I've been thinking about Ovo. "At last!" you exclaim. "Gosh, Eve, it's only been out since last June!" At least, I hope that's what you're exclaiming. If, instead, you said, "What? Ovo??" well, hie yourself over to amazon.com or real world trading and get yourself a copy. No, I'm not going to open the whole "which version" can of worms. Buy whichever one you can get your hands on.
Anyway, I couldn't help but be struck by a few things in the Ovo story. (If you don't have the story book, you can view it over at The Feeling Begins, which has the images and text posted for your edification). First of all, the characters sort of look like teletubbies. The less said about that the better, really. And second, I couldn't help noticing that tower. You know, the one that Ion built.
Contemplating this tower, I was struck by a sense of deja vu. Where had I seen this before? Then it hit me. This was where I'd seen it before.
Looks familiar, doesn't it? It's from Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Now, if you haven't seen Metropolis, please remedy that as soon as possible. Basically, in the future, in the city of Metropolis, a privileged few live in luxury, while the workers who keep the city running toil unceasingly at underground machines. One of the workers, a woman named Maria, preaches at secret meetings in catacombs under the city. She tells the story of the Tower of Babel--the few dreamed of the tower, enlisted the many to build it, and were so wrapped up in their dreams that they cared nothing for the hands that built their dream. And so in rebellion the workers destroyed the tower. She then explains that the workers of Metropolis have only to wait for a mediator (the heart) to appear, one who will mediate between the head (the few in charge of Metropolis) and the hands (the oppressed workers), and somehow life will be better.
As it happens, the mediator is Freder Frederson, the son of Joh Frederson, the master of Metropolis. Freder is appalled by the conditions endured by the workers, and desperately in love with Maria.
Enter Rotwang. He's a sort of sorcerer/inventor who has made a robot. It's supposed to replace his lost love, Hel, but in the American cut and the most common edit available on video he does it in order to create an inexhaustible, inhuman workforce that will be biddable, hard working, and cheap. In one of the most spectacular sequences of the film (and that's saying something--this whole movie is gorgeous), he causes this robot to look exactly like the virginal Maria. The robot then goes around Metropolis acting entirely unvirginal and stirring up sedition among the workers.
The workers ultimately destroy the machines that keep Metropolis alive. Freder and the real Maria save the day, defeat Rotwang, and somehow cause a change of heart in the formerly obdurate Joh Frederson. Head and hands have found their mediator, and, one supposes, Metropolis becomes a paradise.
There are several versions out there. When Lang released the film it ran nearly three hours, and American distributors decided that was way, way too long and helpfully edited the film. The result ran a little over an hour and didn't make a whole lot of sense--whole sub-plots and important motivations were dropped, sometimes for silly reasons. For instance, the rivalry of Joh Frederson and Rotwang over the woman Hel (long dead) was expunged because the editors feared the name Hel would make American audiences giggle. Of course, this makes the motivations of two major characters obscure, and renders much of the final part of the film confusing. Eventually, a few attempts were made to restore the original, but much of the removed footage is gone forever. You can get a lowdown on all the different versions here. Thankfully, we have some idea of the original intent of the movie from reading the novelization of the film by Thea von Harbou, who wrote the screenplay. (She was also Lang's wife. When the Nazis took power, Lang fled Germany, ultimately making a number of movies in America. Von Harbou, however, cheerfully divorced him and joined the Nazi party. This fact, and the fact that Hitler reportedly liked the movie a good deal, have made some people uncomfortable with it.) At the time, it was highly criticized for expressing the then unfashionable idea that greater mechanization of society might possibly be a bad thing. I personally find H.G. Wells' rather snippy review to be most amusing, but then, I'm not a big fan of his. Well, to be fair, hindsight is 20/20. In any event, Metropolis has been astonishingly influential--a lot of science fiction films right up to the present day owe a debt to it.
I got to thinking about the part of Ovo that involves the tower--the mechanized society where a privileged few live in luxury, while those who live outside must perish or accept slavery--and it occurred to me that the two towers were not unrelated in the minds of those who worked on Ovo.
"Yeah, so what," you're thinking. "Metropolis was an extremely influential film, maybe it influenced Ovo--no big surprises there." True, true. But, see, I got to thinking about The Wizard of Oz. And Dark Side of the Moon. And then I wondered just what it would be like to use Ovo as a soundtrack for Metropolis. It makes more sense than the Pink Floyd thing, when you think about it. Metropolis is a silent film, so it's just crying out for a soundtrack, while the Wizard of Oz already has a perfectly good one. I resolved to make the attempt.
I immediately ran into some problems. Not only does Metropolis exist in several different versions, the whole issue of Ovo is pretty confusing (there are, as it happens, three different versions of Ovo, although officially there are only two--or something like that). The Ovo part is fairly straightforward here at the offices of the Church--we only have the Millenium Dome version, with the rap (sans Neneh Cherry) on another disc. So if you want to try this at home, you'll get different results if you use the "boy in the nest" version that starts with the rap and leaves off The Tree that Went Up. But then I had to decide which cut of the film to use. Here at the Church we have two--a 90 minute cut from Blackhawk Video that's probably the 139 minute B&W version played at a higher speed (although i'm not absolutely certain about that), and Giorgio Moroder's cut. Which to use? I decided on the 90 minute, since the Moroder Metropolis is out of print. Use another version, and you'll get a different result. Be adventurous!
First off, let me say that I was very, very surprised. It's amazing how much this actually worked in a general sort of way. In fact, I've begun to wonder how any other PG album might work with this film. Or with the Wizard of Oz, for that matter. Also, there aren't as many lyric/image matches as there are in the Dark Side of the Rainbow, since there just aren't as many lyrics on Ovo. But there were a lot of spots where the music changed when the action did, in a really eerie way. That said, here we go.
I started just as the film started (I waited through the credits, etc. that my video version has, and then just as the actual film began, I hit Play). Low Light actually works quite nicely for the opening. It becomes jarringly wrong during the "Pleasure gardens" sequence, and then gets back on track once Maria enters the scene. During Time of the Turning, I couldn't help thinking that the pastoral words and meditative music made an odd contrast to the dramatic buildup to the explosion. When Time of the Turning returns, we hear "we'd better learn to say our goodbyes" when it's mentioned that workers were killed. And another "better learn to say our goodbyes" immediately precedes Josaphat's suicide attempt.
The next opportunity for a lyric match comes with Father Son, which is sort of surreal juxtaposed with the unveiling of the robot and Rotwang's proto-Dr. Strangelove business. When PG sings "unfolding limbs" the robot stands up. And when an intertitle says, "Give me 24 hours and I'll make you a machine no one can tell from a human being," we hear "see how far we have come." One of the times he sings the words "father and son" we cut from the son (Freder) to the father (Joh).
Next up is The Tower that Ate People. Freder, slaving away at the clock machine, cries out, "Father, Father!" as we hear "I swear I heard your call." As the exhausted workers make their way down to the catacombs, PG sings, "the workers are below me, digging underground." The story of the Tower of Babel ends just as Downside Up is beginning, and considering the bulk of this part is the rapturous love at first sight of Freder and Maria, the entire song is pretty appropriate here. After we cut away from the workers to Joh Frederson secretly watching the meeting, we hear, "all the family look so strange." At the end of the song, just as Maria picks up a candle and heads into the dark passages of the catacombs, we hear the last "slipping into the unknown." The CD ends, of course, with Make Tomorrow Today, the end of which comes at the end of Freder's vision of the False Maria as the Whore of Babylon.
Those are the lyric correspondences I found, and as I said, there were a lot of spots where the music just seemed appropriate to what was going on, or changed when the action changed, sometimes quite dramatically, as at the transition from The Tower that Ate People to Revenge. These spots are hard to describe, so you really should try it for yourself. Of course, there are also spots where it doesn't work in the least. The quiet and somewhat dreamy track The Nest that Sailed the Sky is wildly inappropriate for Rotwang's pursuit of the panicked Maria, for instance. But overall I was impressed at how well the music worked.
So is Ovo really meant to be a secret soundtrack for Metropolis? Well, I doubt it, but it is a fun way to watch and listen. And now I'm wondering just how my Hank Williams Sr. Greatest Hits will work as a soundtrack for Nosferatu....