Thursday, 4 November 2010

Metropolis: seeing the complete classic film

This week I went to my favorite arthouse cinema, RagTag in Columbia, Missouri, to see the restored, full-length version of Metropolis.

You've probably seen Fritz Lang's 1927 Expressionist masterpiece, and you've certainly seen some of its most famous images: a robot turning into a beautiful woman, slave workers turning the giant hands of a man-sized clock, immense machinery exploding and killing the crew. It's visually stunning and memorable, but until now it wasn't complete.

The original ran 153 minutes, too much even for the longer attention spans of a more patient age. At least half an hour was cut from most versions, and more in some cases. This left the film jumpy and at times incoherent. The extra film was considered lost until a few years ago when an original, full-length copy was found in Argentina.

The film was in bad shape and transferred to 16mm, so it had lost its original dimensions. With painstaking care, experts fixed up most of the missing parts and this almost complete version of the film is now on international tour. I say "almost complete" because a few minutes were too mangled to be restored. Even the parts that were restored are grainy and scratched. Missing scenes are explained with intertitles.

Go see it anyway. The complex and compelling plot now makes sense for the first time, and even the scratchy bits contain some alluring scenes. Lang was a master, one of the greatest directors of all time, and the Expressionist movement of the Weimar Republic created some of the most enduring silent classics in history. Seeing it actually upped my productivity as a writer. As I've mentioned before, I'm more inspired by artists in other fields than I am by writers. Seeing great DJs or painters, or even ancient ruins, gets my creative juices flowing.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

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