Metropolis: After 90 years – a Director’s Cut.

Hands-up – you got me. I’m a cineiste geek and I can’t tell you how thrilled I am at this news.

from Zeit Magazine

Last Tuesday Paula Félix-Didier travelled on a secret mission to Berlin in order to meet with three film experts. The museum director from Buenos Aires had something special in her luggage: a copy of a long version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, including scenes believed lost for almost 80 years. After examining the film the three experts are certain: The find from Buenos Aires is a real treasure, a worldwide sensation. Metropolis, the most important silent film in German history, can from this day on be considered to have been rediscovered.

Fritz Lang presented the original version of Metropolis in Berlin in January 1927. The film is set in the futuristic city of Metropolis, ruled by Joh Fredersen, whose workers live underground. His son falls in love with a young woman from the worker’s underworld – the conflict takes its course. At the time it was the most expensive German film ever made. It was intended to be a major offensive against Hollywood. However the film flopped with critics and audiences alike. Representatives of the American firm Paramount considerably shortened and re-edited the film. They oversimplified the plot, even cutting key scenes. The original version could only be seen in Berlin until May 1927 – from then on it was considered to have been lost forever. Those recently viewing a restored version of the film first read the following insert: “More than a quarter of the film is believed to be lost forever.”

But lost no more – perhaps owing more to caprice than fate…

Adolfo Z Wilson, the head of a film-distribution company called Terra, based in Buenos Aires […] had seen the original, preferred it, and was keen to show it in Argentina. He managed to buy a copy of the full version in 1928 and then chose to ignore his contractual obligation to destroy the print after it had been shown in cinemas.

Instead, he gave it to an Argentine film critic called Manuel Pena Rodriguez who later handed it on to the Argentine National Film Foundation. There, the reels were copied on to 16mm film. The new reels were given to the small Museo del Cine in 1992 but lay unnoticed in its archives until earlier this year. Credit for their discovery goes to Fernando Pena, a historian who first had an inkling that the original version was in circulation somewhere in the country after recalling a film-goer who had complained about viewing an “endless” version of Metropolis back in the 1980s.

Paradoxically, it was Mr Pena’s former wife, Paula Felix-Didier, who led him to discover the whereabouts of the reels – she was appointed director of the Museo del Cine at the beginning of this year. The two found and viewed the museum’s copy three months ago and were certain it was the original.

Helmut Possmann, director of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau Foundation, the holder of the rights to “Metropolis”, said: “The material believed to be lost leads to a new understanding of the Fritz Lang masterpiece.” The Murnau Foundation now sees itself as “responsible, along with the archive in Buenos Aires and our partners for making the material available to the public.”

The rediscovered material is in need of restoration after 80 years; the pictures are scratched, but clearly recognizable. Martin Koerber, the restorer of the hitherto longest known version of “Metropolis”, who also examined the footage, said: “No matter how bad the condition of the material may be, the original intention of the film, including all of its minor characters and subplots, is now once again tangible for the normal viewer. The rhythm of the film has been restored.”

And perhaps the scratches, which will probably remain even after restoration, will have an added advantage: The cinemagoer will be reminded of what an exciting history this great film has had.


~ by mchawk on 22 July, 2008.

One Response to “Metropolis: After 90 years – a Director’s Cut.”

  1. at last, the full film can be seen for the first time.i have waited a long time for this, as i knew that one day it would come.having read the book, it was clear to me that there was much missing from the film release, i will now wait for the full film to be released. cannot be too soon.

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