Metropolis

The name Fritz Lang meant nothing to me until my mid-twenties when I darted into the Filmmuseum to escape a Berlin downpour. Smugly expecting little more than a shrine to David Hasselhoff and a sly chance to dry off, I was instead gobsmacked by how innovative, challenging and artistic early German film-making was, particularly the so-called ‘Golden Age’ in the Weimar Republic period. And the pride and joy of the museum is the section devoted to Lang’s 1927 visual masterpiece Metropolis, the product of one-and-a-half years, 36,000 extras, futuristic filming methods and a then-record budget.

This weekend saw my first chance to see Metropolis on a big screen, at the Cornerhouse in Manchester, having only viewed it on YouTube beforehand (it’s out of copyright so available to view legally online). Even better, this new print has been newly-restored with 25 minutes of seemingly lost footage that’s been rediscovered in Argentina and spliced in. So it’s a longer version than any viewers have seen for 83 years, something Lang would have appreciated as he despaired that the film had been butchered.

The verdict? The difference in the quality of the print is stunning. See this flickering and muddy YouTube version, like it was filmed by torchlight:

And compare it with the bright, bold trailer for the scrubbed-up version:


I’m not convinced the extra footage adds much to the plot, though my former colleague Iain Hepburn insists I’m wrong and there’s a significant difference between the edits. But the restoration has turned footage that was really just suitable for film students to analyse, or as an artefact in a museum, back into a thrilling science fiction that’s hugely impressive on the silver screen.

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1 Comment »

  1. Haha. It’s not that you’re wrong, so much, as that it enrichens the film greatly. The 2010 restoration fills in the gaps in a story that was disjointed because of the brutal edits imposed by the distributor and US cinema chains in the 1920s.

    What you end up with is a far deeper film in terms of character and sub-plotting, which explores more of the motivation of Maria and Joh, as well as giving Freder a bit more depth as a person (though still exposes what a bloody awful actor he was, even for the 1920s).

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