The Newly Restored Metropolis

The latest restoration of Fritz Lang’s silent sci-fi epic Metropolis won’t play the Bay Area until the The San Francisco Silent Film Festival in July. But I’m currently in New York, and I saw it Friday night at the Film Forum. I’m finally willing to call it a true masterpiece. I can no longer say that “the beautiful imagery only makes the melodramatic plot and characters seem all the more trite.” What have we been missing all these years? Better character development. It’s no longer trite melodrama.

In case you haven’t heard, a very bad, 16mm print of something like Lang’s original cut was found about two years ago. For details, see this New York Times article.

Wonderful as this new restoration is, it’s hardly the ideal Metropolis. Several shots and one key scene are still missing, with the scene only described in intertitles. And the newly-added scenes look horrible—very badly scratched and not filling the entire frame. Part of the image was lost when it was transferred to 16mm in the 1970′s.

While that image quality is extremely detrimental if you just want to enjoy the movie, it’s an advantage academically. There’s no guesswork as to whether you’re watching a new scene. If it looks horrible, you are.

And what do these metropolishorrible-looking scenes add? We learn far more about the relationship between the city ruler, Joh Fredersen, and the mad scientist Rotwang. They’re tied together by a history that makes them hate each other even when they need each other. There’s also a subplot involving a worker who impersonates a member of the aristocracy, getting to enjoy a life of glamour and comfort while trailed by a very evil-looking detective.

With a considerable number of added shots, the last act still makes a thrilling series of action set pieces, although the last of those set pieces still feels like one-to-many thrills. But it’s now the topping on a much better film. What was once a visually spectacular political melodrama is now an epic story of real people in a futuristic setting.

The Film Forum’s presentation wasn’t ideal. They projected it in HD rather than on film, and with a recorded rather than live score. The HD looked excellent—I can’t really say for sure that it lost anything that way. The score was also very good…for a recorded score. That’s never the optimum way to see a silent film.

I’m looking forward to its festival screening at the Castro in July. That one should get it right.

Update, 5/21: The screening in July at the Castro will also be digital. But the Alloy Orchestra will be live.

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15 Responses

  1. [...] Horse, John Ford’s first big-budget western; the newly-restored, almost complete Metropolis (see my report); The Strong Man (whose last Bay Area screening I reported here); the Soviet classic Man with a [...]

  2. [...] had a far more satisfying experience with Metropolis at New York’s Film Forum. Much of the film, especially the newly-restored scenes, looked horrible, but it was film [...]

  3. [...] screening Metropolis a week after the SF Silent Film Festival screens it. But it won’t be the new, nearly-complete restoration with live accompaniment.  No, they’re showing the 1984 Redux version, recut, strangely [...]

  4. [...] Some of the New Zealand footage was then used to restore some of the poorer sections of the Argentine print, while also adding a few extra seconds of otherwise completely unknown footage. The fully restored version was finally screened last month in New York. [...]

  5. [...] workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to a tale of real people in an artificial world. Read my longer report. A digital presentation rather than on film, but accompanied by the Alloy Orchestra. Note: This [...]

  6. [...] Metropolis was great, of course. Having already seen the new restoration, I knew that going in (see my report). What I only suspected, and now know, is the Alloy Orchestra’s score brings out the film’s [...]

  7. [...] Redux, VIZ Cinema, Saturday & Monday, 7:00. Now that you’ve had a chance to see Metropolis as it was originally meant to be seen, here’s your chance to see the wrong version (although I [...]

  8. [...] workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to a tale of real people in an artificial world. Read my longer report. The presentation will be off a Blu-ray disc, but so, I’ve recently discovered, was the Silent [...]

  9. [...] workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to a tale of real people in an artificial world. Read my longer report. The presentation will be off a Blu-ray disc, but I can tell you from personal experience that it [...]

  10. [...] workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to a tale of real people in an artificial world. Read my longer report. Digitally projected. The Rafael will play the recorded original score, but the PFA will have piano [...]

  11. [...] As for the movie itself, here’s what I’ve been saying lately when it turns up at a local theater: A The first important science fiction feature film still strikes a considerable visual punch,and with the latest restoration, tells a compelling story, as well. The images–workers in a hellish underground factory, the wealthy at play, a robot brought to life in the form of a beautiful woman–are a permanent part of our collective memory. Even people who haven’t seen Metropolis know them through the countless films it has influenced. Recently-discovered footage elevates the story of a clash between workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to a tale of real people in an artificial world. Read my longer report. [...]

  12. [...] Metropolis was the motion picture restoration event of the year. I’d already seen it in New York before it played the Castro in the San Francisco Silent Film Festival, but the Castro screening was [...]

  13. [...] the story of a clash between workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to grand opera. Read my longer report. Digitally projected, and using the recorded score rather than live [...]

  14. [...] the story of a clash between workers and aristocrats from trite melodrama to grand opera. Read my longer report and my Blu-ray review. Digitally projected, and using the recorded score rather than live [...]

  15. [...] Moroder Presents Metropolis, Castro, Camera 3, Thursday. Now that you’ve had a chance to see Metropolis as it was originally meant to be seen, you can catch the wrong version. For this 1984 reissue, [...]

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