Monday, 13 September 2010

Metropolis 2010. Reconstructed. Restored. Really long.

A reconstructed and restored version of Fritz Lang's 1927 sci-fi epic, Metropolis, was released in cinemas on Friday. It's brooding, surreal, at times even Kafkaesque. An account of the subterranean proletariat working in squalor to maintain a thriving city of wealthy playboys, the film has long existed on DVD in an incomplete form. In Buenos Aires a couple of years ago, though, a 16mm print featuring twenty-five minutes of 'lost' footage was discovered. Work began to create a full and definitive version.

Much fun is to be had in recognising the additions that make up this 'complete' version; they are badly damaged and grainier than the rest of the film. It's actually difficult to imagine how Metropolis could have existed in any other form (I admit it, ashamedly: this is the only version I've seen). The restored scenes and shots work to explain relationships between characters, even establishing back stories, and define narrative developments that might otherwise have been unclear. Even without an entirely coherent narrative, though, it's easy to see why any version of Metropolis has been lauded. After I left the cinema, two images in particular stood out. Three streams of thousands of workers backed up over the landscape begin to converge, united in revolt, and it's still stunning. In another instance, mad professor Rotwang reveals the robot he has created, accompanied by a soundtrack of shimmering violin and tinkling bells; a beguiling combination. I've included the latter scene below. This version doesn't boast restoration of the original 1927 score, as the version I saw this weekend did, but it should give you an idea anyway (and perhaps even a reason to see the film).

This reconstructed and restored version of Fritz Lang's masterpiece is quite something. I expected Metropolis to be as cold and detached as Rotwang's robot, a chilly dystopian vision of machinery and clockwork and lost individuality. On the contrary, it's warm, human and in places genuinely funny (if you decide that's at least half the intention of the histrionic 1920s acting). Subplots such as an exploration of the Thin Man's role in Joh Fredersen's metropolis (Fredersen is leader of the city) flesh out the world Lang has created. An explanation of Rotwang's vendetta against Fredersen threads together a narrative that had apparently not always been so satisfying. The dual-identity plot generated by the physical similarity between Rotwang's robot and its look-alike Maria evokes the use of mistaken identity in Shakespearean comedy whilst also seeming very modern (evil twin narrative devices have been exploited by franchises like Star Trek and Superman) - encapsulating the timelessness of the film. This is the first time in eighty-three years that Metropolis as Lang intended it has been so readily available, making this seem like more of a cinematic event than just a regular cinema trip. Any two and a half hour silent movie is going to stretch a modern audience brought up on music videos and summer blockbusters, but it's worth persisting with and highly recommended.

The 'new' reconstructed and restored version of Metropolis is playing nationwide now and will be available on DVD/Blu-ray in September.

Image via Google

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