Metropolis Reconstructed & Restored

Metropolis Reconstructed & Restored


Release date: September 10th 2010
Certificate: PG
Running time: 150 minutes

Director: Fritz Lang
Produced by Erich Pommer
Written by Thea von Harbou and Fritz Lang
Cast: Alfred Abel, Brigitte Helm, Gustav Fröhlich and Rudolf Klein-Rogge
Cinematography Karl Freund, Günther Rittau and Walter Ruttmann

It’s hard to talk about the Weimar years, expressionism or films which beckoned the sci-fi era without mentioning Metropolis. As a film which emerged from the silent era, heavily fused with political, religious and mystical elements, Metropolis stood out and stood the test of time. It continues to be named as one of the best sci-fi movies of all time and one of the main influences in the sci-fi genre today. But now, 83 years after its initial release, a newly restored version can be seen as director Fritz Lang intended, and as German cinema-goers saw it in 1927.

Set in a dystopian future where society is divided between the proletariat who live and work underground and the bourgeois who live above in the towering city in decadence, luxury and excess, Metropolis is ruled by Joh Fredersen’s (Alfred Abel). When his son Feder (Gustav Frölich) falls in love with Maria (Brigitte Helm), the mystical and beautiful teacher who lives below the city, Joh plots to snatch her from him and use her to overthrow the proletariat movement against him. With the help of mad scientist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), a robot version of Maria is created and let loose on Metropolis, but unknown to Fredersen, Rotwang has own motives.

Shortly after its initial release, Paramount (US) and Ufa (Germany) removed almost a quarter of Lang’s footage without his supervision for subsequent releases when the film received mixed reviews. The original version was almost three hours long and what was cut was thought to have been forever lost. That was until 2008 when one of the most remarkable finds in cinema history took place in a small museum in Buenos Aires. Several dusty reels of Metropolis footage were discovered containing 25 minutes of footage previously thought to have been lost to the world!

Metropolis has the look and feel of a protofascist future with its towering columns, and uniformed styled military precision. It has been argued by writers such as Siegfried Kracauer and Lotte Eisner that films like Metropolis, along with Das Kabinett des Dr Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (1922) foretold the coming of the fascist era and the Third Reich. This is of course nonsense, especially in the case of Frtiz Lang.

Lang often spoke about how impressed Hitler had been with Metropolis and in a conversation with his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels had been offered the job of official film director for propaganda movies for the Third Reich. Lang of course turned down the offer and left Germany that very afternoon, in contrast to his wife who joined the Nationalist Socialist Party. The job would eventually go to Leni Riefenstahl.

Leaving the politics of Metropolis aside though, it is a film of remarkable vision, endurance and influence. Think of a futuristic city and no doubt any image you conjure up can be traced back to Metropolis. Now Metropolis will be re-released in a newly reconstructed and restored version, as lavish and spectacular as ever thanks to the painstaking archival work of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung and the discovery of that missing footage!

This new/old Metropolis with its restored footage offers a more complete narrative. We get to see more of characters such as 11811 and where he disappears off too when Feder swaps clothes and jobs with him. These missing scenes are so vital that it’s a wonder they were removed at all! There is more from the confrontation with Josephat (who incidentally adds a sexually ambiguous vibe to a movie already rich with subtext) and The Thin Man. We also get to see more of Robot Maria and the havoc she creates among the bourgeois. These are just a few examples though and the restored scenes are very easy to spot because they are heavily scratched and are in high contrast to the immaculate footage which was in the process of being remastered for a Blu-ray release anyway.

The restored footage and remastered version of the film aren’t the only reasons to be excited about Metropolis though, there’s also a brand new symphony orchestra studio recording of the original 1927 Gottfried Huppertz score. This new recording adds more depth and clarity to match the superb picture quality making the experience all the more fresh.

Until a complete set of reels is discovered in some Aladdin’s cave, this is the closet we have ever come to seeing the original Metropolis which premiered in Germany in the 1920’s. It’s also as close as we’ll ever get to that wonderful long-gone Weimar time. Don’t miss the chance to see it. This restored version guarantees Metropolis another century’s worth of fans – at the very least!

Static Mass Rating: 5/5

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  1. Looking forward to seeing this film at the Cinema this week, what’s the point of downloading/viewing such a sumptuous looking film on a small PC monitor, even a home cinema projector couldn’t do this film justice.

  2. Excellent review. I think that, given a chance to sit with the DVD, personally I could come up with about 60-70,000 words on this restored masterpiece. It deserves all of the attention true fans of Cinema As Art can muster. Thank you for your careful attention.

  3. Modern filmmakers can still learn a lot from this silent classic.

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