Metropolis Re-visited

The curious and quite interesting thing about Fritz Lang's Metropolis is this: every time one sees it it's quite different. Literally. Well, at least for me.

Partly this has to do with the music. With silent movies music plays an incredibly big part. Every time the score is different, so is the movie. An interesting way to test how much music really does mean to the silent movie is to watch the movie with no music whatsoever. Usually the movie becomes quite unwatchable. It simply makes no sense whatsoever.

I don't know how many times I've seen Metropolis but every time I have seen it does have a different score. Sometimes contemporary, sometimes ghastly rock by the extremely ghastly band Queen or horrible Ennio Morricone (spoiling it all pretty thoroughly).

But also it is different. They keep cutting it. And sometimes they even find new footage - meaning of course old footage restored. So I probably haven't seen two versions with quite the same footage.

This makes one's experience of the movie eternally variable, constantly different. At times the score makes the movie unbearable, at other times the cuts make the plot well nigh unintelligible.

Originally Metropolis was 153 minutes long, so most of the versions I've seen have been severely butchered. Most? All of them.

The longest version I've seen is probably the 2 hour restored version by the Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Stiftung from 2001. It's also the most true one. They've tried to restore all the scenes and where scenes are missing they indicate what happens in them. Another thing: they use the original musical score of the 1927 premiere.

This version makes most sense by far of all the versions I've seen of the movie. In the other versions the motives of several key players have always been, well, shall we say odd. Here things seem more logical, the plot more even. Especially the plot lines with Josaphat and The Thin Man have been cut severely, almost entirely, in all other versions. Here there is much more motivation and explanation. The plot lines are there for a reason.

Rotwang's central, not to say crucial, character is also more fully explored. Now the destruction of the city seems to be quite logical.

Metropolis needs to be a long movie. It is science fiction, but it is also and essentially a parable, a biblical tale, and moves with a majestically slow pace. It isn't a fast and modern psychological drama - far from it. So every cut dimishes its power and majesticity.

There's still a good half hour missing, vanished, so we'll never be able to see it as it was meant to be seen.

Unless there's a miracle. Such as there was with the earlier Lang film Vier um die Frau. This movie was lost for the longest time, until it recently was re-discovered in South America.

Miracles do happen.

(Oh good lord - when I check the web I find that an even longer version has been found in Buenos Aires in June 2007 with an additional 25 minutes of original footage - thus making it an almost complete version of the 1927 premier. Good show!)

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