Fritz Lang’s restored Metropolis gets the classical treatment it deserves
In this, the age of Blu-Ray special editions and behind-the-scenes Electronic Press Kits, it’s hard to imagine the concept of a “lost film.” Yet the history of early cinema is marked by many examples of films existing as little more than stray promotional frames. Even more frustrating for film buffs is the belief that several of these are considered by many to potentially be the greatest works in the canon of film. Next to Erich von Stroheim’s Greed (from which nearly eight hours of footage was cut from his original 10-hour edit), and Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons (also cut to ribbons by RKO following disastrous test screenings), Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterwork Metropolis has long been presented in truncated form, short-changing viewers from a full experience of Lang’s original dystopian epic.
There is also, however, the occasional movie miracle in which a random print of a lost classic re-emerges. Nearly as exciting as the 1981 discovery of what is believed to be the sole remaining original copy of Carl Dreyer’s definitive The Passion of Joan of Arc (found in the janitorial closet of an insane asylum in Oslo, of all places) was the 2008 announcement of a print of Metropolis found in Argentina with 30 minutes of previously lost material still intact. Of the 153 minutes initially missing, only eight remain un-accounted for following the Argentine discovery, an event not only monumental for Lang lovers, but just as inspiring for those lost film hunters still on the look-out for other missing greats. Premiered in Germany this past February, this, the closest-known vision of Lang’s eternal masterpiece, serves as one of cinema’s greatest experiences and a virtual film school of the leaps and bounds made in the dawn of the cinematic age.
A virtual blueprint for all science-fiction that follows it, Metropolis tells the tale of a brutally class-driven society of the future – the workers toiling underground, while the upper classes reside in monolithic high-rises above. Since its release, much has been made of Metropolis as a sharp parable on the effects and results of societal control, and its lessons have remained strong and true for following generations. An early film with such power, imagination, and technical prowess made at the very beginnings of cinema technology is astounding – that Metropolis is even more captivating as a universal narrative is still truly breath-taking.
In and of itself, the viewing a complete Metropolis on the big screen, the Calgary Cinematheque is presenting local audiences with the even rarer opportunity to experience Metropolis with the live musical backing typical of the early silent cinema. While period audiences in Alberta were most-often treated to live organist accompaniment, the multi-talented Alloy Orchestra will be providing a somewhat fuller musical odyssey to accompany Lang’s mind-blowing visuals.
Unlike any screenings since those very first showings in 1927, Metropolis has never been closer to the way Lang wished for all of us to see it. Consider this one wrong in the cinematic history books set back completely to right.