Metropolis: Fritz Lang’s Timeless Vision

Metropolis: Fritz Lang's Timeless Vision

The visionary Viennese director Fritz Lang ’s 1927 expressionistic masterpiece Metropolis has been re-released in a new 147 minute version, called “The Complete Metropolis”. The film premiered in February 2010 at the Berlin Film at Friederichstrasse Palast, accompanied by a 60-piece orchestra playing the original 1927 score by Gottfried Huppertz. The response was overwhelming from both the German press and public.

Metropolis re-premiered in the U.S. on April 25, 2010 at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, as part of the TCM Classic Film Festival. It then headed to “all major markets” throughout the U.S. and Canada. The New York premiere was held on May 7th at Film Forum, and on April 14, at Laemmle’s Royal Theater in Los Angeles.

Kino International announced the North American release of the new restoration, including Blu-ray and DVD versions.  A total of 35 minutes of lost footage has been added, as well as the original Huppertz score. I was able to see the new restoration on Turner Classic Movies and it was truly marvelous. Lang’s film is profound and monumental; the most powerful imagery I have ever seen on the screen. The moving Wagnerian score gives us a glimpse of the overwhelming experience 19th-century composer Richard Wagner had in mind for his operas with his concept of the “Gesamptkunstwerk” (meaning total work of art), combining all the arts at one time; an idea that had to wait until the advent of film.

At the film’s original premiere in Berlin on January 10, 1927, the science fiction classic ran slightly over 2 ½ hours. It bombed at the German box office; so to try to maximize its commercial potential, the film’s distributors (UFA in Europe and Paramount in the U.S). brutally cut over an hour of footage from Metropolis. However, exact running times are problematic because, unlike sound films, silent films were not always run at a standardized speed.

Fortunately, in July 2008, the curator of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires discovered a 16mm negative copy that was considerably longer than any known print. It included not only a few additional feet, but 25 minutes of “lost” footage, about a fifth of the film, that had not been seen since its Berlin debut. The discovery called for yet another restoration.

Metropolis has became one of the most influential films in history (I have placed it as number four in my “Top Ten Most Influential Films of the 20th Century”) The film was one of the firsts in the sci-fi genre; influencing the early Frankenstein and later Matrix series as well as Blade Runner.

Lang created a whole new futurist architectural vernacular; an extraordinary complex vertical cityscape that served as a prototype for generations of science fiction imagery, including even animated television series such as The Jetsons.

In testament to its timeless appeal, the film has undergone numerous restorations over the years. In 1984, the movie was rereleased with additional footage as well as color tints, and a pop rock score by music producer Giorgio Moroder. Enno Patalas of the Munich Film Archive completed an archival restoration in 1987; missing scenes were documented with cards and stills. A 2001 restoration combined footage from four archives and ran just over two hours.

The restoration was executed by Anke Wilkening of the Friederich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung (Murnau Foundation), the German organization that has helped preserve pre-WW II German films, Martin Koerber, Film Department Curator of the Deutche Kinemateque and music director Frank Stoebel.

Wilkening commented on her work, saying this “restoration teaches us once more that no restoration is ever definitive. Even if we are allowed for the first time to come as close to the first release as ever before, the new version will still remain an approach. The rediscovered sections which change the film’s composition, will at the same time always be recognizable through their damages as those parts that had been lost for 80 years.”

Chuck Wiebe teaches Film Studies at the Pittsburgh Campus of the University of Phoenix.  He has published over 60 articles on film as the National DVD Movies Examiner on .  His work has also appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He holds a BA in Fine Art from West Virginia University, and an MA in Art History from The Pennsylvania State University.  He also studied at the University of Rome, Italy.  He believes that film is the most influential art form of our time.

And now step back in time and enjoy the trailer for Kino’s “Complete Metropolis”: