The news last month that new (or rather old) scenes thought lost from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis have been found in storage in Argentina has got the film world talking about the classic once more. Not to say it ever left the agenda. Since 1927 it has remained one of the most inspiring movies ever made.
I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of it at the Dublin International Film Festival two years back, having spent many years trying to find a chance to watch it but always missing the opportunity. The DIFF’s showing was quite the gala presentation, held in the National Gallery of Ireland with a live and newly composed score by the fantastic 3epkano. Once in a lifetime events don’t come much more impressive than that, especially when you’ve read and heard so much about a film but are only finally becoming acquainted with it for the first time.
Which brings me to the point of this discussion, is Metropolis not perfect enough as it is? That’s not to say that the missing scenes won’t complete it, but is all the hubbub not likely to end in some level of disappointment?
Reading Sight & Sound’s article ‘The Metropolis mystery’, which recounts in exhausting detail the story of how this original copy was rediscovered and identified, one gets that strange feeling which comes from watching a really excellent trailer for a film you’ve been dying to see for some time; can it really live up to the hype?
Metropolis is full of holes. Not many, and not big ones, but they are there. They gnaw away at the overall product. The most complete version that has been available to see to date fills those holes with intertitles describing what the missing scenes were known to contain. The problem is, they never described scenes that seemed particularly exciting. Many of them detailed the continuing adventures of the amusingly named minor character Worker 11811 as he adventured in the city disguised as Freder, the film’s hero. A lot of these scenes sounded very much like the kind of scene that would be removed from the average theatrical release, with just cause.
When you watch the deleted scenes on DVDs, how often do you find yourself not saying: “Oh, I see why that was deleted”? Extended and director’s cuts only rarely add much to a film. For every Blade Runner and Das Boot there’s an Apocalypse Now or Cinema Paradiso to lengthen and confuse, or even worse a Hellboy or Gladiator that adds nothing but fluff. My fear would be that in spite of the hype this definitive cut of Metropolis could be seen to be more like the latter of these cases. The drowning of the workers is already a gripping scene as has been shown to this date, what can more footage really add? Is there an element of the director’s cut of RoboCop here, not knowing when to stop the violence once the point’s been made?
There is no question of whether or not I will hunt down this version. I certainly will once it is restored, scored and hits art house cinemas for the three days that it can survive there once more. I sadly wish however that I could forget the version I have seen before, forget the story I have read of how it was rediscovered in the museum warehouse in Buenos Aires, and appreciate the film as it should be, as a whole, without constantly picking out and analysing the new scenes silently in my mind.
Because none of the new scenes, even those which promise to finally reveal the reason behind the villainous Rotwang’s madness, can compare to those which are already in the film, such as the machine disaster sequence shown above. These are the scenes that have made Metropolis perhaps the most famous silent non-comedy of them all. The rest, in truth, is only filler.