Metropolis- The Restored Version (1927) Fritz Lang

Some things never change. “Metropolis” is 83 years old yet the storyline of the wealthy keeping the working class down seems to be timeless as is the desire of man to recreate himself in his own image. This past Sunday the classic Tampa Theater completed it Summer Film Festival with a showing of Fritz Lang’s masterpiece, the recently restored version with approximately 25 minutes added. As most know this was not a case of just adding more footage but restoring the film back to its original length, at least as close as possible.   What made this extraordinary showing even more special was the live accompaniment by Dr. Steven Ball on the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ. As we were informed in some introductory remarks by Tara Schroeder, the Director of Programming of the Tampa Theater, this presentation was the North American premiere of this film with live organ accompaniment. The Tampa Theater was practically the home for the late organist Rosa Rio who passed away earlier this year at the age of 107!   

Prior to the film’s showing we had two guest speakers, first was Dr. Ball, the Senior Staff Organist at the Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, who spoke  about the score we were about to hear which was primarily the original score used way back in 1927 except for some minor changes here and there. The second speaker was Dr. Margit Grieb, an Associate Professor at the University of Florida who teaches courses in German film and literature, she spoke about the history of the film and its restoration with the recent discovery of the 25 additional minutes.  All fascinating stuff topped off by a sold out house (approximately 1,400 seats) with a wonderfully mixed crowd age wise that I personally found gratifying. 

Lang professed in interview after interview to have gotten the inspiration for this film after visiting New York City but this statement is challenged in Patrick MacGilligan biography “Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast” as Lang taking credit where it is not due, just as his claims that he used 26,000 male extras and 11,000 female extras in the film are questionable.

For those who are unaware, the original version of “Metropolis” that premiered in Berlin in 1927 ran approximately two and a half hours. A few months thereafter the film, the most expensive German production at the time, was withdrawn and cut down to two hours. When Paramount Pictures picked up the U.S. distribution rights to the film they trimmed it by approximately 13 minutes more. Additionally some characters names were changed, other characters were reduced to insignificant parts that lost all meaning. Additionally some sub plots were eliminated. For example Freder’s running a race early in the film was completely deleted as was any mention of Joh’s wife Hel.  In earlier versions of the film the ‘Thin Man’ seems to be nothing more than a butler to the rich Joh  Frederson while in the restored version he is a much darker figure following  Joh’s son Freder on orders from the father.

The restored footage was discovered in a film archive in Buenos Aires and is mainly due to the never ending determination of film archivist Fernando Pena.  The reels found were in 16 millimeter and very grainy, subsequently when viewing the film you can easily distinguish where the new found footage is in the restored version in addition to an obvious change in the film ratio.

“Metropolis” is not just a science fiction film but a work of class warfare, an allegorical attack on capitalism. The controlling rich symbolized by the greedy Joh Frederson and the lowly slave workers working down in the underground city. It is also a story of father/son struggles and the mad power of science to create mankind in its own image. It has religious overtones in the young Maria who acts as a savior guiding the workers to love one another offset by the evil robot Maria who lures the workers to revolt by destroying the Heart Machine, the life blood of the underground city. 

“Metropolis” has influence films and filmmakers from “Frankenstein” to “Blade Runner.” It is one of the grandest and last examples of this great period in German cinema, filled with Expressionist patterns, architectural wonders of beauty, strength and design stretching cinema’s boundaries in new directions. Yet the film does have it odd moments that verge on ridiculous absurdity that cause some modern day audience members to laugh out loud (the robot Maria’s seductive  wink for example). But these few moments do not distract from the brilliance the mad Lang created.

*****

Below are some photos I snapped at the Tampa Theater presentation.

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19 comments on “Metropolis- The Restored Version (1927) Fritz Lang

  1. Judy says:

    This sounds like an amazing event – so far I’ve only seen one silent film on the big screen, but would love to see more in the future. And having that wonderful organ to accompany it must have been the icing on the cake.

    • John Greco says:

      Judy,

      It really was a great experience! Late next month they are presenting the silent “Phantom of the Opera”, again with an organist which I hope to attend. Thanks much!!

  2. Sam Juliano says:

    “Metropolis” has influenced films and filmmakers from “Frankenstein” to “Blade Runner.” It is one of the grandest and last examples of this great period in German cinema, filled with Expressionist patterns, architectural wonders of beauty, strength and design stretching cinema’s boundaries in new directions.”

    Indeed John, you say much there is that brief passage in conveying the essence of this celebrated film. Of course, with the discovery of the new footage it has gone even further in etching its place in cinematic immortality, and the red-carpet treatment it received in Tampa is further validation. Your work here is as inspired as its subject warrants, and the live-accmpaniment and guest speakers added grealy to this singular exerience. Fantastic photos too!

    I never realized Rosa Rio lived to be almost 108! Wow.

    • John Greco says:

      Sam,

      thanks again, sir. Yes Rosa Rio lived a long life and had a long and fruitful career. BTW, Her husband was in the audience Sunday afternoon. I assume he has to be up there in age too though my understanding he was younger that her.

      As I mentioned to Judy, I hope to catch the PHANTOM OF THE OPERA there next month.

  3. John, thank you for the photographs. The Tampa theatre just about matches the magnificent Shea’s Buffalo here in, you guessed it, Buffalo, NY. I grew up in a nearby small town attending the Riviera, which opened in 1926, and the Star, a lovely art deco structure. The Riviera looks like the Shea’s and the Tampa but smaller in scale. What a wonder it was for a kid to see the marooon curtain light up and part as the film began. Because the theatre was magnificent the experience of seeing the film seemed more significant. That’s an aspect of filmgoing that’s been abandoned pretty much. I can’t stand going to a movie muliplex today. In the lobby you feel like you are in a pinball machine, all noise and flashing lights. And the individual screening rooms (horrid name)require a search through labrynthine corridors or climbing dark stairs. And then a half hour of commercials! And audience members laugh and talk and make phone calls for at least half an hour into the movie. And sometimes more. Forget it! I’ll wait for the dvd.

    Thanks for your fascinating essay, John. I don’t know how you do it. You see so many films and write about them with such insight and historical perspective. We appreciate all the effort you put forth.

    • John Greco says:

      David, I agree with you, there is an aura to the older theaters that the multiplex’s lack big time. I even miss the cranky elderly matrons (at least they seemed older and cranky at the time) who use to corral all the kids into the children’s section (lol). Comparing theses classic theaters to multiplex’s is like matching up a fine upscale restaurant vs. fast food. Growing up in NYC I took for granted the many grand theaters that existed in my young days. Even the outer boroughs had their movie palaces courtesy of Loews and RKO, and then of course there were the palatial palaces on Broadway. Sadly, these are all gone now having been converted churches and other uses or even worst demolished as most have, though I keep hearing that the Loew’s Kings in Brooklyn may be renovated and reopened as theater. In these financially tough times I tend to doubt it.
      Watching a wonderful film like “Metropolis”, or any film in an classic theater like the Tampa is special. It is like a trip back in time. Cannot be beat. Thanks again David for the wonderful response and the kind words.

  4. Jem says:

    Thanks, John, for setting the scene so beautifully. Such a terrific spot to see Metropolis (hell, not just Metropolis, any movie, period), and with the live Wurlitzer accompaniment. Talk about time travel, there you were, huge theater, silent film, live music …

    I envy you. When I saw Metropolis, it was in May at the Film Forum. While a treasure here in NYC, the Film Forum is hardly the Tampa Theater; it can like watching a movie in your garage.

    Great pix, too.

    • John Greco says:

      The Tampa Theater is a treasure. It is sad that with all the great theaters there were in NYC not one survives except for Radio City Music Hall. Thanks for the nice words.

  5. Wow, great to see such a packed house!

    A film that captures the essence of mans struggle in so many ways.

    When I first saw a few films with a “live organist” I envisioned the excitement of folks back in the time watching these films for the 1st time.

    Awe inspiring I’m sure! Cheers!

    • John Greco says:

      It is a lot of fun to see a film in this kind of environment and your right it is easy to image what it must have been like back then. Certainly a way to go back in time. Thanks again CM for you thoughts!

  6. Brett Gerry says:

    Modern filmmakers can still learn a lot from this silent classic: http://bit.ly/d0BFBa

    • John Greco says:

      Brett,

      thanks very much for stopping by. While it is arguable whether Lang’s German period was better than his U.S. work there is no doubt that Lang was one of the most influential filmmakers ever. METROPOLIS and M are masterpieces while some of his U.S. work (Scarlet Street, The Big Heat) rank among the best film noirs ever committed to celluloid. I will check out your site.

  7. Judy says:

    Returning to this review to say I’ve now been lucky enough to see this masterpiece of German expressionism, on the big screen too – it was shown tonight at Ipswich Film Theatre, to a packed house, and there was a round of applause at the end. Have just read your great review again, John – thanks for pointing out that the Hel subplot was originally missed out. It’s also interesting to know that it influenced the film ‘Frankenstein’ – I felt it must have done, though I’m wondering if the book influenced this film. I was quite struck by how much religious symbolism there is, with Maria as a saviour, as you say, and Joh’s son as a Christ figure, the mediator – I noticed that one of the buildings even says “Davidson” on it, and thought it might be a pointer to “Son of David”. I would love to know how all the amazing special effects were achieved 83 years ago.

    • John Greco says:

      That’s great you had the opportunity to see it on the big screen. No matter how technology evolves watching a film on the big screen in a theater with people is the way to go. Good question on wondering if Mary Shelley’s book was a influence on this film. It is possible. The special effects were certainly ahead of it time. A biography called of Lang called NATURE OF THE BEAST by Patrick MacGilligan gives quite a bit of information on this film and his others. Thanks Judy for checking back.

  8. I love the Tampa Theatre and the old design of the building. Looks like it was a great event. Thanks for sharing.

  9. [...] – Metropolis The Restored Version  - (1927 Fritz Lang) I have seen truncated versions of “Metropolis” before but this restored [...]

  10. [...] Lang’s 1927 silent movie “Metropolis” (link to blog post of Tampa Theater Summer Film Festival showing of the film) is one of those [...]

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