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Fritz Lang’s restored Metropolis screening worldwideLatest News ->

Tues 21 Sept, 2010.

The discovery in Buenos Aires in 2008 of an uncut version of Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece, Metropolis, was as important an event for world cinema as the discovery of a lost Picasso would be to the more traditional art world, according to the artistic director of the British Film Institute, Eddie Berg. Berg, along with other film industry figures, was speaking in interview for the BBC television current affairs programme Newsnight, which last month also broadcast excerpts of the lost footage from the newly restored full-feature film.

Those interviews and film excerpts can be seen on the BBC website in the report “What makes sci-fi epic Metropolis so influential?”, but why stop at that when Metropolis is likely to be showing at an art-house cinema near you? Following our own advice, we here at SDk patronised Bristol’s Watershed media complex yet again on Sunday 19 September to pay appropriate homage to what is widely regarded as among the most important and influential films in cinema history.

Not being a capital or an overly large city, Bristol had to wait its turn to show Metropolis: the “new” version was, with great fanfare, presented to the world for the first time since 1927 at the Berlin film festival in February. And elsewhere, for example, it screened in New York City in May. It is reportedly due to be released on DVD later this year, although the big-screen experience is essential to comprehend the scale and grandeur of Lang’s achievement.

The London-based Guardian provides us with a glimpse of the “welcome back” ceremonies at the Berlin film festival, as well as a brief account of the film’s rehabilitation since 2008 (“Metropolis, mother of sci-fi movies, reborn in Berlin”). A much more thorough account giving due credit to the Argentinians involved in both the unwitting preservation and the very witting unearthing of an uncut version of the film is presented in the New York Times’ story of the discovery and restoration of the film (“Footage Restored to Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’”).

Briefly, that story is as follows: Metropolis was the silent-film era’s most expensive film – in 1926–27, at 5 million reichsmarks, it nearly bankrupted the commissioning studio, Universum Film A.G. (UFA). It employed a cast of nearly 40,000, was shot over some 17 months, and came in at 153 minutes. UFA’s American partner, Paramount Pictures, insisted on making cuts of around 60 minutes for the American market, and in Germany a different cut was made. Various versions of the film, all running from between 80 and 90 minutes and with different, non-original soundtracks, eventually proliferated throughout the world.

What of the film itself? SDk can confirm that the almost-full-length version – due to the poor state of the film found in Buenos Aires, Metropolis is now 145 minutes – treats sociopolitical themes and is much more than a science-fiction story, even if it is somewhat naïve by today’s art-house standards. There are also religious themes, with the Judaeo–Christian motifs of prophet (Maria), and messiah (the “mediator” Freder). More to SDk’s taste, we can also happily say that, made in Germany’s Weimar period, there are some welcome risqué elements to the stylish decadence portrayed in the Eternal Gardens scenes, and there is more than a hint of homoeroticism between the son of the city’s ruler, the hero Freder, and Josaphat, the dismissed office manager of the city’s ruler.

In fact, the Watershed’s programmers paid homage to Metropolis in their own way by organising a discussion between the science writer, editor, reviewer and academic, Jon Turney, and the eccentric Bristol architect and “cultural entrepreneur” behind community-based rejuvenation of old industrial sites, George Ferguson. The discussion, “After Utopia: Visioning the Future”, entertainingly chaired by architect, author and director of the London-based Future Cities Project, Austin Williams, took Lang’s vision of a future city as its starting point to tease out 2010 ideas of what shape(s) future cities may take. Thought-provoking and at times provocative, what at times was a three-way discussion was good value at £4, and certainly put one in a more critical frame of mind before the afternoon’s screening of Metropolis in the same cinema 15 minutes later. And yes, the two events combined presented the attendees of both with quite a marathon sitting.

A Sunday afternoon worthily spent.

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