It's a lonely life...that of the necromancer, er freelancer

A blog by a designer and illustrator, for designers and illustrators which may contain musings on art, movies and random weirdness.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


Last Friday night I attended a viewing of Fritz lang's 1927 science-fiction masterpiece Metropolis at the Cinema Salem. It is "The Complete" version that restores the film to its almost-original condition, incorporating footage discovered in Buenos Aires in 2008. Nearly a half an hour has been restored into the film, seen here (almost) complete for the first time since the film’s Berlin premiere in 1927.
Immediately after the premiere, German distributor Ufa re-cut the film from 153 minutes to 114 minutes, and it was this version that was distributed internationally, including an American release through Paramount Pictures, who hacked even more content from the film to fit it into a 90 minute slot as well as to tone down the political themes at the core of the film. This is the version that had been available to audiences for nearly 80 years. The rest of the film — excised and unseen in decades — was considered lost.

The discovery of A 16mm complete collector’s print of the film in a film vault in South America was a major find for film enthusiasts. Aside from 8 minutes that were too badly degraded to restore, The Complete Metropolis is indeed, complete.

The last time I saw this film was in a college film class, and I remembered it as an assemblage of visually striking images and set pieces of epic scale and imagination, but the (then) poor quality of the film, and the somewhat confusing story caused me to dismiss it. That is not the case with the new version. The restored version is stunning and the additional footage not only clarifies the story, it also clarifies character action and motivation.

If you are not familiar with the story, Metropolis is a techno-utopia, a futuristic city, enormous and technically advanced, however there is a great social disparity. The leader of the city, Joh Frederson’s and the rich elite live lives of luxury and comfort in the upper levels of the city while a working underclass toil endlessly to service the machines that keep the city running, and live underground in the lowest levels of the city. The workers lives are bleak and exhausting. Their only hope comes in the form of a saintly girl named Maria who cares for the workers children. She tells of the coming "Mediator". A messiah-like figure who will act as an intermediary between the elite class and the working class. This turns out to be Joh Frederson's son Freder.
His conscience is awakened by an encounter with Maria, and he attempts to assist her in her mission to better the lives of the city's workers.

One of my favorite characters is the mad scientist Rotwang. He is a distinctive-looking man, with his shock of unruly hair, his long coat and gloved, artificial hand.

He creates an evil robot version of Maria, on the orders of Joh Frederson to undermine the worker's confidence in Maria and undo their social uprising. Unkown to Frederson, (and to us until this restored version of the film), is that Rotwang was in love with Frederson's dead wife and created the robot to take her place. When he is called upon to turn her into Maria, he does so with the intention of destroying Metropolis, Jon Frederson, and Freder. It is Rotwang's creation that is perhaps the most iconic image of the film, and sets much of the story in motion.

The scene where Rotwang transform the metal robot into the flesh-and-blood Maria is a masterful showcase of special effects, that for my money surpasses the even the creation scene in Frankenstein, which it predates by four years. Rotwang also figures prominently in some of the films most iconic shots.

This film is a virtual watershed of sci-fi imagery and themes and seems to be the inspiration for almost every major sci-fi movie of the twentieth century. Giant cityscapes, social commentary, a political struggle between the haves and have-nots, and between good and evil. Movies such as The Matrix, THX1138, Blade Runner, Dark City, Star Wars, and at least a dozen others.

Don't be deterred by the fact that this is an older, black and white and silent film. The images and themes are powerful, and the silvery black and white only deepens the dream-like quality of the film. I strongly recommend seeing this film.


  1. Sounds interesting,are they selling this version now,or how would one see it?

  2. After checking on Amazon, this "new" film/DVD may be released in Nov'10


    Lots of history about the film's development, multiple editions and restoration efforts. Hopefully I can head up to see the Salem production. Thanks for promoting it.