Reviews

If There Was Ever a Movie That Deserved This Degree of Re-examination, It's Metropolis

The story of Metropolis' 2010 restoration is as complicated -- full of mistaken identities and made harder by bureaucratic machinery -- as the film itself. In its Blu-Ray release, Bruce Bennett sheds light on how the newest restoration came to be.


Metropolis

Director: Fritz Lang
Cast: Alfred Abel, Gustav Fröhlich, Brigitte Helm, Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Length: 148 minutes
Distributor: Kino
Year: 1927
Release Date: 2010-11-23
Website
“The mediator between the hands and the brain must be the heart.”

-- Epigram, Metropolis

Metropolis takes place in a world where workers toil underground through ten-hours days to keep a city of machines humming, while above ground the privileged enjoy the fruits of these labors at gardens and field houses. Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel) rules over this system until his son, Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) has his eyes open to the inherent injustices by a lowly worker, Maria (Brigitte Helm). When Joh Frederson realizes that his son is developing sympathies with the workers, he enlists a rival inventor, C.A. Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), to create a robot version of Maria that he could control to stir up discord between the two.

The story of Metropolis' 2010 restoration is as complicated -- full of mistaken identities and made harder by bureaucratic machinery -- as the film itself. In its Blu-Ray release, Kino includes film notes by Bruce Bennett that sheds light on how the newest restoration came to be.

Metropolis first screened in Berlin in January 1927. That cut of the film -- director Fritz Lang's cut -- came in at 153-minutes. Paramount ordered that the film be cut further, shortening it by almost an hour, by that March. The only other negatives of the film were similarly truncated, one for a British release, and one by Germany's Ufa.

In the years since there have been many version of Metropolis floating around, each assembling as much found footage as producers could get their hands on. According to Bennett, the East German Staatliches Filmarchiv der DDR released a version in the late-'60s/early-'70s, music producer Giorgio Moroder put out his cut in 1982, German film archivist Enno Patalas tried again in 1987, and film preservationist Martin Kober cleaned up and restored original film elements for yet another release in 2001.

The 2001 version of the film was the most complete -- until a nearly whole version turned up in Buenos Aires. In 1927, a film distributor brought a 35mm copy of the film to Argentina in advance of its release there. A 16mm copy -- the original 35mm print was burned, no thanks to its flammable nitrate film stock -- wound up in a private film collection and, upon the collector's death, in the hands of the Museo Del Cine, which, after dealing with the usual red tape, finally brought it to light.

The 16mm print was badly damaged, but, through a tough restoration process, it was combined with the 2001 version to restore Fritz Lang's vision as closely as possible. "Unlike prior discoveries of missing scenes and intertitles," Bennett writes, "the nearly complete Buenos Aires negative provided a definitive roadmap for the actual, original shot by shot cutting of Metropolis for the first time since it was re-edited by Paramount in 1927."

So, after 83 years of cutting and re-cutting, trying to piece together Lang's original take we're left to ask, Does the film live up to all the effort put in to save it?

Absolutely. Sure, on Kino's Blu-Ray release, the newest 25-minutes of additional footage are scratched and grainy, and come in at a different aspect ratio than the rest of the film (the missing information is filled with black and gray bars), but that just underlines how gorgeous the rest of the film looks, filled with Lang's soaring Art Deco towers and ornate cathedrals.

In fact, if there was ever a movie that deserved this degree of re-examination, it's Metropolis. Every aspect of the movie is dense. The frames are full, sometimes with people (the DVD extras point out that 36,000 extras were used in the making of the film), sometimes with the light that bathes the saintly Maria, sometimes with smoke from the whirring machines. The story is packed with layers of symbolism. Sometimes machines are used as symbols for parts of the body, sometimes people are symbols as cogs in a machine, and on top of it all is a gloss of Biblical imagery. Even Gottfried Huppertz's musical score -- also restored to its original glory -- swells and soars more often than it demurs. (Kino's Blu-Ray is similarly exhaustive extras, mostly via a 50-minute documentary, "Voyage to Metropolis", about the film's making and restoration.)

The only thing that Metropolis doesn't have in abundance is words. Not that they're needed. Intertitles are few, and used only when absolutely necessary. Instead, the story is told mostly through its vivid imagery. We don't need the workers to tell us how tough their situations are: We can see it in the sweat on their faces as they struggle to pull on seemingly meaningless levers, and how their efforts are ultimately fruitless when the machine transforms into the demonic Moloch and devours them all.

Prints, negatives, and restorations of Metropolis have come and gone, but it's these brilliant images that have stuck with us for the past eight decades. Finally, there's a home theater release that presents these lasting images in the pristine state they deserve.

9

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Film

The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.

Music

The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.

Music

Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.

Film

'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.

Music

'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"

Music

Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.

Music

The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".

Music

GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".

Music

Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Music

Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.

Music

Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.

Music

The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".

Music

Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin
Music

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.

Books

Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.