Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
About a year and a half ago, Savant was amazed to see the German digital restoration of Metropolis
at a touring museum showing. In my
city (Los Angeles) the beautifully-restored epic was presented with a live organ accompaniment and
received by the audience as if it were a lost book of the Bible.
Metropolis predates what we call Science Fiction in movies, and proceeds in a totally different
direction from movies about the destiny of man (2001) or various depictions of futuristic dystopias. It's
a strange eclectic collage about key themes of the 20th century - progress, technology, class suppression, faith. Thea von Harbou's utopian conception is a
mix of futurism and mysticism, faith and fate. An expressionist film, it derives a grandiose power from
its massive architectural designs, whether of futuristic buildings or huge crowds of people moving in
organized groups. It is 'quite a silly film', as H.G. Wells claimed, and also 'two films glued together
by their bellies', as Luis Buñuel stated, but it also has a giddy, optimistic sense of wonder,
an awe at the potential of man for greatness and folly, that no other film even approaches. Its mystery
is contained as much in Brigitte Helm's silvery, unblinking eyes, as it is in the machine that transforms
into a primitive god demanding sacrifice, or a Tolkien-like primitive house standing in the
middle of a futuristic city. It's about the future, but also about dreams and visions and poetry on a
Kino distributed a version of this restoration theatrically last fall, and this is what's been replicated
on this DVD. The intertitles are in English, and the film is synchronized with a new recording of its
original 1927 score. The result will stun anyone who has only seen the earlier, ragged-looking
versions, on the screen or on video.
The futuristic city Metropolis (2026) is a classed, closed society where one business
leader, Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel of
Dr. Mabuse the Gambler) controls all.
The sons of the rich live in airy skyscrapers, and play in lush pleasure gardens.
Fredersen's son Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) sees a mysterious woman gate-crashing the pleasure
garden one day, with a crowd of ragged children, and decides to investigate what really makes
the city run. What he finds is a vast underground society of worker-slaves living like moles far
deep beneath the Earth, manning the vast power stations that make Metropolis function. Swapping
identities with worker #11811, Freder goes to one of their prayer meetings in the catacombs, and
falls in love with the preacher/mediator Maria (Brigitte Helm), the woman he saw in the garden earlier.
Meanwhile, Joh Fredersen interprets the prayer meetings as an uprising, and conspires with an old
enemy, inventor/alchemist Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge, also of
Dr. Mabuse), to instigate a premature
revolt that Fredersen can suppress. Rotwang shows the leader his latest creation, a Machine-Man robot
in metallic feminine form. The plan will be to kidnap Maria and give the robotrix her likeness; the
'False Maria' will be sent as an agent provocateur among the workers, preaching violence instead of
peace. But Fredersen doesn't know that Rotwang bears him a vicious resentment, for running away with
Rotwang's wife, Hel, long ago. Mad scientist Rotwang will send the false Maria to instigate an
apocalyptic revolt that will destroy everything Fredersen has made.
As covered in detail in the insert liner notes written by Martin Koerber, Metropolis in this
new incarnation is an integration of surviving pieces of the film found in
archives the world over. Although some fans have reported that it's missing a shot or two seen in
earlier versions, the virtuosity with which the Munich Filmmuseum has reconstructed the film is nigh
Since a big chunk of the story is still missing, mainly sub-plots and connective tissue, but also key
scenes (like the fight between Rotwang and Fredersen), one has to read the intertitles correctly to get
the big picture. The Filmmuseum has added new titles explaining the missing material, in a
different typeface to make this easier.
There are also titles that cues the music movements - Intermezzo, things like that. Either the
restorers went way overboard being literal about the cue titles listed in the score and the censor records,
or Metropolis was conceived as a symphony of several movements, like Murnau's Sunrise.
It might be helpful to watch a few minutes of a previous copy, even the Giorgio Moroder version, to
better appreciate the digital restoration done by Alpha-Omega of Munich. The image now has a proper
grey-on-grey patina, instead of the harsh contrast of earlier prints. It's almost completely steady,
instead of chattering, shifting, and warping in the gate as it always did before.
In 1983, Giorgio Moroder added lots of color tints to the movie, in addition to his own funky opticals and
other futzing around. It is my understanding that in 1927 the film was originally released all in b&w,
as we see it here.
The new material consists of longer versions of scenes, with better continuity (although some jump-cuts
are still in evidence) and connecting tissue. As I stated before, the scene with Freder having a bad dream
in his rooms, while the False Maria dances for the rich sons of the city, is vastly improved. It now
has a smoother opening, that establishes the spy Slim (Fritz Rasp) at the foot of Freder's
bed. When Maria dances, Freder has a dream of Revelations, and Slim seems to transform into the monk
in the cathedral who talks about the coming of the antichrist. Through titles explaining missing material,
and some now-restored montage shots, Freder, the False Maria, Slim, and the Seven Deadly Sins in the
cathedral are now all linked - Death's scythe is
an omen of doom for the city, and the False Maria's throne is now borne by the 'freed' Deadly Sins. The
scene fuses Freder's delusions with biblical prophecy, eroticism, and visual poetry. It's uniquely
cinematic, in that its impact could not be duplicated in print or on a theatrical stage.
The cleaned-up, re-beautified image also lets one appreciate the superlative design of Metropolis
that was impossible in the inferior earlier prints. Metropolis has
complete control of the illusion of scale. As in King Kong, when things are supposed to be big, they
Look Big. This won't be as apparent on a monitor as it was on a screen, where the towering
canyons of the
city indeed appeared to be colossal. Simple sculptural details, such as the design of the Maschine Man robot,
are better appreciated here as well. The same goes for the new montage elements, and the bizarre multi-image
shots where dozens of eyes watch the False Maria spread her message of destruction.
Kino Video's DVD of Metropolis is a fine presentation in almost every respect. The bit rate and
compression is always adequate, although complex scenes show a bit of additional grain on a large monitor.
The film has been slightly windowboxed, which is a very good idea. This version has already come out
in Region 2, and this Region 1 release retains all of the extras, translated through subtitles into English,
French and Spanish. There are 13 cast and crew text biographies, and several photo, still, design, and
poster artwork galleries. The original posters pictured are even annotated with the names of
their original artists.
The two featurettes are phenomenal. In 'The Digital Restoration', Martin Koerber explains the methods used
by Alpha-Omega to
optimize and repair the film material we see. The narration is very frank and forthright about the problems
of using automatic dirt removal software. We see a demonstration where fast-moving objects, like character
legs and parts of faces, are erased along with the dirt. The key to such digital tools is to use them
sparingly, and concentrate
on the manual removal of flaws by trained artists ... which is how thousands of bits of speckling and dirt
were removed from even the best film material they had. All of this is backed up with visual clips from
Alpha-Omega. For one decomposed composite effect, the restorers apparently had access to the original
optical elements, and recomposited them digitally to match the original effects work. Koerber shows us
the entire process.
The longer making-of docu by Enno Patalas is even better, starting with The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
and explaining the German studio and political contexts before, during and after the making of the movie.
ends on a very interesting note, explaining the incongruities (poetic contrasts?) in the film that he thinks
contributed to its lack of success on its 1927 release. As he explains, nobody then would have
guessed that Metropolis would become one of, if not the, most heralded silent film ever made.
The score, in 5.1 Surround, is very impressive, with some good themes and some fairly limp ones. I've read
much more astute musical criticism of Gottfried Huppertz's work than I can offer. It certainly presents motifs
that follow the basic drift of the story, but it makes little effort to 'ride' the emotional content of
each scene, even to the extent that good silent-movie organists will 'play' the mood of the films they
accompany. It's timed out well, right down to orchestrating aural blasts to complement the shift-change
sirens on the rooftops of the city. But during the catacomb church scene, for instance,
almost nothing at all happens to mark or underline Maria's entrance, or the two lovers coming together. I
guess movie score 'Mickey Mousing' happened later with composers like Max Steiner.
Huppertz veers toward kitsch when his 'revolt' theme quotes 'La Marseillaise'. But his
music consistently augments and amplifies the rhythms that Fritz Lang built into the film, such
as the ringing of the giant bell in the Workers' city. That was the main failing of Moroder's dynamic
disco score - it too often ignored the rhythms of the movie running beneath it.
This brings Savant to the issue that got him into hot water earlier with Kino. When Enno Patalas and his
restorers toured the world with their digital print, they opted to screen it at 20 frames per second. I
assume they determined this was the proper speed, otherwise why would they make the various screening venues
go to all the trouble of changing over to varispeed motors, making sure the arclights wouldn't burn the
film at the slower speed, etc.?
When Kino decided to release the film theatrically at 24 frames per second, it was the only practical thing
to do. Having a theater change its aspect ratio is often too much to ask for, and most modern equipment is
meant to run at 24 fps and nothing else. So it is of course reasonable to expect a wide release of the
picture to be at the standard speed.
In this, history was on Kino's side. It's been established that at the original premiere of the film, it was
projected at at least 24 frames per second, and perhaps at 25 or 26! The score was composed at that speed -
indeed, the whole picture would have to be rescored and Huppertz's music adapted to 'fit', if the film were
projected at the earlier 20 fps of the Museum tour.
Kino opted to carry through with their theatrical speed for the DVD release, and here is where Savant has
differences. Metropolis is grand at any speed, but when one speeds it up so radically to 24 fps, it
becomes another film experience altogether. The rhythms are faster. When they jolt jerkily with each step,
the marching workers no longer look weary, shifting forward as if in a funeral procession. All of the fast
action is now in a hyper-fast, Keystone Kops mode. In some shots that were originally undercranked to
make the action faster than normal, the characters now zip about like fireflies.
The heavy, sombre fatality of scenes is diminished when their on-screen duration is shortened. Things
like water and fire move much too quickly. The dramatic scene of Maria hanging from the rope of a ringing
cathedral bell is now humorous. The rocking bell now makes her bob up and down like a puppet. Finally,
the extreme fast-cut montages, some with shots lasting only 2 or 3 frames, had a perfectly-judged impact
at 20 fps. At 24, they chatter past like some kind of mistake, or subliminal experiment.
Why would UFA premiere Metropolis at this fast speed? I believe it was because they were desperate.
With financial ruin closing in, they reacted the same way modern studios do, by hedging their bets. They
probably felt they had a control problem with Fritz Lang, who had delivered yet another 3 & 1/2 hour behemoth
instead of the efficient moneymaker they needed - the days of two-part, four hour monstrosities like
Mabuse and Die Nibelungen were over. Not to mention the liklihood that 1927 audiences wouldn't
understand or appreciate Lang's avant-garde artistic abstractions. Most audiences still don't.
In the docu, Patalas explains that the long version (supposedly 210 minutes!) was withdrawn soon after it
opened, and replaced with the first of several cutdown versions, simplifications that must have made
the film incomprehensible and thus insured its lack of popularity. UFA wanted the film shorter,
The relative speed-up from 20 to 24 fps is best understood in the difference in running times. In the
Museum screening, the film ran 147 minutes. At sound speed, the same film lasts only 123 minutes. This
isn't the slight edge you see on TV Land, with time compression running a 24 fps Leave it to
Beaver at 25 fps or so. This is faster.
It's true, when Savant heard about the speed decision for DVD, he squealed like a stuck pig, and acted
indignant in a way that got a lot of attention I didn't need. The web is already overflowing with Whining
Weenies complaining about trivial problems in DVDs. Kino didn't need the backtalk either, and made some
attempts to show me the error of my thinking. I was given the reasoning
that replicating the premiere speed was authorized, authentic and historically accurate, and was chided
for pre-judging a film I hadn't seen. But I had seen Metropolis at 24fps many times and knew exactly
how it would play. And that's how it does play in the Kino presentations. The False Maria's erotic
dance, a show-stopper in the Museum, now looks like a Betty Boop cartoon. When UFA sped the film up for
their 1927 premiere, Lang must have been crushed to see his good work so severely altered.
I did not read a single published review of the Kino theatrical release that complained about, or even
mentioned, this speed difference that so concerns me. Did none of them see the earlier Museum run? The
lack of concern is good ammunition for Kino to label me an errant nut (too late, that happened a lo-ong
time ago), and dismiss my protests. But that doesn't change the facts - Audiences who tittered and
laughed at the accelerated action of earlier versions, still chuckled in the theatrical run of this
version. I had the opportunity to ask Mr. Patalas if he felt the 24 fps
speed was 'correct', and his return email simply quoted Kino's 'authentic premiere speed' party line.
Then why, when he toured his restoration around the world before Kino was involved, did he go to all the
trouble to have it shown at the slower speed?
Kino Video's DVD of Metropolis is delightful. I'm buying a copy to send to a relative, and might get
a third as a gift. But it is a licensed, franchised & marketed product that even the Munich restorers want &
need to be a big success - the restoration was an adventure in perfectionism, not economy. If it
doesn't make a profit, Metropolis 2001 will go down as a failure. Big-studio marketing experts
would never greenlight a costly experimental incomplete restoration for an ancient public domain
movie. And we aren't hearing of any new full digital restorations happening, when there are hundreds of
films begging for it. 4
The miracle is that digital imaging can restore a not just viewable, but a dazzling version of a mangled
Metropolis. The Munich Museum, Alpha-Omega and Kino all deserve to walk on rose petals while
we cheer. As I said in an earlier column, the 2001 premiere of this version was the most important film
event of the year.
But one last jab ... Metropolis expert Aitam Bar-Sagi reported that before the Kino deal, a European
cable television outlet screened the film in a video version at the correct speed - with an inferior
soundtrack, I understand, but at the correct speed. Hopefully that version, or something like it (C'mon,
Kino, how about a followup disc?), perhaps with a choice of original scores, would fully restore
Fritz Lang's masterpiece to the closest approximation of its original lustre.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Excellent, if Too Darn Fast to please spoiled Savants
Supplements: Commentary by film historian Enno Patalas,
Commentary subtitles in English, French, and Spanish, 5.1 surround sound of newly recorded
orchestral score, "The Metropolis Case": a 43-minute documentary by Enno Patalas (with English,
French, and Spanish subtitles), Restoration featurette (with English, French, and Spanish subtitles),
Photo galleries featuring production stills, missing scenes, architectural sketches, and poster
artwork, 13 cast and crew biographies, Facts and dates
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 22, 2003
1. Aitam Bar-Sagi informs me that the Australian print of the film had an additional
shot in the Pleasure Garden, where the party girls react to the appearance of Maria. There also should be
several more seconds of the view of the main Metropolis cityscape, where a big zeppelin moves into the
space between the buildings. Either they were mistakenly omitted, or they didn't fit the original score.
Silent movie restorers have a problem when combining negatives found in different archives.
In many silent pictures, more than one negative was exposed of each scene to make up for the fact that dupe
stocks didn't exist to copy a single negative. That's why we often see more than one camera
cranking away on a Chaplin scene in stills. When the archivists assembled missing negative elements,
sometimes all of the pieces didn't fit - especially when following the very accurate music score with its
shot cues. The different negatives were really different movies, with small but troublesome variances in
action and length.
2. At our screening, composer/organist Robert Israel adapted the score and made
it work for the much longer screening, where he played for an almost unbroken (I believe there was an
intermission) 2 and 1/2 hours.
3. That's the gist of both of Variety's 1927 reviews from New York (the Paramount
Rewrite-recut) and Berlin (apparently after the cut-down) : the reviewers in both cities think the film is
silly, has bad continuity and a story that makes no sense.
4. I understand Kino Video recently released a full-length Die Nibelungen,
that readers tell me is an incredible epic revenge tale with huge, Two-Towers like battles. It's
uncut, but hasn't been given the beauty makeover that Metropolis received. For that matter, I just
remarked while reviewing the beautiful but scratched Image disc of
Invaders from Mars, that it desperately needed
the class-A restoration magic of Alpha-Omega.
5. Speaking of subliminal effects, running the DVD slowly through these
fast-cut montages reveals images that
made an impact in the Museum screening (at 20 fps), that now barely register at all. It also shows a curious
cutting pattern. Many shots have a frame or two of black interpolated in between, that are difficult
not to notice. Savant has no information if the black frames were intentional or not, and
for all I know they were part of Lang's cutting philosophy. If all those German restoration experts weren't
involved (I can't imagine them meddling like that), I'd say the black frames were added to help the film
match the recorded score.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2003 Glenn Erickson
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