Metropolis

Film Criticism, Movies

After being slightly disappointed by The Passion of Joan of Arc, my project to watch all of the BFI’s 50 Greatest Films of All Time, moved on to a film I was already very familiar with: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

Initially, when I decided to embark on the GFOAT project, I wasn’t sure whether or not I wanted to rewatch films I had already seen. Part of that indecision was practical: it takes a long time to watch 50 movies. But after I started watching the films, I realized how watching these films in chronological order helps keep the films in context. Watching these movies among their contemporaries helps with understanding the times during which they were made and with an appreciation of the technology available.

In the past, I’ve seen all three versions of Metropolis: the 1984 Giorgio Moroder version, the 2002 restoration and the 2010 restoration. This time, I decided on the Giorgio Moroder version and the 2010 restoration.

The Moroder version, which I hadn’t seen since it was first out on VHS, is a lot of fun. The music is mired in the 80s with plenty of synthesizers and songs by the likes of Pat Benatar, Jon Anderson, Adam Ant, Billy Quire and Freddie Mercury. It also is tinted to add some color and mood. This version clocks in at a brief 82 minutes. At the time, this was the most complete version. Because it was missing a significant amount of footage, it doesn’t have the depth or gravitas of the complete version but has an urgency which is enhanced by the contemporary soundtrack. This version also uses subtitles instead of intertitles which contributes to the short length and quicker pace.

Although I enjoyed the Moroder version, it really can’t compare to the complete version which is almost twice as long. At 148 minutes, this version is much more complex and interesting. The 2002 version is 124 minutes long, which was a significant improvement over the existing version and utilized the original score and intertitles. Some intertitles described known missing scenes that were later found and included in the complete version. Neither the 2002 nor 2010 versions are tinted. The newly found footage was discovered in a museum in Buenos Ares and is in pretty poor condition. You can easily tell which scenes in the complete version are from this footage.

Metropolis takes place in 2026 in a highly industrialized society. The wealthy live on the surface is magnificent buildings and the workers are relegated to the underground. When Freder (Gustav Fröhlich), son of the creator of the city of Metropolis, falls for Maria (Brigitte Helm), who agitates on behalf of the workers, he is exposed to the miserable life of the poor and joins their struggle. The complete version present an epic adventure not seen since its original release and boasts magnificent ground breaking effects.

Metropolis has long been one of my favorite films and seeing it again along with other films from the period only enhances my love for it. It’s difficult for me to imagine that this won’t end up in my top ten.

After 5 films, my personal rankings look like this:

  1. Metropolis (1927)
  2. Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)
  3. The General (1926)
  4. Battleship Potemkin (1925)
  5. The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

Next Up: Man with a Movie Camera