Metropolis: Restored Blu-ray

Monday, 22 November 2010 15:17

They say that most art is not appreciated in its time.  Certainly this was the case with the 1927 movie “Metropolis” – with the budget in the millions, its takings were in the tens of thousands.  The two and a half hour epic was drastically trimmed in an effort to claw back some of the cash in foreign markets. This too failed, and the dystopian vision of the future became a warning of what happens when you try to show the general public what’s coming down the tracks right at them ... they choose to ignore you.

Not much has changed, then, in the 83 years since “Metropolis” first saw the light of day. What is patently obvious when people awaken to the reality around them, rather than the propaganda drip-feed they get from the mainstream media, has never been more crystal clear than in the storyline to this classic. And for the first time in decades, audiences can now at last see the entire story unfold before their eyes.  And it was all down to a film vault in Argentina!

Metropolis - Restored to its original glory on Blu-ray and DVDI recall first hearing about “Metropolis” in all the glitz and hype surrounding the release of “Star Wars” back in 1977.  There was talk about how C-3PO had been influenced by the robot ‘Maria’ in the movie from 50 years previous. Later, and rightly so, “Blade Runner” patently lifted the designs of the future city for its landscapes.

Directed by the legendary Fritz Lang, whose other work included “M”, “Das Testament des Dr Mabuse” and “The Big Heat”, even today you can only marvel at the unbridled production values and modernist grandeur. Luis Buñuel, another legendary Director, described the film as “a captivating symphony of movement”. 

So, what resonates so clearly with the ‘Big Brother’ totalitarian society that we are blindly allowing to be built around us, at this very moment in history? “Metropolis” depicts a future society relentlessly divided in two. While the workers conduct their endless drudgery below ground, their rulers, the ‘elite’, wallow a decadent lifestyle of leisure and luxury.

“Metropolis” is ruled by the powerful industrialist Joh Fredersen (Alfred Abel), a friend to many a banker. He looks out from his office in the new Tower of Babel at a modern, highly technological world. Together with the children of the workers, a young woman named Maria (Brigitte Helm in her debut role) reaches the Eternal Gardens, where the sons of the city’s ‘elite’ amuse themselves.

Here she meets Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), Joh Fredersen’s son. When the young man later goes on a search for the girl, he witnesses an explosion in a machine hall, where numerous workers lose their lives. He then realises that the luxury of the upper class is based on the exploitation of the proletariat. He soon has nightmares of the machine taking the form of the god ‘Moloch’ devouring workers to satiate its appetite.

In the Catacombs under the Workers’ City Freder finally finds Maria, who gives the workers hope with her prophecies for a better future. She is prophesying the coming of a “mediator”, who would become the “heart between the head (the thinkers, the ‘elite’) and the hand (the workers).

Freder’s father also knows about Maria’s influence on the proletariat and fears for his power.  So, Joh Frederson visits the house of crazed inventor Rotwang (Rudolf Klein-Rogge), still pining after his dead wife Hel. There, he learns about Rotwang’s experiments to create a cyborg based on the likeness of Hel, who was their mutual love and Freder’s mother. Fredersen orders Rotwang to give Maria’s face to the robot, in order to send it to the underground city to deceive and stir up its inhabitants.

 

After the robot Maria has succeeded, a catastrophe ensues. The riotous workers destroy the Heart Machine and as a result the Workers’ City, where only the children have remained, is disastrously flooded. The real Maria brings the children to safety along with Freder.

When they learn about the incident, the rebelling masses stop in their tracks. Their rage is now aimed at the robot Maria, who is captured and burned at the stake. At the same time Rotwang, driven by madness, pursues the genuine Maria across the cathedral’s rooftop, where he ultimately is thwarted. Freder and Maria find each other again. The son devotes himself to his father, mediating between him and the workers. As a consequence, Maria’s prophecy of reconciliation between the ruler and those who are mastered (head and hands) triumphs – through the help of the mediating heart.

Substitute the word ‘Mediator’ with the word ‘Media’ and the allegory is complete for our times.  The media is there to keep control of everyone bar the ruling elite, the now 130,000 or so people who live above the law and beyond the reach of us all.  The media ensures that rebellion is stopped, awkward questions are never answered, and that those working away, day and night, just to stand still never question if their lives could actually be something more. In effect, at the end of the movie, nothing has really changed - there are still those above, and those below.  The Mediator has ensured the status quo.

The restoration of the missing thirty minutes from the most recent print restoration sees the re-establishment of the character ‘The Thin Man’. Almost removed from the rounds of butchering following its initial box office failure, this is perhaps the most sinister character of all. Felix Rasp played the part with a hat with the widest brim you’ve ever seen, and this spy could be viewed as a traitor to the workers, helping to keep them in line and making threats when required. His relentless intimidation of hapless office manager Josephat (Theodor Loos) and worker 11811 (Erwin Biswanger) who trades places with Freder, is spine tingling.

“Metropolis” has become a cultural phenomenon over the years.  Producer Georgio Moroder added an electronic score to an 80 minute colourised version in 1984, which featured the vocal talents of Freddie Mercury, Adam Ant and Bonnie Tyler.

Since then, the symbolism of the movie has been lifted by the likes of Madonna (“Express Yourself”), Queen (“Radio Gaga”), Beyonce, Kylie Minogue and indeed Lady Gaga herself. For an in-depth study of this, check out the Vigilant Citizen website.

Indeed, in one “Metropolis” scene, where Maria is assimilated into the robot, she closes her left eye, with an evil grin. Lady Gaga is constantly hiding one of her eyes. This is symbolism for the ‘All-Seeing Eye’ - the gesture of hiding one eye, usually the left one, goes way back in the occult (meaning ‘hidden’). ‘The Dictionary of the Occult’ says: “Horus, the sun of Osiris and Isis was called ‘Horus who rules with two eyes’. His right eye was white and represented the sun: his left eye was black and represented the moon. According to the myth, Horus lost his left eye to his evil brother, Seth, who he fought to avenge Seth’s murder of Osiris. Seth tore out of the eye but lost the fight. The eye was reassembled by magic, by Thoth, the god of writing, the moon and magic. Horus presented his eye to Osiris, who experienced rebirth in the underworld.”

Needless to say, such imagery gives a whole new meaning to “Metropolis”, a warning to those who were in-the-know that this was what was being planned for civilisation, and not just designed as a piece of theatrical entertainment.

This new version of “Metropolis” is presented in a reconstructed and restored version, as lavish and spectacular as ever thanks to the painstaking archival work of the Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung after the discovery of 25 minutes of footage previously thought lost to the world. It came to light when a full print as seen by German cinema-goers in 1927 was found at Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 2008. Archived as a 16mm copy from a 35mm negative in the early 1970s (on nitrate stock which could have combusted at any moment), to say the quality is grotty is a little bit of an understatement.  

As the DVD documentary included on the Blu-ray release notes, had somehow they had the original negative to work from, then they could easily have got rid of the marks, blemishes and scratches. It’s like looking at the film through grimy net curtains, but to have the full version of the movie is a blessing that cannot be undervalued. Indeed, the fact that the restoration process meant that the ‘new’ scenes didn’t fit a full ‘4:3’ frame, you can see where cuts were made in the original by a black band appearing at the top of the screen.

For the detectives amongst you, then it’s not so much the parts of scenes removed to tighten them up, but more that a lot of what was removed by Paramount for their American release was fleshing out the world of the future that would come into being if good men do nothing. Taking the vision from allegory to actuality, if you like.

Director Fritz Lang was born in Vienna, Austria in 1890 and died in Los Angeles, USA in 1976. His life spanned service in World War I, spectacular fame in Germany in the 1920s, escape from the Nazis, and a period of emigre reinvention in Hollywood. Lang is widely recognized as one of the most important of all cinema directors.

“Metropolis” was the first ever film to be included on the UNE SCO Memory of the World “register” of essential cultural artifacts. This new version also benefits from a new 2010 symphony orchestra recording of the original 1927 Gottfried Huppertz score in 5.1 Surround, as well as newly translated English subtitles of the original German intertitles.

You also get:

  • Full-length audio commentary by David Kalat and Jonathan Rosenbaum
  • “Die Reise nach Metropolis” (2010, 53 minutes), a documentary about the film
  • 2010 Re-release Trailer
  • 56-page Booklet - featuring archival interviews with Fritz Lang, a 1927 review by Luis Buñuel, articles by Jonathan Rosenbaum and Karen Naundorf, and restoration notes by Martin Koerber.

Late on in his life, Fritz Lang responded to a question on “Metropolis” by asking his own question, “Why are you so interested in a picture which no longer exists?” Now, you too can help answer the question by seeing it in its entirety.  Just as with Patrick McGoohan’s The Prisoner, it has become something far more than was originally intended. It is a warning that we need to take on board very quickly, or we’ll all end up, figuratively speaking, just like those workers underground.

“Metropolis”, part of the Masters of Cinema Series is out now with a ‘PG’ certificate, as a DVD edition (RRP £22.99), a Blu-ray edition with wraparound embossed sleeve (RRP £24.99), or a Limited Edition Steelbook Dual Format edition (RRP £29.99). Or you can get any of these formats for less at www.culttvstore.com

 

METROPOLIS - CREDITS

Production Company: Universum-Film AG (Ufa), Berlin

Script: Thea von Harbou

Art Directors: Otto Hunte, Erich Kettelhut, Karl Vollbrecht

Sculptures: Walter Schultze-Mittendorf

Cinematographers: Karl Freund, Günther Rittau

Music: Gottfried Huppertz

Producer: Erich Pommer

Director: Fritz Lang

 

Brigitte Helm as Maria

Alfred Abel as Joh Fredersen

Gustav Fröhlich as Freder, Joh Fredersen’s son

Rudolf Klein-Rogge as Rotwang, the inventor

Fritz Rasp as The Thin Man

Theodor Loos as Josaphat

Erwin Biswanger as 11811

Heinrich George as Grot, the Guardian of the Heart-Machine

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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