Sunday, 30 January 2011

Metropolis (1927) - Fritz Lang

I'd been itching to see this almost complete version of Metropolis ever since the announcement that a copy had turned up in Buenos Aires back in 2008. This Argentinian footage was heavily scratched and in an awful state, and proved impossible to clean up since it was transferred from the original negative complete with all of it's imperfections. Doh! So by stitching lost footage from the new found print into the gorgeous looking restored version, we've ended up with a Frankenstein's monster type of affair. It's easy to spot just what is new footage and what isn't, since the newer scenes have not only what appears to be a barcode running through them (well lots of black lines at any rate), but are also in a smaller aspect ratio. This newer footage is kind of like scars on a body, or wrinkles on a face inasmuch as each scratchy frame reminds the viewer of the ongoing saga of this silent masterpiece. There are still portions of the film that are missing, although hopefully they'll turn up in some box in someones garage at some point before I snuff it.

So what is added to this version of Metropolis then? Well there are a fair few small trims (reaction shots and the like, some just a few seconds long), they don't add much but of course it's always good to have things back to how they were supposed to be. The real find are the scenes that show what the Thin Man gets up to, and quite a bit of extra footage from the end of the film. This adds so much to the film, The Thin Man section is a whole subplot that was chopped out, the extra stuff at the end makes the ending so much more expansive, it's just more of everything, from the riots to the floods and the eventual saving of the children. It's all there in it's scratchy slightly smaller aspect ratio glory.

Metropolis is the most expensive silent film ever made in Germany, costing 5,000,000 Reichsmarks. Lang as was his wont was meticulous with everything to do with the film, taking forever to get it into the cinema. Unfortunately upon release it was a massive flop, taking a mere 75,000 Reichsmarks in Germany. This is why the film was hacked apart in the first place, it was shortened and fucked about with right the way up to the first version I ever saw, the 1984 Giorgio Moroder version. Now when it comes to proto house disco anthems Giorgio is your man. However when it came to rejigging a silent epic he proved to be a bit of a fuckwit. Colourising it and bolting on a jarring eighties soundtrack became the last nail in Metropolis's coffin. Cheers Moroder. After this the restoration process began, and that brings us bang up to where we are now.

Now I'm sure you don't need me to go through what the storyline of Metropolis is, do you? Okay deep breath here goes, dystopian future world, the rich lording it up, while in the depths of the city the workers kill themselves to keep the cogs of society moving. There is no bridge between the two, the central message of the film is the need for the workers to unite with those that run their world. Into this are weaved biblical allegories, effects galore, some of the hammiest silent screen acting ever, mad scientists, revolution, epic sets, a touch of that famous German expressionism, and a (wo)man machine. Metropolis is a beautiful film to watch, but it feeds the brain as well as the eyes. There are ideas galore, and it's a great way to waste a few hours of your life. Lang was at the peak of his powers and it shows, his next four features would be the last of this golden age for him. After 1933's Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse Lang would flee Germany for America, where he would struggle to make anything approaching his German masterpieces. To say that Metropolis has had an effect on the world we live in would be an understatement, films, music, books and so many other things have been touched by this flop of a film, and the funny thing is that despite being the obvious masterpiece it is, it's not even Lang's best film, which of course is 1931's M.

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