The new Metropolis

Metropolis being screened in front of the Brandenburg Gate in an icy Berlin, from the Arte live video stream

Today saw the premiere of the restored version of Metropolis, complete with the previously missing sequences discovered in a version held in Argentina. The film has been restored by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung (the Murnau Foundation) in cooperation with ZDF and Arte, and the Deutsche Kinemathek, and with the Museo del Cine Pablo C. Ducros Hicken (Buenos Aires). It was given its first screenings simultaneously at the Alte Oper, Frankfurt am Main, and at the Friedrichstadtpalast, Berlin as part of the 60th Berlin International Film Festival. The film was also shown for free for the general public on a big screen in front of the Brandenburg Gate, with a live video stream (at some distance from the screen) of the Friedrichstadtpalast event, delivered by French TV channel Arte.

The film was presented with a newly adapted music score based on the original Gottfried Huppertz score of 1927. In Berlin the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin played under the direction of Frank Strobel, in Frankfurt the Staatsorchester Braunschweig was conducted by Helmut Imig. The missing sequences amount to some 25mins of screening time, though the Argentine film is a 16mm dupe neg and in poor condition.

The story has been told many times now (including on the Bioscope), but briefly to recap: when originally released Metropolis, though now one of the most iconic and revered of all silent films, was a bit of a flop. The film was drastically cut soon after its premiere to try and make it more appealing to audiences, but as is so often the case in these instances, dramatic logic suffered. Almost a quarter of its original length was lost. The film at its original length of 4189 metres (or 147mins at 25fps) was therefore only seen for a short while (until May 1927 in Berlin); thereafter a cut version of around 113 mins was all that could be seen. The most recent restoration of the film before this one, that overseen by Enno Patalas in 2001, runs at 118 mins. In 2008, Paula Félix-Didier, new curator of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, learned of a curiously long screening of a print of Metropolis at a cinema club some years before, a print which had come to Argentina in 1928 and eventually a dupe neg found its way to Museo del Cine in 1992. Félix-Didier located the film, recognised its significance, the news went excitedly around the world, and now we have the results. The restored film runs for 147mins (it doesn’t say at what speed).

Design by Eric Kettelhut from the Deutsche Kinemathek exhibition on Metropolis

There is a website devoted to the restored film, put together by the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung, with information on the film’s history, its restoration and the premieres, with a helpful set of FAQs (in English and German), which include these notes on what the new sequences show:

The METROPOLIS version 1927/2010 differs significantly from all the versions known so far. Although the plot of the film keeps its well-known framework the structure of the plot changes: It becomes more harmonic and more comprehensible. Especially the minor characters that Fritz Lang gives room emerge again. Two newly found scenes give Georgy, Josaphat and The Thin Man back their own profiles that through the cuts were almost downgraded to extras.

The now included sequences like Georg’s car ride through Metropolis as well as Freder and The Thin Man’s visiting with Josaphat turn out to be siginificant for the plot. But also the relationship between the inventor Rotwang and Joh Fredersen, the ruler over Metropolis, as well as the reason for their rivalry become clear through the current restoration: Finally one can see the famous scene “Chamber of Hel”, the departed woman loved by both rivals, from which up to now only one still and several descriptions existed.

Arte has a special feature on the film and a documentary on its restoration (Voyage à Metropolis), including a video clip from the restoration showing a sequence with Fritz Rasp and Alfred Abel in a taxi and a delightful sequence with lifts (the video is available in embedded form but can’t be embedded into a WordPress blog, curses). Other videos have interviews with those involved in the restoration, and there is a photo gallery and features on actress Brigitte Helm and director Fritz Lang. There’s an AFP news report on YouTube which has interviews and fleeting clips (embedding not allowed, sigh). The Deutsche Kinemathek in Berlin has an exhibition on Metropolis and its restoration which runs until April 25th.

The Bioscope saw about an hour of the live video stream, but as the image at the top of this post indicates, although of excellent quality it wasn’t the ideal way to experience the film (indeed it was as interesting or even more so for the people-watching experience, as people indifferently trudged by in the cold as high melodrama unfolded on the screen). However, judging as best one could from the live stream, and the video clips online, the new sequences have been cleaned up as well as one could have hoped for, and the transitions from 35mm to blow-up from the digitally restored 16mm do not jar at all. It looks to be a very professional piece of work.

Finally, and as an antidote to the hype, you might care to take a look at H.G. Wells’ notorious 1927 review of the film. He didn’t much care for it:

I have recently seen the silliest film. I do not believe it would be possible to make one sillier. And as this film sets out to display the way the world is going … It is called Metropolis, it comes from the great Ufa studios in Germany, and the public is given to understand that it has been produced at enormous cost. It gives in one eddying concentration almost every possible foolishness, cliché, platitude, and muddlement about mechanical progress and progress in general served up with a sauce of sentimentality that is all its own…

And then he really lays into it. Yes it’s a folly, but it’s a magnificent folly, and it’s now a coherent magnificent folly. A theatrical print of the restored film is expected to be available in the autumn 2010, with Transit Film, Munich in charge of sales. A DVD release from the Murnau Foundation is expected at the end of 2010.