In July of 2008, I blogged about the discovery of an almost complete edition of Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking 1927 film “Metropolis” in a museum in Buenos Aires. The footage had just been authenticated by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation, holders of the rights to “Metropolis”, and restoration was still on a distant and hazy horizon.
Well that day has arrived, earlier than I expected. The movie is now complete with the 25 minutes of additional footage discovered in Argentina plus it’s been re-edited according to the Buenos Aires reels’ blueprint. (Before then there was no original Lang cut, just educated guesses of how he had edited the film.) Although the newly discovered footage is noticeably scratched up by a poor conversion to 16mm from the original 35mm nitrate done in the 70s, it adds a great deal to the movie we know.
Some of the newly inserted material consists of brief reaction shots, just a few seconds long, which establish or accentuate a character’s mood. But there are also several much longer scenes, including one lasting more than seven minutes, that restore subplots completely eliminated from the Paramount version.
For example, the “Thin Man,” who in the standard version appears to be a glorified butler to the city’s all-powerful founder, turns out instead to be a much more sinister figure, a combination of spy and detective. The founder’s personal assistant, who is fired in an early scene, also plays a greater role, helping the founder’s idealistic son navigate his way through the proletarian underworld.
The cumulative result is a version of “Metropolis” whose tone and focus have been changed. “It’s no longer a science-fiction film,” said Martin Koerber, a German film archivist and historian who supervised the latest restoration and the earlier one in 2001. “The balance of the story has been given back. It’s now a film that encompasses many genres, an epic about conflicts that are ages old. The science-fiction disguise is now very, very thin.”
You can read more details about the restoration on the website of Kino International, the theatrical distribution company releasing the complete “Metropolis”. The Kino site also has an awesome photo gallery of stills from the movie, plus behind the scenes shots, unspeakably badass production designs and original publicity posters.
If you’re not lucky enough to live in or near one of those select theaters, you’ll have to wait until November for the DVD and Blu Ray release.