hand, something new always comes along. I've
seen it a million times. It's called passages. You know, there's a book.

GROSS: Now your character wears this kind of tall hairpiece. (Laughs)

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Are you suggesting that's not my real hair?

GROSS: Yeah, yeah, right.

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Is that what you're suggesting?

GROSS: Like that's a big surprise, yeah. So whose idea was it to have--like,
who designed--who gave the hairpiece the look? Who came up with the idea that
you'd wear one and that it would have that kind of, like, thick, high, ruglike
kind of quality to it?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Well, once, you know, David and I agreed the character was
going to be this sort of throwback to the past philosophically, you know, that
he also should reflect that physically. So, you know, I wanted to make sort
of a '50s looking guy, you know, a guy who never really left the '50s, and
that was it, you know. In other words, he's not particularly concerned with
being fashionable or taking part in the modern world at all, you know. So,
you know, once we decided that, the rest was easy. You know, we went and
found a special tailor, my boy Joe Camilia(ph), who in the past had done some
clothes for various characters. Let's leave it at that. And, you know, made
sure the clothes were right and, you know, the look was right and, you know,
that made it a lot easier for me because I really am a outside-in sort of
actor, you know. I mean, I need to look in the mirror and see the guy, you
know.

GROSS: Now in "The Sopranos," you wear that hairpiece. In your own
performances, you wear a bandana on your head. How did you start doing that?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: It was a car accident where I got damaged a bit and my hair
never really grew in properly from that moment on, and I wasn't sure which way
to go with it, you know. So I just started wearing the bandana rather than
getting into the wig thing. It just didn't feel right at the time. Then it
just sort of stuck, you know, sort of became my thing, accidentally really.
So it paid off nicely, actually, in the end because now you really can--I
mean, if some other characters come along, some other movie parts or whatever
came along, which they may or may not, I can very easily be somebody very,
very different just from changing the hair, you know...

GROSS: Right.

Mr. VAN ZANDT: ...which I like, you know. I really do like that aspect of
it, you know, being a different person physically.

GROSS: When you were creating your character and even now, now that your
character, you know, has been around for a few years, did you feel like you
should be observing wiseguys where you could so that you'd be creating a
character based on real life and not just based on movies or did you think the
thing to do was to look at all the movies and base it on movies, which is what
"The Sopranos" is?

Mr. VAN ZANDT: Well, yeah, it's interesting because it ended up being a bit
of both, but I think the thing to keep in mind at this point is I think
modern-day, you know, mob guys are very, very aware of the movies, which we
talk about in the scripts, you know. But that's a fact. I mean, a lot of
the--"The Godfather" in particular was something that is well-known now,
well-documented as teaching many mob guys how to be mob guys in a way. So,
you know, it's a postmodern consciousness going on here where, you know,
you're very aware of, you know, the movies that are--even though it's
fictional in our case, the fictional characters are themselves watching the
movies. So I think watching the movies was part of it. I went back and
watched them all, which I was a fan of anyway and I knew them all pretty much
by heart anyway. But I went all the way back to whatever, "Public Enemy" and,
you know, "Scarface" and those things and reread all the books and all that.

But as far as real life, I mean, I grew up in New Jersey in bars, you know,
and they were there. I mean, whether they were the real thing or wanna-bes,
you know, what's the difference, you know? I mean, you're never going to
really know.

GROSS: Well, Steven Van Zandt, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. VAN ZANDT: My pleasure, Terry.

BOGAEV: Steven Van Zandt plays Silvio Dante on "The Sopranos." He performs
on the new Bruce Springsteen album, "The Rising," and is currently on tour
with the band. Terry spoke with him this summer.

Coming up, the return of the classic silent film "Metropolis." This is FRESH
AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: Digitally restored film "Metropolis"
BARBARA BOGAEV, host:

Fritz Lang's 1927 silent classic "Metropolis" has been digitally restored to
something approaching the original three-hour version and is now playing in
theaters accompanied by the original score. Film critic David Edelstein has
seen it and has these thoughts.

DAVID EDELSTEIN reporting:

On the first anniversary of the destruction of the World Trade Center, many of
us New Yorkers spent the day contemplating a skyline robbed of its most potent
symbols, which were also meant as symbols of the towering dominance of world
capitalism. It was a good time to remember what skyscrapers meant to people
who'd never seen them before and what they still mean to those who see them,
rightly or wrongly, as an affront to nature.

By coincidence, American moviegoers have an unprecedented opportunity for the
first time in 75 years to see Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" in a form that
approximates its director's intentions. The movie was directly inspired by
the skyline of Manhattan, which the Austrian Lang beheld in 1924 from a ship
in New York Harbor. He told his wife, Thea von Harbou, that he envisioned a
cityscape dominated by soaring towers of glass and steel, while far below, in
cellars and catacombs, the workers whose labor sustained it were physically
and spiritually crushed, almost literally turned into machines. The film they
made in 1927 from von Harbou's script was a science-fiction landmark, and its
imagery has reappeared in works as diverse as "The Bride of Frankenstein,"
"Dr. Strangelove," "Blade Runner" and "The Terminator." But Lang's original
three-hour cut played in German theaters only a week and never in the United
States, where it was hacked up and rewritten.

There was a further American desecration in the 1980s by the composer Giorgio
Moroder, who gave "Metropolis" a rock and synthesized disco beat in the hopes
of creating a new kind of head movie. Moroder's music had such a devastating
impact because "Metropolis" is one of the greatest ballets ever put on film.
And I don't just mean the staggering movements of the workers, whose limbs are
choreographed to look like cogs and gears and pistons. I mean that if you
subscribe to the view of architecture as frozen dance, then every frame is
like a balletic gesture, each skyscraper represents a futurist ideal of
transcendence via machine. The city's sharp angles and vertical thrust is
arrogantly anti-nature.

It's down below that the movie's hero, Freder, the pampered son of the builder
of Metropolis, falls to his knees at the vision of the beautiful Maria, played
by Brigitte Helm. She's bathed in heavenly light and surrounded by tall
crucifixes as she prevails on the exhausted workers to rise up in the name
of--the proletariat? Ah, no. The mediator, someone to mediate between the
hands of labor and the brain of the ruling class, someone who represents the
heart. OK, so you're thinking `Huh?' Marx and Engels would recognize some
aspects of this vision, but they wouldn't have gone for the Christian mediator
stuff. But Lang was hardly a Communist or a man with much sympathy for
violent revolution. Part of what makes "Metropolis" such a complicated
allegory is Lang's fear of the fascism of the mob, which he'd keep exploring
in "M" and the American "Fury."

Maria is impersonated by a lewd and malevolent robot created by the mad
scientist Rotwang. The robot is sent out to whip the underclass into
destroying the machines. Lang understood why the mob would want to tear the
city down, but he also believed that the technology it embodied promised a
better life for people of all classes and that violence solved nothing.

It's no wonder that some people had no idea what Lang was trying to say, but
that's good. I don't think there's anything wrong with packing as many
contradictory longings into a single allegory. A great artist contains
multitudes. Lang shows us the horror of the machine man, but he gives us, in
Brigitte Helm, the sexiest robot of all time. He also gives us one of the
screen's most charismatic mad scientists, Rudolf Klein-Rogge's Rotwang, who
has helped to create the Metropolis, yet has an insidious lust to destroy it,
too. Most of all, Lang celebrates the power of architecture to elevate
humanity while he simultaneously laments its power to smother it.

The movie is daft, but every frame is alive, and there are more frames now,
thanks to German film preservationist Martin Koerber and the Munich company
Alpha-Omega, which did the digital restoration. This is still not the
complete "Metropolis," but new titles tell us what we're missing and the shape
of the thing is as Lang intended. Try to see "Metropolis" as you ponder the
21st-century skyline, its champions and its enemies, and consider that all
these issues are being wrestled with in the context of a big corny, often
dumb, commercial sci-fi epic and what a marvelously elastic form it can be in
the hands of an architect like Fritz Lang.

BOGAEV: David Edelstein is film critic for the online magazine Slate. Kino
International is releasing "Metropolis" on video and DVD early next year.

(Credits)

BOGAEV: For Terry Gross, I'm Barbara Bogaev.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

07:28

'Luster' Combines Nicely Tailored Prose With A Stinging Sense Of Humor

Raven Leilani's novel centers on a young woman with a free-range libido who dreams of being a painter. Luster is a crackling debut about sex, art and the inescapable workings of race.

43:07

'Ghosting The News' Author Says Local Journalism 'Freefall' Is Accelerating

More than 2,000 newspapers have shut down in recent years, and some regions have become news deserts. Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan says the collapse of local news undermines democracy.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.

Playing

Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue