Foreign & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video ">
Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video
When I last saw Fritz Lang’s futuristic Metropolis (1927) eight years ago, it had been immaculately restored to a gleaming sheen. The tiles of its cavernous underground factory glistened, but the narrative had to jump over gaps caused by the footage that had been removed after the film’s Berlin premiere. It was the most expensive European film up to that point, and the American distributor, Paramount, considerably hacked away at it after its mixed reception.
It’s a nightmarish depiction of capital run amok in a city that looks like Manhattan on steroids. While the upper-class parties like it’s 1999 (actually it’s 2026), the downtrodden proletariats await a messiah, but become mislead by a robot in the guise of a beautiful woman, designed to crush the workers’ hopes. Brigitte Helm, 17 at the time, plays both the film’s voice of reason, the saintly evangelist Maria, and the demonic robot. It’s the ultimate Madonna/whore dual role.
An almost complete negative print of the original German version was found by the Buenos Aires Museo del Cine two years ago, adding a half hour of clarifying subplots to the 2002 restoration. How did we make sense of the film before? Now, there’s only one sequence that’s sorely missing. Its discovery adds hope of finding the missing pieces to other truncated masterpieces. However, one can see why the studio trimmed the last reel. The three intertwining and padded chase sequences don’t have the urgency or precision of any of the nick-of-time rescues of, say, D. W. Griffith.
Both the 2002 version and this more complete version included the original music by the little-known Gottfried Huppertz (try Googling him and see what you come up with). He wrote one of the most sumptuous scores composed for a silent film, rerecording by a 60-piece orchestra. (Composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Max Steiner were also riding the tail end of Germanic romanticism.) Many of Huppertz’s leitmotifs are practically reconfigured from Wagner’s Das Rheingold—the theme for the film’s Club of the Sons, an enclave for the rich and powerful, draws from the music for Valhalla.
Blade Runner, and even Madonna’s 1989 video “Express Yourself”
are heavily indebted to the incredible production design of
Metropolis, the zenith of German Expressionism in the
movies. (Besides its influence on science fiction movies, the climactic
flooding of Metropolis is the prototype of the disaster film.) Madonna
even embedded the film’s message, “Without the Heart, there can no
understanding between the hand and the mind,” into her video’s coda. See
this reconstructed version now before Lady Gaga appropriates
Metropolis’s “Whore of Babylon” coochee-coochee dance number. It’s just
a matter of time. Kent Turner