Metropolis returns

Key scenes from the famous movie rediscovered.

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.

Fritz Lang presented the original version of Metropolis in Berlin in January 1927. 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."

I find Metropolis a hard movie to watch, because just about every frame of it has been imitated so many times that there's nothing left that isn't a cliché today. As history, it's amazing; as a movie, hard to sit through. But, years ago I got to see The Clubfoot Orchestra playing along with it live, and that was amazing. Live music made it a lot more compelling.

The anime remake of Metropolis is surprisingly good, by the way.

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26 Responses:

  1. ex_sonjaaa says:

    I always wished a group like Kraftwerk would make their own custom soundtrack to Metropolis.

  2. neilx says:

    All I hear is Radio Ga-Ga.

  3. porphyre says:

    I thought this was old news. I saw a remastered version of Metropolis a couple of years ago that had missing reels inserted in and a rerecording of the original score. I assumed it was the remaster, as complete as can be. Are these even MORE missing reels?

    • jwz says:

      Wow, not only didn't you read the article, you also didn't read the paragraph I quoted from it! Yes, that restored version from a few years ago was still missing more than a quarter of the movie.

      • porphyre says:

        I did read it, in all it's entirety, earlier this morning. The viewing I attended said nothing about any more missing footage, which is why I was asking. They were crowing, rather, that they had finally gotten all of it! How Exciting! They Win At Cinema! There were posters all over the place, guest speakers and the whole nine yards.

        • jwz says:

          Apparently they did not win at cinema. All the footage: not yours.

        • solarbird says:

          Given the timing, I'd say that the viewing you would've seen from a few years ago would be the most recent major restoration, a version that had much more than had been previously found and restored (previous major restoration was in the mid-80s, iirc). It was part of a magnificent effort, but indeed still missed extensive sequences - tho' they'd given up on finding any more of the lost footage, and were considering it as recovered as they were going to get. Perhaps that's what you're remembering.

          Unlike the 80s restoration, this version had become watchable as a movie more than watchable as history; it made so much more sense. At least, for me. The idea that they have it all now, if they really do, sends shivvers down my spine.

          • porphyre says:

            That was precisely what it was. The 80's one is completely unwatchable, as far as I've experienced, and the one before that doesn't make a lick of sense. As far as I can tell, there's no point in trying to watch either one. (Though, as the man said, the anime was remarkably good).

            We had a film-in-the-park-with-a-live-orchestra thing with Metropolis too, which would have been great except they used the pre-80's one, and I ended up getting up and becoming sort of a spoken word narrator as I filled in all the bits that didn't connect.

  4. artkiver says:

    Whoa, kickass news!

    I have to say I really enjoy the most recently restored version, and am looking forward to seeing what footage they can recover from this. Other versions not so much (and I own the anime remake you mentioned, and despite being a big fan of Otomo Katsuhiro who wrote the script, I really don't enjoy it by comparison or on its own - not to butt heads)

  5. cavorite says:

    The coolest viewing of Metropolis I have seen is when a local DJ was doing a live mix of various electronic bands to match up to the movie, very well done.

  6. leolo says:

    Coolest version I ever saw was at Montreal's Science Fiction Movie festival (the only year it ever ran) with a DJ, 2 people playing didgeridoo and I think EJ Brulé making noises. No idea which cut, but it was a very memorable experience.

  7. edouardp says:

    I remember the first time I saw Casablanca in a little arthouse theatre here in Auckland - it was quite surprising how much of the film felt like a cheap cliche, and how you had to consciously remind yourself "no, this is actually where the others all got their stuff from".

    It saddens me that if I were to lend Koyaanisqatsi to some 22 year old these days, they'll likely to tell me it's a pretty lame attempt to rip off the Grand Theft Auto IV trailer...

    I think I've seen both the 80s and 2002 restorations of Metropolis, and I liked them both. I probably have quite a high tolerance for watching all kinds of film though... ("71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance" anyone?)

    The manga version wasn't really a remake. Wikipedia (yes, the infallible source of all knowledge) says "Tezuka's manga was in fact inspired by a poster for the film, and he never saw the film itself" which sounds about right to me. Good in it's own right though.

    • artkiver says:

      As you pointed out, Tezuka only derived minor inspiration for his comic series since he claims to have never seen Metropolis. However, he passed away in 1989, and Otomo Katsuhiro's screenplay incorporates quite a bit more inspiration from the film even if it is outwardly just an adaptation of the comics. I'm still not really a fan of it; while I love Tezuka, Otomo and Lang's individual works, the amalgam just falls apart for me.

  8. korgmeister says:

    I find Metropolis a hard movie to watch, because just about every frame of it has been imitated so many times that there's nothing left that isn't a clichè today.

    I have the same problem with Citizen Kane.

    • Kurosawa's best films suffer from the same fate since his techniques have been imitated so much and that some of the movies have been remade as westerns. Still doesn't make some of his greats less watchable, though - they stand up to the treatment even if you have to remind yourself that the cliches were brand new at the time.

      As an aside, watching Kurosawa's samurai films always make me want to drink sake during the viewing, but not for getting drunk. It's odd because I normally dislike the stuff but it seems to taste really good while watching samurai action.

    • rodgerd says:

      Casablanca, too.

  9. Considering its authors, the anime being good is not surprising at all.

  10. cattycritic says:

    Metropolis: At this point it's practically a miracle to find any missing footage from back then as the celluloid basically destroys itself over time. So in that sense I'm glad. I also saw the last major restoration and I agree, it's hard to sit through, however, for me it's because it was just kind of dumb. I couldn't sit through either of the D. W. Griffith films I tried to watch, either.

    Casablanca/clichès: I've seen Casablanca a few times. Maybe I"m just a sentimental schmuck, but seeing it on the big screen the first time, it was a different movie, and very moving, particularly the scene where they all stand up and sing the French National Anthem at the Nazis. I can easily ignore the clichè feeling because I know it started there.

    If you want more of that though, try watching some old Buster Keaton, then watch some Warner Bros. cartoons. There are probably dozens of slapstick gags Buster & co. do in real life that show up there. It's a little mind-boggling, actually, to think that people actually physically DID some of that stuff.

    • moonracer says:

      I recommend a double feature viewing of Casablanca and Barb Wire (sorry) a little drink) but no, really.

      And I'm psyched for a "new", longer ,more complete version of Metropolis.

  11. amaranthyne says:


    Well, that's worth subscribing for.
    This is Jenni, by the by.