Jul 4, 2008

The Metropolis of Buenos Aires

"Perhaps the most famous and influential of all silent films, Metropolis had for 75 years been seen only in shortened or truncated versions. Now [2002], restored in Germany with state-of-the-art digital technology, under the supervision of the Murnau Foundation, and with the original 1927 orchestral score by Gottfried Huppertz added, Metropolis can be appreciated in its full glory."
-- Kino Video synopsis, DVD of the restored
authorized edition
frame grab from the rediscovered footage
© Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung; Bildbearbeitung: Dennis Neuschäfer-Rube

Film-finder PAULA at Orphans 5 in Columbia, SC, with Kara Van Malssen (l) and Bill Brand (r). -->

Time to re-write history again.

Or at least to re-restore one of cinema's milestone productions.

Paula Félix-Didier, director of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires (and a MIAP graduate, PhD candidate, and presenter at the previous two Orphan Film Symposiums), has found the most complete cut to date of Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis [!!!].

The news story, first reported in the Hamburg weekly Die Zeit, is all over the Web now. [I heard about it simultaneously from MIAP alumus Jeff Martin (Hirschhorn Museum) and U of SC Film Studies alumni James Smith (The Nickelodeon Theatre) and Woody Jones (USC); all Orphans vets, needless to say.]

The 25-page spread in Die Zeit's magazine is only partly available online, as "
Die Neuentdeckung von 'Metropolis.' " Here's the short, English version: "Key scenes rediscovered," © ZEITmagazin 2.7.2008

Now to make sense of all those versions of this film. Here, for example, is how the Internet Movie Database lists the running times for Metropolis (pre-2008).

153 min
147 min (2001 restored version)
210 min (premiere cut)
80 min (Giorgio Moroder version)
93 min (re-release version) | USA
114 min (25 fps) (1927 cut version) | USA
123 min (2002 Murnau Foundation 75th aniversary restored version)
118 min (DVD edition) | USA:117 min

So surprising was this re-discovery, some professional moving image archivists thought the news headline might have been a hoax. But this report from Martin Koerber, who did the "definitive"
Metropolis restoration, attests to its veracity and to the significance of the print found in Buenos Aires.

from the Association of Moving Image Archivists listserv
Date: Thu, 3 Jul 2008
From: Martin Koerber <makoerber@WEB.DE>

Subject: Re: Is this news about METROPOLIS real or a hoax?

Dear all,

Paula Félix-Didier of the Museo del Cine in Buenos Aires indeed came to Berlin last week to show us what she found, and it is the real thing, no hoax this time. The material is terribly banged up, being a 16 mm dupe negative made from a no longer extant nitrate print, which was duplicated some decades ago after many years of heavy use.

Nevertheless one can now see the director's cut of Metropolis, 80 years after we all believed the original version was destroyed. Contrary to our thinking, obviously at least one print of the original cut made it into distribution, albeit in Argentina.

Only one of the missing scenes (the monk in the cathedral) remains missing, because it happened to be at a reel end that got badly torn.

The rest is there.

The images you will find at http://www.zeit.de/online/2008/27/metropolis-vorab-englisch will show you some scenes, and also expose the amount of damage. They look indeed a little worse than the real thing, as they are frame grabs from a DVD transfer of the dupe.
About 10 pages of information and frame enlargements from many more missing sequences are in the printed edition of DIE ZEIT, which is coming out today. I guess you can find this at the news stands in most countries in Europe, don't know about the international edition overseas.

Flip through it before you buy it, the articles about Metropolis are in the somewhat glossy "Zeit Magazin Leben" which comes with the paper. It will surely become a collector's item.

Kudos to Paula Félix-Didier and her initiative to unearth the material and share the information.
A lot of thinking is now necessary to find ways to incorporate this material into the existing restoration, released on DVD by Transit Film and Kino International, among others. It has titles and black leader where the missing parts once were so in principle one could just insert whatever is new at those inserts. The good news is that Friedrich-Wilhelm-Murnau-Stiftung intends to do just that once access to the material has been granted. The critical edition of Metropolis on DVD, which Enno Patalas derived from the 2001 restoration in order to create a "full" version of Metropolis has even more information about the missing scenes, and has the option to fill the missing scenes with not only black leader, but information from the script and other sources.

When run in synch with the material found in Buenos Aires, it is amazing to see how everything falls into place now.
The critical edition can be found here: http://www.filminstitut.udk-berlin.de/MKF/html/pages/filme/metropolis.html

Martin Koerber

Leiter der Abteilung Film - Curator Film
Deutsche Kinemathek -
Museum fFCr Film und Fernsehen

Incidentally, Metropolis was only one of several unique prints found in the collection that came into the Museo del Cine. Paula writes that she also found and identified a presumed-lost W. S. Hart movie, a presumed-lost Pearl White serial episode, and three missing Argentine movies -- among other things.

My great hope is that the film word, FIAF members, national heritage bodies, and others will not take this extraordinary find for granted. The
Museo de Cine Pablo Ducrós Hicken (its full and proper name) in Buenos Aires is the de facto national film archive, and deserves to have its funding and resources elevated. As the finds of this week demonstrate, it's not just one national cinema or patrimony that benefits from the support of institutions such as el Museo.