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Chosen One of the Day: Rotwang the mad scientist

Contributed by
May 19, 2018

With so many new movies and television shows vying for our attention each and every week, it can be tough to keep up with the sci-fi landscape. Did I say “tough"? I meant “impossible.” Barring the use of a Time-Turner, there just aren’t enough hours in the day to watch everything. And that’s just the new stuff. Trying to catch up on your classics? “I have a DVR full of old Steven Universe episodes,” you screech. “I haven’t even tried The Magicians yet! I meant to watch Ready Player One, but I never got around to it. And the Netflix originals! Oh, the Netflix originals!”

I feel you. Believe me, I do. But if you cut yourself off from the classics, you’re missing out on some quality stuff, both in terms of entertainment value and relevance to sci-fi history. On the latter point, did you know that one of cinema history’s seminal mad scientists was named ROTWANG?

Rotwang! It’s true! A rot of the wang. A wang. Rotted!

Mad scientists existed before Rotwang rotted his wang onto the screen in Fritz Lang’s silent classic Metropolis, of course. There’s Victor Frankenstein, for one, who made his first appearance thanks to Mary Shelley in 1818. But Rotwang, played by Rudolf Klein-Rogge, is the character widely credited as having defined the visual aesthetic of the movie mad scientist: an aging white male with wild puffs of white hair, over-the-top mannerisms, and a lab filled with all sorts of elaborate doohickeys. A mad scientist without a stock of Tesla coils, after all, is just a schlubby dude who needs to invest in better conditioner. Rotwang also wears a black glove on one hand, an element that was replicated with one of his spiritual successors, Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove

Rotwang is a crucial character in the fabric of cinema history. And, within Metropolis, he's someone to be taken seriously. The dude creates a human-appearing robot as a way to kick off a class war. And his name is Rotwang. If you don’t think that’s funny, you’ve managed to exorcise your inner 5-year-old and are thus a much better person than I. Or, for that matter, you’re German, like the people who made Metropolis. To you, “Rot” is “red” and “wang” is… A) one letter off from “wange,” meaning “cheek,” and B) definitely not a juvenile slang word for “penis.”

Film history: It's fascinating!

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