For film historians and cinephiles in general, this could easily be the story of the year. The ZEITmagazin
has just posted at its site a preview of a piece running in tomorrow's edition that confirms the existence of the original version
of Fritz Lang
. "The most important silent film in German history," they announce, "can, from this day forward, be considered rediscovered."
Frankly, I'm beside myself. In one of the first pieces
I wrote for GreenCine - nearly six years ago now, long before there was a Daily
- I profiled the diligent and talented folks at Alpha-Omega
who had completed the most recent restoration. I've had an irrational thing for this seemingly irrational movie since I first saw it, oh, 20 years ago or so. But of course, what I saw back then was, at most, three-quarters of the version that premiered in Berlin in January 1927. The rest - cut by Paramount for Metropolis
's run in US theaters - has long been written off as lost forever.
No more. The lowdown: In 1928, Adolfo Z Wilson, head of Terra, a distribution company, secured a copy of what Die Zeit
is calling the "long version" (is it really Lang's original cut? I'll be buying the magazine tomorrow; more then) and took it with him back home to Buenos Aires. Manuel Peña Rodríguez, a film critic, then acquired the film rolls for his private collection, and there they stayed until he sold them to a national museum in Argentina in the 60s. A copy
of these rolls then wound up at the Museo del Cine
in Buenos Aires.
Paula Félix-Didier, who's quietly relayed this sequence of events to Die Zeit
journalist Karen Naundorf so that the story would break in Germany, took over direction of the museum this January. Félix-Didier's ex-husband heads the Film Department of the Museum for Latin American Art in Buenos Aires and he
heard from a fellow who runs a Cineclub there that when he last screened Metropolis
, he was amazed at how long the film ran on. That's when they delved into the archives and discovered the scenes no one believed would ever be seen again.
is also running a gallery
of stills from the missing scenes. It'd be improper for me to simply translate the captions, but I can tell you what's up with each of these images. I'll keep it short, so some familiarity with the film will come in handy:
1: Schmale (Fritz Rasp), Joh Fredersen's spy, follows Freder. The scene helps clarify what he's doing in the film in the first place.
2: A master of ceremonies applies make-up to a young lady; the significance of this scene escapes me, to be honest, but fine.
3: This is a big one, though. In the sequence in which the workers' underground city is flooded, children fight for their lives; for the first time, we can see that the water comes from the above-ground city.
4: Maria flees; this should help explain why the workers fall for her doppelgänger, the Robot Maria.
5: Maria, fleeing some more.
6: And more.
The Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau Foundation will be working with the Archive in Buenos Aires to restore the rediscovered scenes and make them available to the public. Says the widely respected film historian Martin Koerber: "However poor the state of the material may be, the normal viewer will now be able to discern the original intention of the film with all its supporting characters and sub-plots. The rhythm of the film, too, will be revived."
Updates, 7/3: First off, the Magazin presents quite a package. There are several pages featuring stills from the newly rediscovered scenes; the story of the three film canisters containing them is retraced in detail; and in another piece, Rainer Rother, director of the Deutsche Kinemathek and Berlinale Retrospektive programmer, Anke Wilkening of the FW Murnau Foundation and restorer Martin Koerber discuss the value of the find.
On the site, however, nothing's been added other than a collection of critical reactions to Metropolis when it premiered. Movie City News, though, has noted that the FW Murnau Foundation has issued a press release in English.
I was pleased to see that the story made the news on state television last night; for the time being, though, I won't add much more here until I can get a sense of perspective, that is, decide how much and what to relay from the Magazin that would be of genuine interest to readers who haven't been quite as obsessed with this film as I have over all these years. In other words, I'm still a little too giddy for proper perspective.
I should note that , as Die Welt is emphasizing, we still do not have the absolute, complete version; Rother estimates that what's been rediscovered represents around 85 percent of what had been considered lost for good. Still!
Kate Connolly reports on the story for the Guardian while Peter Bradshaw comments: "New scenes may make more sense of the head-spinning narrative.... Or perhaps it will all just be more fascinatingly strange and perplexing than ever."
Updates, 7/4: Spiegel Online has translated David Kleingers's take on the discovery; he runs the German Film Institute's filmportal.de, which has a nifty page devoted to Metropolis as part of its section on Weimar Cinema.
Christiane Peitz talks with Volker Schlöndorff about the find for the Tagesspiegel. Also in German: Bert Rebhandl in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung; and Welt Online talks with Rother.
Update, 7/5: The Frankfurter Rundschau runs a sobering report on the state of the copy found in Argentina. First, that's precisely what it is: a copy, 16mm, made as a "back up" of sorts to the 35mm nitrate original - which is still missing. Second, it's in terrible shape - but the FW Murnau Foundation has high hopes for the quality of the image that might be drawn from it.
Update, 7/7: Starting with Eisenstein's Bezhin Meadow, Ronald Bergan revisits the mysteries of other missing masterpieces.
Updates, 7/8: Enno Patalas has been working with Koerber and Anna Bohn on a reconstruction of the original cut, that is, a document of what the cut would look like without the newly rediscovered scenes. For the taz, Bert Rebhandl asks him how well the find and the expectations match up. The good news, for the sake of such work in the future: pretty well.
Ardvark notes at Twitch that Kino will release the restored-as-much-as-currently-possible version on Blu-Ray next year.
Update, 7/9: Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell post a whopping wrap-up of Il Cinema Ritrovato, the festival of rediscovered and restored films in Bologna. Among the highlights are notes from a briefing on what's known so far regarding this version: "Contrary to some reports, virtually all the missing scenes are present on the Argentine print, the single exception being a small portion at a reel end."
Posted by dwhudson at July 2, 2008 12:20 PM