The story of the quest to find an original version of the 1927 silent classic Metropolis and its ultimate restoration is as fascinating as the film. Fritz Lang'’s flick ran 153 minutes and was considered too long for moviegoers of the day. Anything over 90-minutes was more than most people could sit through.
So Metropolis got whittled down to a shorter, and some say, incoherent length. Somewhere along the line the cut footage got lost. Later frantic film historians scoured the world trying to find an intact version of Lang’s treasure.
A 16mm print was found in a private collection in Argentina in 2008. It was worn and scratchy but mostly all there. The missing sections were added to the cleaned up and refurbished 75th anniversary version from 2002.
And in 2010 -- for the first time since 1927 -- the world got to see all of Lang's vision of the future. Metropolis was finally seen as it was meant to be seen.
Steeped in religious overtones, and with the theme of the head (the aristocracy) and the hands (the working class) needing a heart to mediate, Metropolis follows the quest of the Freder, the son of the city's designer and dictator. The young man's journey is a shock. He finds mistreated workers slaving and dying so the aristocracy can enjoy a life of wealth and leisure. This is something Freder never knew existed.
He also falls deeply in love with a priestess who promises a savior for the mistreated denizens working deep in the bowels of the city.
There are also a bunch sub-plots -- some say too many -- woven into the fabric of the film and add to its 145 minute length.
Metropolis was made at the corner of movies and sound, and became the most expensive silent film ever done. Lang spent big bucks on the sets and his opening sequences are spectacular -- even by today’s standards.
Once the story gets really rolling, Metropolis disintegrates. Lang got a bit carried away with his original vision and while the added -- and scratchy -- scenes fill in some plot gaps, and are worth seeing, they also drag the thing out.
As with most silent films, the acting is awful. All movements are done snake-like, or in jerks where a third of the body moves at a time. First the head, then the torso, then the legs. Unheard lines are exaggerated. Some are not translated and you have to guess what’s being said.
But that has always been part of the fun of silent films.
Many of the creepy characters, and the style and stance of the actors became a model for the bad acting of horror and sci-fi flicks to follow. The lab scene where the mad scientist transfers the physical traits of the priestess onto a robot called the Machine Man was mimicked in Frankenstein and other horror flicks of the 1940s, 1950s and even into the 1960s.
The politics of the day entered into the making of the movie and its outcome. Later affairs on the set and other gooey bits of gossip came to light and much information on it can be found on the Internet if you’re willing to go digging.
After all research is done and the debate is over, this is the bottom-line: Lang was visionary, was no-doubt ahead of his time and was definitely a genius.
The restored version of Metropolis lounged about big city art houses during much of 2010 before being transferred to DVD. The restored version never got as far down the movie food-chain as a Tri-Cities screen.
The Battelle Film Club is showing Metropolis once only Friday night, March 25th at 8:00 p.m.
Metropolis is pretty good on your 50-inch plasma or LCD screen. But on a big screen, it is a breathtaking experience, one you absolutely do not want to miss.
Not rated but probably PG-13 for mature themes. It plays Friday, March 25th only at the Battelle Auditorium at 8:00 p.m.
Mr. Movie rating: 5 stars
5 stars/4 1/2 stars: Must see on the big screen4 stars / 3 1/2 stars: Good film, see it if it's your type of movie. 3 stars / 2 1/2 stars: Wait until it comes out on DVD. 2 stars / 1 star: Don't bother.0 stars: Speaks for itself