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 A few months thereafter the film, the most expensive German production at the time, was withdrawn and cut down to two hours.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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M (1931) Fritz Lang

M must have been pretty shocking to audiences in the early 1930’s when it was made. The story of a serial child murderer, played to perfection by a young Peter Lorre. The film documents the hunt and capture of Hans Beckert, the murderer, by both the police and criminal gangs. The criminal gangs are in on the hunt because of the intense presence of the police making it hard for them to conduct their “business.”

German Expressionism begat Film Noir and Lang, a master of German Expressionism, uses shadows and light to define the landscape. There’s an excellent shot of young Elsie Beckman on her way home where she stops in front of a poster of a missing girl. Suddenly the shadow of the killer is reflected on the poster as he tells young Elsie what a nice ball she has. Lang excels at with brilliant camera work in this film. The opening shots where Lang’s camera is shooting from high up above  pointing downward toward the children playing; then there is amazing shot of  Elsie Beckmann’s mother looking down the flights of stairs to see if her daughter is coming home.

Upon the capture of Hans Beckert by the mob they begin a mock trial fearing that if they hand him over to the police the courts will allow Hans to pled insanity and end up in a hospital and eventually free. The mob wants their kind of justice. Kill Hans so he will never kill another child again. For those familiar with Lang’s work you will know that mob hysteria or mob rule is a common thread in some Lang’s films including Metropolis and  Fury. What is very interesting is how Lang make Hans plead his case to the mob who have captured him telling them how he cannot control himself and that his actions are like he is addicted.  As he goes on you find yourself sympathizing more with the killer as the mob’s actions gets uglier and uglier. This partially may have to do with Lorre’s magnificent acting.

M is a great movie which has lost very little of its power since it was made. Do not miss this film.