[2 December 2011]
In the early 1980s, Giorgio Moroder made a name as a composer and producer of electronic music, working on the films Midnight Express and Flashdance. So it seemed a surprise when he produced a restoration of Fritz Lang’s 1927 silent masterpiece Metropolis. Mind you, he did it ‘80s MTV style with an electronic rock score featuring Adam Ant, Pat Benatar, Bonnie Tyler, Freddie Mercury, and Loverboy. This was enough to give purists conniptions, and then he added tinting. This was in accordance with standard practice of the silent era, although Lang didn’t want this film tinted. It wouldn’t be the first time his wishes were disregarded, although most of the tinting is so discreet you hardly notice; there are a few special fillips in the scene where the robot transforms into Maria.
This was the first time a generation had seen Lang’s movie, and by adding a few minutes salvaged from various prints, Moroder put together the longest version in decades. I’d seen a copy on a 1970s PBS series called The Silent Years but there was never a chance to see it in a theatre. Moroder’s 80s bells and whistles seduced the jaded and unwary into Lang’s pre-Blade Runner groove, and who knows how many little mullet-headed cinephiles were sparked? Besides, Moroder’s “futuristic” touches only showed how little Lang’s futurism had dated. Then it came out on VHS and promptly vanished for 20 years.
It makes sense that Kino, whose recent three-hour digital restoration is the jaw-dropping apotheosis of these last 25 years of recovery efforts, should at last exhume Moroder’s beautiful monstrosity for the DVD and Blu-Ray crowd. The main extra is a short documentary on the restoration made at the time. At this distance, it’s clear how much Moroder loves Lang, and there’s no fear that Moroder can replace Lang as the robot replaced Maria. Even from the depths of the ‘80s, the heart still mediates between the head and the hands.