I never have been like most people my age. When I was in middle/high school, everyone wanted to watch that televised celebration of mediocrity called Friends. I was busy watching re-runs of Twin Peaks. When I was in college, I stayed in and watched Antiques Roadshow on Saturday nights while almost everyone else went out to parties. And now while just about everybody in the world is all geeked up about Avatar, I couldn’t possibly care less about Avatar. Instead I’m getting positively giddy about a movie that’s over 80 years old.
Fritz Lang spent two years filming Metropolis and it cost about $200 million (in today’s money) to produce. When it premiered in Berlin in 1927, theater goers were treated to Fritz Lang’s pure vision. However, Fritz Lang’s true vision was quite long, about three and a half hours. A movie that long wasn’t very marketable and it was badly cut down, against Lang’s wishes, for distribution. The original premiere version hasn’t been seen publicly since 1927 and about a quarter of the original footage was thought to be lost for good. For decades, the only way to see Metropolis was through some terrible versions that did not reflect Fritz Lang’s vision at all. The picture quality was often unwatchable, the music scores could be totally inappropriate, and the movie was pretty confusing after all that footage was cut out. An excellent restoration was done in 2001 that combined the best quality prints available, restored the original musical score, and filled out some of the missing footage with still frames and intertitles. By far, this was the best version to see.
I was convinced the 2001 restored version would be the most definitive version of Metropolis I would ever see. So you can imagine my surprise when one morning in 2008, I was just going through the usual websites I like to check first thing in the morning, and ended up coming across an article announcing that a nearly complete print of Metropolis had been discovered in a film archive in Argentina. If I remember correctly, I squealed and one of my cats looked at me like I had lost my mind. This was huge news for silent film fans because a complete print of Metropolis was pretty much the Holy Grail of lost films. I didn’t even care that this found print was in pretty rough shape, I was just thrilled that I’d have the chance to see Metropolis, one of my favorite movies, the way it was meant to be seen. A restoration job was put underway on the found footage and the final version just premiered in Berlin the other day.
If you’d like to get a good look at some of the newly-found footage, you can check out a clip here. If the player doesn’t start with the video titled “Scène originale de Metropolis 2010”, click the right arrow button under the title until the video comes up. I can’t wait for this version to be released on DVD!