Thursday, July 3, 2008

METROPOLIS FOUND!!!... Let's Get Arty for a Moment and Appreciate How Great This Is

Just because I love all the corny B-movies and swoon over titles like HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW MASSACRE doesn't mean that I'm completely without culture. In fact, I like a good mixture. Well, the greatest news possible from the world of cinema has now come true. One of my favorite films of all time, Fritz Lang's brilliant METROPOLIS, has finally been discovered in its entirety.

Some background for the uninitiated. METROPOLIS was a visionary film from 1928, a wild new film that pretty much gave birth to sophisticated science fiction on the big screen and was completely unlike anything that had ever been attempted before. It detailed the story of a privileged youth, the son of the patriarch of modern society. Spotting the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, he forgets everything and follows her to where she quickly disappears to. He is shocked to discover that this woman and a multitude of others, live underneath the sprawling Metropolis. It is they that keep the city functioning as they give their lives in a deadly and monotonous daily routine with nothing but poverty and hopelessness to show for it. Meanwhile, those above are either ignorant or apathetic to their plight as they enjoy the spoils of the workers' labor. The son, working in conjunction with his father's recently dismissed employee, works to bring freedom to the underground as he learns his true love is the leader of a nonviolent resistance that stresses there must be understanding between the hand and the heart for society to function. Meanwhile, a madman is mixing perverted science and black magic to abduct and clone the leader of the resistance to destroy the malcontents from within.

The film was a major undertaking. It took more than two years to shoot. Adjusted for inflation, it would still be among the most expensive films ever made. The story connected with the German people. However, when fellow Austrian Adolf Hitler enthusiastically called METROPOLIS one of his favorite films, Lang sensed danger. Obviously not noticing the anti-fascist tone of the film, Joseph Goebbels offered Lang the job of heading the German Film Institute, the source of Nazi filmed propaganda in 1933. Lang was against everything the Nazi party stood for and refused. He soon fled the country for the U.S., where he directed American classics like FURY, YOU ONLY LIVE ONCE, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, SCARLET STREET, THE BLUE GARDENIA and THE BIG HEAT.

Lang's original cut of the film reportedly ran nearly 210 minutes, but most versions over the years have run close to two hours. In 1984, Georgio Moroder restored the film with new 1980s music, but cut the length to 87 minutes. Now, it looks as though Lang's original version, thought lost for more than eighty years has been found.

Images from newly discovered footage, courtesy of 'Aint It Cool News.

I've babbled on long enough. Here is the article from Zeit Online:

Last Tuesday Paula Félix-Didier travelled on a secret mission to Berlin in order to meet with three film experts and editors from ZEITmagazin. The museum director from Buenos Aires had something special in her luggage: a copy of a long version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, including scenes believed lost for almost 80 years. After examining the film the three experts are certain: The find from Buenos Aires is a real treasure, a worldwide sensation. Metropolis, the most important silent film in German history, can from this day on be considered to have been rediscovered.

Fritz Lang presented the original version of Metropolis in Berlin in January 1927. The film is set in the futuristic city of Metropolis, ruled by Joh Fredersen, whose workers live underground. His son falls in love with a young woman from the worker’s underworld – the conflict takes its course. At the time it was the most expensive German film ever made. It was intended to be a major offensive against Hollywood. However the film flopped with critics and audiences alike. Representatives of the American firm Paramount considerably shortened and re-edited the film. They oversimplified the plot, even cutting key scenes. The original version could only be seen in Berlin until May 1927 – from then on it was considered to have been lost forever. Those recently viewing a restored version of the film first read the following insert: “More than a quarter of the film is believed to be lost forever.”

ZEITmagazin has now reconstructed the story of how the film nevertheless managed to survive. Adolfo Z. Wilson, a man from Buenos Aires and head of the Terra film distribution company, arranged for a copy of the long version of “Metropolis” to be sent to Argentina in 1928 to show it in cinemas there. Shortly afterwards a film critic called Manuel Peña Rodríguez came into possession of the reels and added them to his private collection. In the 1960s Peña Rodríguez sold the film reels to Argentina’s National Art Fund – clearly nobody had yet realised the value of the reels. A copy of these reels passed into the collection of the Museo del Cine (Cinema Museum) in Buenos Aires in 1992, the curatorship of which was taken over by Paula Félix-Didier in January this year. Her ex-husband, director of the film department of the Museum of Latin American Art, first entertained the decisive suspicion: He had heard from the manager of a cinema club, who years before had been surprised by how long a screening of this film had taken. Together, Paula Félix-Didier and her ex-husband took a look at the film in her archive – and discovered the missing scenes.

Paula Félix-Didier remembered having dinner with the German journalist Karen Naundorf and confided the secret to her. Félix-Didier wanted the news to be announced in Germany where Fritz Lang had worked – and she hoped that it would attract a greater level of attention in Germany than in Argentina. The author Karen Naundorf has worked for DIE ZEIT for five years - and let the editorial office of ZEITmagazin in on her knowledge.

Among the footage that has now been discovered, according to the unanimous opinion of the three experts that ZEITmagazin asked to appraise the pictures, there are several scenes which are essential in order to understand the film: The role played by the actor Fritz Rasp in the film for instance, can finally be understood. Other scenes, such as for instance the saving of the children from the worker’s underworld, are considerably more dramatic. In brief: “Metropolis, Fritz Lang’s most famous film, can be seen through new eyes.”, as stated by Rainer Rother, Director of the Deutsche Kinemathek Museum and head of the series of retrospectives at the Berlinale.

Helmut Possmann, director of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation, the holder of the rights to “Metropolis”, said to ZEITmagazin: “The material believed to be lost leads to a new understanding of the Fritz Lang masterpiece.” The Murnau Foundation now sees itself as “responsible, along with the archive in Buenos Aires and our partners for making the material available to the public.”

The rediscovered material is in need of restoration after 80 years; the pictures are scratched, but clearly recognizable. Martin Koerber, the restorer of the hitherto longest known version of “Metropolis”, who also examined the footage, said to ZEITmagazin: “No matter how bad the condition of the material may be, the original intention of the film, including all of its minor characters and subplots, is now once again tangible for the normal viewer. The rhythm of the film has been restored.”

And perhaps the scratches, which will probably remain even after restoration, will have an added advantage: The cinemagoer will be reminded of what an exciting history this great film has had.

I cannot believe I will live to see Lang's original cut of METROPOLIS. If the Presidential elections in my country go well, this will turn out to be a great year.

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