In My Opinion, movies, Science Fiction

IMO: Science Fiction, Metropolis and Ad Astra

Image result for ad astra

In German class, we are exploring German Expressionism found in film. I showed them the Fritz Lang masterpiece, Metropolis (1927). My students were born after The Matrix CGI made a leap forward. CGI has been a part of their entire lives like cell phones. To show them a silent film made in 1927, and they thought the special effects were cool, and the application of the characteristics of German Expressionism (distortion, exaggeration of human feeling, extreme contrast, horror) was fascinating; I was thrilled that after ninety years, Metropolis still captivates.

Image result for metropolis

When Fritz Lang’s film came out it met with mixed reviews. Favorably, people felt the images and the production design was a character unto itself. They thought it was beautiful in a macabre way. Hence, Metropolis’s effect on future generations is undeniable. Just ask any fan of  Star Wars or Bladerunner.

I saw Ad Astra last weekend in the theater, and I left thinking I had seen a quasi-remake of Apocolypse Now. Tommy Lee Jones was Kurz. Snippets of recordings gave ambiguous meanings to his tracker. Was the fallen angel of the space program crazy and a murderer? I wish Tommy Lee’s character Clifford McBride had lines to say like Kurz:  “I’ve seen horrors, horrors that you’ve seen. But you have no right to call me a murderer. You have a right to kill me. You have a right to do that, but you have no right to judge me. It’s impossible for words to describe what is necessary to those who do not know what horror means. Horror! Horror has a face, and you must make a friend of horror. Horror and moral terror are your friends. If they are not, then they are enemies to be feared. They are truly enemies.”

Brad Pitt’s narration reminded me of Captain Willard (Martin Sheen). Narrating his long epic journey from Earth to Neptune, he questions and fears meeting his father, the man the government wants to be assassinated.

The visuals were fantastic. I’m so glad I saw it on the big screen. Like Metropolis, the production design of Ad Astra transported the individual to the future.

However, I left the theater disappointed. The execution of the storyline was bland. I wished for philosophical discussions. I thought there was too much build-up for a weak finish. I wanted more than the overused close-ups of the wrinkled faces of the two leading men. If only they shortened the journey (It was hard to believe he had traveled to Neptune) and gave more scenes to the father-son like Kurtz and Captain Willard. I thought back to Metropolis and realized once again that you can have the best special effects in the world, but without an interesting storyline, it ends up flat. I wanted a biting social commentary.

Of course, this is just my opinion. Metropolis had mixed reviews. And look how it fared over time. Got five minutes? Here, take a look at why:



1920s, directors, Inside the Gold Plated Pistol, movies, Research, writing

George and the Opium Den

The month of February was a blur of moving and working. And writing. I’ve been concentrating on writing creatively rather than creating blog posts about films. Also, I haven’t gone anywhere to share any photo shots. For now, I just want to keep working on “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol”. George Hero is in Berlin,1922, working as an extra for Fritz Lang’s Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler. Here is what he does in his spare time: 

Sunken clouds spit a late April rain on the back of George’s neck. He entered a cracked lane overtaken by weeds toward an abandoned water tower of chocolate bricks and curved windows that looked like drowsy eyes. The architecture was nothing like the white, water tower in Chicago where as a boy he had watched his father work as a foreman. This one was a rectangle box eight stories tall, a fortress from a medieval dream. As George approached the back door, the bumpy clouds obscured the morning light and gave the building a sinister appearance. The dampness absorbed into the stump at his wrist, and it ached as he poked at his neck trying to stifle the itch under his skin. It had been three days since his last visit to Mr. Li’s opium den.  

        Within walking distance of the UFA studio complex, hidden from the main road behind vines that coiled around the Hemlock trees, he knocked on a door and waited for a Chinaman to open the center window and admit him. The small window-door snapped open and a man with puffy eyes squinted at him. He recognized George and let him in. George hunched down and followed him, watching his braid roll on the back of his tunic as he led him through the basement. Room dividers partitioned a corner, and as George whiffed the aroma of opium, he salivated. A pot-bellied stove heated pots of water and warmed the area while a young worker prepared opium tea. Kerosene lamps sat on tables and a davenport. George walked over to the old man who organized the den and gave him Deutschmarks.

        Guten Tag, Joe,” he greeted George with a thick accent. “Here.” He patted one of eight Army cots each covered with a military blanket, all positioned in a circle with a center island for the young worker on a stool. His work table contained candles, matches, bowls, opium pods, a pester and grinder, tubes, bamboo pipes, and a hookah.  He had a long, curved pinky nail which was filed and used as a spoon. When filled, the nail held exactly half a gram. George thought that was clever.

        “Hello, Mr. Li.”

        He kicked off his soggy loafers and placed them next to the stove to dry. He set his overcoat on a wooden chair by his cot and lay down feeling like a bug on an ashen petal connected to a dead daisy.  As he waited for the opium to foam and to inhale the vapor, he ignored the other bug two cots away and stared at the room divider. There was a red dragon coiled and twisted on a silk panel. He inhaled and closed his eyes. Soon the flush dulled his senses. That dullness turned into a stupor like a blanket that covered him with nothingness, and he floated to a place where Private Cox could not penetrate. In this dreamy blackness, his one impression was that he was in his mother’s womb, and his relief became an audible groan.

     He lay there for several hours before he had to report for filming.


The following is an old post about Fritz Lang and German Expressionism and Hans Poelzig, an inspirational architect for this story.

Hans Poelzig’s Sulphuric Acid Factory in Luboń, Poland (1911-1912)Hans Poelzig’s Chemical Factory in Luboń, Poland (1911-1912)

Expressionist German architect, Hans Poelzig, and Thea von Harbou, the screenwriter and wife of Fritz Lang, have a grip on my imagination while I create the climate of Weimar Germany in the manuscript, “Inside the Gold Plated Pistol”. George Hero, my American World War I veteran, arrives in Berlin, and stumbles into the world at UFA studios wherein 1922, Thea’s script is filmed by Fritz Lang: Dr. Mabuse: Der Spieler.


Who knows why she held her German Nationalist views while Fritz Lang emigrated to the United States or how she was implicated in a murder, but my fiction will dabble with the possibilities and recreate the evening involving George.

Fritz Lang & Thea von Harbou, married, 1922-1933
Hans Poelzig Architecture 

light columns at the Grand Theater’s entrance hall

The Großes Schauspielhaus, Berlin, Germany circa 1920
What a pity Hans Poelzig’s grand theater exists only in pictures now. The honeycomb pillars resembled stalactites and the circular design without balcony seats, according to Ross Wolfe’s article “Scary Architecture: The Early Works of Hans Poelzig” found HERE, was an exquisite example of German expressionist architecture. Imagine the ceiling full of lights to imitate the stars. Before its demolition in the 1980s, the theater’s history included Nazi control in 1933 when its grandness was hidden behind dropped ceilings and eventually turned into a warehouse. I wish someone would recreate it for new audiences to enjoy.

Thank you for reading. 


1920s, Inside the Gold Plated Pistol, writing

A Snippet of George

  IGPP Writing   

 He spent the winter of 1921 in Marseilles in an apartment overlooking the harbor with an older, sallow woman whose appetites matched his own.  The realization he needed opium more than he needed sex or companionship began to creep into the shadows of his mind. He abandoned the dying motorcycle and bought train fare. He headed toward the one city he heard whispered for indulging strange proclivities and addictions–Berlin. When he pulled into the city on March 12, 1922, he arrived with a decent wardrobe, a silver pocket watch, and enough money to buy second class passage from Hamburg to the United States when he was ready. George stepped down onto the platform and a part of him mourned. His home in Chicago might as well have been on the moon. 

        I’m sorry, Ma. I think I lost more than my hand.  

        Where to go in Berlin? He picked the subway line announcing Zooligischer Garten because he liked the sound of the name. It reminded him, when as a boy, he begged his folks to take him to the Lincoln Park Zoo.  His father gestured him away before leaving for work in the basement of the Pearson Hotel where he worked as a public works laborer who maintained the engines and the steam boilers that provided water and heat to over two hundred rooms of the luxury hotel.  George’s mother succumbed to his begging and a sensation of victory filled George’s chest. The two of them spent the day strolling around the zoo grounds in awe. George’s memory was a patchwork of images. The chimpanzee’s rubbery arms reached from one branch to another. A tiger panted and looked at George as though he was the curiosity. Elephant ears flapped. Striped legs meandered. A stiff breeze off of Lake Michigan carried the smell of the animals, and he felt coated by their odors.

        Now as he entered the gates of the Berlin Zoo, a rare, energetic March sun over-warmed the day and a kinder breeze carried a whiff of dung into George’s nose. It comforted him. He sat on a bench that faced the lion’s pen.  The tips of a copper mane preceded the beast as he emerged from behind a boulder. It stepped down a level and looked at him. Then it paced back and forth and twitched his tale. George tucked his suitcase by his leg and watched the people walk by him.

        When he first saw her standing at the other end of the lion’s pen with her coat draped over her forearm and holding onto the wire fence which kept the cat confined, George thought there was nothing remarkable about her. She was simply the only woman in his vicinity. Her blouse did not ripple in the wind around full breasts. Her skirt did not cling to a small waist.  She was neither tall or short, thick or thin. Her legs were not shapely, her outfit not stylish. She turned toward him, posed, lost in thought, and he wondered why she was alone at the zoo. He walked over to her, his polished suitcase in hand, and they looked at the lion together. He tipped his hat and smiled at her.

        Helfen Sie, bitte, Fraulein.”


        George stammered. “A room to rent. Zimmer. Ein zimmer zu mieten.”

        She scrutinized him boldly. She tilted her head and her eyes traced the horizontal line of his shoulders. The dimple on his stubby chin. The mole under his eyelid sitting on top of his cheekbone.  He showed her coins from his pocket and gave her his very best smile. He motioned eating. “Essen mit mir.”

        She looked at his coins and her pink fingertips touched her stomach. She looked around and pointed to the east, and they left the zoo. They crossed the street into a residential area of five-storied apartment buildings.  Two blocks later on the corner was cafe. She motioned with her head, and they went inside. She ordered them two plates of knockwurst and creamed kraut, brown mustard, and black bread. He had a Berliner Weisse. She had coffee. She ate with two hands, her fork in her left hand, her knife in her right. She spoke German as if he knew the language fluently. He had graduated school from St. Sylvester from Logan Square with some knowledge of Latin and German and encouragement from the nuns to apply for college, but he had not felt proficient in either language or passionate about a subject matter to warrant college. His mother’s badgering to make something of himself with more schooling brought about fits of suffocation. To escape the decision, he had enlisted in the war.

        In the Berlin cafe, George watched her lips and recognized the words, but he was so rusty with the language, he understood little. When she paused from eating, he watched her fingers flick the air as she punctuated her sentences, or during calmer moments, under her chin, a pink nail propped up her face.  She seemed to constantly giggle. He leaned closer to her.  He noticed she looked at his stump and smiled politely. He leaned back and hid his right arm under the table cloth. How had he failed at the zoo to notice the reddish strands framing her face? The hazel eyes? Her arched eyebrows lifted as she talked to him, and he confessed over her monologue, “If a face was a song, yours would be a Cole Porter melody.”  

        She stopped talking. She blinked at him and tapped her hand once on the white table cloth. Ja. Kommt mit. Wie Heissen Sie?

        He understood that. “George Hero.”

        “Mitzi.” She stood and yawned behind her hand, her expression feline. The Oberkellner approached and collected some of his coins. Mitzi slid her hand through the crook at George’s elbow and locked herself to him. “Kommt, George Hero. Wir mussen zum Babelsberg zugehen.”

        “Anywhere you want, doll.”

        Down the steps to the train station, he let her lead, motioning her to reach in his jacket pocket for more change to buy tickets. To where, he did not know. She refused to take her hand off his arm. They lit cigarettes together, she with her spare hand, he with the other, and they laughed.  She whispered to him in German. Surely she knew he could not understand, but he nodded and smiled just the same. Fifteen miles south outside of Berlin, they got off at the Babelsberg stop and took a taxi.

        She presented him to the entrance of UFA movie studios. She brought him to the back lot where at the entrance door, George admired a large poster of a man in a tux with black eyes walking on top of the city like a predator. It was unnerving.  At the top of the movie poster in black letters was the title of the film.

        Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler – Ein Bild der Zeit. Regie: Fritz Lang


There you go, proof I’ve been writing during my hiatus. and in architecture and film are fascinating historical topics for me, and it forms the first third of the novel. I hope you enjoyed this scene. Now, back to work.