Maschinenmensch by Daniel Nyari

The Maschinenmensch [muh-sheen-en-mench] (German: ‘machine-human’) from ‘Metropolis,’ is a gynoid played by German actress Brigitte Helm in both her robotic and human incarnations. The haunting blank face and pronounced female curves have been the subject of disgust and fascination alike. The Maschinenmensch has many names given her through the years : Parody, Ultima, Machina, Futura, and Robotrix. The Maschinenmensch’s back story is detailed in Thea von Harbou’s original 1927 novel. It is described as a very delicate, but faceless, transparent figure made of crystal flesh with silver bones and its eyes filled with an expression of calm madness. Futura is perfectly obedient and the ideal agent-provocateur, able to become any woman and tempt men to their doom.

The memorable transformation scene was an early miracle of special effects, using a series of matte cutouts of the robot’s silhouette and a number of circular neon lights. All effects were filmed directly into the camera rather than edited separately. As a result the film had to be rewound and exposed many tens of times over to include the plates showing the heart and circulatory systems as well as cuts between the robot form and Maria showing her gradual transformation. The Maschinenmensch is an archetypal example of the Frankenstein complex, where artificial creations turn against their creator and go on a rampage. Artificial beings with a malevolent nature were a popular theme at the time. Original designs by Ralph McQuarrie for C-3PO in Star Wars were largely based on the Maschinenmensch, albeit in a male version. The design was later refined, but retains clear Art Deco influences.

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