Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927)

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HerrSchreck
Joined: Sun Sep 04, 2005 11:46 am

#1 Post by HerrSchreck » Fri Jun 02, 2006 1:03 am

I'd like to continue a conversation in a dedicated thread (I know there is a disc-thread for this in the MoC zone, and there's a Kino disc of same, but I'd like to discuss certain critical controversies about this film having nothing to do with home video productions.. though if this must go in Kino or MoC, so be it) about this film which has been popping up here and there on this site & elsewhere. I've just seen it raised again by zedz who is a smart guy by anyone's standards I'd say, so I'd like to roll forward on this specifically.

Some folks see this film as creaky, silly, plastic, and see little of merit in it outside of it's art direction. I couln't disagree any more strenuously. Aside from the breathtaking art direction-- which in and of itself is but the interpretation of the world as envisioned & conceived by the director/screenwriter-- this film's conception as a whole just knocks me silly almost every time I see it. I'll never forget the first time i saw it inna cinema... still one of the greatest cinematic experiences ever, ever.

For me it is so much more than the art direction. The whole film was just so completely & originally conceived. It is and was just so... interesting! The idea of combining the very ancient and the futuristic... and these, mind you, beyond the bounds of the comprehensible so that each element rubs up against infinitude on all edges--

I get the same sense of mystery with this film that can be gotten by reading ancient scripture. A compelling sense of mystery surrounds the edges, so you sense that something new may break thru outa the darkness & murk of eternity each time you watch it. This sense of it being impossible to grasp all of the meanings lurking beneath the surface, the sense that each time you watch it it may mean different things, that I am coming to somethig with a life of its own. All these elements are accented by physicalities in the film. One never gets the sense that the depths of the worker's city, or the catacombs beneath, have been fully explored let alone defined. Same with the heights of the rich: endless catwalks, dizzying towers, it could take you forever to figure out what all those ramps & towers & planes do, where theyr'e going, what powers at work.

This sense of mystery is potentiated by the now-endlessly-copied use of actual scripture, and scriptural symbols, to tell the story. And what is the story? Whether or not you like it, the hazy, loose, labarynthine method of telling this very VERY strange, cryptic story, loaded with code & cryptic symbols, the thing is like the sheet that Schreck sends to Knock in NOSFERATU, covered with codices, runes, etc. Mysterious mix of carthaginean gods, judeo-christian gods, capitalist symbols, communist symbols, pictorial sumups of the ominous fact of technology in the world of man. And yet it all comes together for me as Pure Entertainment each time. Awe and wonderment and complete absorption, suspension of disbelief, with each new scene.

And of course the mixture of the sacred and profane which had no virtual existence prior, none whatsoever. AELITA is closer to Meiles than it is to the richness of hypermodern METROPOLIS. Here in this film you have a richest soup, still unmatched and full of blueprints for future forms: scifi, phildickian paranoia of mechanization, industrial espionage, cyberpunk, the film itself could be seen as a pc circuit board, labarynthine and almost impossible to see as a unified whole. Totally digital. The vision of a future earths surface completely PHYSICALLY conquered & exploited like a ruined whore in her final state by amok moral-free capitalism, crust of earth hopelessly mined below and stacked endlessly above, i e BLADE RUNNER.

As for the story itself which comes in for much abuse, I actually like it; I like what it has to say, even though its soloution (head/capital shaking hands with the Hand/worker) is never going to come to pass (unless a savior/redeemer does come down and wave a wand of some type).. but
it's existence as fiction doesn't keep me from liking it. For me the only drawback is the silly senstimentality of the acting of Froelich, and Josephat at times. I heart METROPOLIS.

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Scharphedin2
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#2 Post by Scharphedin2 » Sat Jun 03, 2006 6:45 pm

Thank you for this wonderful appreciation... I wish that the lists project was composed of entries like this (glimpses of what these films actually mean to people rather than just a rank of titles). Reading this made me go and order MoC's version of the film.

I remember seeing this film when I was very young (in the early/mid-'80s). I had come to it via BLADE RUNNER and stills incorporated in the visual representation of the industrial music scene of the time. Giorgio Moroder's soundtrack was the selling point (I am afraid). The film was a stretch for me at the time, but I do remember this sense of being in disbelief that it had been created by human beings... The images were so strange -- archaic and ultra-modern at the same time -- that the film seemed like a window into some obscure parallel reality (albeit without words and color). At this remove, I just remember little fragments, but reading your piece above, was like a deja vu. I can't wait to see this film again in a more proper presentation.

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david hare
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#3 Post by david hare » Sat Jun 03, 2006 7:00 pm

Although I was familiar with Metropolis from my teens, finally seeing the Moroder "version" in a very good 35mm print with a new, younger audience, and the mere fact that it survived the Moroder scoring was revelatory and surely demonstrated the movie's power.

The only sustainable criticism of it that I can entertain, and then dismiss is the supposed split between the von Harbou screenplay with it's "sentimental" fusion of political idealism, and Lang's harder-edged vision. BUT von Harbou was very much a part of not just this movie but a cycle of Weimar era pictures and her contribution represents a significant aspect of German kunstwerk of the twenties.

Indeed the sheer scope and scale of the screenplay is Lang's springboard for expression, and the limitation of performances to "types", if not archetypes is a consistent feature of all his work. So I am increasingly drawn to regard Harbou as a positive contributor.

Metropolis is a movie, like Kane, that is, in its own terms not only a perfect self-realization but a movie that throbs with the excitement of its own audacity and unfolding discovery. To see it with an audience is to remember what moviemaking is all about - this rapturous, unstoppable engagement with the audience. There are other Langs I think greater, but Metropolis always works its magic.

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HerrSchreck
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#4 Post by HerrSchreck » Sun Jun 04, 2006 1:31 am

I'm surprised the venerable zedz hasn't piped in yet. This was pretty much outa deference to him that I created this, as his passion on the subject combined with his writing skills would make for a compelling thread.
davidhare wrote:The only sustainable criticism of it that I can entertain, and then dismiss is the supposed split between the von Harbou screenplay with it's "sentimental" fusion of political idealism, and Lang's harder-edged vision. BUT von Harbou was very much a part of not just this movie but a cycle of Weimar era pictures and her contribution represents a significant aspect of German kunstwerk of the twenties.
Perhaps a von Harbou thread is in order. I'm glad to hear a clear eyed assessment of her. The woman comes in for quite a heap of abuse, whereas I'm not entirely convinced it was she who was wholly responsible for the dippity-doo in Lang;s later silents. He was the one carrying on an affair with the gooey Gerda Maurus thereby insuring her presence in this period (shes queen of the pathosy shoveling-with-the-hands-up-to-the-heart-with-pleading-eyes motion), directed his actors to be endlessly clutching their hearts, loved living the personal indulgence of rendering onscreen for all of Germany the drama & grand ache of his personal love affairs & attendant complications (a book could be written about the psychological implications of the roles he'd give to Klien-Rogge alone), as well as the cheeseball acting of Froelich in METROPOLIS. If the similarly soupy ASPHALT (if Lang made SUNRISE, ASPHALT is the film he woulda made, so oblivious was he to the real nuance of a real heart in real torment which was one of Murnau's zillion strong points) shows us anything, it's that Froelich was an intelligent man capable of many tints & shades of portrayal. Lang is the one who turned him into the blow-dried poodle. Look at Josaphat-- same direction of the actor.

Von Harbou also wrote the MIKAEL adaptation, M (brilliant, one of the most important scripts in the world), SPIES, worked with Murnau.. most notably in PHANTOM (another love story of posession & jealousy but without the Langian opera), MABUSE DER SPIELER, DER MUDE TOD, among others of course. I think she was a little more complicated than many make her out to be, and attributing the melodramatic conventions of Lang to her is hypersimplistic I think, to say the least. One of the primary differences between Murnau and Lang is the straight operation of Lang in melodrama-- straight stories told straight, albeit with breathtaking visual invention and often staggering mise en scene-- versus Murnaus far more experimental, avant garde nature via his interest in experimentation, dreams, psychological states overriding in importance the story churning between the onscreen bodies, creating a far more complicated surface for a classification as mere melodrama. I think there's ample evidence that von Harbou was interested in these subtlties as well, and was responsible for some of the wild stuff in Lang's films (remember Lang was no big fan of Expressionism, even made fun of it, and was one of the ones who claimed CALIGARI would be a failure if the Expressionism wasn't chalked up to the workings of a madman in the script, viz the frame story. There was once even a time where Lang claimed authorship of the frame story in CALIGARI, though that's been disproved long ago.. but it says something about him that the element of that film looked at as the primary corruption of it's expressionist purity, the frame story that is looked upon as anti-expressionist, was so beloved by Lang that he went out of his way and lied & said he wrote it!)

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zedz
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#5 Post by zedz » Mon Jun 05, 2006 6:02 pm

HerrSchreck wrote:I'm surprised the venerable zedz hasn't piped in yet. This was pretty much outa deference to him that I created this, as his passion on the subject combined with his writing skills would make for a compelling thread.
Hey, I'm allowed to go out for some fresh air every now and then, aren't I? I'm afraid my dislike of Metropolis is pretty straightforward and probably impervious to proselytizing. Story, performances, pacing.

I find the story mind-numbingly stupid: that platitudinous ending (hey, folks! Capital and the workers will get along just fine if only the boss can bonk the shop steward) is a slap in the face after what seems like hours of histrionics. Guy Maddin's tongue-in-cheek (I guess that's a tongue in there) Heart of the World does it far more wittily and succinctly.

The characters are mere ciphers and the performances are an uneven mess of mugging and stunned-mulletry. It's possible to see these performances as 'integrated' into the bombastic design of the film, but I see that as a problem rather than an achievement.

Pacing. I find the film horribly draggy. Lang and Harbou seem to think that if a point is worth making it's worth making again and again. Also, the pacing seems to me extremely erratic from scene to scene (this may, of course, be partly due to the compromised form in which the film has come down to us): there are some crisp, dazzling sequences in between laboured, plot-heavy ones. You can only spend so much time appreciating the backgrounds.

So that's me. The film is by far my least-loved silent Lang (though there are a couple I haven't seen).

An additional part of my distaste for the film is that it's so prominent - it's often the only silent film that people have seen - that it colours received opinions of this entire era of filmmaking. People who have seen Metropolis sometimes assume that all silent cinema dealt in simplistic parables and hammy performances, with a deafening lack of subtlety.

I suppose this is the 'bad press' argument. It's unfair to lay all of this at the foot of a single film (and Birth of a Nation and Intolerance probably need to carry their share of the blame for uninformed opinions about silent cinema), but Metropolis is the standard-bearer for a particular brand of silent bombast.

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david hare
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#6 Post by david hare » Mon Jun 05, 2006 7:15 pm

It's at least good to get a well-reasoned argument for "the other side". More debate on this later perhaps?

EDIT: Zedz this is now TWO Weekends you've been out for "fresh air" - wotsa dish?

accatone
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#7 Post by accatone » Wed Jul 02, 2008 7:19 am

I am not too much into silents so maybe this is old news to you guys?

I just found this about lost footage of Metropolis in Buenos Aires. Here a link to stills of the new material.

Maybe its of interest?

Cheers

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Tommaso
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#8 Post by Tommaso » Wed Jul 02, 2008 7:24 am

No, it's not old news, I've just found the same on the FWMS-site and posted it in the MoC thread, but it belongs here, too. This must be one of the greatest discoveries for silent film lovers in recent years; considering that whole subplots were missing from the existing prints I expect we get a wholly new "Metropolis" experience now. Working the rediscovered scenes into the film also means they will have to record a new score and can finally correct the frame speed from 24fps in their current resto to something more appropriate. I hope they will see sense in this respect.

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Awesome Welles
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#9 Post by Awesome Welles » Wed Jul 02, 2008 7:43 am

Wow! That's great news. All the more reason to pick up now, there aren't any excuses really. This will be the fourth version of Metropolis I buy now!

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aox
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#10 Post by aox » Wed Jul 02, 2008 9:22 am

Pardon my ignorance, but does anyone have an article in English on this new footage? What else is missing?

and we are talking about restoring the 210 minute cut, right?

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Matt
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#11 Post by Matt » Wed Jul 02, 2008 10:06 am

aox wrote:Pardon my ignorance, but does anyone have an article in English on this new footage?
Sensational discovery in Buenos Aires: Lost scenes from “Metropolis” rediscovered

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Antoine Doinel
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#12 Post by Antoine Doinel » Wed Jul 02, 2008 10:41 am

Here's an English version of the press release. It doesn't say how much footage was found (it does appear to be significant) or what condition it's in (judging by the stills, it's in very rough shape), but this is indeed a phenomenal find.

Gives me hope that the Magnificent Ambersons is still sitting around somewehere waiting to be discovered.

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Tommaso
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#13 Post by Tommaso » Wed Jul 02, 2008 11:33 am

Yes, these stills don't look all too well, but on the other hand, they absolutely worked wonders with the material they had for their last resto (as shown in the documentary which is on the dvd releases), so I'm sure they will find means to considerably improve upon the current state of this new footage. FWMS seem to consider "Metropolis" as having almost 'national importance'...

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Saturnome
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#14 Post by Saturnome » Wed Jul 02, 2008 1:24 pm

The German article said that the copy is a "long version" bought in 1928 from Berlin. I'm not too aware of the different versions of Metropolis, but this sounds good.

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aox
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#15 Post by aox » Wed Jul 02, 2008 1:36 pm

1928, long version?

How can this not refer to the 210 minute cut? or perhaps at least the cut Lang made right after it premiered in Berlin (153 minutes)? But the latter doesn't make sense to me b/c isn't only 10 minutes missing from the revised cut Lang made in 1927/28?

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Saturnome
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#16 Post by Saturnome » Wed Jul 02, 2008 3:01 pm

It could be that, but I think the very first cut never left Berlin. This must be the cut made shortly after.

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markhax
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#17 Post by markhax » Wed Jul 02, 2008 3:06 pm

aox wrote:How can this not refer to the 210 minute cut? or perhaps at least the cut Lang made right after it premiered in Berlin (153 minutes)? But the latter doesn't make sense to me b/c isn't only 10 minutes missing from the revised cut Lang made in 1927/28?
Although some, like Thomas Elsaesser, have written that the running time ranged from 160 to 220 minutes, I think it is doubtful that it was ever longer than 2 1/2 hours--that is the approximate running time of the "study edition" which plays the entire Huppertz score which includes cues to the scenes. As I wrote in an earlier post on the Nosferatu thread, "At the January 10 premiere, and the subsequent run immediately thereafter, at the Ufa Pavillon at Nollendorf Platz, which also included Huppertz's score, the running time was under three hours. The one review of the premiere I have seen that refers to length complains that "the performance lasted 2 1/2 hours. Exactly one hour too long." The tone of exasperation suggests that had it been longer, the critic ('R. A.' of the communist 'Rote Fahne') certainly would have noticed! At Nollendorf Platz, where the film ran until May of 1927 before it was withdrawn because of poor box office, the showtimes on weekends were at 3, 6, and 9, which suggests that it was around 2 1/2 hours."

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aox
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#18 Post by aox » Wed Jul 02, 2008 3:37 pm

so, as per IMDB:
Runtime: 153 min | Germany:147 min (2001 restored version) | Germany:210 min (premiere cut) | Germany:80 min (Giorgio Moroder version) | Germany:93 min (re-release version) | USA:114 min (25 fps) (1927 cut version) | USA:123 min (2002 Murnau Foundation 75th aniversary restored version) | Spain:118 min (DVD edition) | USA:117 min
this will either amount to 6 minutes of discovered footage (or is Germany PAL), or 30 minutes?

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davebert
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#19 Post by davebert » Wed Jul 02, 2008 3:42 pm

Wow! That is GREAT news. I love it when such discoveries are made, it makes up for all the doom-and-gloom about some masterpieces being forever lost (who knows... maybe they aren't!).

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Tommaso
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#20 Post by Tommaso » Wed Jul 02, 2008 3:59 pm

aox wrote:this will either amount to 6 minutes of discovered footage (or is Germany PAL), or 30 minutes?
Germany is PAL, but that doesn't really shed light on the mystery. FWMS writes this:
Pictures gave us the impression of what was missing – the to a supernumerary reduced figure of Georgy, the man named Slim, Josaphat, the car journey through Metropolis, the observation of Georgy through Slim, Freders delirium of Slim in which he changes into a apocalypse preaching monk. With this discovery in Buenos Aires these scenes will finally come back to life
All this seems like a LOT of material which hardly should fit into six minutes? I have the strong feeling that either the 2 1/2 hour info for the premiere is misleading or that we have indeed the original version (fingers crossed!!)

EDIT: just another thought. If imdb for once should have gotten the runtime right (210 min.) AND the study version, containing all the music etc. as Markhax points out, runs only 2 1/2 hours approx., wouldn't this be a strong indication that the proposed 24 fps are indeed wrong and the film was originally projected at around 20 fps? And then perhaps projected faster soon after? I don't know the difference between the study version and the normal Transit/MoC discs though. But these 'normal' discs also contain a lot of 'black screens' indicating something is missing.

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aox
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#21 Post by aox » Wed Jul 02, 2008 4:11 pm

PAL wouldn't make up for a 26 minute discrepancy between the Germany 2001 restoration and the 2002 US restoration of a 2 1/2 hour film?

my head is spinning.

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Rufus T. Firefly
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#22 Post by Rufus T. Firefly » Wed Jul 02, 2008 7:13 pm

According to Martin Koerber
The festive premiere of Metropolis took place at the Ufa-Palast am Zoo in Berlin on January 10, 1927. At the time, the length of the film was 4,189 meters (13,823 feet); at a projection speed of 24 frames per second (we can only guess at this today), the showing lasted 153 minutes. The film was accompanied by music for a large orchestra by Gottfried Huppertz; the orchestral score and the piano arrangement, because of the numerous cues they contain, are one of the best sources for those who want more accurate data about the form of the premiere version.
He doesn't state the length of the newer restoration, but the running time is 123m (NTSC)/118m (PAL). He also does not mention a running time of 210 minutes. I have the feeling this is spurious - it would equate to running the original version at 19fps. Anyone have a source for this running time? (the 147 minute length given on the IMDb might be the 123 minute version run at 22fps).

Going by the 153 minute running time, it appears that 30 minutes were missing from the 2001/02 restoration. Hopefully most if not all of those additional 30 minutes are in the 16mm print.
Last edited by Rufus T. Firefly on Wed Jul 02, 2008 9:57 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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markhax
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#23 Post by markhax » Wed Jul 02, 2008 8:37 pm

I have seen two sources, including, I believe, Enno Patalas, who say that Huppertz's score, for tempo purposes, recommends a projection speed of 25-27 frames per second, and Huppertz was an integral member of Lang's production team for Nibelungen and Metropolis. And since Patalas lists the original length as 4189 meters and the running time as 140 minutes, this puts the projection speed at 29.92 meters or 98.13 feet per second. 97.50 would be a little over 26 fps, within Huppertz's recommendation.

Bürgermeister
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#24 Post by Bürgermeister » Thu Jul 03, 2008 7:11 am

Yes pretty excited by this.

With this material now found will Metropolis be finally complete?

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Kinsayder
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#25 Post by Kinsayder » Thu Jul 03, 2008 7:30 am

Further info here.

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