David Fear on the definitive new restoration for Time Out New York:
Cinephiles fantasize about those mythical Holy Grails of MIA movies: the marathon cut of Erich von Stroheim’s Greed, Orson Welles’s ending for The Magnificent Ambersons, the whole of London After Midnight. Hope springs eternal, though notions of finding Fritz Lang’s unedited version of Metropolis—the one that ran a little over two-and-a-half hours, which he premiered in Berlin in 1927—were considered a lost cause. Thanks to a stroke of luck, we now have a nearly complete restoration of the monocled master’s future-shock epic—complete enough, at least, to justify Kino Lorber’s prefix without risking a hail of rotten tomatoes. This is as close as we’re likely to get to what those sitting in the UFA-Palast saw when the lights went down: Lang’s vision of claustrophobic skylines, underground prole revolutions and fembots run amok before the censors had their Night of the Long Scissors.
So…what’s new? A whopping 25 minutes has been inserted back in, some of which merely add texture (a snippet of a woman being tarted up in the pleasuredome-ish Club of the Sons) and some that flesh out Lang’s more elaborate sequences, such as the climactic flood in the workers’ subterranean lair. But the revelations are indeed stunning: a factory grunt enjoying the fruits of the upper class, the Lurch-like henchman of business tycoon Joh Fredersen (Abel) stalking about, a statue of Fredersen’s wife pined over by evil inventor Rotwang (Dr. Mabuse himself, Klein-Rogge) that clarifies a major plot point. Who cares that the found footage is scratchy and scarred by time? It’s all that easier to identify what we once thought was gone forever—and what now adds even more depth to a delirious, dreamlike class parable whose dystopia still feels exhilaratingly modern.
Matt Singer on the Alloy Orchestra Metropolis restoration score for IFC:
When I saw “The Complete Metropolis” for the first time, I called Huppertz’s score “a classic.” And it is a beautiful piece of music. But having seen both versions, I can say without question that Alloy’s score for “Metropolis” is the superior one. Huppertz’s work is beautiful but it’s too grand and regal for a film this gritty and paranoid. Alloy’s work enhances the restored “Metropolis”‘s frantic energy, and turns the climactic destruction of the underground city and the race to rescue its forgotten children into an exercise in suspense unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a movie theater. We like to imagine modern films are more advanced than older, “primitive” works. “The Complete Metropolis” shows what nonsense that is. Show me one modern blockbuster that can match “Metropolis” for scale, scope, effects, action, themes, and sheer balls-out insanity. You can’t.
In fact it was Giorgio Moroder’s audacious intervention [re-scoring Metropolis in 1984] that spurred the formation of Alloy Orchestra. Winokur and two fellow musicians, percussionist Terry Donahue and keyboardist Caleb Sampson, had played together in bands and on some adventurous performance-art projects. They were particularly interested in building new instruments, and exploring the percussive effects of found junk. The owner of a local art house heard them play at an outdoor event in Boston on New Year’s Eve in 1991. He was about to present Metropolis, but disliked Moroder’s pop music, and asked Winokur, Donahue, and Sampson if they could write an alternative score. In just two weeks, the band pulled it together.
“There’s a lot of debate in the silent film world about how much one should step forward and how much one should step back,” Winokur said. “We’re known as being a group that steps forward. Our music is bold, and sometimes very lively, and sometimes very loud. It isn’t this kind of shrinking violet. Silent films can actually benefit from exciting music that calls attention to itself.”
No less a critic than Roger Ebert has called them “the best in the world” at what they do, but Alloy still experiences disappointments. Their churning, ominous score for Metropolis had become one of the major alternative options, until the original Gottfried Huppertz score was discovered and included on the film’s most recent DVD rerelease. “We got knocked off our pedestal because they found the original score,” Winokur said ruefully.
More on the restoration from Richard Brody of the New Yorker:
This restoration of Fritz Lang’s incomparable 1927 dystopian thriller is based on a recently rediscovered negative that includes twenty-five minutes of footage unseen for eighty years. Although the added material is scratched and bleary, its dramatic and emotional import comes through powerfully, and adds a wealth of expressive detail and rhythmic grandeur to the now familiar, albeit ever-astounding, iconography of awesome yet oppressive technology. (It also adds a few subtle twists to the plot.) The overlapping stories—of workers who, regimented to death and verging on revolt, come under the sway of an angelic liberation theologist, of an overlord dependent on an ingenious and vengeful inventor whose lover he stole, and of the spoiled yet tenderhearted heir who is moved by love for the angelic apparition to descend to her harrowing realm and join the workers’ struggle—seem torn from the Weimar-era tabloid headlines. (The vision of redemption provided by a son who takes on the guilt of his father’s crimes suggests later German headlines.) The wise and cynical Lang hardly moves the camera; he knows all the angles, and keeps the focus on the overwhelming, colossal contrivances that arise from an ambient megalomania and the infinitesimally calibrated, razor-sharp machinations that they provoke.
The original science fiction blockbuster, Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” is a high-water mark in the late silent era. Released in 1927, the same year as the first talkie, “The Jazz Singer,” it’s a parable of class struggle, foregrounding issues that obsessed 1920s audiences and that have persisted through the present: the oppressive scale of modern cities, the exploitation of the lower classes by the powerful, and the allure of technology, which is presented by Lang as something akin to dark magic.
Beyond any of that, “Metropolis” is eye candy, bankrolled by its studio, UFA, in hopes of dazzling audiences the world over, and perhaps giving German film some traction in the coveted U.S. market. Lang, among the most sadistic of movie visionaries, led hundreds of designers and craftspeople and tens of thousands of extras to push analog filmmaking to its conceptual limits (and his insistence on doing dozens of takes of certain scenes pushed his collaborators to their physical limits). “Metropolis” was the most expensive film made up until that time. But as studio bean counters still say, every penny (or, in this case, Reichsmark) is on the screen.
Larry Rother on the restoration, for The New York Times:
The newly found footage, about 25 minutes in length and first exhibited in February at the Berlin Film Festival, is grainy and thus easily distinguished from an earlier, partly restored version, released in 2001, into which it has been inserted. But for the first time, Lang’s vision of a technologically advanced, socially stratified urban dystopia, which has influenced contemporary films like “Blade Runner” and “Star Wars,” seems complete and comprehensible.
“‘Metropolis’ is the most iconic silent picture of its day, mainly because of the visual ambition and virtuosity of the film itself,” said Noah Isenberg, editor of “Weimar Cinema,” a book about early German films, and a professor of film and literary studies at the New School. “But until now, we didn’t have the full story. These additions are really essential to understanding the full arc of the narrative.”
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.”
Leonard Lopate interviews Paula Felix-Didier, director of the Museo del Cine Pablo Ducros Hicken in Buenos Aires, Argentina, who discovered the lost footage: