Fritz Lang's Metropolis is perhaps the most famous German film of all time, and certainly one of the most influential of all silent films. In its lifetime it has been: drastically re-edited (shortly after release); unseen for decades; revisioned with a modern music score in the 1980s; and thanks to the work of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung and a network of archives all over the world, restored in 2001. This restoration of Metropolis is almost certainly the most complete and authentic version possible of Lang's original 1927 vision.
If you think you know Fritz Lang's Metropolis
backwards, this special edition will come as a revelation. Shortly after its premiere, the expensive epic--originally well over two hours--was pulled from distribution and re-edited against Lang's wishes, and this truncated, simplified form is what we have known ever since 1926. Though not quite as fully restored as the strapline claims, this 118-minute version is the closest we are likely to get to Lang's original vision, complete with tactful linking titles to fill in the scenes that are irretrievably missing. Not only does this version add many scenes unseen for decades, but it restores their order in the original version.
Until now, Metropolis has usually been rated as a spectacular but simplistic science fiction film, but this version reveals that the futuristic setting is not so much prophetic as mythical, with elements of 1920s architecture, industry, design and politics mingled with the mediaeval and the Biblical to produce images of striking strangeness: a futuristic robot burned at the stake, a steel-handed mad scientist who is also a 15th Century alchemist, the trudging workers of a vast factory plodding into the jaws of a machine that is also the ancient God Moloch. Gustav Frohlich's performance as the hero who represents the heart is still wildly overdone, but Rudolf Klein-Rogge's engineer Rotwang, Alfred Abel's Master of Metropolis and, especially, Brigitte Helm in the dual role of saintly saviour and metal femme fatale are astonishing. By restoring a great deal of story delving into the mixed motivations of the characters, the wild plot now makes more sense, and we can see that it is as much a twisted family drama as epic of repression, revolution and reconciliation. A masterpiece, and an essential purchase.
On the DVD: Metropolis has been saddled with all manner of scores over the years, ranging from jazz through electronica to prog-rock, but here it is sensibly accompanied by the orchestral music Gottfried Huppertz wrote for it in the first place. An enormous amount of work has been done with damaged or incomplete elements to spruce the image up digitally, and so even the scenes that were in the film all along shine with a wealth of new detail and afford a far greater appreciation for the brilliance of art direction, special effects and Helm's clockwork sexbomb.
A commentary written but not delivered by historian Ennio Patalas covers the symbolism of the film and annotates its images, but the production information is left to a measured but unchallenging 45-minute documentary on the second disc (little is made of the astounding parallel between the screen story in which Klein-Rogge's character tries to destroy the city because the Master stole his wife and the fact that Lang married the actor's wife Thea von Harbou, authoress of the Metropolis novel and screenplay!). There are galleries of production photographs and sketches; biographies of all the principals; and an illustrated lecture on the restoration process which uses before and after clips to reveal just how huge a task has been accomplished in this important work. --Kim Newman
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.