The mouth of the Beast: the
restoration of revelation in Metropolis
Drama, Romance, Sci-Fi, Thriller.
Complete Metropolis movie poster.
The majority of pivotal
moments that would highlight the genre of science fiction in motion
picture history probably can't maintain acclaim of originality
without the acknowledgement of influence from what came before.
What Fritz Lang oversaw
up to its release in early 1927 still stands as an early milestone
in such far-reaching influence both in visual texture and fantasy
via societal moral: Metropolis.
While featuring elements
evident of Shelley/Verne-like motivation, the futuristic epic
would transcend the ideals of genre settings from Star Wars
to Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
Eighty years of discarding,
disappearance, and reworking later, the recent discovery of a
147 minute version has earned the German expressionist classic
a still incomplete yet illuminating presentation equal in length
and plot transition to that of its premiere in Berlin that year.
With its history as
an extremely cut-down victim of viewership concerns (its original
American censors cut out 40 minutes), Metropolis was long
screened as a reflection of social rift drenched in steam yet
coated under more memorable robotic metal.
A saga of footage gathering
over the past four decades would put Lang's feature through a
smattering of visual and acoustic renovations, culminating in
a 2001 restoration that spanned 124 minutes.
After the 2008 discovery
of a half-hour longer version in Buenos Aires' Museo del Cine
archives, new film combination was undertaken that not only mixed
the discovered footage with perhaps the 2001 edition, but was
also backed by a new rendition of composer Gottfried Huppertz's
From its intro to the
end of the furioso (the name applied to part three by intertitles),
the new Metropolis footage impressively boosts the breadth of
social standards beyond class struggles and brings to light a
greater depth of character exchange with each other and with the
atmosphere that was barely fleshed out in earlier versions.
The range of urban
visuals that contributed to Metropolis' fame are limited
regarding what was found in the Buenos Aires reels, but the setting
backdrop shots that were found have been crucial in eliminating
nearly all continuity issues from past restorations that have
puzzled the film's critics, researchers, and fans alike. One prominent
example involves the mob's climactic pursuit of the human Maria
and how she arrived at the church.
Further assisting the viewer's distinction between what footage
has long been known and unknown, the Buenos Aires frames are signified
by their faded and at times scratched surface.
While such footage
may be testament to how close the film came to being lost to age,
if any work was performed on it since the discovery, its condition
provides an eerie texture that parallels the mood of the city's
Be it workers toiling
in the steam-filled factory or children dragging their siblings
through water-flooded streets, such frame condition provides these
atmospheres with a suggestive mood of rainy and dismal conditions
endured by the city's working class; an atmosphere that lingered
nearly 60 years later in the similarly dystopian Blade Runner.
The only setback to
such a reminder is the improved and crisp condition of the long
restored footage that comprise the majority of such scenes.
In terms of character
involvement, the recovered footage unveils new depth to the underlying
supporters acquainted with protagonist Freder, the upper-class
son of city leader Joh Frederson.
Chief among these are
Josaphat, whose role as a secondhand is expanded to a link behind
Freder's new role; Georgy, the numbered worker with whom Freder
switches identities to be closer to Maria; and the Thin Man, whose
assignment to find his employer's son paints him in a guise much
more jest-like and suspenseful.
With more focus on
these minor characters, the sexual dynamics of Metropolis receive
a suggestive interval when dealing with Josaphat's gratefulness
for Freder's actions in brief yet audience-stirring encounters.
For the four main characters
at the heart of the main plot tension (the fourth being the scheming
scientist Rotwang), the degree of their relationship turns more
explicit with the added shots through their reference to Biblical
Such references magnified
by the extended version become less a message of a promised Good
Shepherd (perhaps alluded to by Maria as the "Mediator")
and more of a Dies Irae (right down to the manifestation of Death)
precaution initiated by Freder's church visits that would visually
culminate through his father's decadently vamped plot involving
"Maria" and its catastrophic undoing.
In a Wall Street Journal
piece by A.J. Goldmann, even recent restorer Martin Koerber commented
on the diminishment of the original moral messages to nothing
but intimidation and polarization. "They turned it into more
of a Frankenstein story and softened the film's Christian themes."
It's correct to say
that the channeling of Judeo-Christian belief is now presented
with a sense of greater urgency right down to the Noah parallel,
yet also unfair when considering that the mystery of God was likely
key in the distinction of virtues and vices Lang referenced. For
Rotwang is able to bring to life something more dangerous than
Frankenstein's merely revived corpse, something closer to the
status of God than his fictional predecessor could contemplate:
the Devil itself.
So misleading is the
nature of the automaton Maria that she eventually takes the guise
of an imbibed zookeeper inflicting mental abuse on two species
of wildlife. The flooding scene becomes more tragic with the visual
comparison of those stranded to sewer rats, which up to that point
is what they're treated as by a more concrete god: Frederson.
If Metropolis was seen
without the scattered sermon segments intact today, its dilemma
involving Maria would probably still be viewed as a struggle of
duality (good vs. evil over a single host) that was significant
in its far-reaching consequences.
Going back, however,
such interpretation loses support with the predicament involving
the creators' history that is hinted at early: it is learned during
an early encounter between Rotwang and Frederson that their main
conflict was the love of Freder's deceased mother, Hel.
A name long given to
a deity of death in Norse mythology, Hel becomes the embodiment
of Rotwang's only remaining objective if not hope: to ensure eternal
living beyond death. It's an effort that thematically will fail,
because the religious message included throughout is also based
on the pairing of sin and death (which Rotwang unleashed to great
By the closing incidents
in front of the church, this representation of a false shepherd
will prance and march her sheep to fury and sexual dizziness until
the mouth-and-floor piece laughs at the Inferno she and her master
are caught in.
Because it's a product
of the early cinematic era's good over evil mold, it's highly
estimated that the mastermind has to be brought down. Yet the
mental instability of Rotwang's ambition to be deified takes him
to the edge of heaven with what he finds to be love resurrected.
The fall will come,
yet it's likely Rotwang will deem himself victorious given the
subtle theme that Hel is the guise he will finally be united with.
Director Lang would
still construct a final sense of redemption and renewal that would
also root in Christian and Norse beliefs, which becomes all the
more moving thanks to the rumbling of disaster that the discovered
Lang himself, during
a filmed interview by William Friedkin in the 1970s titled Conversation
with Fritz Lang, confessed dissatisfaction over the film because
the only thematic message to remain mostly uncensored during his
lifetime was one inserted by then-wife Thea von Harbou that he
found disagreeable during that period: The mind and hands must
be joined by the heart.
The message is sound,
yet the point he perhaps was making was that the effect of such
unity becomes minute when the repeated outcry of collapse becomes
diminished. With 147 minutes brought together in this fashion,
the nature of prophecy and manipulation that increases in the
discovered reel makes the final strive for maintaining the city's
whole a more reformative coda.
The chance that this
resolve was made more anticipated with the intensified restorations
is the type of electricity that makes the lights of Metropolis
shine much brighter for its inhabitants and for the viewers still
in awe of a futurist opus that may or may not be far away.
The Complete Metropolis
is currently being shown at the Detroit Film Theatre from June
11 until June 20. Its showtimes are as follows: Friday the 11th
and 18th at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday the 12th and 19th at 8:00 p.m.;
and Sunday the 13th and 20th at 2:00 and 6:00 p.m.